§ MR. CAIRD
, in rising to move a Resolution—That, in the opinion of this House, the collection and early publication of the Agricultural Statistics of Great Britain would be advantageous to the public interest,said, that it would not be necessary to detain the House at any length, since the subject had received ample discussion on various occasions during the present Parliament. He had been much impressed with the extent to which this country was now dependent on foreign sources for its supply of food. The change had been very extraordinary in the last few years. The 1363 importations of foreign wheat and flour for the ten years previous to 1838 were considerably less than the present average yearly import; the imports for those ten years having been 6,200,000 qrs., while the average imports of the last five years were 9,000,000 qrs. If he took the five years previous to the abolition of the Corn Laws, he found that while at that time we were dependent on foreign countries for food to the extent of six weeks' consumption, we were now dependent upon them, according to the average of the last five years, for six months' consumption. Now, a matter of so much magnitude was well worthy the attention of that House and of the country. He did not say that the increased supply of corn was entirely to be attributed to matters not connected with internal agriculture, though it had been very much caused by it; but whilst be thought the immense increased supply should give to the people of the country a much greater abundance of food than it really did, at the same time he believed it had been caused by an alteration in the mode of agriculture in this country. Two years ago he referred to the change which he then believed was growing and had been growing for some years in consequence of natural causes that must be apparent to the House. When they took into consideration the diminished price of corn and the increased price of every other article of farm and dairy produce, and the increasing cost of labour, they would see that it naturally caused a gradually diminished growth of corn and an increased growth of those articles which were more remunerative to the farmer. It was difficult to form an estimate of what might be the consequence of that change, which was gradually overspreading the country. If each farmer took away one-tenth of his land from corn, and let it out in grass, we should require from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 qrs. of corn more to be imported than before, and this very process might be going on without our having the slightest knowledge of the change. But if we had a return of the acreage under each crop we should know the extent of the change, and how it was gradually being brought about. Now, the first interest we had to consider in a matter of this kind was that of the public. When we fount that almost one-half of the bread consumed in this country was derived from foreign sources, we could not overestimate the extent of the interests which were involved But other countries as well as ourselves 1364 had appeared in the market for foreign corn. France, in 1861, competed with us in every country where wheat was produced to the extent of from 5,000,000 to 6000,000 qrs. It would be of the greatest advantage to us, then, to know at the earliest possible period what change was going on in order that we might enter the market on at least equal terms with other competing countries. He had always argued that the advantage to our own farmers of such a knowledge would be as great as to any other class. The farmer was to a great extent not only a seller but a purchaser of foreign corn—they were in fact corn dealers. If, as had been often argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite, this were simply and solely a corn dealer's question, the farmers were as interested as any others in having the earliest information, for then they would be in a position to put that information to advantage. The monetary and commercial interests of the country must necessarily be largely interested in these statistics, for the fluctuations which took place in the supply of an article of such magnitude were very great. The value of the imported corn during the last five years had been one-sixth of the value of the total imports of every foreign article of produce. During the last four years the fluctuations which had taken place in the cost of foreign corn had been extraordinary. In 1860–1 our imports of corn cost upwards of £40,000,000. In 1863 and that part which was now remaining of 1864 up to next harvest—which, of course, was partly a matter of estimate—it would be found, he believed, that we should not pay more than £20,000,000. A difference amounting to something like £20,000,000 sterling must seriously affect the whole monetary interests of the country, and if they looked to the commercial and shipping interests it would be seen that the transport of such a vast weight of corn was a matter of immense importance. In one year we should require 3,000,000 of tonnage, in another 1,500,000. The returns, therefore, must be of immense importance to the shipping interest. With regard to the advantages to be derived from returns of this kind he would appeal to the benefit which the country had derived from the agricultural returns collected with such success in Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had more than once borne testimony to their value in revealing facts of the greatest importance which could not be obtained from any other 1365 source. Whilst, however, he acknowledged the importance of the Irish returns he must say he considered them most incomplete until those of Great Britain were published. He did not desire to bind the House to any particular mode of obtaining these returns. It had been proposed that they should be collected by the police as in Ireland; but on the part of the Government and the House generally that was not thought a desirable means. He then suggested that they should be obtained through the Registrar General's Department. That office, from its diffused machinery and the accuracy with which its returns were always made, would be found, he believed, to be most successful, and the Registrar General himself was of opinion that he could obtain the returns, if ordered to do so, and if the money were voted by that House. He thought £15,000 would be a very small sum for such an object, considering its vast importance. But the Secretary