§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he would now beg to ask the Vice President of the Board of Trade, What is the reason of the delay which has occurred in the publication of the Board of Trade Returns for 1866, those Returns not having been in the hands of the public till the 1st of March of this year; and whether it is not possible to hasten the monthly Returns issued by the Board?
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
Sir, the accounts for the twelve months ended the 31st of December last were issued on the 2nd of this month; last year they were issued on the 27th of February. This delay of a day or two was occasioned by the necessity of a special reference between the Excise and Customs Departments. Generally speaking, the chief cause of delay is the difficulty of getting merchants to make complete entries and close their current accounts. If the same plan were followed with the annual as with the monthly Returns, of completing them on a certain day, without reference to outstanding accounts, something might be gained in time at the expense of accuracy; but then one year could not be compared with another. With regard to the monthly Returns, the growth of commerce makes their preparation a work of increasing labour. The Returns are received at the Custom House from all the hundred or more out-ports in a crude state, and have to be arranged, and their magnitude may be conceived from the fact that 1,000 entries are sometimes passed in a single day for a single article in one port alone, and that each monthly Return contains from forty to fifty pages of closely-printed calculations. The details have also been considerably extended for the purpose of giving the fuller information which the public have from time to time demanded. Formerly these Returns contained only totals; the monthly Returns now comprise values, and the countries of export and import of the principal articles, the aggregate of the expired months, and comparison for three years. The annual Returns contain the exporting and importing countries of every article, and a comparison of the trade with these countries for five years. The monthly Returns arrive at the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade about the 26th or 27th of the following month, and are kept there two days for the purpose of filling in the aggregates and printing. I 1807 doubt if this can be done more quickly With regard to the annual Return, the only alteration I can think of besides that of issuing the inexact form I have mentioned would be to publish separately that portion which relates to home consumption, of which the accounts can be completed earlier than the rest. I can assure my right hon. Friend that no time is wasted, and that the Departments concerned endeavour to meet the natural wishes of the public as far as is practicable.