HC Deb 09 March 1900 vol 80 cc497-508

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

*SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board did not introduce this Bill by a statement. I appear here to-day in some sense as representative of the Statistical Society. We approached my right hon. friend with a memorial setting forth our case, and I have great pleasure in acknowledging the readiness with which he complied with many of our sugges- tions. I feel that I should not be in order if I were to enumerate all the points as to which alterations have been made in the Bill, but when I mention the fact that the vague term "storey," in the description of a house, has been changed to the word "tenement," I think the House will agree that a great improvement has been effected thereby. Then the date has been altered in accordance with our suggestion, and I believe that the change of date will tend to render the returns more satisfactory and of greater value. Another addition of great interest is the provision that a person not born in this country shall state in the schedule his nationality, for I am sure that that information will prove of great value in times to come in regard to legislation affecting aliens. I do not think I need occupy the time of the House by further referring to the new details, but I will make one general observation, and that is that the Bill, as compared with the Act of 1891, is more elastic in its provisions, more flexible, and much more easily adapted to the circumstances of cases as they arise. There is another point as to which I am bound to express my acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have resisted the temptation to ask too many particulars. In the United States the census involved too many particulars, and that resulted in great inaccuracy and great delay in the issue of the reports, which consequently were not of that service to the community which otherwise they would have been. As regards the subject matter of the investigation, three things are essential. One is promptitude. You must have all the returns on a given day, or they are of no value. The next is accuracy as distinct from carelessness; for unless the questions put are of a simple character you may depend upon it that there will be a great want of accuracy and much remissness and carelessness in the filling up of the schedule. The third point to which the attention of the Government has been directed is that all information sought for should be such as that a certain statement of facts can be given. If you complicate your answers there will be great uncertainty as to some of the replies. They will consequently be less reliable, and the whole result of your labours will be of little value to the country. Having said so much in acknowledgment of the action of the Government in response to our memorial, I must express my great regret that I should have to-day, as in 1890,* to stand up in my place in the House of Commons and deplore the fact that the Government have not seen their way to adopt a quinquennial census. In the year 1890 there was a Departmental Committee presided over by my right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin, and the Report signed by him is undoubtedly worthy of careful consideration. This Committee recommended a quinquennial census, and they gave their reasons for so doing. I should be reluctant to ask the House to listen to those reasons, but still I think they are of such a character that they ought not to be neglected. It was pointed out by the Committee that the change of population in this country in the course of ten years is enormous, and calculations which had been made by the Registrar General were shown by the Committee to be grossly inaccurate. I do not blame that high official. He, no doubt, has done the best he could with the materials at his hand. I find, however, in the Report of the Committee, mention is made of an error at Salford to the extent of 16 per cent., another one at Oldham of 18 per cent., and a third in the metropolitan district of West Ham of 25 per cent. And if this applies to these cases to such a remarkable extent we may be sure that the same would apply, although with perhaps less force, to other districts. That is not all. During the last ten years the discrepancy has, no doubt, greatly increased, and I shall be surprised if it does not turn out when we compare the estimate made by the Registrar General with the facts disclosed by the census, that there is a wider and more startling discrepancy than any which occurred on the last occasion. We have to consider that the population of the country is becoming, to use a phrase of the day, more and more mobile. The working classes move in search of work more easily from district to district, with the result that there is a great change of population in our townships, especially in manufacturing districts Then, too, there is a great change in the areas of our towns and of country districts. The areas of Liverpool and Manchester have been largely increased in the course *For debates on the Census (England and Wales) Bill, 1890, see The Parliamentary Debates, Third Series, Vol. cccxlvii. of the last ten years, and I believe that in the case of Bradford it has twice enlarged in the course of the same time. These are reasons for a quinquennial census which, I think, are well worthy the consideration of the House. I do not desire that there should be particulars of every kind collected every five years. All that we desire is that we should have particulars of name, sex, and age, and I believe that such an inquiry could be conducted without any great expense. The quinquennial principle has already been adopted in London, and all we have to do is to make a similar change affecting the whole country minus London. If we cast our eyes across the seas, we find that a quinquennial census is taken in Germany, in Sweden, in France, and in fifteen States of America, as well as in New Zealand, Queensland, Manitoba, and in some of the most important districts of Canada. These countries differ as much from one another as they all differ from us, and yet they are all driven to the conclusion that a quinquennial census is desirable. I think the time has come when we in this country should adopt that great reform. It is said that the change would necessitate the creation of a census office. I should not myself regret that change. When we look at such public Departments as the Board of Trade, the Home Office, and the Board of Agriculture, we find that they produce Returns year by year relating to production and consumption. Surely if it be worth while to have a great Department carefully collecting statistics every year with regard to trade and commerce, it is not less the duty of the Local Government Board to accumulate similar information as regards the human beings who are our masters and whom we all serve. There would be another advantage from having a census office, and that is that it would be in continual correspondence with foreign nations, and it could keep us abreast of public opinion at home and abroad. I regret, and in this matter I speak entirely for myself, that there is an entire omission on all questions as regards the religion of those who fill up these schedules. We have, as is well known, questions on that subject in Ireland, and many foreign countries adopt the same system without, so far as I am aware, giving rise to any dissatisfaction. The Bill contains a provision of great value for securing absolute secrecy. I am glad of that, and, seeing that absolute secrecy is enjoined by the Act, I do not think that any danger could possibly arise from including in the schedule question as to the religious creed of the person filling it up. I thank the House for having listened to me so patiently. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has met our suggestions. I hope that success will attend him in his great effort to give us an improved census, for I am quite confident that enormous advantage will accrue to this country from the greater care to be exercised in preparing it. I hope, too, that we shall have the information promptly. It is a melancholy thing to watch the volumes coming out slowly year after year, and I hope, therefore, that my right hon. friend will take care to have an efficient staff, so that the information may be available to the public before it is too late to render the service for which a census is taken.