for the Home Department was of opinion that as no compulsion could be used, the returns were not likely to be so trustworthy as to justify Parliament in making such a payment. He (Mr. Caird) believed if the system were once in operation most satisfactory statistics might be obtained from the office of the Registrar General. But he had turned his attention to another mode of obtaining them—a mode which had been tried by the Highland Society for two successive years in two different counties in Scotland with perfect success. It was that the returns should be taken according to the maps of the Ordnance Survey and under the direction of that Survey. But to prevent unnecessary expense, and because the maps were not complete for England, and were not likely to be for some years yet, it would be requisite to take type or sample districts throughout the country, from which accurate returns should lie obtained every year. The 6-inch Survey in Scotland was how complete, and, therefore, his plan might be adopted this year in that country, in which he would propose to select five sample districts. He would select ten districts in England, one in the south, one each in the south-west, midland, and south-east, in the west, midland, and east, and in the north, north-west, and north-east. Each of those districts might contain 100,000 acres, and so far they should insure absolute accuracy. The returns might be obtained from the whole of England in the course of the next year. 1366 He had proposed fifteen sample districts for the whole of Great Britain, those districts containing 1,500,000 acres, which would represent about one-tenth of the whole of the cultivated surface of Great Britain. It was a convenient quantity, but was not material to his object. All that was material was that the same sample districts should be taken each year in succession, for by doing so they would be able to find out the changes which were taking place in the cultivation, and if there were a fifth or a tenth of increase over the 1,500,000 acres, that would be an indication that a like increase had taken place in the cultivated acreage of the whole country. The plan had two advantages—the first being that it would be very little costly. From the cost of the Survey made by Sir Henry James, he was able to give a probable estimate of how much it would be. The whole cost would not exceed £3,000 a year, and such a small sum was hardly worth mentioning in comparison with the advantages to be derived from the possession of correct statistics. The second advantage of the plan was, that it would entirely do away with the complaint that had been urged on former occasions as to the inquisitorial character of the inquiry, because the officer, taking the Ordnance map of 100,000 acres, and filling up that map as cultivated, need not know the name of a single farm or farmer. The return so obtained of the surface of the country might be procured early and published towards the end of July, and the country would then be in possession of what it never had before—a satisfactory basis, on which every one interested in the purchase and sale of corn could calculate for himself what would be the probable result of the harvest about to be reaped. He would further propose that towards September, when some criterion might be arrived at as to the probable yield of the harvest, the same officers as had made the inquiry in the previous part of the year should again inquire as to what would be the probable produce of the crop when thrashed. That might be done by a very ingenious mode adopted by Sir Henry James and the officers of his department, the result of which had been very successful, and which might be carried out with great advantage throughout the country. Having developed the plan he suggested he would now place his Motion before the House, not asking the House to bind itself to that plan or any other plan, but only desiring that, as the 1367 question was of so much importance to the public generally, and as the returns could be procured for so very moderate an amount, the House would agree to the principle expressed in the Resolution which he now begged to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the collection and earl; publication of the Agricultural Statistics of Great Britain would be advantageous to the public interest."—(Mr. Caird.)
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, that if their agricultural statistics were to cost no more than £3,000, and were to be as advantageous as the hon. Gentleman had described, he could perfectly well understand that the House might feel disposed to agree to this Resolution; but if these returns were to be fallacious and inaccurate, then he could not understand what possible use such returns could be to the country. He would take the hon. Gentleman's last plan—he proposed to take certain counties from certain parts of England; but inasmuch as it was well known that even in adjoining counties there was frequently very great difference in the soil, one being poor and the other rich, these selected districts could not possibly be said to represent the whole agricultural districts of England. They knew how crops varied in different, though adjoining, counties; therefore, on that ground alone, it would be most unsatisfactory to select certain parts. This was not, however, the main point. The hon. Gentleman said this was not an inquisitorial plan, and yet he proposed that the most inquisitorial returns should be collected in September—that an officer should go round to each grower, and ascertain the amount of corn threshed.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
Then it was of no use whatever. His hon. Friend said the statistics would be to the advantage of the public; but he entirely overlooked the feelings of the people on whose ground they had to go to get these returns. The farmers were entirely adverse to statistical returns of this nature. They might be wrong, and the returns might not do them the harm they feared they would; they, however, were of opinion these statistics would do them no good; and, therefore, 1368 the country ought not to be put to the expense of them. In conclusion, he hoped the House would not agree to a Resolution so undefined as this, because the House was pledging itself to a something, and what that something was they did not yet know; and, moreover, they were pledging themselves to carry out a project that could not be satisfactory to the country.
