HL Deb 26 July 1889 vol 338 cc1407-12

My Lords, in rising to call the attention of the House to the desirableness of having a cheap and simple annual census of the population in addition to the regular costly and elaborate decennial census, I will only ask your Lordships' kind indulgence for a very few minutes. The Board of Trade, as is well known, collects, digests, and publishes elaborate and costly statistics for the information and guidance of the commercial and manufacturing interests, and the Foreign Office and Colonial Office also provide statistics for the same purpose. Even by the Agricultural Department of the Council Office Returns are furnished for the benefit of the latterly much-suffering agricultural interest of the number of acres under grass and under different crops in the country, with both Returns and Estimates of the produce. Besides those Returns for the information and guidance of the farmers, an annual census is given of the amount of live stock on the farms. £15,000 a year is voted for the cost of those Agricultural Returns and Estimates; and the value of the postage and of the printing not charged amount each to about £3,000 more; so that the annual cost of those useful Returns is only about £21,000 a year. As the important statistics furnished by the Board of Trade and the Foreign and Colonial Offices, though costly, are very well worth the money, so the information thus afforded is very valuable to the farmers. For instance, these Returns show the number of horses employed by the farmers in agriculture to have been greater in 1887 than in 1888 by nearly 6,000, of cows by over 20,000; the total excess of cattle being over 270,000, and sheep 660,000. Besides the cost which I have mentioned a certain share not easily determined, but appreciable in the general expenses of the office, ought to be attributed to the preparation of these statistics. The Statistical Department gets its information in England through the agency of the Inland Revenue Officers, and in Ireland through the constabulary. Now, my Lords, I venture to think that if a yearly census of farming stock in the country is so important, it is very important also to obtain similar statistics with regard to the population of the country. I would remind your Lordships that since the last census legislative measures of great importance have been passed, the Reform Act of 1885, the English Local Government Act of last year, and the Scotch Local Government Bill of this year in the discussions on which trustworthy statistics as to the numbers of the resident population, and the floating population would have been of great advantage. There have also been discussions, not only in this House but out of it, relating to educational and religious subjects, as to which it would have been of the greatest advantage if that information could have been supplied. Sir Edwin Chad wick, in a paper which he read at the Health Congress at Hastings this year, referred to the very large changes in the population of the Metropolis both in bad and prosperous years, and expressed an opinion strongly in favour of an annual census. Mr. Kelly, in preparing his great Directory, finds that the changes are fully 20 per cent a year in the London, and the same in the suburban householders. But the changes of residence among the wage-earning classes, who are compelled to follow their work, appear to be greater than in any other class, and to amount to nearly as much as one-third. Those constant changes, which are so perplexing to school managers, show strongly the necessity for an annual census. But, and in this aspect it has a particular interest for me, the value of a more frequent census than a decennial one is specially great for sanitary purposes. As the death rate is reckoned at so many per thousand of the population, it is highly desirable that the inhabitants of the different towns should have frequent and accurate statements as to population, seeing that the rate of mortality is the best test of the sanitary condition of a district. With a decennial census we cannot, a few years after it has been taken, have reliable information upon which to proceed. We are accustomed to see estimates of the proportion of deaths per thousand of the population in our great towns, and those are avowedly based on estimates founded on the difference between the population at previous censuses, the ultimate census, and the penultimate census; and it is therefore of very great importance that we should have more frequent statistics, in order to ascertain the actual mortality among the town populations more accurately than is possible when we only get the statistics once in 10 years. And, my Lords, it should be remembered that in the rural districts the tables of mortality are equally liable to be wrong in another direction; as we know there has been a considerable decrease in the rural population, although the aggregate population of the kingdom has increased. So that during a period of 10 years estimates formed on the information last obtained as compared with the two previous censuses must be utterly and entirely wrong and seriously misleading. A decrease in population may have begun owing to the cessation of a particular manufacture just at the time the census was taken, and for 10 years a population would be assumed which would differ more widely every year from the true state of the case. And, of course, the same observation applies to cases where there may be an increase of population from the contrary cause. The aggregate cost of the last decennial census was, I have ascertained by inquiry, £150,000; the cash payments amounting to £122,000, and the printing done for the Government and cost of postage not separately charged making up the difference. Sir Edwin Chad wick finds that that comes to about £4 18s. per 1,000 of the population, and that occurs but once in 10 years. He is strongly of opinion that by utilising the Registrars of districts and allowing them to employ the postmen or School Board officers it might be done at something like a cost of £1 per 1,000 for obtaining details as full as those which are now given in the decennial census. Another suggestion worthy of consideration is that all householders should, under a penalty, add the names of all persons upon their premises on a certain night to the return which they have now to make under the last Registration Act of those residing there who are qualified to be put upon the register of voters. I do not venture to give an opinion as to what would be the best mode of obtaining an annual census. My own opinion is that a record of the numbers without the details taken in the decennial census would cost very little, and would be of very great value to those engaged in legislation or in the administration of the country. I do not ask your Lordships to pass any Resolution on the subject, nor do I ask the Government for any positive answer upon it. All I ask of your Lordships and the Government is, that they should give the matter their serious consideration.


