HL Deb 14 March 1851 vol 114 cc1305-10

LORD STANLEY moved— That an Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies of all Forms and Instructions directed by the Secretary of State to be issued by the Registrar General, under the authority of the 13th and 14th Vic. cap. 53. He wished to call the attention of the noble Lord the Vice-President of the Board of Trade to a matter of some importance connected with the instructions issued by the Secretary of State, under the authority of the Act of last year, called the Census Act. In the course of last Session, his noble Friend behind him had expressed a hope, that, before these forms were sent out, a copy of the instructions given respecting them would be laid on the table of the House, in order that their Lordships might ascertain whether they were satisfactory, and in accordance with the provisions of the Act. On the first day of the present Session, his noble Friend had referred to the noble Lord opposite upon the subject, and an assurance was thereupon given that the papers would be laid upon the table in a very short time. He (Lord Stanley) knew that his noble Friend opposite had been much occupied lately, and that his time had been greatly taken up upon some extra business. He was also aware that he did not intend to offer any opposition to the production of these papers, and that, if he (Lord Stanley) had brought forward this Motion yesterday, these papers would have been ready then for production. His object, however, was not only for the production of these papers, but he was desirous of calling their Lordships' attention to what he considered an excess of power and authority on the part of the Secretary of State while acting, as he supposed, under the provisions of the Census Act. That Act provided that the census should be taken in the manner hereinafter stated. By the second clause, power was given to the Secretary of State to direct the printing of certain forms, for the purpose of obtaining the required information—such forms as were deemed necessary for the purposes of the Act. The 5th clause goes on to define these purposes, and it enacts that the returns should be given in writing of the name, sex, age, and occupation of each person who shall, on a certain day, be found residing in each house. The Act also required an account to be given of such further particulars as were authorised to be inquired into by the provisions of the Bill. In the 24th clause, a provision was made, that all persons making false returns, or neglecting to make any returns, should be subject to penalties. It was quite evident, then, that the Secretary of State was not authorised, ad libitum, to put every question he thought fit, under a penalty for non-compliance or for making a false return. he contended, by his doing so, he was exceeding the powers given to him as Secretary of State. He held in his hand some of the instructions which had been so issued; and he should state one or two of them, which purported to have been made under the authority of the Act itself. There were four separate schedules contained in his instructions for procuring information in regard to education. Now, he (Lord Stanley) did not find that the Census Act gave any authority to inquire into the different classes of education communicated in the schools of this country. All the expenses of this Act were to be defrayed by Parliament; and he believed that this unlimited multiplication of inquiries would lead to much increase of expense. The first of these education returns showed that the inquiries made were of a most inquisitorial character. He held in his hand a return of se- veral particulars, said to be required in accordance with the Act of the 13th and 14th Vict. cap. 53, upon inquiries being entered into in reference to the undermentioned schools. Those returns applied to all schools, from the highest to the lowest, where education was carried on. One of the questions required to be asked by the instructions of the Secretary of State was, "With what religious denomination is the school connected?" Then followed questions as to the internal regulations of the school; its height, depth, and length; the number of pupils under 20, 15, 10, and 5 years of age; the number of scholars that had previously attended other schools. Let noble Lords conceive the nature of such inquiries in large schools. Under this inquiry, the head-master of Eton would have to give the history of 700 boys. With regard to private schools, this return was of the most inquisitorial character—it even demanded the income and expenditure of each school; and this was to apply to all private schools, and called upon each individual schoolmaster to make a return of all his receipts and disbursements. This was most inquisitorial, and was not required by the Act. Then, with regard to literary and scientific institutions, a return was required as to the governing body, and how it was appointed, the general character of the society, the number of volumes in the building, an account of the number of the labouring classes frequenting them, and the name and age of each, the particular character of the instruction conveyed, and a statement whether the admission was gratuitous or otherwise. Observe, that these were generally private institutions. He said that this was a most inquisitorial and vexatious inquiry, which was not at all warranted by the statute. At the last census, as there was not then subsisting any registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a special clause was introduced into the Act, authorising the enumerator to demand the required information. Now, the Secretary of State demanded an account of the number of churches and chapels erected since 1800, and of the cost of each. They also required an account of the endowments of churches and of chapels. What had a return of every church built, and endowment made, since 1800, to do with the Census Act? It was rather singular no such inquiries are to be made as to space, subscriptions, and other matters from Dissenters as are to be made from the Church of England. The returns would draw an invidious distinction between the Church and the Dissenter, and seemed to assume that Church property was State property, in contradistinction to the property of Dissenting places of worship. The Church of England was asked the number of her free sittings. The Dissenters were only asked the amount of standing room. What was the reason of the distinction? If they were to make the inquiry at all, why not make it the same for both? He had no doubt the Secretary of State was actuated by a laudable desire to obtain the greatest possible mass of information; but, in this instance, and in others to which he had referred, he had gone beyond the powers of the Act; and it would be a most dangerous precedent to establish, that, when a Secretary of State received authority for a specific purpose, he should be permitted to strain that authority, and give rise to great expense, by making inquiries which, however useful, Parliament had nothing to do with, and that, under an assumed authority which did not exist, he should call on persons to make returns who might imagine they would be exposed to penalties in the event of non-compliance. He did not wish to press the matter further than calling their attention to it before the instructions were finally drawn up.