said, he entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He had paid much attention to this subject, and had presented many petitions from various counties with reference to it, but he had never yet heard it shown that it would be any benefit to those who provided the returns now asked for. On that ground, and on that ground alone, he should be prepared to oppose the Motion. But when they considered the great injury which had been inflicted on the agriculture of this country—when they recollected the £6,000,000 taken from the agriculturists for the malt tax and that other £6,000,000 by the diseases of cattle—when they remembered the extreme low price of corn that had prevailed for some time past—it was far too much to call on them and compel them to say what was the result of the cultivation of their land. The hon. Gentleman first proposed to get the return through the Registrar's Office, but that would cost too much; he then proposed it should be got through the Ordnance Survey, and at the end of July the account should be taken of the cropping, and in September of the threshing. Now, the return obtained as proposed could not but be unreliable; for every one knew that whilst in some places land would scarcely produce five bushels, in others it would produce five quarters. No one could tell until he had threshed what the yield would be, and therefore £3,000 a year spent as proposed would be simply thrown away. Before they agreed to a system of this kind, they ought to have the consent of the farmers of the country, who certainly now objected to it, and naturally—for how would the shopkeepers of London or elsewhere like to have their places of business inspected and their takings inquired into? It was perfectly monstrous that such a principle should be applied to the farmers of this country. No benefit whatever could accrue from it to the corn-grower, and it was simply for the benefit of the corndealer.
said, with reference to the objection that the proposed returns would 1369 be unreliable, because the farmers could know nothing of the produce of their harvests until threshing time, he could state, that having been for forty years engaged in calculating what the probable yield of the harvest would be, he was certain that a very close guess might be made at it by this proposal. The objection to the taking of acreage of corn had considerably subsided; and he believed that the tenant-farmers had no objection to the acreage of their growing crops being known. He did not himself know a single tenant-farmer who objected to his acreage being known. As a matter of fact, every landlord and every steward must know, and it could not signify to the tenant farmer that the general public should know it. The gallant Colonel opposite said, that taking returns for these sample districts would not give a fair idea of what was being done all over the country; but, with the geological map in hand, it would not be at all difficult to mark out a sample district which would give the information desired. Of course weather which suited the lias strata would not be so good for the sandstone; but by taking a fair sample of the lias districts, it would not be difficult to ascertain what was going on in the same kind of lands all through the country. The practical form in which the hon. Gentleman had embodied his proposition removed many of the difficulties which had formerly stood in the way. The old objection on the ground of expense had been got rid of. The sum of £3,000 would be very little to pay for the valuable information which might be obtained. His (Mr. Paget's) impression was, that one result of the collection of this information would be, that it would tend to reduce the inequalities of price throughout all the country, and would thus confer a great benefit on the small farmers particularly, whose interest it was to be able to take their produce to market regularly and get a fair average price for it. Certainly, nothing would tend more to make prices steady throughout the country.
§ LORD HOTHAM
said, that his silence might not be misconstrued, he desired to state that his opinion on this subject remained unchanged. He believed that without some more forcible measures than he thought Parliament would be willing to sanction, it would not be possible to obtain returns of sufficient accuracy to be of the value the hon. Gentleman seemed to expect; and unless the returns so collected and issued by the Government were correct, 1370 the result would be totally different from that which was desired. He thought there was a good deal in what had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot) as to the impracticability of making any such selections—any such "types" was the expression used — of the whole country as would give a fair representation of the produce of a harvest. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Caird) had abandoned his proposed collection of the returns by the police and registrars, and he now proposed to make the collection through the instrumentality of the Ordnance Survey—in point of fact, by private soldiers of the Royal Engineers. He (Lord Hotham) decidedly objected to the employment of any of Her Majesty's troops in the collection of such returns, and he believed that it would not give any satisfaction to the country to see Her Majesty's army so employed. He should very much like to hear what the Secretary of State would say to that suggestion, When the hon. Member said his present proposal would be divested of all the inquisitorial character which attended his former plans, and that it would only be necessary for the Ordnance Surveyor to go with the map in his hand to procure the returns, he would ask him where these soldiers were to go? Were they to take their stand on the public highway? It was very little information they would obtain in that manner. But if the proceeding was to be divested of its inquisitorial character he would ask by what right were they to go on the fields and inquire what were the crops under one head and what under another? For the purpose of procuring for the country the Ordnance Survey the law empowered the surveyors to go on the land. Was it intended to pass a law compelling the farmer to admit those men on his farm and to answer their inquiries? And if this was to be done, what became of the hon. Member's