My Lords, the noble Earl's question refers to the desirability of having a cheap and simple annual census, and in his remarks, for the purpose of showing more particularly what he wants, he draws an analogy from the Statistical Returns giving an enumeration of farming stock throughout the country. I am afraid, my Lords, I must demur to the applicability of any such analogy. It is obvious that even the cheapest and simplest census which is to be of any use at all must include the sexes, ages, and numbers in family. That, of course, goes far beyond the mere enumeration of farming stock to which the noble Earl alludes. The objection to an annual census is the enormous cost. The cost of the decennial census may be put at £140,000. I do not understand how it is possible to make out that anything which would be of the slightest practical use could be got for anything approaching the sum suggested by the noble Earl. The chief cost in taking the census is not for the printing, but for the payment of the persons who distribute and collect the Returns, and afterwards for copying them out, and that cost for the distribution and collection of the schedule? and the copying after they were returned would have to be incurred in any useful annual census, except perhaps a slight saving on copying, if some of the columns of the schedule were omitted, in which case there would be less tabulating; but I think it would be very fallacious to entertain a hope that the cost of distributing and collecting the schedules could be materially lessened. The Local Government Board have received a great many complaints of the inadequate remuneration for the labour performed, and I think the hope of getting postmen or others to do the work gratuitously is delusive. A census, unless it is very complete and accurate, is worse than useless, and if it is to be complete and accurate, it is idle to hope that it can be done at less cost. I am far from under rating the importance to many persons and Local Authorities of having more frequent information than they possess at present. The noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) will bear me out when I say that the evidence before the Poor Law Committee last year showed that the want of information on the part of Local Authorities in quickly-increasing districts very much added to the difficulties of administration, and of dealing with the problems which present themselves. They do not really know what is the extent of the removal of population in their districts, and more definite information would be of the greatest use to them. Any hope of obtaining an annual census must, I think, be regarded as impracticable on account of the great cost it would involve; but frequent representations in favour of a quinquennial census have been made to the President of the Local Government Board from so many quarters that he has resolved to appoint a Departmental Committee to consider the desirability of carrying out that proposal. More than that the subject is engaging attention I am not at present prepared to say. As it is of a technical character, probably a Departmental Committee will be the most satisfactory body in the first in- stance to deal with and consider it. I hope that the noble Earl will be content with that assurance that the matter is engaging the attention of the Local Government Board.


I think still the cost need not be nearly as great as the noble Lord supposes; and that if we could remedy the disadvantage arising from the avowedly defective statistics which alone the Registry Office is able to furnish in the intervals between the decennial censuses it would be a very great-benefit. I am glad the subject is engaging the attention of the Government. A quinquennial, though very inferior to an annual, census would be a great improvement.