Conference on International Co-operation in Statis.

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International Co-operation
in Statistics.

AUGUST 14th and 15th, 1919.






International Co-operation
in Statistics.

AUGUST 14th and 15th, 1919.





1. Expianatbry'statem'e'Mir' ':..*' 3

2. Summary of Discussion 4

3. Statement relating to the Permanent Office of the Inter-

national Institute of Statistics. By Dr. Methorst... ... 19

4. Statement relating to Bureau of Statistics of the Inter-

national Institute of Agriculture. By Signer Ricci ... 33

5. Summary of Suggestions Approved 39

Appendix I. Names of those present ... ... ... 40

Appendix II. Original proposed Agenda ... ... ... 41



August 14 and 15, 1919i ; > '

The Economic and Finance Section of the provisional
organisation of the League of Nations invited members
of the Institute of Agriculture at Rome, and of the Inter-
national Statistical Institute at the Hague, and of the
Bureau founded in connection with that Institute, together
with other leading statisticians, to a Conference at 117,
Piccadilly, on August 14 and 15, 1919.

The objects of the Conference were to discuss the rela-
tions of the League with the Institutions referred to above,
and also in general the way in which the new League
organisation could profitably assist the development of
international co-operation in statistics.

The League of Nations and its organisation are not yet
formally established, and the members of the Institutions
referred to came without mandates from their respective
governing bodies. The discussions were of necessity,
therefore, of a preliminary character, and there was no
intention of arriving at decisions of a binding character.
At the same time, those attending the Conference, though
not fully representative of the whole statistical profession,
included a considerable number of its leading members.
The discussion, therefore, proved of great value in indicat-
ing the direction in which further action could best be
undertaken, and it was deemed expedient to record what
proved after discussion to be the general sense of the
meeting on a number of specific questions.

(9063) A 2



Thursday, August 14th.

Sir ERIC DRUMMOND extended a welcome to the members
of the Conference, and expressed a hope that their work
would be of value in developing International co-operation
in statistics.

Signor DRAG ONI made a suitable reply on behalf of the
visiting members./. *

Mr. SALTER (in the Chair) explained that the main
objects of the Conference (which were set out more fully
in the proposed agenda, Enclosure 2) were to discuss the
relations of the League of Nations with existing Inter-
national statistical organisations, particularly the Institute
of Agriculture of Home and the International Statistical
Institute, with its permanent bureau at the Hague ; and
to consider the best way in which the League organisation
could assist the development of international co-operation
in statistical work. He emphasised the provisional
character of the discussions at the present meeting, which
could not well arrive^at binding decisions.

M. METHORST then read a paper (Enclosure 4) on the
work of the Permanent Office of the International Institute
of Statistics at the Hague, copies of which were circulated
to those present. While the chief work hitherto accom-
plished had been in the field of demographic statistics,
preliminary work had also been done covering nearly the
whole of international statistics with the exception of
commercial statistics.

Mr. SALTER directed attention to the fact that the
question of determining the relations of the League of
Nations with the two bodies represented was totally
different in the two cases, inasmuch as the International
Institute of Agriculture is an official Governmental body,
whereas the International Statistical Permanent Bureau is
private and unofficial.

Signer DRAGONI noted that the Institute of Agriculture
comes under Article 24 of the League Covenant. The
constitutional question would be discussed later Trith the
Secretary-General, but only for purposes of information, as
every decision regarding the International Institute of
Agriculture must be reserved to its Permanent Com-
mittee. In the meantime, he was pleased to discuss its
relations in the sphere of statistics. He desired to draw
attention to one important fact which had been brought
out by the experience of the International Institute of
Agriculture, viz., that the greatest difficulty in the organisa-
tion of international statistics was to persuade the
National Governments to unify their system of collecting
and preparing statistics. The most important task of the
League of Nations in this sphere would be to persuade the
statisticians to introduce greater uniformity, which should
at any rate be sufficient to provide a more adequate basis
of comparison.

Signor RICCI explained the statistical organisation of
the Institute of Agriculture (see Enclosure 5), a living
example of effective and useful permanent collaboration
between Governments. The Institute was the centre of
a network of agricultural statistics covering the whole
world. For example, with regard to figures of areas
sown and to production, the Institute sends out ques-
tionnaires to correspondents in each country, who are all
Government officials. Their publications are well known,
and cover the field of agricultural production. In addition,
however, it was found necessary to deal with figures of
imports and exports of agricultural products, with the
movements of wholesale prices, and with many other
matters of general economic interest. Attention had also
been given to theoretical work, and monographs on various
statistical questions were already published.

M. LUCIEN MARCH expressed the view that uniformity
of statistical methods might be obtained more satisfac-
torily by private exchange of views between the officials
concerned than by Governmental action or by exercise of
authority by an official body.