statement that the inquiry would be divested of all inquisitorial character? The hon. Member proposed that the first inquiry should be made in July as to what would be the probable crop, and another inquiry was to be made in September, when the farmers had commenced threshing. But he was surprised that the hon. Member, coming from Scotland, should propose that in the month of September those Inspectors should make such inquiry. He (Lord Hotham) never had the advantage of being in the hon. Member's country but once; but he remembered seeing the 1371 oats as green as grass in the month of October. In the county to which he (Lord Hotham) had the honour to belong, the harvest frequently lasted till the end of October. Within the last few years he had seen wheat cut in December. What, then, could the Inspectors learn in September? Another difficulty in the way of collecting these statistics arose from the unsettled state of the weather about harvest time. It had happened within the last three or four years that there had been two harvests which knocked all calculations and estimates on the head. In one of those years the harvest was immensely larger than was expected; in the other it wan infinitely smaller. If, then, the returns were not to be accurate, they would do more harm than good There was a general disposition to place reliance on documents emanating from the Government. If the Government would publish the returns stating at the head of them that they would not be answerable for their correctness, that would be one thing; but if they were to be issued in the ordinary form of Government Returns, the public would believe that the Government knew more on the subject than, in reality, they did. For how many years was his late right hon. and lamented Friend, Sir Robert Peel, charged with having said he would guarantee a price of 56s. a quarter for wheat; whereas, all he did say was that he hoped or expected — he certainly did not go beyond this — that 56s. would be about the price below which wheat would not fall. If these returns were not accurate people would still fancy they were; they would make their arrangements accordingly, and be woefully disappointed. People engaged in commerce would not be taken in by incorrect returns—they would obtain information for themselves; but he doubted whether this would be the case with the cultivators of land. Nothing was less desirable than to encourage speculation on the part of the farmers. Mercantile men must speculate; but he never knew a good practical farmer who would not tell him that the man who threshed his corn when ready, and sold it when it was threshed, would in the long run do more good than he who fancied he knew more than his neighbour, and kept his corn in hope of the price becoming higher. He did not care whether the collection of the statistics was to cost £3,000 or £15,000; but till he could see a plan 1372 for collecting them, calculated to effect the object which the hon. Gentleman had in view, and not subject to the objections which the present and all former plans were liable to, he could only say that, without presuming to tell others that they there wrong, he must give his opposition to Motions of this nature.
§ MR. DENT
said, he had never heard the accuracy of the statistical returns of agriculture collected in Ireland, or by the Highland Society in Scotland, impugned; and he could not understand why the proposed returns should be less correct. The noble Lord who had just sat down (Lord Hotham) deprecated speculation on the part of the farmer. Why was it so wrong for the farmer to speculate? Why, the main ground of the folly of their doing so was that they were entirely ignorant of what was likely to be the average of crops throughout the country. For himself, he would like to see agricultural statistics carried still further. He would like to see a return, not only of the corn crops, but of stock. With regard to this point, there existed a lamentable want of information. He cheerfully gave his support to the Motion.
§ MR. HUBBARD
thought the House ought to see clearly the grounds on which the Motion was opposed. The first was, that the expense of collecting the statistics was too great; the second was, that farmers objected to intrusion on their land; the third, that the returns would be delusive. If the latter objection were true, of course it was fatal. As to the first objection, whether the expense was £5,000, £15.000, or £50,000, the immense importance of these statistics could not be measured by any expense. In one season England had spent £20,000,000 in corn alone; and in 1847 as large a sum as £100,000 might have been saved by priority of information on a single day's transaction, when we had to compete with other nations in the markets of Europe and America. The House should, therefore, dismiss the matter of expense from their minds. Then so far as the feelings of the farmers were concerned, he thought that a great deal of misapprehension prevailed on that point. With regard to the small farmers, if they imagined these returns would injure them they were under an entire misapprehension. No parties were more interested in getting sound information on this subject than the farmers themselves. And why? Because they 1373 were sellers of the commodity. The buyers had agents north and south, surveying the length and breadth of the land; but there was no one to inform the farmer, to whose advantage it must undoubtedly be to be on a par with the buyer in obtaining information on the subject, and thus being enabled to judge whether there was not a coming scarcity which would justify him in asking a higher price for his corn than was offered by the buyer. It was not the importer or the corn dealer alone, but it was the community at large, including the farmer himself, who was interested in the compilation of these statistics. If we could not get returns of reliable authenticity, of course there was an end to the matter; but he took it for granted that in any scheme the House or the Government might adopt means would be taken to ensure accuracy. As to the prejudice of the farmers and their reluctance to see on their farms an inspecting intruder, the feeling would vanish when they reflected on the subject, and saw that they were more likely to be benefited than injured by the publication of these statistics.
