HC Deb 26 November 1930 vol 245 cc1455-9

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the proposed Order-in-Council under Sub-section (1) of Section one of the Census Act, 1920, shall not be made. As I am only enabled to make this Motion by reason of a ruling which you, Sir, were good enough to give on Monday last, the House may expect just a word from me in the nature of a personal explanation. Hon. Members who were in the House on Monday will remember that I complained that this draft Census Order which was laid on the Table of the House was not available for inspection by Members interested until some days afterwards, and you ruled, according to Speakers' precedents, that the time only ran from the date on which copy was available.

I think it is due, both to the officials at the Ministry of Health and to the staff of the Library of this House, that I should say a word as to the circumstances which followed the raising of that question. The reason why a copy was not available was one of those absences of mind or inadvertences on the part of an individual, which perhaps may well be passed over, but in fact the Ministry of Health are not to blame in the matter, as they did supply two copies, and the Library staff on their part are not to be blamed, because having sent one copy to the printers, they were not really responsible for the absence of the other copy. I think perhaps it is only due, in a case of this sort, that one, like myself, who has been concerned in raising this question should say that I am satisfied that no blame attaches to the staff of the Ministry of Health on the one side or to the staff of the House of Commons Library on the other side.

When the Census Act, under which this Order is moved, was passed in 1920, I was one of the few Members of the House who took a considerable part in the comparatively short debate on that Act. On that occasion, we found it our duty—I am bound to say, with the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Agriculture, and was in those days Minister of ealth—to protect the people of this country against certain inadvisable inquiries in this Census, and as a result of that, I took more than usual interest in the draft Census Order which is now proposed. I raise this point now on the ground of the need for economy at the present time. The taking of a Census in this country is a very expensive matter. It may be—I am not at all sure that it is not—expense which is more than justified, but in view of the undoubted heavy expenditure which a Census involves, I do not think that this House ought to allow the Order to be passed without considering for a moment what the expense is, and whether the expense is justified. I have examined the terms of the Order most carefully to see whether there is anything objectionable in the questions which are asked, from the point of view of the arguments which were used when the Act was passed in 1920. I readily admit that, so far as these questions are concerned, I have no complaint to make. I would therefore ask that the Government will merely deal with the question of expense. The House ought to be satisfied, before they allow this Order to go through, that there is real justification for the expense for taking the Census in 1931. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will take the House into her confidence in regard to what the expense will be. If the House appears to be satisfied, and if I am satisfied personally, that she makes out a good case for this expenditure, I shall not desire to press the Prayer, but in order to give her an opportunity of giving the House this information I beg formally to move.


I beg to second the Motion.


In regard to the people who will be employed in making the Census, I have been requested by several of the unemployed men in my city to make representations to the Ministry that they should do all that can be done to get those who are responsible for employing the persons who will take the Census to see that the work is distributed among unemployed people as much as possible. I believe this to be a practical suggestion, because I have been informed by the manager of the local Employment Exchange that he is prepared to supervise the training of very large numbers of men who, in his opinion, would be fully qualified to carry out the work. Here is an opening where unemployed men might be given useful productive employment. The practice has grown up of employing persons who are in regular employment in clerical offices. I hope that the Minister, in her reply, will be able to give me some satisfaction on this point.


I wish to say a few words, first on the subject of the last Order. The point that such Orders should always be available to hon. Members is an excessively important one, and I may say that the Minister of Health and myself most heartily associate ourselves with the spirit of the Orders made by you, Sir, and your predecessors. It is a very important thing indeed that private Members should have a full opportunity of seeing the Orders; and I may say also that watch-dogs perform a very useful function. At the Ministry of Health we have looked into the matter and examined the officials concerned, and I am satisfied that the officials of the Ministry carried out their full duties and did send two copies to the Library of the House of Commons and two copies to the Library of the House of Lords, and I should be sorry if any blame or any suspicion attached to the officials of my Department. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that for his part he entirely disavows any such suspicion.

I come to the question why we want a census. If I were to rehearse all the reasons which have urged every Government since 1801 to undertake a census, I should occupy an unduly long time. I will point out only one matter, which may perhaps specially interest hon. Members opposite, and that is that the whole of the finances of the Local Government Act, 1929, as far as their distribution is concerned, depend upon an ascertainment of the population, district by district, and that if unfortunately no census is taken, the formulae would be extremely difficult to administer. Generally speaking, everyone knows that provision is made for a census in the arrangements of every civilised nation. We have passed through 10 years of such change in industry and employment that a record of the changes in employment during those 10 years, the shifting of the population from one industry to another, is a matter of the first concern to any Government which has to guide the financial and economic affairs of the nation. Having said that, I think the House will grant me a dispensation from entering into all the various reasons for the ascertainment of the total population, and so on.

The cost of enumeration in England and Wales will be £132,000. I am not yet in a position to say what will be the cost of tabulation. With regard to the suggestion that we should engage unemployed labour as far as possible, I will communicate that suggestion to my right hon. Friend, but I am bound to say there are considerable difficulties, the chief being that the amount of training required for this task is very long in comparison with the period of the work which could be given. The work of enumerators is a very short job indeed. I hope the House will now be satisfied that there is no necessity for passing this Prayer.


I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to communicate with the Minister of Labour and request her to introduce a small specialist class of men and women from the Employment Exchanges who in a few weeks' time could be made thoroughly familiar with their work. That would ensure employment for many people.


I hope the House will now allow me to withdraw my Motion. I was partly influenced in moving it by a desire to protect the interests of this House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.