HC Deb 24 February 1859 vol 152 cc780-8

MR. CAIRD moved the following Resolution:— That it would be advantageous to the public interests that Government should ascertain and publish periodically the Agricultural Satistics of Great Britain, in so far as they relate to the extent of acres under the several crops of corn, vegetables, and grass. The hon. Member said, that he had proposed a Bill on this subject last Session. The noble Lord the present Secretary of State for India, presented a petition from the Statistical Society, signed by himself as chairman, in favour of the Bill. In his present Motion he had adopted some of the suggestions made last year, and had restricted his statistics to the acreage of the several crops. He now proposed a Resolution on this subject instead of a Bill, and in doing so he was bound to show how the object of that Resolution could be carried out. The collection of agricultural statistics, it had been stated, would be very expensive; that all other satistics of the trade and com- merce of the country were gathered in the process of collecting the revenue, but that for the purpose of collecting agricultural statistics a great and additional expense must be entailed on the country. But he would suggest a mode of collecting the statistics of the agriculture of the country that would be no additional expense whatever. He proposed that the next Census of 1861 be made the opportunity of collecting them. They had already had a proof that it could be done without any difficulty. By means of the last Census of 1851, certain agricultural facts were requested to be filled up voluntarily; and they were almost all filled up. They consisted of returns of the acreage of each farm, and the number of labourers employed by each occupier. There would be no difficulty in adding a few columns to the return in 1861, for the number of separate acres under each crop, and thus obtain a correct knowledge of the extent of land under each, at least once in every ten years. If the information were found valuable, then the same machinery might be continued, and made annual if they chose. It was not necessary to go into any argument in favour of the principle of the Resolution. Almost every prominent Member of the present Government had expressed an opinion in favour of the principle—The First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary for the Colonies, and the noble Lord the Secretary for India. While expressing his opinion in favour of the collection of these statistics, the noble Lord the Minister for India suggested that the returns should be as simple and as little troublesome as possible. By restricting the words of the Resolution to the acreage under the several crops, this recommendation of the noble Lord would be fully carried out. It had been objected last year that this information would come too late in the year to be of any service; but, as it was quite clear that if confined to the acreage it could be obtained immediately after the crops were sown, there was no reason why it might not be regularly published in the month of July. It bad also been said that mere acreage returns would be valueless when procured; but the answer to that was that experience in the case of Ireland and Scotland proved that the variation between the acreage sown under the several crops from year to year was very much greater than the variation in the produce of each crop. This showed that the acreage was by far the most important, as it was the only certain information they could secure. Anything beyond that must be purely in the nature of an estimate. The want of such a guide as these returns would afford, was seen in the present state of prices. Owing to the want of knowledge which prevailed among farmers as to the extent of the country's surface under particular crops, oats were at this moment as dear per pound, as wheat in the Liverpool market—a state of things quite unprecedented, and was the consequence of the farmers not being informed of the extent to which their neighbours had gone in the cultivation of wheat, to the exclusion of inferior kinds of corn. If these statistics were furnished, it might be left to the acuteness of the practical agriculturist to make a proper use of them. He had referred to the machinery for taking the Census as one mode by which his object could be carried out. But there were other means of attaining the same end. If the Government would only take the matter up earnestly, they could easily accomplish it. It had been suggested last year that these statistics might readily be collected by the instrumentality of the county police; no doubt, an intelligent officer, provided with a book ruled off into different columns, and going about from farm to farm, could procure the requisite returns without difficulty or expense. In the evidence lately taken l before a Committee of the House of Lords, it was shown that the officers of the Royal Engineers had been able, with the aid of the Ordnance map alone, together with their own personal observation of the crops, to collect accurate satisfies of the acreage in a part of the county of Edinburgh. The publication of information of this nature, would not reduce prices, but render them steady and uniform. The present fluctuations in the price of bread were more injurious to the labourer than to any other class. The utility of such returns as he sought, was more than usually obvious at this juncture. We were, perhaps, on the eve of an European war; and for our supplies of food we were largely dependent upon foreign nations. The source of one-fourth of our entire foreign supply had been recently dried up. America now sent us absolutely nothing, though during the last ten years she had exported corn to the extent of more than £8,000,000 annually. Such a sudden cessation of an important supply might seriously affect the comfort of the people of this country. The prin- ciple of his Motion had been repeatedly acknowledged by the House, money having been voted in several successive years for the collection of agricultural returns in Ireland and Scotland. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.


