HC Deb 14 June 1910 vol 17 cc1256-60

Order for Second Reading read.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry) moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

This is a Bill providing for taking the Census in Ireland next year. It is in precisely the same form as the measure of 1900, and as the Bill has been in the hands of hon. Members a considerable time, it would be wholly out of place for me to detain the House by making any further statement about it.


According to the regulations enforced in previous Censuses in Ireland, on the question of illiteracy there was an extraordinary arrangement, by which the low age of five years was taken as the starting-point. The result of that is that, since a great number of children in the country districts do not attend school until they are six or seven years of age, the returns of illiteracy are swollen to an extraordinary extent, and do not give a genuine idea of the state of illiteracy in the country. I have brought the matter before the attention of the Chief Secretary, and I shall be glad if he can state that steps will be taken, when the regulations are drawn up, to see that an age of a reasonable character is fixed. In the United States I believe the age for illiteracy starts at ten. It may not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that ten years would be a suitable age at which to start in Ireland; but I am sure he will agree that five years is really too low. It may be that eight years would be a reasonable point at which to start. At any rate, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that if ten years is too high, eight years will be taken as a starting-point instead of five.


It is quite true that the hon. Member has called my attention to this point, and certainly I agree with him that five years is a very early age at which to stamp anybody with what some regard as a badge of illiteracy. Therefore I will consider the point, and see whether in our Instructions the age cannot be raised. I would point out, however, that it would be a hasty inference to draw that Ireland was an illiterate country, because five years is taken as the starting-point, inasmuch as in the analyses which are made from the figures the degree of illiteracy attributable to children of any particular age is shown, so that a little research into the results of the Census would at once explain the apparent illiteracy. While I agree that five is to low an age to begin with, I think that ten would be far too high; but I will consider whether we can find some age between the two which will relieve Ireland from an imputation of illiteracy which a little examination of the figures would show is not well founded.


There are two points to which I would direct the attention of the Chief Secretary. In the particulars that are to be obtained as to the occupation of the persons enumerated in the Census very valuable information may be obtained. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the 1900 Census I think he will find that the figures given as to indefinite occupations are very large indeed. I hope there will be more definiteness in the returns on this occasion. I also should like to know—there may be a very good reason—what is the reason for the difference between Subsection 1 of Section 4 of the English Act, and Sub-section 2 of Section 2 of the Irish Act? The particulars which are to be obtained in England are considerably fuller than those to be obtained in Ireland. For instance, in taking the English Census, the enumerator is to find out in the case of any person so bold as to get married the duration of the marriage and the number of children born of the marriage. A provision of that kind does not exist in the Irish Act, although I should have thought that the children there were at least as important to the State as elsewhere.


We did make these inquiries at one time, but the information we got was of such an inaccurate and insufficient character as to the duration of the marriages and their fertility that we really felt it was no use making them. In England it is being adopted, and we will await the result of the experiment. The only reason why it was abandoned in Ireland was that after some years' experience we felt that the statistics elicited were not worth having.


That explanation does not appear to me to be very satisfactory. The Chief Secretary is speaking at second hand. He had no experience of the last Census in Ireland. His observations suggest that bureaucratic supervision of which we know so much. I am very glad to have got from the Chief Secretary an official condemnation of the accuracy of the Census in Ireland. He seemed to be of another opinion on this matter in relation to the Old Age Pensions Act. The information could be obtained. There is this difference between the administration of the Census Act in Ireland and the administration of the Census Act in Great Britain that in the former country it is taken by the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. It may very well be that members of the Royal Irish Constabulary do not appear in the necessarily somewhat unfavourable light that the civil enumerators specially appointed for the purpose in Great Britain do. [An Hon. Member: "They are more popular."] If they are much more popular the last vestige of the Chief Secretary's case disappears. I do not see why anyone in Ireland should refuse these particulars. Unless we get a better answer I do not think we can accept the explanation as satisfactory.


The words that have just been spoken illustrate what I said on the other Bill. But I will not go into that point, because I rose for the purpose of adding something, if I can, to what was said by the hon. Member opposite as to the need for caution in asking for more details in the matter of occupation. The right hon. Gentleman the former President of the Local Government Board on the opposite side knows the difficulty in this matter is that it is almost impossible to get the inquiries so made as to get a uniform interpretation of the words. In different parts of the country in the same trade the same word means something different. In New Zealand, if I may just give one example, they attach the greatest possible importance to finding out how many people are engaged in the licensed trade. They had a most elaborate inquiry on that point, tout it was found that brewer's labourers could not be got to return themselves universally otherwise than as labourers, and the difficulty of distinguishing between these classes made the details worthless as a base for scientific statistical information.


Just one point to the Chief Secretary. The President of the Local Government Board, in introducing the English Bill, said that he had obtained the sanction of the Treasury to the purchase of a new calculating machine which would enable the Census results to appear at a much earlier period than hitherto. I should like to ask whether the Irish Secretary has also seen the Treasury on that point, or whether the Irish Census will appear at a much later date? I think it is desirable that we should know this, so that another Irish injustice shall not be done. Reference has been made to the preference of the people of Ireland for the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary as enumerators instead of civil enumerators. I think that is quite right. The police they know. A civilian may be a stranger, and they do not know what awful horror he may portend. He may have come to vaccinate the baby—


Vaccination is not a horror at all.


They have quaint fancies, but I am quite certain that they could not have better and more competent men to make this enumeration than the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary.


Five or six years ago there was a statistical department formed at the Board of Agriculture, and almost the first thing they found out was that the statistics collected by the police were entirely unreliable.


Well, for their purpose it required more technical knowledge.

Bill to be considered in Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.