I should like to say a word or two in support of my hon. friend's desire that we should have an intermediate census, and I may add that I think it would be a good thing to have a permanent Census Department. The Committee which has been referred to was one of the most interesting on which I ever had the honour to serve, thanks to the ability of many of my colleagues and to the knowledge displayed by many of the witnesses, who included some of the best known authorities. Our recommendation was that there should be a census every five years, and although Lord Welby, who represented the Treasury, put in a memorandum, thereby exercising the tyranny which that Department not infrequently displays, the document did not present an absolute bar to our proposal, but it suggested that the Government should authorise an intermediate census in a district which might be considered to require it. I think that was a very valuable suggestion. There can be no doubt, from the evidence given before the Committee, that we are behind some other countries in respect of the information which is given by our census. I should like to know something as to the character of the enumerators to be employed, especially in England. We found at the last census that this part of the work was pretty well done in Scotland and Ireland, but that it was badly done in England, because many of the enumerators were not reliable. I should be glad to know whether any security has been taken with regard to that. I believe some change is to be made in the manner in which the Scotch census is to be taken; but, as far as I can judge from the Bill, there will be no material difference in the procedure.


That is so.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

I wish to allude to one or two points. The first is the date appointed for the census to be taken. I think it is unfortunate that a Sunday should have been fixed upon for doing the work, as any other day of the week would have been equally convenient for the purpose. There is nothing in the law, as I understand, which makes it necessary for the census to be taken on the 31st March, and I hope, therefore, that in Committee the Government will consider the advisability of altering the date, for I am sure that in many homes it will be extremely inconvenient and somewhat distasteful to have to fill the schedules up on a Sunday. My second point is in respect of Clause 2, which directs the Registrar General to prepare and issue such forms of instruction as may be deemed to be necessary. I think that these forms and instructions—although, no doubt, they will be framed under the supervision of the Local Government Board—should be laid before Parliament before they are finally adopted. My third point arises on Subsection D of Clause 4,which deals with the taking of information in regard to the speaking of the Welsh language in Wales. Having regard to what happened in reference to that at the last census, I think it will be necessary in Committee to consider this clause very carefully. I do not say whether or not it is desirable on general grounds that such information—which, after all, is mainly of interest to Wales—should be collected in the census. All I do suggest is that it is necessary to carefully consider the wording of the clause. The hon. Baronet opposite lamented the fact that there was no provision in this Bill for obtaining information as to the various religious denominations in this country. I think the omission is rather a subject for general congratulation. I do not believe there could be a greater mistake than to endeavour to obtain information upon such a very delicate point by means of the census. Subject to these general criticisms, I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