§ MR. THOMPSON
said, he thought it desirable that agricultural statistics should be collected, but the acceptance of the Resolution of his hon. Friend would not bind the House to any specific plan. If the House agreed to this Resolution, and a Bill founded upon it were introduced, he begged to suggest a few alterations in the scheme indicated by his hon. Friend. Instead of having districts he was of opinion that the returns should be collected all over the country, and, for the sake of removing prejudice, he thought it would be well to confine them at first to the acreage — the area of the respective crops. These might be collected at a trifling expense, and without alarming the jealousy of the farmers. The number of acres being ascertained, we should be in possession of the largest factor in the multiplication, the one in which there was most room for error, and which no individual occupier could test or verify. The variation between a small and a large crop could be easily ascertained. Suppose, for instance, that ten bushels an acre were the difference between a minimum and a maximum yield, the farmer would know whether the crop was a good, a bad, or a medium one; and if he had any doubt on the subject, he could remove it by threshing out the produce of a given portion of an acre, and thus 1374 ascertain within a bushel or two the actual produce. This process would supply the other factors of the multiplication, and the farmer would thus possess a tolerably accurate estimate of the produce of the kingdom. Objections had been made to the proposed employment of the Ordnance Surveyors in collecting these statistics; and lie would suggest that it would be preferable to employ the clerks to the Poor Law Unions, who, being in constant intercourse with the overseers of parishes, would be able to compile the returns required without much labour, and would be satisfied with a very slight addition to their salaries. He threw out these suggestions as they occurred to him; but of this he was certain, that it would not be a matter of great difficulty to frame a plan for collecting these statistics.
said, that as Ireland had been referred to he wished to make a few observations. Now, with regard to the collection of the statistics of the acreage and stock very little difficulty had been found in Ireland in obtaining full and accurate information; but when it had been attempted to discover the quantity of produce which had been raised in each year, he did not think that their experience had been so satisfactory. He knew very well how it had been attempted to obtain information with regard to the quantity of produce. It was done in this way. Forms were sent down from the head office in Dublin, and were directed to the magistrates, to police-officers, and in some canes to the large fanners, who filled them up according to their own opinion; the returns were sent in, and the calculation was made from them. It was quite impossible that these returns could in any way be accurate, for he knew of his own experience that many persons in a district to whom these forms had been addressed had differed most materially in opinion; and it would be found that the very best estimates, even with regard to the quantity of produce coming from the same parish, would differ as much as 50 per cent. Therefore the House would be under an erroneous impression if they were led to believe that, as regarded the returns of produce under the system of agricultural statistics in Ireland, they had been in any way satisfactory. He believed it was perfectly impossible to obtain anything like an accurate account of the produce of the country. The only way that an approximation could be made was by collecting the statistics of the quan- 1375 tity that was actually brought into the market. With regard to the machinery by which the agricultural statistics, as far as regarded the acreage and stock, were obtained, he believed they could be got in no other way than by employing enumerators, as was done in Ireland, to go about each farm and ascertain for themselves what was the amount of acreage under each description of crop. He perfectly agreed with his noble Friend the Member for the East Riding (Lord Hotham) that returns of this kind, unless perfectly accurate, were of no value whatever. His experience was that unless they were able to create machinery in this country which should perform the duties which the police discharged in Ireland with respect to agricultural statistics, they would be unable to collect these facts in such a way as to make them of any value whatever. He did not know whether that was possible or not. He was afraid the expense would be greater in England than it was in Ireland, because they had not a large body of men ready made to their hands for the performance of the duty. But at the same time he had not the least doubt that if such a machinery could not be applied it would be worse than useless to attempt the collection of agricultural statistics at all. Much had been said with regard to the objections made by fanners to give the returns of the stock they possessed, and of the acreage under various kinds of crop upon their farms. He was perfectly aware that these objections existed to a great extent in Ireland at first, and that the farmers were unwilling to give the information. But these objections had been wholly removed. He was sure the Registrar General, Mr. Donnelly, would be able to inform any hon. Gentleman that there was hardly an instance of any fanner objecting to supply the constabulary with all the information that was desired. As to the farmers not taking any interest in the matter, he knew that they took a great interest. These returns were published not only in the returns made to Parliament, but in every provincial paper in Ireland, and were read by the farmers with great and increasing interest. They were not in the least afraid of any inquisitorial inspection of their affairs. The number of stock and the quantity of acres were given, but no names were published; and it was impossible for any person to find out the private affairs of the farmer. He believed that the collection of agricultural statistics in 1376 England could be guarded against many of the objections which had been made in the course of this debate, and he therefore hoped that the House would agree to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Stirling.