§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. CAIRD, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, he was anxious to divest the statement which he deemed it necessary to make of all political or party views and to treat the question solely as a matter of economical science. It had been said that this country, in regard to its knowledge of the supply of food, was like a ship going to sea provisioned for a twelve months' voyage, but without any knowledge on the part of the owners or crew whether the provisions would last one month or twelve, and there was truth in the observation. Within the last fifty years the population of this country had doubled; and it appeared from the reports of the Enclosure Commissioners that during the last ten years the extent of waste land added to arable did not exceed 30,000 acres, while the population was increasing at the rate of between 200,000 and 300,000 annually. He proposed, therefore, to show the great loss which had been sustained by all classes of the population
owing to the ignorance that had existed with reference to the supply of food, and in doing so he would divide the community into three classes—the producers of food, the consumers of food, and the mercantile and banking classes, who in some degree regulated the supply of food which was required beyond the amount actually produced in this country. With respect to the producers of food, the farmers of this country, it had frequently been said by them, "What advantage can we derive from such information as you wish to obtain? It may be beneficial to the corn dealers of this country, but it will not be useful to us." [Hear, hear!] He (Mr. Caird) would, however, put it to the hon. Gentleman who cheered that remark whether any class of the community were more corn dealers than the farmers themselves? If, then, the information he desired to obtain was useful to corn dealers, it must be chiefly useful to the farmers. He would show the House to what an extent farmers themselves had suffered from the ignorance which had prevailed on this subject. He found that for three months subsequently to the harvest of 1846 the average price of corn ranged between 45s. and 50s. a quarter, while in the succeeding spring, the produce of the same harvest, it brought 102s. a quarter. The principal losers from selling their corn so much under its real value were the small farmers, who were obliged to meet their engagements by turning their crops at once into cash; and he had no hesitation in saying that the loss sustained in 1846, in consequence of the ignorance of the produce of the harvest, was not less than £1,500,000 sterling per month for a period of three months. That was the state of the case with respect to the poor farmers, and he might show, from a reference to the harvest of 1857, in what manner the rich farmers were affected by the existing state of things. He had sold wheat immediately after that harvest at 62s. a quarter, and he had within the last month sold wheat of the same crop and quality at 48s. a quarter. It would appear, therefore, that farmers of all classes, rich as well as poor, were equal sufferers from the ignorance which prevailed as to the supply of food. (Hear, hear.) He would now refer to the case of consumers, including all classes of the community. The wealthier classes and even those who were in comfortable circumstances, spent but a small portion of their incomes in bread, and it was, there-
fore, not very material to them whether the price of the quartern loaf was 6d. or 10d., but the case was very different with regard to the great mass of the labouring population. He would take a labourer with a wife and four children for the purpose of representing the average condition of that class of the community. He found by personal inquiry that such a family, whose united wages were 12s. a week, consumed bread to the amount of 8s. a week immediately after the harvest of 1854, but at the close of that year there was a sudden rise in prices which so materially affected the margin which that family had to expend, that the same quantity of bread cost 11s. 6d. It was obvious, therefore, that at such a price they must have been unable with 12s. a week to obtain a sufficient quantity of bread, and thus sudden fluctuations of price caused by a want of knowledge of the extent of our home crops were more injurious to the labourers than to any other class of the community. (Hear, hear.) He would now explain the bearing of the question upon the monetary and commercial interests of the country. He found that in 1852 our imports of foreign corn were valued at about £12,800,000, and in 1856 at £31,400,000, showing an increased export of bullion and capital in the latter year to the amount of £18,600,000, which must have produced a serious effect upon the commercial action of the country. In the four years, from 1850 to 1853, this country paid for foreign corn and rice about £64,000,000, and in the four years from 1854 to 1857 no less than £111,000,000, there having been within the last four years a total increase of £47,000,000, or an average increase of about £12,000,000 a year in the amount sent abroad in payment for corn. Surely such an enormous drain of the precious metals could not but have had a material effect in causing the commercial crisis of last November. He did not mean to say that the collection of agricultural statistics would altogether prevent the recurrence of such a state of things, but it would at all events obviate the uncertainty which at present existed with regard to the supply of food, and thus in some degree prevent for the future those sudden fluctuations which were now of such frequent occurrence. (Hear, hear.) He had been informed that, in consequence of the enormous importations of rice which had taken place, £1,000,000 had been lost during the last year upon that article alone. The importations of rice be-
gan to increase in 1850, owing to the high price of corn in the previous year, and it appeared that 170,000 tons of rice had been imported from India alone during each of the last two years—a quantity nearly double the amount produced in America. This over-supply had been almost ruinous to the importers, and had been seriously detrimental to the producers of corn in this country; and the result would be, that when the importations of lice were discontinued, consumers would find the price of provisions enhanced in consequence of the cessation of this competition. He held, therefore, that all classes in this country, whether producers, consumers, or importers, were equally interested in obtaining agricultural statistics. Then, again, what were other countries doing in this respect? Great attention had been paid to the subject in France, and the French Government had turned their inquiries to good account. On the other hand, it had been said that there was as great fluctuation in the price of corn in France as in England. That might be so; but their knowledge of the quantity of land under cultivation, and the prospects of the harvest, which the returns obtained by them afforded, gave them a great advantage over this country when periods of scarcity arose. In July, 1854, the French Government, having ascertained that there was likely to be a serious deficiency in the crops in Franco, came into our markets and purchased very largely at the low price at which English wheat was then quoted, and nearly every quarter of that wheat was bought back by this country at a price nearly double that which had been paid for it by France. (Hear, hear.) He believed that Spain and Turkey were the only nations of Europe which did not ascertain their agricultural position, and he thought those were not examples which the enlightened people of England would desire to imitate. He found, also, from papers laid before Parliament, that minute inquiries had been instituted as to the agricultural statistics of sixteen of our own colonies. He would now briefly review the steps which had been taken with the view of inducing the Government and Parliament to sanction the collection of such statistical returns as he desired to obtain. In 1837 a Bill was first introduced, unsuccessfully, with the view of obtaining agricultural statistics. After the Irish famine, arrangements were made for the collection of statistics in Ireland, and they had been continued
with great success and advantage. In 1853 a similar experiment was made in several counties in England and Scotland, which has led to the adoption of an uniform system in Scotland, and to the continuation of the system which had Leon commenced in England. In 1855 a Committee of the House of Lords inquired into the whole subject, and the late Government introduced a Bill founded upon the Report, and embodying the recommendations of the Committee, which was passed by the other House, and was brought down to that House, but after sonic discussion was withdrawn. The hon. Gentleman quoted the opinions expressed, with reference to the measure in question, by the Earl of Derby, Sir G. C. Lewis, Sir J. Pakington, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir J. Trollope, Mr. Henley, Sir E. B. Lytton, and Lord Stanley, all of whom were favourable to the collection of agricultural statistics, although some of them urged various objections to the details of the Bill to which their observations were immediately applicable. He (Mr. Caird) had endeavoured to frame the measure which he had submitted to the House in such a manner as to meet the objections raised by some of these distinguished individuals. He thought what was most important was a return of acreage. It appeared from the inquiries conducted in Scotland during the last three or four years that the average acreage under wheat had been 211,000 acres, and that there had been a variation of 25 per cent annually above or below the average, and to the extent of 56 per cent between the highest and lowest quantities, while the average produce per acre had been from twenty seven to twenty-eight bushels, and the variation above and below that average had been only 2½ per cent. The return of acreage would undoubtedly be most valuable, and it would also be very unobjectionable, and could be made even before the harvest. It was also the most reliable, inasmuch as it was the only fact that could be arrived at with certainty. Although he deemed it very important to obtain an estimate of produce, yet, as a mere estimate, he proposed that it should not be included in the statistics of agriculture, but should be published separately, so that the public might attach such a weight to it as they thought it deserved. The Bill would not impose upon the Department of the Board of Trade the duty of obtaining such estimates through-
out the country, but he thought it was one which they might without difficulty undertake; and he would follow the example which had been set in Ireland with reference to that point. He found that in Ireland the same persons who collected agricultural statistics, at the same time collected the estimates of the produce; and that those estimates not being considered reliable, the following plan was adopted: When estimates came to the office in Dublin they were sent to the Boards of Guardians of the various electoral divisions throughout all parts of Ireland to be revised and corrected; and the result was, that in most cases the yield, as obtained by the constabulary from practical men, was reported to be correct. In some cases but very few alterations had to be made, and the revised estimates so altered were then adopted by the Registrar General in his report. He saw no difficulty in adopting a similar system in this country; but he did not see the necessity of embracing such a provision in a Bill for agricultural statistics. The Select Committee of the House of Lords had reported, that any Bill to secure trustworthy returns ought to be compulsory; but because the Bill which passed their Lordships' House contained clauses rendering it compulsory upon the farmer, under penalties, to make returns, the opposition to the measure in this House was so determined that it had to be withdrawn. The Bill he had now introduced was not compulsory, and it was, therefore, necessary to show the House that, in the absence of compulsory provisions, it was possible to obtain trustworthy returns. The experience of the last ten years in Ireland, and of four years in Scotland, proved that under the voluntary system these returns had been frankly and freely made. In Yorkshire it was found that ninety-nine and a half of the returns out of one hundred were duly filled up, so that the experiment made there, which was the first of the kind in England, was entirely successful. Great stress had in Scotland been laid upon the necessity of an immediate connection between the head office and the farmers themselves. It was very generally felt that these returns ought not to be subjected to inspection by local authorities; such, for example, as Boards of Guardians, who formed a little local Parliament, in which every man's affairs in the district were known and canvassed. Men were naturally averse to such a scrutiny, and on this point an agricultural society in
Cheshire declared their belief that these statistics would be highly beneficial to the farmers themselves—that it was not the end, but the means taken to effect it which was objected to—and they expressed their opinion that the less those returns were meddled with until they came into the head office in London the better. As to the efficacy of the voluntary principle for the collection of information, he held in his hand a pretty thick book full of statistics, obtained by a Government officer (Mr. Hunt) solely upon that principle. It formed a portion of the mining records of this country, and furnished very important information connected with the mineral statistics of 1856, as a specimen of which he might instance the results given, that 10,000,000 tons of iron ore were annually raised in this country, and 66,000,000 tons of coals. The Returns, from which the information in this book was derived, were furnished quite voluntarily, and this showed what could be done on the system he wished to adopt. The basis of his proposal was the same as that of the Bill of the late Government. He proposed, that every year—in February or March —a copy of the rate-books for each parish, showing the name of the occupier and the number of acres, should be transmitted to the Board of Trade. This would furnish in England, a check which did not exist either in Ireland or Scotland as to the accuracy of the acreage returns, and the Board of Trade would be enabled to communicate directly with the farmer through the medium of the Post Office. He thought the department of Corn Returns in the Board of Trade was the proper department to have the charge of these statistics; for here would be found the necessary superior officers; no now stuff would be required, at any large salaries, and the cost of establishing the new system would be very moderate indeed. A printed schedule would be sent down from London to every farmer, who would only have to fill up a few figures and return it to the proper quarter. No doubt, at first, there would be many defaulters; and he proposed, with regard to these, that the relieving officer of the union should be employed to obtain the necessary information. In Ireland, where there were 600,000 returns, the annual cost of procuring these statistics was £2,300. In this country, where there would be about 300,000 returns—for he proposed to limit them to occupiers of five acres and upwards—he calculated that the
whole cost, including printing and postage, would not exceed £9,000, or £10,000. Nearly £4,000 of this would be for postage, all of which would be, as it were, transferring money from one pocket to another. The returns for Ireland were complete, and, until lately, so were those for Scotland. It was easy to make them so again; for, if it were found that the machinery of the Highland Society could not be again called into operation, a plan similar to that he had mentioned might be extended to Scotland, where the schoolmaster of the parish would be a most competent man to furnish the requisite information, and would do so at a small remuneration. It had been alleged that the Bill contained compulsory clauses; but he could assure the House that there was no ground for such an allegation. When he introduced it, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Packe) talked about people riding over and destroying the farmer's crops at a critical time of the year in order to obtain information. Now, the Bill simply said—
If any occupier do not duly make such return, so filled up and signed within the time mentioned thereon, or in case of doubt as to the accuracy of any return, any person or persons thereto authorized by the Board of Trade may proceed to obtain by other means the particulars required, and after three days' notice may and are hereby authorized at any time or times during the day to enter upon and inspect the lands of such occupier, doing no wilful damage to the growing crops"—
How could they ride through the crops without doing wilful damage?