seconded the Motion. He had been largely interested in improving land in his neighbourhood, and he must disavow any participation in the alarm which had sometimes been expressed at the effect likely to be produced by the collection of agricultural statistics. Last autumn the Emperor of the French sent over to this country a commissioner to inquire into the effect, in England, of withdrawing the duties on the importation of corn. The commissioner, an eminent man, was, by his own intelligence and observation, able to render a satisfactory answer to the inquiry. Still, how much better it would have been if the commissioner sent by the Emperor had had it in his power to turn to any trustworthy returns of agricultural produce and agricultural progress. They could not tell what the effect of that might have been on the French Emperor. It might have led to increase communication between the two Countries, which would have been most beneficial, not only to Great Britain and France, but to all countries connected with them. We had returns from our Colonies; we knew the state of agricultural produce in Australia, in Canada, and at the Cape; we had returns from the sister island, Ireland; but in England we could not get the facts. What was the reason? Prejudice, he believed, and it had been well said that it was more difficult to remove a prejudice than confute an argument. He hoped, however, that the existing prejudice against the collection of agricultural produce would be removed.


said, he had listened with some surprise at the course taken by the hon. Member for Dartmouth (Mr. Caird). On two former occasions the hon. Member introduced a Bill on the subject, and on both the Bill was rejected by the House on the ground that it was impossible to carry out the project without introducing a compulsory clause. Yet the hon. Member now wanted to bind the House to an abstract Resolution to transfer to the Government the responsibility of carrying into effect the object which he had twice failed in persuading the House to sanction. In fact, he wanted the Government to find out the means of effecting that which he was himself unable to show the House the mode of carrying out. The hon. Gentleman said that the objections formerly urged were directed against the details of the Bills, not against the principle which they embodied; but that was not correct—the objections were that any Bill would be in-operative without compulsory clauses, and these the House had always refused to grant. The objection therefore went to the principle. The hon. Gentleman said that these returns would be attainable in June; but the fact was that no such statistics had ever been published before September, and could therefore be of advantage to no one but the corn-jobber. The hon. Member was very anxious to promote the good of the agriculturists, and no doubt they would be greatly obliged to him for his efforts on their behalf; but there were many other Members of that House who were quite as solicitous for the interests of agriculture as was the hon. Member for Dartmouth, and there therefore existed no reason why he should take it under his exclusive protection. The hon. Gentleman had failed to show that these statistics would be of the slightest advantage either to the farmer—who sowed his land not according to the state of the markets, but according to a system of cropping,—to the artisan, or to the labourer, and under all the circumstances of the case he hoped that the House would not agree to the Resolution which he had moved


said, the Resolution merely affirmed a principle, that it would be advantageous that Government should ascertain and publish periodically the agricultural statistics of the country. He attached no great importance to these returns one way or the other; but he had a great objection to the Resolution, for he foresaw that if they were instituted there must be fresh Inspectors, and there were too many of them already. The first living writer of the day on the subject of history, Lord Macaulay, said that to be governed by busybodies was more than flesh and blood could bear; but that was the condition to which we were now approaching, and he should watch with the greatest jealously any addition to the existing number of inspectors and reporters.


said, that although he last year supported the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dartmouth, he should vote against this Resolution, because it proposed to base the system upon acreage. That would be a sound foundation if each acre bore only one crop per annum; but it must be remembered that in some cases three crops were raised on the same land in a year.


said, that when the hon. Member who brought forward the Motion on this occasion last year moved a Bill for the purpose of procuring agricultural statistics, he (Mr. Miles) gave the Bill his support, as he would to any practical measure that might be brought forward for the purpose of procuring good agricultural statistics; but the hon. Member did not then succeed, and he was now taking the extraordinary course of attempting by a side-wind, and by loosely casting the responsibility on the Government, to obtain what he failed in procuring by direct means. If he understood the speech of the hon. Member, the statistics he now moved for would not be of the slightest use or benefit to the farmer. The statistics moved for last year would probably have been of general benefit, but the Resolution now before the House would be of no good to any one. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Dartmouth had made his speech, and manifested his anxiety to procure a good system of agricultural statistics, he trusted that he would not press his Motion to a division.


, in reply, said he was much surprised at the speech he had just heard, for last year the hon. Member for Somerset recommended him to leave the details of any measure dealing with this subject in the hands of the Government. He had followed that advice, and now the hon. Member recommended a contrary course. He was sorry he could not keep pace with the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Holland), whose support he regretted that he was not to have on that occasion: he had not considered the case of farmers who grew three crops in one year, but only aspire to meet the wants of the general system of agriculture, which obtained only one crop of corn per annum. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had rebuked him for presuming to come forward as the representative of the farmers; but to show that he was not acting in that capacity without authority, he would state that he held in his hand letters from Mr. Hudson, of Castle Acre, in Norfolk, and Mr. George Hope, of Fenton Barns, East Lothian, both of whom were known to be first-rate agriculturists and both of whom were favourable to the systematic collection of agricultural statistics. He hoped the House would excuse him for persisting in his Motion, which he believed to be for the best interests of the country.