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that he could not regard this as a mere abstract Resolution. If it were passed, his hon. Friend (Mr. Caird) would, he imagined, understand it as an encouragement, if not an approval of his plan.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that surely the House had got past the stage of abstract Resolutions upon this subject. Bills for the collection of agricultural statistics had been more than once introduced. In 1846 he himself brought in a Bill for that purpose; and another Bill was subsequently introduced, and read a second time. There was no difference of opinion as to the importance of obtaining accurate statistical returns of the acreage under cultivation for particular crops, produce, and stock, not only to the agricultural interest, but to the mercantile interests of the country. The whole difficulty consisted in this—how to do it. His hon. Friend had submitted a new plan. He proposed to take certain typical districts in England and Wales, and he assumed that these typical districts were a fair sample of the whole country. He thought he could infer, therefore, from the statistics of the typical districts what was the acreage under cultivation, and what was the produce of the whole kingdom, if not with absolute accuracy at any rate sufficiently near for practical purposes. Now, unfortunately, this plan of his hon. Friend proceeded upon one important assumption — that they knew the extent of the cultivated land in Great Britain, and knew something of the character of the cultivation. They must know something of the whole in order to be able to select their sample or type; and unless they knew the character of the whole how could they say that their 1,500,000 acres were to be taken as a type or fixed part of the whole? He confessed he had very great doubts upon the point. Now they did know that in Ireland when the Ordnance Survey and constabulary were made use of to ascertain the cultivation of particular crops, it was found that the results of their inquiries were very different from the previous estimates which had been published 1377 by eminent writers upon the subject. The hon. Member (Mr. Caird) started with the assumption that there were 15,000,000 acres under cultivation, of which 100,000 acres was the 150th part.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
admitted that that would be so as between the typical districts; but how could they jump to the conclusion that that would be a fair comparison for the whole country? [Mr. CAIRD: It must be, of course.] We had no knowledge at present, beyond a mere estimate, either of the acreage under cultivation in the whole kingdom, nor of the quality of the soil in various parts of the country; therefore, he thought that it was going a great way to assume that the proportion between the typical districts in two successive years would hold good for the whole country. In Ireland we had estimates of the extent of land under cultivation similar to that which his hon. Friend had proposed for England; but an examination of the whole of Ireland showed that those estimates were entirely erroneous. Probably the estimate of 15,000,000 acres under cultivation for England was wrong. In Ireland the estimate of the land under barley was greater by one-fourth than the largest quantity actually sown, and too much land by about one-fourth was supposed to have been cultivated with potatoes. The fact was that the plan of his hon. Friend had not been long enough before the House. He would not go the length of condemning it; on the contrary, he guarded himself from the assertion that it might not prove hereafter to have great merits; but before it was adopted in whole or in part it was absolutely necessary to see that the calculations rested upon accurate data. Now, in Scotland, he found that in the typical counties the increase from 1855 to 1856 in the acreage under wheat was at the rate of 34 per cent; whereas over the whole of Scotland the increase was at the rate of nearly 37 per cent. In Ireland in the same years the increase in the typical counties was 14 per cent, while over the whole country it was nearly 19 per cent. Between 1856 and 1857 the increase in the acreage under wheat was 3½ per cent in 1378 the typical districts, while over the whole of Ireland it was little less than 6 per cent, or nearly double the amount. Taking the difference between the years 1859 and 1860 in the Irish typical districts, it was 2½ per cent, whereas over the whole of Ireland it was only ½ per cent; so that, if the typical districts were taken in that year as an indication of what was going forward in the country, the increase would have been represented at five times its actual amount. This showed how