§ MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the very general disbelief which prevails as to the reliability of the Returns furnished by the Board of Trade with reference to the immigration of foreigners into this country; and whether any system is in force for ascertaining, with any approach to accuracy, the number of immigrants brought to English ports, especially in the case of vessels under a foreign flag?
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I am afraid my right hon. Friend has a general disbelief in the publications of the Board of Trade, which may possibly prejudice him against these statistics. But I am not aware that there is any general feeling of the kind, nor do I think there is any cause for it. The figures are obtained from the Returns made by masters of vessels under the Alien Act of William IV. These Returns include the names, 1589 nationalities, and occupations of all aliens on board the vessels, and, as explained in the Report lately issued for 1890, can be checked by comparison with information obtained from other sources. But I have recently arranged with the Customs to apply an additional check to the figures by means of their officers who board the vessels. Their officers are directed to inquire from the master or officers of the ship the number of aliens on board, and the replies given are sent to the collector with a statement from the boarding officer whether they appear, from his own observation, to be correct. A comparison is then made with the Return sent in by the master. A further check is applied by the number of aliens on board being every now and then systematically counted and a comparison made with the Master's Return. All these arrangements apply to foreign as well as to British ships, as all vessels arriving at British ports come under the provisions of the Act to which I have referred. I believe that, in this way, accuracy in these Returns will be secured, but I am as anxious that they should be accurate as my right hon. Friend can be, and if any suggestions are made to me for improving the collection of these statistics, I shall be happy to consider them.