*SIR. E. DURNING-LAWRENCE (Cornwall, Truro)

I also should like to say a word in favour of having a quinquennial census, for I hold that this country, through not having such a census, is dropping behind leading foreign nations in the important question of statistics. I think it is essential, too, that there should be a Census Department. At the present time we induce men to give up their permanent employment in order to do the census work, and at the end of two or three years they are dismissed and have no other work to go to. That is cruel to the men, and it does not redound to the credit of this country. If we had a Census Department, taking a proper and full census every five years, these men could be permanently employed, and the information would be collected and tabulated in a far better way. We should then get it more promptly, and it would be of enormous value, for it would enable our merchants to compete more successfully with foreign nations. It is worth while, perhaps, to remember that only one hundred years have elapsed since the first census was taken.* The Bill for it was brought in in 1800, and it did not extend to Ireland. Seeing that there is a strong feeling among all who take an interest in statistics that the information obtained by means of these censuses would be of much greater value if we could have it more promptly and at shorter intervals, does not this afford an excellent opportunity to establish a quinquennial census?


I would like to join in the appeal made to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, to consider, even at the last moment, the suggestion made in regard to a quinquennial census—even if it is not such a full census made as that made * In The Parliamentary History, Vol. xxxv., at page 598, will be found the speech of Mr. Abbott (afterwards created Baron Colchester), on the 19th Nov., 1800, in introducing the "Population Bill." Mr. Abbott gives particulars of "numerations of the people" made in very early times. every ten years. Such a proposal was made by the Royal Statistical Society, and, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs, it has behind it the recommendation of a strong Committee of this House, and a considerable body of municipal, actuarial, and sanitary opinion.

*MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I am afraid I can add very little to what, I understand, has already been said by hon. Members in reference to a quinquennial census. But as I happen to have been the chairman of the Committee appointed to consider this question before the last census, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words to express the strong feeling of statisticians and all those concerned in watching the movements and health of the people, as to the necessity of getting an enumeration of the population at shorter intervals than ten years. That has been felt in so many communities that we are really very much behind the rest of the world in having only a decennial census. The matter is of great importance in consequence of the rapid changes that take place in industrial centres as to the growth of population. In these large centres the population grows up in consequence of the development of particular industries, and the ascertainment of new sources of wealth; and sanitary legislation and organisation in many other respects which should keep pace with the growth of population are delayed for many years. There were a great many false anticipations as to the results of the census of 1881 and in 1891, showing that most careful estimates which may be made by the Registrar General as to the growth of population, so far as that can be gathered through the births, deaths, and marriages of a particular area, are often very far out. The population is sometimes very much in excess of and sometimes greatly less than what had been supposed. It is really a scandal that on account of a little expense, which would only happen once in ten years, this important reform should be further delayed. What is wanted is not that absolute reproduction in a quinquennial census of the full census taken at a decennial period. We do not want to have so complete a return of occupations, trades, and the other data which are accumulated at the decennial census; but we do want to have some check on the movement of population so as to be in a better position for social and political action than we are when this long period intervenes between one census and the other. I would urge upon the President of the Local Government Board the necessity of yielding to the pressure which is now put upon him, and which has been brought to bear upon him for so many years by statisticians, sanitary reformers, municipal organisations, and, in fact, by everybody in the community who takes an interest in the progress of the people, as to the introduction of this moderate addition to the census now about to be taken.

*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

I wish to endorse the opinion just expressed by the hon. Member for West Denbigh. I think the Government exercised a wise discretion in excluding the subject of religion from the coming census; and for this reason: a census of the people in order to be effective must be taken with the concurrence and goodwill of the entire population. The enumerators have difficulties enough to contend with without adding to them anything superfluous; and if it were proposed to take a religious census we should enter on a bitter and exasperating controversy. Supposing it were adopted the issue would be that the inquiry, in a large number of cases, would not be answered, and ill-feeling would be raised where cordial assistance might be otherwise rendered to the Government. I hope the Government will remain firm in the attitude which they have most properly assumed.

MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

I wish to draw the attention of the Lord Advocate rather than the President of the Local Government Board to one point. It is that the record is altered in form from what it was in the last decennial census. Hitherto there has been a separate Bill for Scotland, but in the present case there is only one Bill, and the Scotch census is put into an interpretation clause at the end of that Bill. There have been substantial differences in the way in which the census has been taken in England and Scotland. I daresay that these differences may be provided for under this Bill, but the right hon. the Lord Advocate has departed not only in this, but in other Bills, from what has been the general practice on Scotch legislation in this House. The Bill immediately preceding the one under discussion was made to apply to Scotland by an interpretation clause, whereas there have always been hitherto separate Police Acts for Scotland. The police in Scotland are under the Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office, and although they are not put under the English Local Government Board in this Bill, there is a tendency to do so.


I can assure the hon. Member who has just sat down that there is not the slightest desire on the part of the Department I represent to trench in any degree whatever on the province of Scottish questions. If the Scotch census has been included for the first time in the English Bill it is solely in order to save Parliamentary time in a session when less time than usual will be available for legislation. In regard to the particular clause by which this fusion is to be accomplished I must refer the hon. Member to my right hon. friend the Lord Advocate for any explanations he requires. My hon. friend the Member for Wigan expressed the regret which he felt that I had made no statement in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I was under the impression that the Bill sufficiently explains itself, and moreover a statement was made on the First Reading. In all essential respects the House will see that, with the exception of the inclusion of Scotland, and of certain particulars suggested to us by the Royal Statistical Society, to whom I desire to render my acknowledgments for their assistance, the Bill is practically the same as that of 1890. There have been eliminated from the Bill of 1890 a number of what appeared to us to be superfluous clauses, which might very well be embodied in the instructions to the enumerators and give greater elasticity to these in carrying out their duties than would otherwise be possible. My hon. friends the Members for Wigan and Liskeard, and various other gentlemen, have called my attention to the desirability of having a census, not so complete and elaborate as that which is now to be taken, but still in some points of great importance, prepared quinquennially. I quite acknowledge that there would be many advan- tages to be gained in that respect; and I am aware also that a course of that kind was recommended by a Departmental Committee, although I think I am right in saying they were not altogether unanimous. What I want to point out is that the introduction of the present Bill is not in the least degree in conflict with these views. The Government considered the question, and we thought, on the whole, that if a quinquennial census is to be taken it should be provided for by a special Bill in 1905. I have stated that I agree with a great deal of what has been said on the subject on the present occasion. The mind of the Government is perfectly open on the question, and the House is not to understand, because it is not included in the present Bill, that we, should we be responsible at that date, shall be precluded from dealing with the question when the time comes. The hon. Member for Leith Burghs says we are very much behind other countries in connection with the census. I am afraid it may be so in some cases, but not in all. America has been often quoted, but I have reason to believe that the census returns in America are far less satisfactory than those in this country, and very often very much more inaccurate. The hon. Member says that the returns are good in Ireland, better still in Scotland, but altogether to be condemned and very bad in England. I can only point out that the instructions which the Local Government Board are by the Bill empowered to issue will leave a very wide discretion to the Department, and if the charges made against enumerators in England are founded upon fact it will be necessary to make better selections in future. The hon. Member for West Denbighshire complains of the day selected for the census, both on the ground that it is fixed for March 31, and also on the ground that that day is a Sunday. Sunday is not the day on which the work will be done, but it has been chosen because it is a day on which the majority of people are likely to be at home. I am glad to think that, on the whole, the Bill has been favourably received, and I hope that on an early day it will be allowed to pass into law, because there is a great deal of work to be done in connection with the collection of the returns; and the Registrar General's Office is very desirous to have an opportunity of proceeding with the work at the earliest moment.

SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

pointed out that the sole reason given for the change in respect to the taking of the Scotch census was that it would save Parliamentary time. A Bill of this kind was always a non-contentious measure, and he saw no reason for the change being made.


always understood that the counsel of perfection was to have measures which dealt equally with the three kingdoms. That was the whole tendency and desire of modern legislation. The only difference between England and Scotland in this matter was that in Scotland the names were rather different. A house in Scotland meant a tenement in England, but matters of that kind could easily be put right. So far from the Bill being a retrograde step, it was in his opinion a great step in the opposite direction.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.