—"for the purpose of ascertaining such particulars, and shall not be liable to action for trespass, or any other action or proceeding for so doing.
The next clause was as follows:—
In no case shall publicity be given by any officer or person employed in the execution of this Act to the particulars of any return made or information obtained under the same, nor shall any of such particulars be divulged to any private person, or used for any purpose other than the ascertainment of general statistical results in the manner contemplated by this Act.
To talk of these being compulsory clauses was out of the question, and the information required was so completely on the surface, and could so easily be ascertained by any person looking over the farmer's hedge, that there could be no possible occasion for entering the fields and doing damage in the way pointed out. He had shown how intimately the knowledge of the facts disclosed by the statistics was
connected with the prosperity of the varied interests of this country. Even supposing he had failed to prove that any other interests were now prejudiced by the absence of such knowledge, he thought that if, as he had contended was the case, the labourers, the great body of the people, were most injuriously affected by the want of it, it was the duty of the House, on that sole ground, to support the second reading of this Bill, which he now accordingly begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. PACKE
said, he must deny altogether that this Bill would be of any use to the fanner. He would also maintain that the sixth clause, which would give the overseer of the parish or other officer the power of entering a farmer's land for the purpose of obtaining that information was necessarily of a compulsory character. To say that such a clause was not compulsory was to say that the highwayman did not use compulsion in asking you for your money because he asked for it civilly; but he would knock you down if you did not satisfy his request. Such was the Bill of the hon. Gentleman. He had consulted several farmers respecting it, and from none could he get a greater concession than that, if the truth were told, statistics could do them no harm. He thought, however, that the farmers had a right to inquire respecting it, whether they would do them any good. By the legislation of 1846, the English farmers had been reduced to ruin by hundreds and thousands, and they were naturally therefore very jealous of any measure passed by this House affecting their property, unless they were assured that such legislation would be for their benefit. Now, when it was declared that the farmers would gain an advantage from the passing of this Bill, he would call the attention of the House to the year 1856, when there happened to be a very abundant harvest, to show the fallacies and confusion to which such a measure would lead in calculating the probable supplies of corn. If this Bill had then been in operation, the farmers, perceiving the large crops obtained throughout the kingdom, would probably at once have taken their corn to market. In the latter end of September, however, corn was enormously high, arising from the inundations in Franco and the failure of the harvest in the south of Europe—a reason winch no agricultural 1880 statistics in the world would have shown. In that year, then, the hon. Member's Bill would not only have been of no use to the farmer, but would have been productive of positive mischief to him, for it would have led him to believe that corn would certainly fall, instead of rising as it did at the end of the year. There had been a Committee appointed to inquire into this subject by the House of Lords in 1855, hut he did not think the evidence bore out the Report. His hon. Friend near him (Mr. Miles) was examined before that Committee, and told them not, in the first instance, to alarm the farmers too much, but to begin by small measures. The hon. Member (Mr. Caird) was apparently profiting by this advice, and was now asking the House to insert the thin edge of the wedge. From his speech it was quite evident that the hon. Member would not stop here, and that he would go on step by step in the endeavour to obtain information from the farmer. Now, he (Mr. Packe) was anxious to know why the farmer, of all other persons, was to be singled out to have his affairs inquired into in this way. Why not introduce a Bill for ascertaining on a certain day the contents of all shops and warehouses? He had sketched out a measure to this effect, and if the hon. Member would propose, he should be most happy to second it. The title was "Shop Statistics Bill." The preamble was to this effect:—"Whereas it is expedient to ascertain the quantity of goods stored in shops and warehouses throughout England and Wales on a given day in the year; be it therefore enacted, &c." The Board of Trade was empowered to collect these returns, and if every shopkeeper did not fill them up, some official appointed for the purpose might, on giving three days' notice, enter the shop or warehouse in question, during the daytime, and inspect the stock, taking care that he did no wilful damage. The Bill would provide, among other things, for a true return, on a certain day in December, of the quantity of wheat in the hands of merchants, millers, and bakers; of the quantity of guano, manure, oil cake, agricultural seeds of every kind, and agricultural implements in store; of the quantity of wine and spirits at the wine merchants, together with an account of ironmongery and groceries. The information thus obtained would be of great value to the farmers, and they were just as much entitled to it as other people were to demand an account of their crops. 1881 It would be also of great importance to them to know the amount of money in the hands of their hankers, so that they might be certain they were safe in making use of any particular hank. His Bill would, therefore, provide for an inspection of the books of the country bankers, with a view to discover what were their assets and liabilities, and what was the quantity of gold in their hands. These would be the contents of his Bill. Would the hon. Member adopt it? The measure now before the House would, it was said, be of great benefit to the labourer. How this could he he did not know, The labourer lived from hand to mouth; he bought his bread every week at the current price; and what advantage would it be to him to know the number of acres under cultivation throughout the United Kingdom? Then, again, if the Bill would prove of such advantage to the farmers, how was it there wore no petitions from those persons in support of it? They were a class of men pretty well alive to their own interest, and yet they had not come forward to beseech the House to sanction any such measure; and as to the association in Cheshire to which the hon. Member had alluded, all he could say was that if it was a bona fide agricultural association it might find an exponent in that House, and come before Parliament with its petition. On the other hand, the only petition on the subject which had been presented during the course of this Session from occupiers of Land, was against the Bill. It was presented by his hon. Friend the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. B. Stanhope) and signed by many of the principal farmers of that great agricultural county. There could be no doubt that this Bill was of a compulsory nature. The agriculturist looked upon his farm as a man looked upon his house—as his castle, and any official who came upon his land in the mouth of June must necessarily do it damage. When Mr. Hall Maxwell was examined before the Committee of 1855, he said, the Scotch system of collecting these statistics was based entirely on the co operation of the farmers, and that it would be most undesirable to make the returns compulsory; that it would "put the backs up" of the Scotch farmers at once. Now, were the English farmers to submit to that which Mr. Maxwell declared would put up the backs of Scotchmen? Then, again, in a petition from the Statistical Society, presented by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), it was declared that 1882 the information furnished by the Scotch and Irish returns were comparatively of little value so long as similar information was not furnished in England. Since the time of free trade, however, the nations of the earth, they were told, made one common family; and it might just as well be said that, unless similar returns were furnished in every part of the world, these statistics respecting England would be of very little value. What was it which did and would rule the markets of this country? Not any statistics furnished under the hon. Member's Bill, but the corn supplied from other parts of the world. This, therefore, showed the uselessness of the information sought for by the hon. Member. The hon. Member had cited the opinions of many noblemen and gentlemen as to the expediency of collecting these statistics, and therefore he trusted that in support of the arguments which he had urged against the Bill he might next be permitted to refer to the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Into Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, at a meeting of the Radnorshire Agricultural Society, held in October, 1856, had stated it to be his opinion, that the advantages which would be likely to result from the adoption of a system of agricultural statistics would be by no means equal to the expense by which it would be attended. He maintained a similar opinion, and felt assured that if the Bill of the hon. Gentle-man opposite were to pass into a law, the £10,000 which he estimated as the probable cost of attaining the object which he had in view would constitute but a small instalment of the sum which it would ultimately be found necessary to expend in carrying out his system. Upon that ground, as well as for the various other reasons which be had urged against the measure, he should move that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. DU CANE
said, that as the representative of a large agricultural constituency he had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment which had just been submitted to the House. And he must, in the first instance, beg to express his regret, that at this period of the Session, occupied as the time of this (louse was, in the consideration of questions of no ordinary importance, the hon. Member for Dartmouth should seek to introduce a measure, concerning which the agriculturists of the country were most divided in opinion, and should ask this House to give its sanction to a piece of experimental legislation, which, 1883 whether the interests of the agricultural classes or those of the country at large were considered, he was confident would be found, if it should pass into a law, to be nothing less than a snare and a delusion. In asking for leave to introduce a very similar measure last Session, the hon. Member had stated that he came before the House fortified by a resolution arrived at by the London Central Farmers' Club, but the hon. Member omitted to state what he (Mr. Du Cane) believed to be the fact, that that resolution was not arrived at without a very considerable amount of discussion, and that no question had provoked a greater amount of opposition. And when he (Mr. Du Cane) stated, somewhat broadly, that not only did he consider the measure of the hon. Member to be useless, but like all useless measures, to be worse than useless; when he said that 80 far from effecting any positive good, it would effect positive injury; he was happy to think that he was fortified in that opinion by the judgment of many agriculturists of great practical skill and eminence—men who were, by position and intelligence, far above opposing this measure upon any paltry considerations of individual self-interest. It was an old and somewhat-trite saying, that "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise;" and though he might not be disposed to admit the truth of the first part of the proverb as a general axiom, yet he could not help thinking that the wisdom which the hon. Gentleman sought to force upon the country would turn out to be of a most dangerous character. So far from being of opinion that the measure of the hon. Gentleman would be the means of furnishing a reliable basis of adequate information as regards the probable supply of food; so far from its having the effect of putting an end to those panics and convulsions in the corn trade to which reference had been made, he believed its operation would be to furnish the country with a gigantic source of false information. He did not mean to contend that through the machinery which the hon. Gentleman proposed to set on foot the mere amount of acreage under corn might not be ascertained with tolerable accuracy; but what he was at a loss to understand was, how any estimate could be formed from that acreage of what the ultimate yield of the crops throughout the country would be, without which he maintained that mere acreage itself would be utterly valueless. They could not do so without going to the agricultural districts 1884 themselves for their own reports as to the general character and appearance of their crops; and they all knew that the most experienced agriculturists were apt to be deceived to the extent of, at least, one-third in any estimate they might form from the appearance of their crops as to the ultimate yield, even after harvest had commenced, and how much more delusive would be any calculations upon the subject made in the month of July, to be embodied in returns which were to be sent in before the 1st of August, he would leave the House to imagine. Why, that was just the very period of the year when, owing to the alternations of temperature, blight and other causes, a total change might in the course of a few days be effected in the crops throughout the country. He had no wish whatever to weary the