He recalled that tlie International Institute of
Statistics, founded in 1885 as a consequence of the Inter-
national Congresses held periodically since 1855, is a
private association composed of official heads of statistical
bureaux and of unofficial statisticians, economists, etc.
It thus includes persons concerned both with the prepara-
tion and with the use of statistics.

Its composition, its traditions, and the results which it
has obtained, are a guarantee of its competence for the
supervision of international statistics.

With a view to the co-ordination of these statistics,
the Institute formed, in 1913, the permanent office, the
work of which has been explained by M. Methorst. This
office might be affiliated to the League of Nations for
dealing with any statistics other than those with which
the International Institute of Agriculture at Rome, or
the International Labour Office are concerned.

Signor DKAGONI expressed the hope that the League of
Nations would exercise moral authority, though it could
not impose uniformity by force. International Statisti-
cians assembled in their private capacity would give the
League of Nations this moral authority in the field of

Signor BICCI added a few words on the methods by which
the Institute of Agriculture had succeeded in influencing
Governments. The Assembly being representative of
all Governments has political authority, and decisions
taken by it are binding. The prestige and influence
of the Institute were shown in the improvements
effected in the organisation of official agricultural
statistics in several countries. He suggested, therefore,
that official organisation was essential for many purposes,
but, at the same time, he emphasised the psychological
importance of unofficial contact between chiefs of official
statistical bureaux, as is obtained, for example, in the
periodical meetings of the International Institute of

LORD ROBERT CECIL opened the afternoon meeting with
a welcome to the representatives of the several bodies
present, and illustrated the importance of statistics in the
sphere of international administration from his ex-
periences during the War in connection with the Blockade
work, the Allied Maritime Transport Council, and the
Supreme Economic Council.

Mr. SALTER remarked that the work of the Institute of
Agriculture, and the International Institute and its bureau,
had been fully explained. It might be desirable that some
reference should now be made to the other main institutions,
existing or contemplated, which would be dealing with
international statistics.

Mr. BUTLER referred to Article 396 of the Treaty,
which definitely imposed upon the International Labour
Office the duty of collecting information with regard to all
matters affecting industrial life and labour. He pointed out
that the Labour Office is similar to the Institute of Agricul-
ture in being official. Unlike that body, however, it
includes a non-official element, viz., representatives of
employers and trade unionists, which facilitates its task
in obtaining industrial statistics.

With regard to labour statistics, he mentioned specially
that the figures of unemployment, which are now generally
deficient, would be specially discussed at the forthcoming
Conference at Washington. An improvement was also
particularly desirable in the case of occupational statistics.

Mr. SALTER referred to the establishment of an office at
Brussels under an International Convention concluded
immediately before the War with regard to the
preparation of an international classification of imports and
exports. He stated that he understood it had been sug-
gested that this Institute might cover the whole field of
commercial statistics.

M. VARLEZ stated that, according to his information, the
Institute had been suspended during the War, but pro-
posed to continue its activity.


Signor RICCI thought that the aim of the Institute was
more modest than had been suggested, and did not extend
over commercial and economic statistics generally. The
Bureau had, in fact, published a proposed classification of
imports and exports. This was confirmed by Mr. FLUX,
who explained the object of the Brussels Convention, and
stated that all countries had agreed to send figures of
trade regrouped according to uniform international classi-

Mr. FLUX described the object and character of a new
monthly Bulletin prepared for the Supreme Economic
Council and designed to summarise the economic position
of certain principal countries. He stated that the Council
had now appointed an International Statistical Com-
mittee to take over the responsibility for the publication
of this Bulletin. This organisation, he thought, would
enable the usefulness of the Bulletin to be greatly increased.
(Copies of the first number were circulated.)

Mr. S ALTER then summarised the discussion, and drew
attention to the following points which had emerged :

(1) The whole field of international statistics is not

covered, and there are important gaps in the
existing organisation.

(2) In general, each body tends to specialise upon one

group of statistics, e.g., Agricultural, Demo-
graphic, Imports and Exports classification, and

(3) Each of these bodies, while specialising on one

group, also tends inevitably to deal less
thoroughly with other groups as well.

There were thus two main problems to fill up the
existing gaps, and, so far as possible, to avoid overlapping.
He asked how the League Secretariat could best help
whether by conference such as the present, by undertaking
definitely the work of co-ordination, or by promoting inter-
national conventions to be submitted to the Council and
Assembly of the League.


Sir HENRY REW considered that the initial point was
to delimit functions. He emphasised the difference
between the International Institute of Statistics and the
Permanent Bureau of Statistics at the Hague. The latter
might specialise in a particular group of statistics as a
body separate from the International Institute, which was
itself concerned with the principles and methods of all
statistics. He suggested that general statistics fell into
four main groups :

(1) Agriculture.