difficult it was to select typical districts, and that if returns were published under Government sanction professing to be accurate, great caution must he shown in approaching the subject. As regarded the employment of the Engineer Staff of the Ordnance Department in the collection of these statistics, he could conceive that as that survey was completed they might, by degrees, if they pleased, obtain year by year, as the survey permitted accurate knowledge of the acreage under cultivation. They might probably ascertain the crop, but it would be difficult to ascertain the produce. But he thought it would be desirable to wait until that undertaking was first completed, otherwise his hon. Friend would certainly run the risk of upsetting the plans which had been laid down for the gradual survey of the United Kingdom. The survey of Scotland and that of the six northern counties of England was already complete; and no doubt this map would afford valuable assistance in the collection of the desired information. But he held in his hand a letter from Sir Henry James, who, though favourable to his hon. Friend's plan, pointed out some difficulties which must arise in carrying it into execution at the present time. That gallant officer wrote as follows:—Before any further steps are taken, the proposed system should be submitted to the judgment of competent persons. If it should be approved and Government adopt it, then we should require two years from the present time to complete the plans of the typical districts in England; but this would compel us to abandon the surveys of the counties now in progress, and would give rise to discontent in those counties; and if precedence is given to the agricultural districts, then we shall also have complaints from the mineral and manufacturing districts.And such obviously would be the case. His hon. Friend, therefore, must not expect that without a great deal more consideration than the House had yet given to the proposal it could receive even an indirect sanction. He was quite prepared to admit 1379 that the collection of agricultural statistics was most desirable, and that the interests of this country, both agricultural and mercantile, would be greatly benefited by them. At the same time he did not see the slightest necessity for any Resolution whatever on the point. He himself had proposed Resolutions, but then he had always some definite plan in view; and unless the House were prepared to carry out a definite plan they ought not to sanction this Resolution. There was no indisposition on the part of the Government to consider any plan which might be put forward; they were quite alive to the importance of the subject, but if his hon. Friend pressed his Motion to a division he should be compelled to move the Previous Question.
§ MR. BASS
thought there must be some misapprehension on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and Members opposite as to the proposition of his hon. Friend. What he proposed was to take 1,500,000 acres in different parts of the country every year as a type of what the average agriculture of the whole country would be—so that in a series of years the variation in these types would substantially show the variation in the cultivation of the different crops in the country. When he heard the President of the Board of Trade acknowledge that it would be most desirable to have these statistics collected, he was in hopes that he was about, to propose that they should be taken not over one-fifteenth of the kingdom, but over the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman quoted figures to show that a discrepancy of 5 per cent existed between the returns as given by the typical districts and those extending over the whole of the country. What did that difference amount to? One million in 20,000,000. But what was the extent to which the country was at present in the dark for want of these statistics? Writers of eminence had declared that the general average produce of Great Britain and Ireland was only 6,500,000 qrs. of wheat. The very highest authority in the kingdom, Mr. M'Culloch, on the contrary, placed the quantity of wheat at upwards of 13,000,000 qrs. Surely we ought not to be so far in the dark—to the extent of the difference between 6,500,000 qrs. and 13,000,000 qrs. The late Sir George Lewis, a few years ago, invited general co-operation in ascertaining the number of persons that could be fed in this country, and surely 1380 it must be of equal importance to know what they were to be fed with, and what proportion of their food was derived from our own country. He had on a former occasion ventured to speak of comparative degrees of ignorance among farmers, but the noble Lord opposite (Lord Hotham) had administered to him such a rebuke that it was still tingling in his ears. He would not, therefore, suppose that there were degrees of ignorance, and would only assert that there were degrees of intelligence among them. But hon. Members of that House who were among the best farmers in it supported a system of agricultural statistics. What harm, he should like to know, would it do the farmers? [An hon. MEMBER: What good would it do him?] He thought it no hardship that an exciseman, came to his house and inquired how many barrels of beer he brewed. After the declaration of the President of the Board of Trade that these statistics were most valuable and important, he thought the right hon. Gentleman could not feel that he was performing all the duties of his high position unless he brought in a Bill to provide for agricultural statistics.