House, but perhaps they would kindly permit him to read, in support of the views he had advanced, a short extract or two from the discussion on this subject before the Central Farmers' Club of London, which led to the resolution he had above mentioned, and he wished to say at the same time, that being desirous of meeting the hon. Member for Dartmouth in a spirit of fair play, he had purposely selected these extracts from speakers who, to a certain extent, advocated the views of the hon. Member himself. The first extract he would quote was from the speech of Mr. Owen Wallis, of Overstone, Northampton. This gentleman said—Exaggeration was, he believed, the general rule with regard to reports of a forthcoming harvest. Wherever the rumour prevailed that it was to be short or productive, there was always unnecessary exaggeration, and in either case mischief was the result.The speaker then went on to pay, what he (Mr. Du Cane) could not but think the House would agree was a very high compliment to the general agricultural knowledge and experience of the hon. Member for Dartmouth himself; he says—He," (Mr. Wallis) "could not be injured by having correct information, instead of the vague and idle rumours that were circulated daily in newspapers by commercial travellers riding about the country, and even by Mr. Caird himself.The next opinion he would adduce from the same discussion was that of Mr. Stenning, of the Croydon Farmers' Club, who contended that it was not possible to ascertain, with any degree of accuracy, what the yield of corn for any particular year would be until after it had been brought in 1885 and thrashed. Lot him, however, suppose that a calculation so accurate could be made as to come within one sack per acre of the ultimate yield of the harvest, what would be the result, he would ask, upon the entire acreage of the country? Why, there would be a difference between the calculation and the actual product of not less than 5,000,000 quarters of corn—a quantity equal to the largest foreign importation in any one year. But, supposing we had this deficiency of a sack per acre, what security would the agricultural interest have that no more than the 5,000,000 quarters would be imported? None whatever; for as soon as the corn merchants of Liverpool. Hull, Bristol, and other places learned that there was likely to be this deficiency, they would send to all parts of the world for supplies, no limit would be set to the amount of importations, and, probably, instead of importing 5,000,000 qrs., it would be nearer ten or fifteen millions. He need not point out to the House how great might be the evils of under-estimating the yield of corn; what groundless alarms might in consequence be engendered, and how the apprehension of a scarcity might be followed by too large an importation of grain from foreign countries. If, upon the other hand, the abundance of the harvest should he overestimated, a false confidence in our own resources might be created, and thus in either case would be produced those very panics and fluctuations in the corn trade which the hon. Gentleman sought to remove. The hon. Gentleman had, however, contended that it was a reproach to England that she should be the only country, with the exception, perhaps, of Turkey and Spain, which did not possess a system of agricultural statistics, and had quoted the case of France as a favourable illustration of the good results which might he expected to flow from the adoption of the scheme to which he asked the House to assent. Now there were two sides to every question, and having heard the hon. Member's statement, he would ask the House to listen to his. He should upon that point state to the House the opinion of M. Trehonnais, a French gentleman of great agricultural skill and eminence, who acted in the capacity of vice-president of an agricultural conference which had been held at Grenoble, for the purpose of discussing this very subject. From his statement it appeared that the French system was carried out by means of committees established in the several districts of the 1886 country, composed of the principal landowners and agriculturists of the neighbourhood, under the control and guidance of the Government officials. This committee collected all the information they could respecting the ultimate yield of the crops, which it transmitted to the Prefect of each department, and then forwarded to the Minister of Agriculture. But it appeared, from the testimony of several gentlemen who took part in the discussion, and who were members of statistical committees in various parts of France, a circumstance which gave additional value to their remarks, that the statistical data agreed upon in these committees are mere guess-work, or, at best, arbitrary surmises, and that no dependence whatever can be placed upon their accuracy. The statement of M. Trehonnais went on to say,That France has often suffered from these errors no one will attempt to deny. After the harvest of 1856, French statistics proclaimed to the world that the deficiency was alarming. The ports were thrown open to free importation, they were closed against exports. Prices ran up to an almost forgotten height, and the result was that foreign grain poured into every port in ceaseless streams. But when the harvest of 1857 was pronounced to be plentiful, it was suddenly discovered that the deficiency had not been near so great as was officially stated in 1856. A re-action suddenly took place, ports were re-opened for exportation, and we now see the result which every one must deprecate, that is, grain selling at a price which is a positive loss to the producer without conferring upon the consumer any positive boon.Now, this statement, he (Mr. Du Cane) thought, was a sound unvarnished narrative which he thought he might safely leave to its own weight to carry conviction to the minds of Members of the House. he would merely say of it that he thought we might well adopt, in this instance, for our guidance, the maxim ex uno disce omnes, as with one country so with another. The fate of France would be the fate of England were she to hastily adopt the ill-advised proposition of a similar character now before the House. Having said thus much upon the general principle of the Bill, he would not detain the House by entering at any length upon the details of the machinery which the hon. Member proposes to employ. But it certainly appeared to him that the whole essence of the Bill was embodied in Clause 3, and that the proposition there contained was nothing more nor less than to place the whole agricultural interest of the country prostrate beneath the absolute control and domination of the Board of Trade. Now, he for one, as a 1887 member representing an agricultural constituency, must protest, in their name, against the farmers of England being thus unconditionally handed over to the tender mercies of that Board. He had every respect for the hon. Gentleman who now sat as President of the Board; he believed that the agricultural interest possessed no stancher friend, either within or without the walls of this House, and as far as his duration of office was concerned, most heartily did he wish he might sit there for ever. But he was afraid that even the most youthful and sanguine supporters of Her Majesty's Government could not anticipate so much as that. He was afraid that the day was already inscribed in the book of fate, though he devoutly prayed it might be a far distant one, when the present Administration would be gathered to its forefathers. And though, as he said before, he had every confidence in the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman, he could not be expected to have the same amount of faith in those of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, from amongst whom, he presumed, in the event of the lamentable contingency he had hinted at, his successor would be appointed. And he maintained that there was nothing whatever in the provisions of this Act, as it now stood, that would prevent the Board of Trade from doing just as they pleased, making any alterations they liked in the schedule, and employing the machinery most personally obnoxious to the fanner himself. He also objected to that clause of the Bill which provided that inspectors should be sent down to the country to collect that information which the farmers might refuse to give; nor could he, he must confess, see much difference, as far as the alleged compulsory action of the Bill was concerned, between saying to a man, "I compell you to give me the information for which I ask you," and telling him that if he did not furnish the required information, an inspector would be sent down to collect it under his very nose, and in a manner most repugnant to his feelings. But not only were inspectors to be sent down to the country in those cases in which the farmers might refuse point blank to answer the questions which might be put to them, but also in those in which there might exist any doubt as to the accuracy of the returns which might have been furnished; thus casting a slur upon the good faith of the agricultural classes to which it was most unfair that they should be subjected, and 1888 placing an arbitrary and unjust weapon in the hands of these inspectors for the exercise of a species of petty annoyance against individual farmers, against whom they may have feelings of personal pique, and for doubting the accuracy of whose returns there might not exist in reality the slightest foundation. In conclusion, be trusted he might be allowed to express a hope that the days were gone by when any hon. Member who ventured to stand up in that House on behalf of the agricultural interest was supposed to be advocating the cause of a species of political Ishmael that stood with its hand raised against everybody and everybody's hand raised against it. Those days were past, he trusted, never to return. —the agriculturists had been of late in the enjoyment of a great, and he trusted it might prove a lasting, prosperity; old wounds had been healed, and old differences forgotten. There had been but little legislation of late years immediately affecting their interests, and all that they asked of this House was what he thought they were entitled to demand, that they should meet a spirit of fair play. It was because he believed that measure to be opposed to that spirit, he ventured to give it his firmest opposition, because he believed in its present consequences to be subjecting one interest to an inquisitorial espionage demanded of no other, and because in its future results, he believed it to be fraught with danger and disaster to the agriculture, trade, and commerce of the country at large.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
As the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Packe) did me the honour to refer to certain opinions to which I gave expression at a meeting in Radnorshire, the House will perhaps permit me to state briefly the views which I entertain upon the question under discussion. Now, there is this peculiarity involved in the establishment of a system of agricultural statistics, that, in order to maintain it, a special agency would be required. The enormous mass of statistics which is annually laid upon the table of the House possesses this characteristic, that it is incidentally obtained in the collection of the revenue. When we take, for instance, an account of the quantity of tea or sugar which may have been imported into the country, we do not impose any ad- 1889 ditional charge in consequence upon the Exchequer, because it would in any case he necessary for the purposes of the revenue that an exact account of the amount of our imports should be procured. The same observation applies to the collection of the duty on malt and other internal products, and when statistical information is thus collected you have the best possible security for its accuracy; not because the object of the nation is to obtain accurate statistics upon those subjects, but owing to the operation of the conflicting interests which are brought to bear upon the matter. It is, for example, the interest of the revenue officer to bring to charge every bushel of malt which may be manufactured, while the very contrary is the interest of the maltster. As a consequence, then, of that conflict of interests we obtain an accurate return of the quantity of malt which may be manufactured in the country, without imposing upon the Exchequer any additional expense. There are, however, other purposes fur which it is deemed expedient to obtain statistical information, which cannot be acquired in this incidental manner. The information with respect to births, deaths, and marriages taking place in the United Kingdom comes within this category, and is furnished annually. In the case of the number of our population such information is supplied only at intervals of ten years. It may, no doubt, be interesting and important that an annual census should be taken, but owing to the expense with which that process is attended—an expense amounting to £140,000 or £150,000 —no census was ever taken before the year 1801, while it has since been taken only at decennial periods. That we should be furnished at those intervals of time with an accurate return upon so important a subject as that of the number of our population—a subject which lies at the bottom of our national prosperity and reputation—is, I think, extremely expedient. The House, however, will not fail to perceive that the question of expense exercises a considerable influence even upon this important subject. Well, we are now asked if we will give our assent to the outlay of a certain annual sum for the purpose of procuring agricultural statistics. When that question was first brought forward in this House it was met by several hon. Members—as it has been by some hon. Gentlemen who have spoken to-day—with objections which I cannot help characterizing as partaking of 1890 the nature of prejudice and clamour; I allude to those objections founded upon the alleged inquisitorial visitations to which a system of agricultural statistics would give rise, and the compulsory means of information to which, under its operation, it would be necessary to resort. When this question was first mooted a general impression prevailed among the farmers of the country that it was intended to devise some new means of taxing or of enabling their landlords to raise their rents. Their fears upon these points, however, appear to me to be wholly chimerical and illusory. Nobody can demonstrate how the Government would be provided with an additional means of taxation by obtaining this statistical information; nor does it seem to me that the landlords can fairly be supposed to have that very imperfect knowledge of their own estates which would render it probable that the meagre and unsatisfactory returns which we might hope to obtain in reference to agriculture would place them in a different position, so far as the question of raising their rents is concerned, from that in which they now stand. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that the fears to which I have referred are wholly unfounded, and my experience tends to convince me that they are now very much dissipated, and are not shared in by the more intelligent members of the agricultural classes. I should, however, be prepared if those objections existed even to a greater extent than I believe to be the case, to incur a considerable amount of unpopularity in advocating the adoption of a system of agricultural statistics if I thought that any real advantage to the community would be the result. But that is the very part of the question upon which I require to be satisfied. It appears to me extremely doubtful whether, in the event of the Bill under our consideration passing into a law, we should derive from its operation information which would be of the slightest value for any practical purpose. We might, no doubt, by means of this Bill be furnished with information which would be found of some historical value fifty years hence; for, let me suppose, to illustrate my meaning, that in the time of Arthur Young such a system us the hon. Gentleman proposes were in existence, the historical agriculturist of the present day might derive some advantage from a comparison of the statistics of those two different periods. To that extent I concur with those who are of opinion that advantage 1891 might arise from the passing of this measure, but that it would afford useful information to the farmers or corn-dealers throughout the country is a proposition as to which I must express myself as being entirely sceptical. In maintaining that opinion I do not stand unsupported. I hold in my hand the fifth volume of the well-known treatise of Tooke and New-march upon prices, two gentlemen possessing great statistical knowledge and who, upon a question such as that we are discussing, are as great authorities as any whom I could name. Well, I find at page 226 of this volume, which was published in]857, the following words:—The collection and publication by Government of agricultural statistics, however desirable the information communicated by them may be in a general point of view, as throwing light upon debateable grounds of discussion respecting the progress of the country and its resources in material wealth, are not likely to have the slightest influence in the way expected from them, of imparting greater steadiness to markets and enabling farmers to get better or more equal and equitable prices.Such is the opinion of Mr. Tooke and Mr. New march, and we have, under those circumstances, to consider whether it is worth while to incur that amount of expenditure which the collection of agricultural statistics would entail. We have had different sorts of machinery proposed for the purpose of carrying such an object into effect. The machinery of the Poor Law Board, for instance, was used for this purpose in some portions of England. It has been suggested that the machinery of the Register General's Department might with advantage be applied to it. The Bill under our notice proposes to use the machinery of the Board of Trade as a central office, while the Poor Law Relieving Officers are to be employed as local agents, by whom these statistics are to be collected. In Scotland, until within the last year, agricultural statistics were collected at a moderate expense, through the instrumentality of the Highland Society; while in Ireland, annual statistical information is provided by means of the constabulary force. In England there is now no such system; and in Scotland it has for the present ceased, owing to some misunderstanding with the Highland Society. The vote in the case of Ireland and Scotland hitherto amounted to between £6,000 and £7,000 per annum, while it is now proposed that a vote of £10,000 should be taken for England with a view to procuring the re- 1892 quired information. That, certainly, is not a very large sum, but I confess I should like before I give my assent to the plan of the hon. Member for Dartmouth, to hear from Her Majesty's Ministers a statement as to what, in their opinion, the probable amount of the expenditure would be, consequent upon the adoption of that plan. We know that the produce of land differs in different parts of the country; but there may be a good harvest in the eastern while there may be a bad one in the western counties, so that no general rule can be applied in connection with this subject to the whole of England. Therefore, when you have procured the statistics with respect to more acreage which the hon. Gentleman seeks to secure, you will have to go through the process of reduction and a calculation of averages, so that the result obtained would after all be uncertain and open to dispute. The hon. Gentleman alluded incidentally in the course of his speech to the subject of corn returns, and said there was in connection with it a department of the Board of Trade which would form a convenient nucleus for the collection of agricultural statistics. Now, the hon. Gentleman may think mo an incurable sceptic when I state that I entertain considerable doubts as to the expediency of retaining the department connected with corn returns in the Board of Trade. What is its history? It was created during the existence of the corn laws. In order to collect the duties levied upon corn at that period it was necessary that weekly averages of the prices of that article should be taken, inasmuch as the duty varied in accordance with the weekly declared average price, and the maintenance of an elaborate machinery in order to attain that object was the consequence. That machinery was naturally placed under the control of the Board of Trade, but when the corn laws were repealed the purpose for which the system had been created ceased to exist; and if the right hon. Gentleman who now presides over that department will turn to the records of his office he will find a Treasury Minute, which was written in the course of last autumn, suggesting the expediency of transferring this system of corn returns to the department of the Tithe Commission, which is now the only department that has an interest in the subject. I should therefore strongly recommend the right hon. Gentleman, whose rule the hon. Member for Essex (Mr. Du Cane) desires to be 1893 perennial, and whose continuance in office I trust nothing which falls from me may tend to disturb, to take this question into his consideration. The last point to which I will advert is, as to how far this Bill can be considered a compulsory measure. If it is merely to permit farmers to make a voluntary return, I do not think any legislation is necessary. For a purely voluntary collection of statistics it would be only necessary for Parliament to vote the money which would be required to pay the expenses. Whether the Returns which have been collected under the existing system in Ireland and Scotland are of much value I will not say; but certainly the must complete agricultural statistics are those collected by the Irish constabulary, and I have never heard that that body has been brought into discredit by having to perform that duty. For my own part, I do not see that any legislation is at all necessary. There are some penalties in the 11th clause, but they are not very material, and the most material point is as to the construction of the 5th clause. As I read that clause, it is compulsory. "Every occupier shall fill up the return," &c, and "shall sign his name," &c. It does not say the occupier may do so, if he thinks fit. It is true there are no penalties imposed for non-compliance, but I believe the general rule to be, that when an Act of Parliament imposes an obligation it also creates an indictable offence. If that presumption be correct, any person failing to comply with the requirements of the 5th clause would be liable to be indicted for a misdemeanour. That, perhaps, is rather a question to be considered in Committee, and therefore I will now only repeat that what the House really ought to consider is, whether the statistics, if collected, would be worth the sum which the country would have to pay for them. I attach little importance to the "inquisitorial" argument, and if it could be shown to the satisfaction of the House that the result to be obtained would be worth the sum it would cost I should not object, although I do not entertain too exalted an opinion of the value of the information which would thus be procured.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, that he had opposed this system on a former occasion, and as he had heard nothing to bring him to a conclusion different to that he then entertained, he must continue his opposition. He agreed, however, with the right hon. Gentleman that there did not exist in the 1894 minds of the farmers the same antipathy to the present Bill as they had felt towards former propositions on the same subject, and the reason was, that those former Bills were much more objectionable in their character. Although it might appear somewhat harsh, when they were told that the measure was intended to procure information which would affect the price of the first necessary of life, and which would tend to benefit the poor man, that they should refuse to pass such a Bill, still he agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that the collection of such information would not, and could not, by any possibility, make the slightest difference in a practical point of view. He thought statistics were a subject upon which there was a monstrous deal of pedantry. Sonic day we might have an ethnological enthusiast who would want to know how many yellow-haired Saxons there were left, or how many black-haired Normans, and there were no end of subjects upon which such questions could he raised, if the consideration of utility was to he quite given up. The only argument adduced by the hon. Member for Dartmouth in support of his Bill was the advantage which a possession of statistical facts would give to the farmer and the consumer, but the hon. Gentleman did not appear to draw any distinction between the farmer and the speculator in corn. the very worst thing that could be done for the agricultural interest was to convert the farmer into a speculator. Let the corn-dealer obtain the information he required—it was purely a corn-dealer's question—but let them not encourage the farmer to hold back or to sell his corn, but leave him to dispose of his produce as his necessities required. How was it possible to ascertain the quantities of corn that would be produced? He was surprised that any gentleman who ever had a field of corn of his own could imagine that it was possible at any time to form a true estimate of the future produce. Every farmer had been deceived in his calculations, notwithstanding the best skill and the aid of his neighbours' judgment. Last year was a remarkable instance of that difficulty. As far as utility was concerned, the statistics would be utterly valueless. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the consumers, and had said that the position of the agricultural labourer would be materially improved if his Bill were passed. No doubt the labourer's wages were affected by the price of corn, but how would the collection 1895 of statistics help him? When the labourer was earning 12s. a week, and knew that bread for his family was to be obtained for 8s., he knew that he could make ends meet. But when bread for his family rose from 10s. to 11s. 6d. per week, what on earth was the use of a statistical paper telling him that such was the fact? In fact, the best that could be said of this Bill was that it was useless. Then the hon. Gentleman referred to the merchants, and used a most extraordinary argument for a Free Trader and a Liberal—a gentleman who prided himself, no doubt, upon being rather "advanced." He stated that bullion was sent out of the country in return for the corn brought in, which, no doubt, aided in producing the financial crisis. What proof was there that bullion had gone out of the country? Was it not just as likely that manufactures had been sent in return, and, if so, that would have relieved rather than added to the financial crisis. The hon. Gentleman also told them that a great quantity of rice was imported from India, but that appeared to be the oddest argument of all; for surely it must be an advantage to procure our supplies from our own dependencies. The hon. Gentleman said the acreage return would be the most valuable part of the returns. He (Mr. Drum-mond) had thought the most important point was the price of food, and the acreage return was merely a means to an end, hut the Bill did not touch that end. Even with the means provided in the Bill the end would not be attained. The Bill would be useful to the corn merchants alone, but as far as the agriculturists were concerned it would be thoroughly useless and exceedingly vexatious.