said, the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member affirmed that it would be advantageous to the public interests that Government should ascertain and publish periodically the agricultural statistics of Great Britain; but that would apply to every year or six months as well as to every ten years. The hon. Member said that the farming interest generally made no objection to supply the information they were requested to give at the last Census. That, he (Mr. Henley) believed, was quite correct, and he thought it very probable that if the farming interest had net been so much harassed by the repeated schemes for compulsory returns which had been brought forward in the interval, they would be equally ready, at the request of the Government, to give the same information at the next Census. But the hon. Member also said, that if the information was obtained at the next Census, it could be asked for again the year following. Now, that was not the wisest mode of dealing with the English farmer for the purpose of inducing him to do a thing which he might or might not conceive to be desirable. But the hon. Member must know perfectly well that the several compulsory schemes that had been propounded during the last few years had created a general feeling on the part of the farming interest, not, perhaps, of resistance, but certainly of dislike to these statistics. That had undoubtedly been the case in many counties of England. He did not think, therefore, that the placing an abstract Resolution of this kind upon the votes of the House would at all facilitate the object the hon. Member for Dartmouth had in view. It would probably become a dead letter; no Government would feel under the necessity of acting upon it; it would have no practical result; indeed, if it had any effect at all, it would rather be to keep alive the feeling of repugnance to the measure, which, whether rightly or wrongly, they all knew prevailed to a considerable extent in the country. An hon. Member (Mr. Garnett) had remarked that it was desirable to have trustworthy returns. He (Mr. Henley) entirely agreed with him. But the question was, would the returns be trustworthy? Was it probable that they could be safely depended upon if a great number of persons were indisposed to furnish them?—because. let it be remembered that there was no body of men in England who could offer so much passive resistance to an obnoxious measure as the agriculturists of England. They might depend upon it, therefore, that the returns would not be very trustworthy if any attempt were made to squeeze them out of the farmers in a disagreeable manner. He regretted that the hon. Member was not content with having had an opportunity of propounding his views, but was resolved to divide the House. He (Mr. Henley) must vote against the Resolution.


said, that all the farmers wanted was to be let alone. They thought they knew their own business pretty well; and the House might rely upon it that if they resorted to this system of ascertaining the quantity of produce or the quantity of acreage under cultivation, they would only be misleading. They would get fictitious and nominal returns—returns that were altogether contrary to the facts of the case—and that would do more harm than good.


said, that last year, when the hon. Member for Dartmouth brought in a Bill on this subject, almost every one admitted the importance and practicability of obtaining correct agricultural returns; but the hon. Member was told that it was not for him, a private Member, to undertake so important a task, but that it was a duty which belonged especially to the Government. What had the hon. Member done now? He simply asked the House to affirm a proposition which, if the Government were disposed to act upon it, would enable them upon their own responsibility to introduce a measure for the collection of agricultural statistics and to include in the estimates a Vote for defraying the expenses. Parliament now voted every year a sum of about £3,000 for the purpose of taking agricultural statistics in Ireland, and another sum—he was not prepared to state its amount—for the accomplishment of the same object in Scotland. But they had been told over and over again that the Scotch and Irish returns would never be of any use until similar statistics were collected in England. He concurred in that opinion, and what he desired was that the House should either extend the system over the whole country, or abandon its profitless expenditure in Scotland and Ireland. The Resolution now submitted to the House was confined to the amount of acreage under cultivation, and did not include the quantity of cattle and other matters which were objected to in the Bill of last year. Nothing could be more simple or more practicable; and he, for one, would give a cordial vote for the Resolution, leaving to the Government the duty of proposing some plan for carrying it into effect.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Devonport that they were at present throwing away from £3,000 to £5,000 a year in obtaining statistics from Scotland and Ireland; but with regard to the Motion before the House; he held that mere acreage returns would be a perfect delusion, and of no earthly use whatever. Every practical farmer knew that last year there were two crops, of which no acreage return would have afforded the remotest idea of what those crops were likely to be—he alluded to the turnip and bean crops. The summer being a dry one, the turnip crop throughout the midland counties was a complete failure; whilst, with regard to the bean crop, he knew the case of a practical farmer who, out of 70 acres, producing 5 quarters an acre, was able to carry to market in good saleable condition no more than 3 quarters and 4 bushels. This, he thought, was sufficient to show that it was utterly impossible to give any idea from acreage returns of what the produce was likely to be.


said, that a system of agricultural statistics was very much wanted; and he did not believe that any man who was acquainted with commerce in grain would undertake to say that they were not of the greatest importance.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 163: Majority 11.