HC Deb 13 April 1869 vol 195 cc753-5

rose to call attention to the annual collection of Agricultural Returns and to move a Resolution on the subject.


hoped the hon. Gentleman would not go on with his Motion, which could not be properly discussed after twelve o'clock. The question whether agricultural statistics should continue to be obtained and in what way might depend on the discussion, and he hoped another Notice would be given for it.


desired to know whether the Government would grant him a night on which to discuss this subject?


said he could not promise a night, but he thought there would be no difficulty in bringing the subject on at no very distant Friday night.


said, he felt it his duty, under the prospect held out to him, to proceed at once. The agricultural statistics obtained annually were very imperfect, and one reason of this was that the returns were of a speculative character. It was stated by Mr. Caird that it would be of the greatest advantage to know what changes in the growth of corn were going on, so that our corn merchants might enter the markets on equal terms with other purchasers. The House accordingly resolved that the collection and early publication of agricultural statistics would be advantageous to the public interest. These statistics had failed in their object because the area was but an imperfect measure of what the fields would yield to the granary. "Man proposes, but God disposes." These statistics had now been collected three years, and if they were of any value they would be used in the offices of the large dealers of corn. He had made inquiries on this subject of two of the largest dealers in home produce in and near Mark Lane. One had never heard of them, and the other had heard of them, but had never made any use of them as a guide to the purchase of grain. In the country he was told by a firm who attended seventeen markets that they never made use of them, and this was also the case at Birmingham. The House would, perhaps, like to know the cost of these statistics, which supplied no basis for guiding the trade. In 1866 the statistics for Great Britain cost £21,388, in addition to a few hundred pounds for circulars. The Government of the day divided them into two portions—one for live stock, and the other for acreage of crops. In 1867 the two Returns were taken together, and the cost was only £13,378. In 1868 it was £14,646. In this year's Estimates it was proposed to take £16,500 for Great Britain, which, added to £3,220 for Ireland, would make nearly £20,000. He would observe, by the way, that until this year an annual Vote for £10,000 only had been taken, and in the intricacies of national account keeping the extra cost was lost sight of by the public. If these statistics were of no speculative value, they might at all events be made of some value as a record of facts and a guage of the productive power of the kingdom. There was no disinclination on the part of the agricultural class to have accurate agricultural Returns; but the Returns for Great Britain were faulty, because they left out all wood, waste land, and garden ground, all which were included in the Irish Returns, and were necessary if the Returns were to be perfect. It would be sufficient, in his opinion, to have a Return every fifth year, because there was very little variation in the average of years in the quantity laid down in different crops, and it would be easy to arrive by approximation at the acreage of a particular crop during the intervening four years. With 57,000,000 acres under tillage in Great Britain, we obtained a Return from only 30,000,000, leaving 27,000,000 unaccounted for; whereas, out of 20,000,000 acres cultivated in Ireland, 15,000,000 sent Returns, leaving only 5,000,000 unaccounted for. There had been a regular decline in the quantity of land sown with corn there; and yet a statistician might easily compute the acreage in any given year from the data supplied. So of green crops, land in fallow, and land sown with clover and seeds. The variation had been regular, and had not been subject to violent changes. It might fairly be expected, therefore, that if a quinquennial return of fact were made, the acreage during the four intervening years might be arrived at very correctly by estimate, and much more cheaply than at present. The hostility of the larger occupiers to agricultural statistics had been not so much to the returns of fact, but arose from the notion that the Returns were ordered by Parliament as some guide to the purchasers of corn during the autumn. They knew that this was fallacious, and there was consequently a disinclination to give information which they knew would be of no use. He moved that the Agricultural Returns now made annually should after this year be discontinued and collected every fifth year, in the place of annually.


, believing that the present Returns were worthless, because incorrect, had great pleasure in seconding the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Agricultural Returns, now made annually, should, after this year, be discontinued, and collected every fifth year in the place of annually."—(Mr. Pell.)


said, considering the late hour, and the number of Members who desired to speak on the subject, he felt that the best course he could take was to move that the debate be adjourned.

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Friday.