§ MR. TURNER
said, he was surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite should exhibit such sensitiveness at an attempt to look into the affairs of the farmer, for there was very little of it shown, when a similar inquisitiveness was displayed in commercial affairs. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said, that if this Bill were to be extended to manufacturers and shopkeepers, it would be seen how objectionable it was. But he denied that statement entirely. Connected as he was with the manufacturing interest, he could assure the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Packe) that the interference which was now so much deprecated by the farmers had long been sanctioned and practised in nearly all branches of trade and commerce. The rampant independence of manufac- 1896 turers had been a little lamed by legislation, and he thought a judicious application of the same means to the farmers would not be injurious to them. In almost every branch of trade returns were made. The stocks of sugar, tea, and other articles were exactly known, as were also the quantities on shipboard, and the probable quantity to be expected from the sources of supply. In reference to cotton more was done, for agents were sent to America, who traversed the cotton-producing districts of the United States, and sent home estimates of the probable extent of the growing crop. He could see no objection to returns being made in every case in which they were needed, and he was sure it would be advantageous to the farmers to know the real quantity of corn in this country, in order to enable them to dispose of their produce at its fair price, instead of parting with it, as in many cases happened, at a price below its value, solely on account of their ignorance of the real state of facts. If the system of agricultural statistics were once introduced, he believed that the farmers would soon find out its advantages, and would cease to feel that dislike to it which appeared now to exist among them. And although this Bill might not secure perfect accuracy in those returns, he believed it would effect a near approach to accuracy, and every year it would be in operation they would be approaching nearer to the truth. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would be allowed to advance his Bill to the stage of Committee, in order that they might have an opportunity of making the measure as effective for its objects as possible.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he had listened with great attention to the very able and ingenious speech of the hon. Member who moved the second reading, but he was bound to say he thought that the hon. Gentleman himself had furnished some of the strongest arguments that could be adduced against the adoption of his own measure. Whilst he dwelt upon the important consequences of regulating the price of corn in the country, the hon. Member had utterly failed in showing that those statistics alone, if obtainable, would in any way be serviceable to the country in enabling it to surmount the difficulties with which the subject was surrounded. The hon. Gentleman had used one of the most extraordinary arguments he (Mr. Bentinck) had ever heard uttered when he said that the labouring population would be essentially served by the passing 1897 of his Bill. Now he admitted the great importance of consulting the interests of that class of the population, and if it could be shown that the labouring population would be at all benefited by the measure before the House, he (Mr. Bentinck) would give it his most cordial support. But the hon. Gentleman had not attempted to show them how the labouring population could be served by this Bill. How could the labouring man deal in any way with the fluctuations in the price of corn? Unless it could be shown that the labouring man could take advantage of the low price of corn by laying in a six or three months' stock of it, it was impossible that he could be benefited. The hon. Gentleman also adverted to one question which greatly surprised him (Mr. Bentinck) when he recollected the particular opinions which he held—he dwelt at much length upon the disadvantages of the late drain of bullion from this country for the purchase of foreign corn. Now that was precisely the argument used in 1846 by those who were opposed to the legislation of that day on the subject of corn. He was happy to find the hon. Gentleman opposite compelled, after some years' experience of the law of 1846, to come to the same conclusion. But the hon. Gentleman admitted that even his own statistics would not meet the difficulties of the ease. He boasted of a very high authority in his favour—the hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire, who he stated had declared himself in favour of a good and conciliatory measure of agricultural statistics, but that it should be based upon the voluntary principle. He (Mr. Bentinck) did not think, with all due deference to the hon. Gentleman, that his measure possessed any of those characteristics; for surely he could not contend that it was either conciliatory in principle or voluntary in practice. He believed that the only possible result of the publicity sought for upon this subject would be, as had been stated by the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Drummond) to give an increased tendency to the system of jobbing in corn, and even to induce fanners themselves to become corn jobbers. Then as to the time of the year at which it was proposed that those statistics should be given, the hon. Gentleman had completely left out of sight the vicissitudes to which farmers especially were exposed. It never could be shown that any statistical returns made in June could give any reliable result as to the nature of the harvest in August 1898 Such an idea was a complete misconception, and would prove a delusion to all who would attempt to act upon it. Unless the hon. Gentleman admitted that he had chosen the wrong time for his statistics, he thought he had utterly failed to show that his proposed arrangement would prove in the slightest degree beneficial to either the farmer or the commercial man. The hon. Gentleman proposed that the relieving officers should be empowered to collect those statistics. Now, there could not be a more inconvenient or mischievous proceeding than to convert the relieving officer of the parish into a kind of spy upon the farmer. Such a system would occasion a great deal of ill-blood and irritation, which would be most disastrous in its consequences. He asked the hon. Gentleman how could he anticipate by his measure any better result than had been shown in the case of France? But the hon. Member quoted authority to show that his Bill was both conciliatory and voluntary in its principles. Now he (Mr. Bentinck) could not conceive, after reading some of its clauses, a measure more likely to create feelings of annoyance and irritation in the minds of agriculturists. So far as the 5th clause was concerned, he viewed the Bill in that light. And as to the 6th clause, he did not think it was possible to conceive anything more compulsory than that provision as it stood. Who was to be responsible for accidental damage? Any man conversant with the country must see how difficult it would be to go over farm lands for the purpose of making such a survey as would be necessary under this Bill without inflicting considerable damage to the crops. What arrangement had the hon. Gentleman made for meeting this difficulty? Was the expense of this damage to be put upon the country? As far as his (Mr. Bentinck's) knowledge of the agricultural community went in relation to this subject, he must say he could not imagine a measure that would occasion more irritation, and would be more offensive and insulting to them. He trusted that his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Palk), who had so ably and so clearly shown the objections to the Bill, would persevere in his Amendment.
§ MR. LINDSAY
said, that as he believed this Bill was as intimately connected with. commercial as agricultural interests, he was inclined to support it. It appeared to him, moreover, that the objections which had been made to it might be urged against every system of returns that might be 1899 moved for in that House. It was said that this Bill would make the farmers speculators. Now a speculator was one who worked in the dark, who relied upon chance to make gain. This was now the state of the farmer, who worked in the dark with no reliable guide to give him information. The information which would result from this Bill might not be absolutely perfect, but it would bean approximation, and thus the farmer, through its aid, would cease to be a speculator instead of becoming one. He would venture to call the attention of the House to a memorial which was some time since presented to the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen from the first merchants in London on this subject. This memorial was not, like too many documents of that class, hastily signed by unthinking men; it was the deliberate opinion of 322 of the oldest and highest firms in London. Amongst those who signed it were Messrs. Baring, Rothschild, Overend, Gurney and Co., Glyn and Co., and many others of the highest position and respectability. The memorialists set forth the great want of information on agricultural matters in this country, and urged upon the Government the necessity for collecting statistics having relation to that subject. He would ask, were hon. Members prepared to say that some means could not be obtained to procure much better information on this subject than at present existed? The Bill simply asked the farmers to give the amount of acreage sown with wheat. Surely there was nothing objectionable or inquisitorial about such a proceeding as this? He considered it was monstrous that the representatives of the farmers in that House should say that they must not he asked to afford such simple, though at the same time most important information, as was the object of this Bill to obtain. Then again some hon. Members opposite cried out against this Bill as though it was to place the farmer in a position different to all other persons. Why merchants and manufacturers had every day to divulge their commercial transactions. Take the case of a shipowner: he had to return the number of ships he possessed; he had to deposit his registry, showing what interest he had in each ship, at the Custom House, where it was open to all; he could not even borrow money on his ship without notifying that fact, and the amount borrowed, to the customs. And similar obligations tending to publicity prevailed in every branch of commerce. It was desir- 1900 able for the public interest that there should be some kind of agricultural statistics, and therefore, unless the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would promise to consider the subject, and to introduce a measure, be should advise his hon. Friend the Member for Dartmouth to take the sense of the House upon his Bill, in which case he would receive his (Mr. Lindsay's) cordial support.