(2) Industry, trade and finance.

(3) Labour.

(4) Demography.

Sir THOMAS ELLIOTT pointed out that the Institute of
Agriculture covered a very much wider field than statistics.
It aimed at becoming an Agricultural Department con-
cerned with all aspects of agriculture. He looked for
similar developments in other fields, e.g., the Labour
Office and an Institute of Health. He was against excessive
concentration in Geneva, and thought that the example
set by the King of Italy might be followed by other heads
of States in founding bodies similar to the Institute of
Agriculture. He was, therefore, in favour of decentralisa-
tion as regards locality, but agreed that central co-ordina-
tion was necessary, and that this might take the form
of a Central Advisory Council at Geneva.

point that it was overlapping in the compilation of sta-
tistics that was especially to be avoided. In their use
and publication overlapping did not so much matter,
and was, in fact, necessary.

Signor DRAGONI associated himself with the view that
the League of Nations would gain by having outposts in
various localities for different purposes.

Sir ATHELSTANE BAINES emphasised the necessity for
co-ordination, not only as between the different Inter-
national Bureaux and Institutes working under the
auspices of the League, but the still more important


work of co-ordination and critical survey of the statistical
work of the various Governments by some central sta-
tistical authority.

M. LUCIEN MARCH referred to the feature of the Inter-
national Labour Office mentioned by Mr. Butler, viz.,
that it contains, in its governing body, non-official repre-
sentatives of employers and labour. So, too, it should
be with statistics. In any Central Governing Body, it
would be necessary to include non-official representatives.
It was of the utmost importance that statistics should
escape any suspicion of being biassed by political con-

Further discussion took place with regard to the possi-
bility of arriving at a satisfactory determination of the
field covered by the proposed groups, which it was thought
by Sir Thomas Elliott should not be regarded as exhaustive.

Mr. SALTER pointed out that, in view of interdependence
of the several items on the Agenda, the Conference had
found it desirable on the first day to have a general dis-
cussion covering practically the whole range. It would
probably be desirable to confine discussion on the following
day to certain definite questions and suggestions, and to
attempt to ascertain the general sense of the meeting
on each of them.

Sir THOMAS ELLIOTT proposed that, for this purpose,
a list of suggestions made in the course of the first dis-
cussion should be prepared and circulated, and Mr. Salter
undertook to do this.

A report of a conversation with Mr. Hoover, forwarded
by Mr. Fosdick, was read to the Conference. Mr. Hoover
emphasized the need for a uniform system of price index
numbers and suggested that the organization of the
League of Nations might also be utilised to secure the
prompt collection and circulation (in some cases by cable)
of economic statistics, particularly as to raw materials,
which are not adequately dealt with by existing institu-


Friday, August 15th.

The following " Suggestions for Discussion " were
circulated in accordance with the decision of the previous
day :

Suggestion 1 . That, in principle, there should be a separa-
tion of the main classes of statistics, and that these
should be entrusted to several different bodies or
institutions working in connection with the League.

Suggestion 2. That, in general, although this principle
may not be capable of universal application, the bodies
entrusted with the several classes of statistics should
be those which are concerned with the other aspects
of the subject to which the statistics are respectively
appropriate, e.g., Institute of Agriculture, International
Labour Office.

Suggestion 3. That the main classes of statistics may be
usefully specified as the following four :

(a) Commercial, industrial and economic.
(6) Agricultural.

(c) Labour (including employment and wages).

(d) Demographic (including health, vital and crimi-

nology (?)).

Suggestion 4. That the institution of a Central Advisory
Council to meet normally at the seat of the League is
desirable, this Council being constituted partly of
members of the separate statistical bodies referred to
before, and also of outside persons who are concerned
rather with the use of statistics than with their

After some discussion, it was agreed that paragraph 4
of the Suggestions for Discussion circulated, should be
taken first, i.e., the institution of a Central Advisory
Council at Geneva.


Mr. S ALTER said that it had been suggested that, if
such a Council were formed, it should include four different
types of persons, viz. :

(1) The theoretical statistician.

(2) The administrative statistician.

(3) The business man using statistics in a big business.

(4) An economist.

Sir HENRY HEW thought that the representatives should
include s&y three to be nominated by the International
Institute of Statistics, and six to be proposed by the
League of Nations (these figures to be regarded as purely
tentative) and representatives of the principal statistical
organisations throughout the world.

This Council would be empowered to decide vexed
questions, e.g., which office should deal with the question
of mining, and the Advisory Council would also have
power, if they thought fit, to refer any question of general
principle for the consideration of the International Insti-
tute of Statistics.