said, that the queries commented upon had been introduced because complaints had been made on previous occasions of the extremely meagre nature of the information afforded by the former returns. It was desirable to obtain as much information as possible; but on the one hand it was difficult to obtain it legally, and on the other hand Parliament was anxious to keep clear of anything of an inquisitorial nature. The Secretary of State had candidly stated there were considerable legal doubts whether the penalties of the Act could be enforced for refusing to give information; and he (Earl Granville) was authorised to say there was no intention on the part of Government to try to levy them in cases of non-compliance; but, considering the enormous expenses to which the country would be put, they thought it would be a pity not to profit by that opportunity to gain most valuable information respecting the state of education, and other matters in which the country took a great interest. He hoped the noble Lord had exaggerated the difficulties of getting information from masters of schools; and if the returns were filled up in a proper spirit they would get all they wanted to know. As to the inquiries respecting the Church of England and Dissenters, it must he observed the latter maintained their places of worship by subscriptions from year to year, which was not the case with the former. It would be desirable to ascertain the amount of endowments since 1801. The subject was not one, properly speaking, which belonged to his department, but he had the documents which the noble Lord had asked for ready, and would present them to the House.


observed, that questions which could not be legally enforced would only be partially answered, and bad better therefore not be put at all, otherwise the public would be led astray. The only value of these accounts was their completeness, and the only security for completeness was the enforcement of answers by legal means. It must be evident also to their Lordships that these questions, which should be very simple in form so as to be understood by every one, were many of them very obscure, and were thus liable to be neglected by parties who might not be unwilling to impart information. A census founded on accounts thus obtained, would lead to false conclusions, which were much worse than none. With regard to education, everybody knew that nothing was so difficult as to procure correct information on that subject.


quite agreed in what had fallen from his noble Friend behind him (Lord Stanley) and the noble Earl on the cross bench, and hoped it was not too late for the Secretary of State to recall those questions which had been put into the paper issued by the Registrar General relating to private schools.


said, that there was no doubt whatever that these questions were put without authority, and that penalties for non-compliance could not be enforced; but he was far from thinking that information of considerable value might not be obtained without any authority at all, and by a mere request. This was the method which was adopted in 1818, and the result was, that an immense mass of very valuable information was collected, the accuracy of which he believed had never been called in question. He admitted that there were greater chances of error here than in the case to which he was now alluding, but he nevertheless thought that much information might be acquired which would be of great utility.


assured the House that the only object of the Government in issuing these instructions was to get as much information as could be obtained. He would undertake to say that the Secretary of State would feel it his duty to consider the objections which had been made, and to see whether these queries should be modified or even withdrawn.


did not think that any very accurate account would be obtained on the subject of religious worship, by calling for returns of the numbers who attended each dissenting place of worship on a particular day. It would be far better to call for an account of the average number attending during a certain period. And with regard to endowment, there were, no doubt, many dissenting endowments, and it would be well to ascertain whether they were small or large in amount, and whether they were secured for religious purposes only.


observed, that the two points to which he more particularly objected, were those which touched the endowments and the private accounts of private schools.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

The Forms and Instructions were then presented (by Command).