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, if he might presume to tender a word of advice to the hon. Member for Dartmouth (Mr. Caird), who was a distinguished Scotch agriculturist, he should say to him, "Look at home." What had taken place in Scotland? They had had in that part of the kingdom for many years a complete system of agricultural statistics, collected with the assent of the Scotch farmers, through the medium of the Highland Society, and by the indefatigible zeal of that able- man, Mr. Hall Maxwell. The Government found the money, and the Highland Society the machinery. He regretted very much that circumstances hail arisen owing to which the collection of agricultural statistics had been discontinued in Scotland; and he thought that Mr. Hall Maxwell had been hardly used in the matter. Those statistics were very complete, and if they had gone on for a series of years, probably at the end of fifty years they might have produced some valuable results. He was not surprised in a former Session at the Board of Trade bringing in a Bill for the collection of agricultural statistics. At that time there were many gentlemen fond of "pottering over blue-books"—to use an expression of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle. (Sir J. Graham) which had been immortalized — who felt much scandalized by the fact that, while many foreign countries possessed a system of agricultural statistics, England had none. It was said that even Russia had its agricultural statistics, which was not very civil to Russia; but at that time we were at war with her. However the House must recollect that many of those foreign countries had what was called paternal Governments. Those paternal Governments undertook to feed their people in times of scarcity, and whenever they ascertained that there was a probability of a coming scarcity they went and bought corn. Was that House prepared to adopt the paternal system, and to let the President of the Board of Trade speculate in corn? The truth was, however, that this 1901 poor, unstatistical, and unscientific England of ours had made more rapid pro-gross in commerce and agriculture than any other country in the world. The energy and industry of her fanners, and, where these were wanting, the enterprize of her merchants, had procured for the whole of the people of England and Wales a more abundant supply of animal and vegetable food than fell to the lot of any other people in the old world. In our own rough, unscientific way, not as a matter of science but as a practical matter, we had got on well, and had acquired all the necessary information in regard to the modes of procuring an abundant supply of animal and vegetable food for the people of these islands. And that was really the answer he had to give to the promoters of the Bill before the House. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure said he merely asked for the acreage; but on looking at the Bill he (Mr. Ker Seymer) saw the words, "the Board of Trade," on almost every page of it. Unfortunately the House know what the Board of Trade really wanted. They had had their Bill before them, and, when it came to be considered by the House, so objectionable was it found to be to the whole agricultural body, that the Government of that day never pressed it to a second reading. Ever since that time the farmers had regarded this question with great jealousy and suspicion. They did not like to be treated differently from other classes of producers in the country. In this country, for example, it might be said that warm clothing was almost a necessary of life; but suppose they were to go to the manufacturers of the West Riding and say to them, "Winter is coming on, and we want to know what you are doing in the way of providing a supply of warm clothing against its approach." Would not the manufacturers laugh at such an application, and ask to be allowed to look after their own business? And so said the English farmer—"I am busy growing corn; you ask me to fill up schedules; I would rather grow my corn, if you please." The time had gone by for asking the farmer to furnish agricultural statistics. It might have been right that he should do so a few years ago in the times of protection; but now the farmers stood on an equal footing with all other people. They had said, "We will buy our food in the cheapest market;" and now they might find out that market for themselves. What would 1902 be really important would be to ascertain the prospects of the "yield" in each year. But the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Caird) did not profess to do that, and, what was more, he (Mr. Ker Seymer) feared he could not do it. The hon. Gentleman himself said they could not depend on the "yield;" to estimate the produce of the acreage, he said, was a matter of comparative certainty, but that on the yield he could not reckon. There was no question that the effect of climate and of weather, especially during harvest, was vastly more important than any difference in the system of cropping. The fact was that good farmers were unwilling to change their system of rotation of crops. But they did get from private enterprize very valuable reports with regard to the prospects of the crop. Any gentleman who chose to buy the Gardeners' Chronicle, in August, for 6d., would obtain much more information about crops than the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Caird), who merely proposed to give the acreage, could furnish if this Bill passed into a law. Even if they could get a good return as to the yield, that would not be sufficient. What was wanted was greater information than even was arrived at by this Bill—information as to the state of the crops throughout the whole world. This was the necessary consequence of free trade. The fact, however, was, that this question of agricultural statistics, if it were ever an important one, had been spoilt by Parliamentary interference. We had in England an Agricultural Society in which great confidence was placed; but that society, under the terms of its constitution, positively could not touch the question, because it had been made a political one. Now, he (Mr. Ker Seymer) said — speaking for the fanners — leave them alone. If this question was a practical one, let the farmers talk it over themselves. They might depend upon it, the British farmer was not quite so dull as they took him to be. If it was for the benefit of agriculture, the English farmer would probably make arrangements for himself, and only come to that House for the money; but at present he asked Parliament to let him alone. With regard to the question of expense, there was much force in what fell from the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. C. Lewis). He (Mr. Ker Seymer) confessed that, judging from what the statistics cost in Scotland, the cost would be considerably more than £10,000 or £12,000, which had been spoken of as 1903 their probable expense in England. Admitting, therefore, that the hon. Member for Dartmouth had good intentions, and knowing him to be a most scientific agriculturist, but believing also that in the interests of his own ease he ought not to bring it under Parliamentary discussion, he (Mr. Ker Seymer) should certainly support the Amendment.
§ MR. BASS
said, that although he had listened with great attention to the speeches of hon. Members he had heard very little indeed that required an answer. With one exception, he had not heard from any Member who had spoken that any harm was likely to result from the scheme of the hon. Member for Dartmouth being carried into effect. The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Du Cane), in a speech of considerable ability, endeavoured to show that the French statistics had a detrimental effect on things in that country. The authority stated, however, was not so high as to be received without qualification, and even admitting that the French Government had made a mistake in importing a larger quantity of grain than was wanted, that surely ought not to be accepted as absolute proof against the value of agricultural statistics, for it must be considered that the object of the French Government was to produce abundance without any strict regard to the precise quantity requisite. The hon. Member (Mr. Du Cane) told the House that it was most difficult to estimate the production of a standing crop, and that the mistake of a single sack in calculating the produce of an acre would — taking the whole acreage of the country into account —lead to a variation in the estimate for a year of the produce of the whole country of not loss than 10,000,000 quarters. ["No, no, 5,000,000 quarters."] Well, 5,000,000 quarters. [An hon. MEMBER: "So much for your statistics."] He (Mr. Bass) admitted there were not many men who could calculate to a bushel or two an aero what would be the probable produce of any crop even on the eve of its being gathered. Taking the hon. Member's statement that an error of a sack an acre gives 5.000,000 quarters, that calculation gives 10,000,000 acres under the cultivation of wheat, which at only three quarters per acre would yield an annual produce of 30,000,000 quarters for this country; but he (Mr. Bass) defied the production of any reliable statistics which placed it higher than 20,000,000 quarters. With regard 1904 to the distribution of crops, it was of great importance to know at a certain period of the year how many acres were devoted to the cultivation of cereals. Nothing had surprised him more than to hear his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Lewis) depreciate the value of agricultural statistics with reference to buying and selling. [Sir G. C. LEWIS: I said no practical value.] As a tradesman he could state that they would be of great practical value, and he trusted the House would excuse him if he gave his own personal experience, and stated what the value of these statistics would be to him in his own trade. He had within the last eight or ten months bought 100,000 quarters of corn. When he began to buy in September it was of vast importance to him to know how much had been grown. If, for example, he was sure that 3,000,000 acres had been planted with barley in one year, while in the previous year scarcely more than 2,000,000 acres had been planted, instead of sending his agents to the Continent to buy barley he should keep them at home, and thus become a better customer to the fanners. It could not be doubtful that farmers had frequently held their corn over for higher prices, on account of erroneous statements of large or small quantities being in cultivation. He really thought the matter scarcely admitted of argument, and he was surprised that a measure which was calculated to be of great service to the country should be opposed. He would, however, remind the House that only one petition had been presented from the farmers of England against the Bill under consideration, and that, with one exception, no hon. Member who had opposed the measure had ventured to state that he apprehended any harm would result from it.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, this debate had not been limited to the Bill introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Dartmouth. The House had been indebted to him for an interesting discussion on the whole subject. He (Mr. Card well) must, however, acknowledge that he had listened with surprise to some of the observations which had been made. It was curious to note the alternation of fooling which sometimes pervaded that assembly in reference to the most practical questions. He remembered when the feeling of that House in favour of the collection of agricultural statistics was very urgent, and when considerable pressure was put upon the President of the Board of Trade on the subject. So far 1905 did that feeling go that the other House of Parliament, who could not be supposed to be indifferent to the agricultural interest, appointed a Committee to investigate the matter, and that Committee reported in favour of a compulsory system. They went further than that. There was introduced into the Upper House a Bill to carry into effect the strong recommendations of that Committee, but when it reached the Commons they, most judiciously, refused to pass it. But because the House then refused to force a compulsory system on the country, did it follow that they were now to turn round, and, adopting the humorous language of his hon. Friend the Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), disparage the whole value and importance of the subject, and ridicule it as if it were a mere question of statistical pedantry? Pedantry was the scum of knowledge of all kinds, and when knowledge was in the hands of weak and injudicious people it was liable to become pedantry. There might be pedantry in agricultural statistics; but because there was pedantry in general, or statistical pedantry in particular, was that any reason why they should disparage knowledge altogether? He would ask, had there already been no advantage gained by the limited amount of statistics they possessed? Was there a more interesting problem than the advance which Ireland was making in agricultural, social, political, and moral improvement? He held a higher opinion of the farmer than his hon. Friend (Mr. Drummond), who thought he must only conduct his business on the hand-to-mouth principle, and only go into the market to sell his produce under the immediate pressure of necessity. Pursue that train of reflection, and they would see that the British farmer was of all others the most interested in the collection of agricultural statistics. The persons with whom he made his bargain usually conducted their business on a great scale, but the farmer had only the produce of his own farm to sell, and could have little or no knowledge to guide him except that which the Legislature might afford him. If, as they had just heard, a largo purchaser of bailey could tell them that it would be of the greatest interest to him in his trade to have a collection of agricultural statistics; if, with all his means and intelligence, he would be glad to have such information as be had referred to, how much more glad would be the farmer who dealt with him? 1906 Therefore he (Mr. Cardwell) said he heard with regret the retrograde notions, with regard to commercial knowledge, that had been propounded by some hon. Members in the course of the debate. He must say that they owed very much to the Committee of the other House, and to the compulsory Bill which was introduced and carried there, the retrograde tendency which had been exhibited on this occasion. He admitted if they were to attempt to carry into effect a. compulsory measure it would entirely fail, inasmuch as it would not be analogous to the rest of our institutions or congenial to our feelings. Reference was made by his light hon. Friend to the system of corn averages which now existed at the Board of Trade. When he was at the Board of Trade he received a deputation from a very influential body of farmers by whom complaints were made that the publication of those corn averages had a very prejudicial effect on their interests. They said their farms were let at rents which varied with the price of corn. They further said:—"We are dissatisfied with your corn averages; you have got a compulsory law; why don't you enforce it? Only the higher qualities of corn are registered, and those at too high a figure, and the result is that the clergyman gets too much tithe and the landload too much rent." These were true propositions; and he (Mr. Cardwell) was unable to vindicate himself against the charge of not enforcing the law. But when he explained to them the consequences for enforcing the compulsory provisions of the law, their former complaints vanished into air, and the Deputation was immediately dissolved. He said, therefore, if there was a proposal for a compulsory collection of agricultural statistics, it would not only signally fail, but all its tendency would be to frustrate the useful object which his hon. Friend the Member for Dartmouth had in view. He believed, also, that that which it was so desirable to obtain—namely, the yield of the crop—it was impossible for any Executive Government to give. In the communications which he had with the Highland Society of Scotland, he entirely declined to assume responsibility with regard to returns of that kind, on the ground that it was the duty of the Government to afford accurate information, where accurate information could be obtained; but that it must be founded on something like certainty — not 1907 on mere surmise. He begged to say, how-ever, that very great progress had been made in obtaining information on the voluntary method. Owing to the excellent arrangements of the Highland Society of Scotland, under the charge of Mr. Hall Maxwell, at a very small cost of money, the statistics of Scotland had been furnished to the House, and, under the superintendence of Sir John Walsham, great progress had also been made in particular counties in England in obtaining, through the agency of the poor law authorities, statistical information for this country. A new agency had now been furnished, however, of which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) might avail himself, if he undertook the discharge of this duty. Statistical returns had been obtained from Ireland through the instrumentality of the police; and the time was approaching when, from one end of England to the other, the same instrumentality might be employed here, for in every part of the country a police force was being established. He would say, that if they meant to obtain statistics, they must not attempt any compulsory measure, which would alienate those whom they desired to conciliate and enlist on their side. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would look to that clause of the Bill which might render it an indictable offence for any farmer not to make the returns asked for, and expose him to penalties. He thought that when his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had considered the whole subject, and ascertained the expense of accomplishing the object in view, he would submit to the House an estimate of the amount of information they might expect to get, and how much they would have to pay fur it. That would throw light and knowledge upon a question which he admitted to be one intimately connected with the industry and the prosperity and welfare of the people of this country.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the course the debate had taken, and the opinions which had been expressed, clearly proved that much attention had been given to this subject of late years, and that its importance was not underrated. It was impossible not to feel, however, that the first great difficulty in the way of dealing with the subject was created more than ten years ago, by the course taken by the Government which succeeded that of Sir R. Peel. 1908 A proposition was then made to collect agricultural statistics, and a Bill was brought in by the then Government. The general feeling of the agricultural Members was not to oppose the Bill, only they said "do not put us to any expense"—it being by that Bill proposed to charge upon the rates in the country the expense of what was substantially a measure for the public benefit, and ought, therefore, to be paid for out of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, would not consent to pay for the collection of statistics out of the public purse. The Bill, consequently, came to nothing; and the effect of its introduction was only to create a feeling throughout the agricultural districts against any collection of statistics at all. Various measures had been introduced since. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell), that the chances of carrying any measure at all on the subject had been immeasurably diminished by the attempt made a year or two age to introduce a compulsory system into the collection of these returns. He must say he was surprised that, after the evidence of Mr. Hall Maxwell, any attempt should have been made to introduce the compulsory system. The collection of these statistics had succeeded in Scotland, because it was undertaken by parties in whom the farmers had confidence; all par-ties, so to speak, drew together, in the best possible spirit, and the result was success. Although he had heard objections taken to the accuracy of the returns, he had never heard there was any grumbling or jarring on the subject. He had, on a former occasion, said that he thought the collection of a return of the acreage was the only thing of value that could ha obtained, because that was a fact, and the only fact at which they could arrive; anything further would be a mere guess, and he did not think it worth while to publish guesses. He had stated also that he would offer no opposition to the introduction of the Bill, but that he reserved his opinion regarding it till he had an opportunity of considering its details and the machinery which it provided. He had now looked into this Bill to see how far it promised to obtain three distinct objects. First, he had considered it in relation to what might be called pure statistics, such as ascertaining what might be the quantity of land under cultivation, and what might be the state of the cultivation of the coun- 1909 try. He would beg the attention of the House to this point, as it bore very materially on some questions raised in the debate. The other two points related to the time in which the inquiries might he made, and the expense which would attach to them, and were, therefore, of a more practical nature. It had been said by the hon. Gentlemen who supported the introduction of such a system, that the collection of these returns would give some knowledge which we did not now possess, and would, if obtained and communicated early in the year, enable parties engaged in commerce to judge of the probable wants of the country during the next season, and accordingly to make their purchases abroad, and arrange for the introduction of a foreign supply. An hon. Gentleman, who was competent to give information to the House on the subject (Mr. Bass), actually said that he formed his opinion according to the produce of the harvest, and sent his agents to purchase in foreign countries for the coming season. It became, therefore, of the first necessity that that information should be given by a certain time. It must be early, in order that supplies might be obtained from those countries in Europe which are shut up early in the winter. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had shown himself perfectly alive to this part of the subject; and had fixed the time for obtaining the desired information at the beginning of August. Another class of men interested were the sellers and growers of corn; and it was equally necessary that they should be informed at the same period, because immediately after harvest they began to sell, and the hon. Gentleman said, the knowledge they would acquire from those statistics would enable them the better to conduct their sales throughout the season. Therefore, if the knowledge to he obtained was to be of any degree of use, it must be gained about the time the hon. Gentleman had pointed out. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tynomouth had quoted the opinion of many mercantile firms in London, as to the value of this information; but what the memorialists to whom he had referred wanted, was not only a return of the acreage under cultivation, but an estimate of the probable amount of produce. He had already expressed his opinion of the futility of endeavouring to supply such an estimate. He had, however, looked into this Bill, and he hoped the House would bear with him while he examined the machinery 1910 to see how far the information to be gained through the operation of this Bill was likely to be obtained at the right time? Next, how far was it likely to be accurate? And, thirdly, how far was the information to be obtained likely to he worth the expense of obtaining it? To begin with the accuracy of the returns. The hon. Gentleman proposed that the notices should be sent to the overseers in February. That would absolutely defeat his own object; because the tenure of farms in England changed at Michaelmas and Lady-day, or, he believed, in some pints of the country at Candlemas. The overseers were usually changed at the end of the month of March. It was very unusual, however, to have the rates altered until the commencement of the New Poor Law year, in April; and, therefore, a return of the rates sent up to London before the month of March would give a wholly inaccurate account of the occupiers that would be found in the month of June; and it must be evident that even a slight inaccuracy on this point in each district would greatly interfere with the object in view. He was told by the Poor Law Board and the Home Office, that when a circular, requiring an answer, was sent to the various parishes throughout the country, some answers were returned in a month, more in two, while the remainder dribbled in during the third. Therefore, they might take two months as the average time in which replies to these circulars would be received. What, then, was to be done when the copy of the rates came? Those who knew as much about rate books as he (Mr. Henley) did, knew that they were seldom filled up with very great care. In agricultural parishes disputes were not very often heard of, the rates were collected without trouble, and the persons charged with the duty were not very particular as to their entries, so that the rate books were seldom very accurate or very complete. Now, there were about 230,000 persons, according to the Census, enumerated, under the name of farmers, to whom, according to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, these Returns must be sent. But he believed the central authorities would have great difficulty in picking out the other persons engaged in other occupations, but occupying above five acres of land, to whom, according to this measure, whether they were enumerated as farmers or not, these Returns must also be sent. There would be among them butchers, and tailors, 1911 and landlords, and men of every class who occupied land, but did not come under the name of farmers, and every one of these left out would cause an inaccuracy in the Returns. Supposing, however, that this difficulty was surmounted, he had looked into the Census Returns, but had been unable to form an estimate of the number of persons to whom letters would be sent. Probably they would be nearer 300,000 than 200,000. Well, a certain number of them would answer, and a certain number would not. Now, he would suppose that it would take two months to get in the original Returns of the rates, and that it would take two months to get answers to the Returns or letters issued by the central authorities, it being well known that the matter was not looked upon by the farmers in the most favourable light, and that many, no doubt, would put the letters requiring Returns of their land under cultivation, behind the fire. When the answers to the letters issued by the central authorities were received, the first tiling would be to ascertain the number of defaulters to how many letters you had not received answers. Even in Scotland, where they had enumerators, Mr. Hall Maxwell said there were many persons they could not find, and even when all were agreed there were some there from whom they could obtain no information. Well, then, what was to be done with the defaulters? Acting under the authority of an Act of Parliament, the central authority would feel it its duty to put in force the powers which it possessed. According to the Bill those powers were to be exercised through the relieving officers. But they could not obtain the services of the relieving officers without the consent of the poor-law guardians, and he very much doubted whether they would consent to those officers' time being employed in this duty. Supposing, however, the person, whoever he was, proceeded to discharge his duty under this Bill. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suppose he could make the Returns required by craning over a hedge, and thus counting the number of acres under cultivation by each farmer without going into his fields. He (Mr. Henley) did not, however, believe that Returns with any approach to accuracy could be thus obtained. It was said, however, that he might go on the land after notice duly given. Now, the agricultural class, if treated civilly and with courtesy, were the most kind and easily managed people in the world; they would do almost anything 1912 you asked. But if they were not, if you sought to do anything which was distasteful to them, they had got, and were in the habit of acting up to, a very expressive phrase. "You do not know how awkward we can be if we like it." And he thought it very likely that, if an official went on any land without leave, some young occupiers of the land would take him by the scruff of the neck and turn him off. It would then become a case of assault, and would be brought before the magistrates. Let the House, then, see what protection this Bill proposes to give the persons engaged in collecting these Returns. They are to be allowed to go on land "if the occupier do not duly make a Return," but how could that be proved? The prosecutor in a case of assault could only prove that such a Return had not been received in London; he could not prove that it had not been sent. If a man were brought up for assault, the first question the prosecutor would be asked would be, "How do you know that the defendant has not duly made out the Return required from him i No doubt it might be proved that the notice to make the Return had been duly posted in London; but he (Mr. Henley) did not exactly see how it could be proved that the Return had not been made. However, to return to the point with which he had commenced. It would take two months to get the Returns of the rates, and two more months, at least, to send out the notices and to get the answers of the parties to whom Returns were sent —that is four months, which, supposing that the original requisition for the Return of rates was not made until after Lady-day, carried you to the month of August. This was the very beginning of the operation of the Bill; but it was also the time by which, if the Returns were not furnished, and the information deduced from them published, the Bill would be useless. Well, but if you did not also get in the Returns of the defaulters who did not answer the notices sent from London, and which might be from 10 to 30 per cent upon the whole number of occupiers, the whole of the Returns would be thrown away. The collection of the Irish agricultural statistics had been referred to, and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that when the county