Sir THOMAS ELLIOTT considered that the International
Statistical Institute should not be considered a final Court
of Appeal. He agreed that the Council should consist
partly of members of the separate statistical bodies and
institutions referred to in Suggestion I, partly of represen-
tatives of the Institute of Statistics, and partly of persons
directly nominated by the Council of the League. The
representatives nominated by the Council of the League
should, he thought, include persons concerned rather with
the use of statistics than with their preparation. The
Advisory Council would recognise the International Insti-
tute of Statistics as the scientific authority.

Signor RICCI thought that it was neither possible nor
desirable to establish a scientific supremacy and control
of the International Institute of Statistics over the Inter-
national Bureaux which collect and publish statistics.
Members of that Institute could, but the Directors of the
International bureaux should, be appointed as members
of the Advisory Council, with no less authority than the
former. He was of opinion that in the Advisory Council


many questions must arise of such a technical character
as to be comprehended only by the particular bureau
which specialised in that class of work.

Mr. FLUX suggested that the appointment of special
representatives of the International Institute of Statistics
to the Advisory Council was unnecessary, as the Institute
had no official standing, and was, in fact, in a state of
suspended animation ; in addition to which these would be
included amongst the representatives of the official statisti-
cal organisations in the usual course. He did not consider
that any private institution should be empowered to
appoint representatives to the Council.

Sir HENRY HEW pointed out that, though the Inter-
national Institute of Statistics only meets once in two
years, and has not been actively in operation during the
War, the bureau attached to the Institute is an active
body, and should have power to nominate representatives.

Mr. FLUX considered it desirable that the International
Institute of Statistics should deal with any technical
problems which might be submitted to it from time to
time, but did not think that, for this purpose, any formal
reference of such matters to the Institute by the Council
would be required or the presence of delegates of the
Institute on the Central Council.

Sir THOMAS ELLIOTT thought that the Institute should
appoint special representatives and be definitely mentioned
in the proposal, although it should not be considered the
final Court of Appeal.

Sir ATHELSTANE BAINES was of the opinion that the
wording of the motion should be left general, and all
reference to the International Institute of Statistics
should be omitted.

After further discussion, the following wording was
agreed to as representing the general sense of the
meeting :

(1) " That the institution of a Central Advisory
Council on Statistics, to meet normally at the
seat of the League, is desirable ; this Council


being constituted partly of members of the
separate statistical bodies referred to hereafter,
and partly of statisticians and other persons
nominated by the League. Such persons to
include some who are concerned rather with
the use of statistics than with their prepara-

A discussion was opened on Suggestion (1), that, in
principle, there should be a separation of the main classes
of statistics, and that these should be entrusted to several
different bodies or institutions working in connection with
the League.

Signor DBAGONI, replying to a suggestion made by
M. Varlez, expressed the opinion that statistics furnished
by unofficial or trade union organisations are of great
importance, but are not to be placed on the same level
with statistics compiled by official institutes. The In-
dustrial and Employers' Organisations supply the raw
material of statistics for the use of the official bodies, but
these organisations are too often prejudiced and self-
interested, and regard statistics more as a means than an
end. Whether the official bodies are to be in constant
touch with the unofficial organisations or not is quite a
different question, and he emphasised the necessity of
answering that question in the affirmative.

Signor RICCI identified himself with this last statement,
and pointed out that there are private sources of informa-
tion and statistical publications for practically every trade
and production. The meeting, however, was concerned
with official statistics, and it would obviously be impossible
to include all small private associations. He considered
that in the future four or five large International bureaux
of statistics would be quite sufficient. These bureaux
of course will gather and utilise, if necessary, the publica-
tions of the numberless existing smaller bodies.

M. VARLEZ laid stress on the fact that the organisations
dealing with statistics were much more numerous than
those which had been indicated during the discussion.


The international associations of workers and employers,
the groups of societies for public service, the international
official commissions, and many other bodies besides,
furnish international publications, interesting in many
respects, which we cannot neglect to include in the Statis-
tical Organisation of the League of Nations.

Mr. BUTLER remarked that the officially recognised
Bureaux could draw material from private organisations
without the direct recognition of the latter. The Labour
Office for example, would no doubt make a point of keep-
ing in touch with private organisations, especially with
those of employers and workers.

The following Motion was then agreed :

(2) " That, in principle, there should be a separation
of the main classes of statistics, and that these
should be entrusted to several different bodies
or institutions working in conjunction with the

Suggestion (2), as to the principle that statistics should
be compiled by an organisation dealing, like the Institute
of Agriculture and the Labour Office, with other aspects
of the subject to which the statistics related, was then

This principle had been proposed by Sir THOMAS ELLIOTT

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