said, that whilst he heartily supported the truism contained in the proposition they were now called upon to support, he expressly refrained from giving his assent to the plan sketched out by the hon. Member. On the contrary, he believed that the sample system proposed would be a very inadequate and unsatisfactory way of obtaining for the country statistics of the progress of one of the greatest resources of our material wealth. He held in his hand two short documents which fully corroborated what had been said by the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas) as to the way in which practically they managed these things in Ireland. The two chief objections to agricultural statistics were stated to be, in the first place, the inquisitorial nature of the inquiry; and secondly, the fact that these statistics could not be made compulsory, and that, unless they were made compulsory, they would be useless. The evidence derived from Ireland showed that both the propositions were untrue. It appeared from the statement of the Registrar General of Ireland that these statistics never disclosed the names of the tenant-farmers. The acreage under different crops and the live stock alone were given. The tenant- 1381 farmers of Ireland, therefore, did not find this mode inquisitorial, and had no objection to it. The same Gentleman stated, that although these Returns were not compulsory they were far from useless, and that in their collection they had the increasing co-operation of landed proprietors, of the clergy, and the tenant-farmers. Here was evidence that the collection was not objected to. On the contrary, Mr. Donelly, in a late Report, expressly says—When the figures are revised, I do not appre-hand that any important changes will be required in them, as the increasing experience of the enumerators, and the continued generous cooperation of the landed proprietors, the clergy of all denominations, the tenant farmers, and the public press, all tend from year to year to greater accuracy in these statistics.He confessed he had always felt that this question had suffered as much from its friends as its foes, and that the advantage of these returns had been greatly overrated. They would not indicate the right time either to buy or sell. When it was proposed to pass from the region of fact to that of estimates, it was a mistake. He regarded, therefore, all calculations as to the prospective yield of crops which were still in the field as visionary and delusive. All they wanted to know was an accurate account of the various descriptions of ground under different crops every year, and the quantity of live stock, so that they might trace the increase or decrease of the agricultural wealth of the country. That was a species of information which no civilized nation, and especially a mercantile nation like the English, ought to be without. It was a reproach to us, that whilst nearly every European nation and even America possessed that information and highly valued it, we were still deficient in that respect. It was a reproach to us, and the sooner the reproach was wiped away, the better would it be for our credit and reputation.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he believed there was scarcely any difference of opinion upon the principle involved in the proposition of his hon. Friend. The Government were fully convinced of the advantages of agricultural statistics in the United Kingdom, and agreed that they ought to be collected and published at the earliest period. But the noble Lord (Lord Haas) had shown that these statistics would be of ' very little value if they did not extend over the whole country. His hon. Friend (Mr. Caird) had suggested various plans for ob- 1382 taining them, but if he understood him aright he did not wish to make these returns compulsory. His hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) was, however, quite of another opinion. He said he was compelled to make returns of the beer he brewed, and he did not know why the farmer should not make returns also. It would, therefore, be necessary, according to his hon. Friend, to call for them from the whole of the kingdom, and to make them compulsory upon the fanners. He had communicated with the Registrar General, and a plan, according to the suggestion of his hon. Friend, for obtaining these statistics had been drawn up. It turned out, however, that it would cost £15,000 a year, and that it would, after all, be merely a collection of voluntary returns. The Government did not think, under these circumstances, that they should be justified in asking Parliament to grant such a sum for voluntary statistics. They objected to the present Resolution because it did not advance one step towards the practical attainment of the object in view. If he had misunderstood his hon. Friend, and if he thought the returns should be compulsory and should include the United Kingdom, then he ought to bring in a Bill, and the House would know the means by which he proposed to effect his object. The Ordnance Map would no doubt give facilities for obtaining these statistics, but it was as yet incomplete, and the plan, therefore, of making use of that map for the purpose was one which the House could not at present adopt.
§ MR. CAIRD
, in reply, said, there was a gradual progress of opinion among the farmers in favour of agricultural statistics, and he believed they would work more cordially with a voluntary system than under an Act of Parliament. Many modes of obtaining agricultural statistics had been proposed, and he should himself very much prefer a complete system. He thought an expenditure of £15,000 a mere bagatelle compared with the advantages it would bring. But what he was anxious to do was to get the Government to rouse up from its supineness, and compel them to act by a Resolution of that House. If he desired any recommendation for his mode of action he would refer to the authority of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Milner Gibson) on a similar occasion twenty years ago; and if a subject had been under discussion for twenty years, assuredly it was high time to act. In 1845 the right hon. Gentleman 1383 having brought forward the subject of agricultural statistics, was asked by a friendly Government to withdraw his Resolution; but he replied that of all the perplexing situations in which a man could be placed that was one of the most perplexing, because he did not like to take a course hostile to a Government which seemed favourable to his views, but at the same time, if an hon. Member did not carry his Motion to a division, but allowed it to pass away easily in another manner, he was open to censure. He (Mr. Caird) therefore begged to say that he should press his Resolution to a division.
§ Whereupon Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."—(Viscount Palmerston.)
§ The House divided:— Ayes 74; Noes 62: Majority 12.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
That, in the opinion of this House, the collection and early publication of the Agricultural Statistics of Great Britain would be advantageous to the public interest.