police were established throughout England they might serve the same purpose in the collection of these returns that the county constabulary did in Ireland. But it must 1913 not be forgotten that the Irish constabulary were under a central Government control and pay, while the English police were a local body, organized with respect to counties, paid by counties, and under the control of the county magistracy. That made a very material difference between the two forces. Well, but passing that by, it appeared that with all this machinery in the hands of Government in Ireland, no less than 4000 enumerators were employed in collecting these statistics, and that although this staff commenced their labours in June, the returns were not published until the latter end of September. Was it not, therefore, impossible by this Bill that we could obtain such information as was within our reach in England, faulty and inaccurate as it would be, within the time which would serve the objects which those who promoted this Bill wished to obtain? He had been asked whether he could give any probable estimate of the expense which would be entailed by this Bill. He confessed that he was wholly unable to do so. To put all other considerations out of view, the sketch which he had given of the working of the Bill must show that it must be wholly impossible to do so. Of course they could estimate the expense of sending out a number of letters and receiving the answers; but that would not meet the case. For not only was it uncertain what number of enumerators would have to be employed until it was seen what per centage of defaulters there would be amongst those from whom answers to the returns were required; but it was quite uncertain what number of actions or legal proceedings might arise out of the disputes with respect to the proceedings of those enumerators, and as to what they were justified in doing under the Act. Besides that, there was a vague power given by the Bill to the Board of Trade to employ such inspectors as they might deem fit for overseeing the proceedings of the enumerators in the preparation of these returns. Of course, if the Bill passed, that Department would call on Parliament to provide funds for the payment of a large and competent staff, the number of which, however, could not at present be foreseen. Looking at all these circumstances, he hoped that the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this Bill would take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cardwell). who from his acquaintance with the subject was well qualified to give it, and withdraw the mea- 1914 sure. He hoped that he would not damage the cause he had so much at heart, by attempting to pass a Bill that would not work. It was clear that the information that was wanted could not be obtained accurately, and in sufficient time to be useful for the purpose for which it was wanted. If that information was to be obtained at the time at which it would be useful, it must be done through the employment of a considerable number of enumerators, and they must have considerable powers. Half-and-half measures would only throw money away. What would be obtained by the Bill then before them would only be returns which would be inaccurate, insufficient in amount, too late in time, and without any value, and he believed that in the present temper of the parties most concerned—the tenant farmers—to attempt any compulsory measure would produce An amount of contention so much greater than the value of any returns which could be obtained, that it would be utterly unwise in any Government to attempt to carry out such a measure. As reference had been made to the corn returns, he might say that his attention had been drawn to the subject, and that he quite agreed that if they were not needed for the purposes of the tithe commutation, they might be allowed to drop. For that purpose, however, something of the kind was necessary, and up to the present time, although a good deal of correspondence had passed between the various officers interested in the subject, no substitute for the present returns, regarded with a view to the tithe commutation, had been agreed upon. To return, however, to the Bill before the House. He had, he thought, shown that by the machinery proposed, the returns required could not be obtained in time to serve the practical object proposed to be obtained. As to the purely statistical object—to show the progress of the country and the state of cultivation—he thought that it would be sufficient if a return of the land under cultivation were made once in ten years, through the instrumentality of the machinery employed for the collection of the census. He did not believe that even those who objected to make a return annually would refuse to do so once in ten years. There would be a considerable outcry if we asked the ladies to furnish a return of their ages every year; but we got it without difficulty once in ten years. He believed it would be the same with reference to returns of the land under culti- 1915 vation. He would conclude by again expressing a hope that the Bill would be withdrawn.
said, that having been examined on this question before the Lords' Committee, he was anxious to state why he differed from the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment. Ever since 1847, when the question was first broached, a feeling had existed that it would be advisable to have annual statistical returns on the subject of agriculture, provided they could be obtained without affecting the interest of the farmers. He was astonished that a Bill, the only object of which was to ascertain the amount of acreage under crop, should have met with so much opposition. He knew, and could prove, that the agriculturists in his county had not the slightest objection to furnishing these returns as to acreage, provided there were none asked for as to their produce and stock. The whole question turned upon the point, whether the results would justify the expense. It appeared to him that such returns would be beneficial to the farmer, corn-dealer, and at the same time to the agricultural labourer. The farmers knew that they could not hope for a continuance of the high prices of the last two or three years; but what the agriculturist wanted was steady, and at the same time remunerative prices. Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but it was a fact that, owing to the great improvements in agriculture, prices which formerly would not have been considered remunerative were so now. He was glad that it was so, and that the agriculturists had put their shoulders to the wheel and were now able to compete with the foreigner. Were they afraid then of statistics? Besides of late years the restrictions in leases which formerly existed had not been enforced, and the farmer was left more at liberty to use his land as he pleased. It was notorious that this country did not grow wheat sufficient for its consumption, and if this Bill came into operation the farmers could adopt their cultivation to the wants of the country. He had stated in evidence before the Lords' Committee, and he now repeated it, that if they attempted to get returns of the quantity of produce they would fail. Some of the clauses in the Bill he objected to, but to the principle, as stated in the preamble, namely, that it was expedient that provision should be made for ascertaining yearly the extent of land under each, kind of crop in England and Wales— 1916 he gave his consent, and should vote in favour of it. He would recommend the hon. Member for Dartmouth, if he should be successful in getting the principle of the Bill affirmed on a division, to leave the carrying out of the details of the measure to the Government.
§ MR. STANHOPE
said, he represented a large agricultural interest which was opposed to this Bill, and as such he would beg to ask the supporters of this measure what information they really wished to obtain? Did they wish to obtain returns of the average under cultivation, or the quantity of corn grown per acre? It would be impossible for a farmer to return what quantity of corn he had per acre, and if he only returned the amount of acreage, a very small measure of information would be obtained. If returns had been made last year, for example, whatever reliance might have been placed upon the number of acres of wheat would have led the House to a wrong conclusion, because the result of the harvest was so different from what had been anticipated from the acreage. Moreover the hon. Member who introduced the Bill had given no data towards forming an estimate of the probable expenses of his scheme, and he (Mr. Stanhope) thought they were about to ask for an amount of information which would cost more to get it than it was actually worth. It was very desirable that the good feeling which at present existed between the agricultural population and the other classes of the community should not be disturbed, and that Parliament should not force down the throats of the farmers a measure of a compulsory character which would be of little or no use to the community.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he thought that agriculturists as a body were not opposed to agricultural statistics, but they required two things—first, that the Returns should not be made compulsory; and, secondly, that it should be shown that the Returns would be of some use. Now, although he could see that there was some advantage to be derived from these Returns by the shipowner and the corn-buyer, yet the ground upon which he objected to this Bill was, that it was utterly impracticable. With regard to the Highland Society of Scotland great success had been obtained, and he really believed if the Royal Agricultural Society were to ask for returns of acreage they would get them. The Royal Agricultural Society of England were forbidden by their charter to interfere with 1917 any matters before Parliament; but, as that society had the confidence of the tenant-farmers, if this matter were dropped in Parliament, it might be taken up by the Royal Agricultural Society and successfully carried out by them. As for the annual yield, it was well known that the changes which took place often a week or a fortnight before harvest made such differences, that the best computations would be utterly illusory. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would withdraw the Bill; but, if not, he should feel it his duty to oppose it.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, he thought that the hon. Member (Mr. Miles) had propounded a somewhat alarming doctrine in legislation, when he said that the House might sanction the first two lines of the Bill and take the chance of what might become of the rest. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. C. Lewis) was accurate in his interpretation of the fifth clause, when he said that a farmer might be indicted for not complying with its provisions, although no specific penalty was attached to non-compliance. It was true, as had been stated by the right hon. Member (Mr. Cardwell), that agricultural statistics were collected in Ireland, but there were 4,000 local enumerators there, who, having very little to do, employed themselves in something useful. It did not, however, follow, that any measure could be carried into effect under a different system. The excellence of every measure depended upon its details, and this would be a useful measure only so far as it gave useful information.
§ MR. BALL
begged the House to permit him to make a few observations, because if it were known that he had not spoken, it would be thought that he had not done his duty. The table would have been covered with petitions against the Bill, only the farmers had petitioned against a similar Bill, and they did not think it necessary to petition again. He looked upon the Bill of the hon. Gentleman as a great improvement upon the Bill that was then thrown out. Several clauses were omitted, particularly those requiring returns of stock and produce. The farmers would not consent to a compulsory measure, and, on the other hand, if the Bill did not obtain the acreable produce, it would be of no use. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had torn the Bill to tatters, and he advised the hon. Member for Dartmouth to collect the fragments and take them out of the House. Seeing the 1918 fate of the Bill which came down from the other House, he trusted that the Government would have nothing to do with such a measure.
§ MR. CAIRD
said, he was quite unaware that the fifth clause was compulsory until it had been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. C. Lewis), and it would be his business, in Committee, to remove this unintentional oversight. The discussion had shown that the principle of the Bill was generally approved of, and therefore he would accept the advice of the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles), whose opinion on agricultural matters was entitled to so much weight in that House and in the country. He would go to a division, and, if the House should affirm the principle of the Bill, he would leave it to the Government to devise the means necessary to carry it into effect. The acreage of every field in the kingdom could be found upon the tithe-map, and, with regard to the objection taken by the President of the Board of Trade, the sending of a letter by the post was held under the Registration of Voters Act to be a good service.
said, he wished to remove a misunderstanding which might arise from what had been stated with regard to Mr. Hall Maxwell by the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Ker Seymer). The hon. Member had said, that Mr. Hall Maxwell was supposed to be a public debtor or defaulter. To those acquainted with that gentleman, it was hardly necessary for him to say that no such charge could justly be brought against him. The only question between the Treasury and Mr. Maxwell was, whether his accounts should go, like other accounts, through the Audit Office.
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, the whole tenor of his remarks went to show that Mr. Hall Maxwell had been hardly used. It was never his intention to make any accusation against that gentleman of the kind referred to.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he held a letter in his hand explaining the circumstances that led to Mr. Hall Maxwell's resignation, and to the cessation of the collection of statistics by the Highland Society. The question turned not upon the production of vouchers, but upon Mr. Maxwells authority as to the employment of clerks. The collection of agricultural statistics was undertaken as a voluntary act by the Highland Society. If it had not been for the influence of Mr. 1919 Hall Maxwell among the farmers, these statistics would not have been collected. The Audit Office tried to impose the same conditions upon Mr. Maxwell, who only received a slight honorarium for his services, as were attached to public servants in the receipt of a salary. The Board of Trade thought that there ought to be a departure from the strict rule in this case; but when the Treasury declined to sanction any such departure, then, and then only, Mr. Hall Maxwell declined to proceed any further.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now,' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 241: Majority 106.
§ Words added: — Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for Six Months.