2 The twenty-second national census will take place in March 2021 across the United Kingdom, subject to Parliamentary approval. The census is a devolved matter. The three census offices of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England and Wales) work closely to ensure the three censuses together provide comparable statistics on the UK population.
3 The information the census provides on the population, including their characteristics, education, religion, ethnicity, working life, housing and health, gives decision-makers in national and local government, community groups, charities and businesses the opportunity to better serve communities and individuals in the United Kingdom. Information derived from the census helps to inform policy, plan services, and distribute resources effectively to local and health authorities and enable these resources to be directed to where they are needed.
4 Completion of the census is mandatory across the United Kingdom. With the exception of questions on religion or (in Northern Ireland) religious profession, refusal to answer census questions is a criminal offence and subject to a penalty.
5 This Bill makes amendments to the Census Act 1920 and Census (Northern Ireland) Act 1969 to remove the criminal penalty for refusing or neglecting to respond to any census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the England and Wales and Northern Ireland censuses. This will ensure that if these questions are asked in future censuses (by inclusion in future Census Orders, which will be subject to separate Parliamentary scrutiny) they are voluntary. In particular, anyone who does not wish to provide information on their sexual orientation and gender identity in future censuses in England and Wales and/or Northern Ireland would not thereby be committing a criminal offence by refusing or neglecting to answer these questions.
6 In the interests of clarity, accessibility and legal certainty, the Bill also adds both matters to the Schedules of each Act as specific matters on which census questions may be asked. In England and Wales only, matters individually listed in the Schedule are subject to a different Parliamentary procedure to those which are not listed individually. Those not listed fall under the general category in paragraph 6 of the Schedule. This amendment will change the applicable procedure, such that the approval of any questions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in future Census Orders will be subject only to the draft negative procedure. The secondary legislation, needed to enable a census to take place, will follow later in the year and will set out the full proposed content of the 2021 Census.
The Census in England and Wales
7 The UK Statistics Authority has statutory responsibility for carrying out the census in England and Wales. The Government published a White Paper, Help Shape our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales 1 in December 2018 (‘the White Paper’), setting out the UK Statistics Authority’s detailed proposals for the census in England and Wales.
8 The UK Statistics Authority’s proposals for the 2021 Census follow a programme of public consultation, stakeholder engagement, and research and testing. As a result of this consultation and testing, the UK Statistics Authority recommends new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are asked in the 2021 Census for England and Wales to meet the need for better quality information for equality monitoring and public service provision. Further detail on the consultation and testing that informed the proposal to include new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the next England and Wales census can be found in the White Paper in paragraphs 3.34 – 3.54.
9 Due to the sensitive nature of these questions, both the UK Statistics Authority and Government believe they should be voluntary, ensuring that no-one is required to answer these questions if they do not wish to. The White Paper therefore stated that the Government and UK Statistics Authority would consider how to ensure this was the case (paragraphs 3.45 and 3.54). This Bill seeks to achieve this by amending the principal census legislation for England and Wales to remove the criminal penalty for not responding to census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
10 A binary, mandatory ‘sex’ question will continue to be included in the England and Wales census (What is your sex? Female/Male). A primary focus of the UK Statistics Authority’s testing of the inclusion of a gender identity question has been to ensure there is no risk to the quality of data collected about a person’s sex (male or female) in order to meet user needs for this data and to preserve data continuity. Further detail can be found in paragraphs 3.34 – 3.45 of the White Paper.
The Census in Northern Ireland
11 The Registrar General for Northern Ireland has statutory responsibility for carrying out the census in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published its proposals for the Northern Ireland census in April 2019 (‘the Northern Ireland Proposals’). 2 This followed a programme of public consultation, stakeholder engagement and testing, the details of which can be found in section 2 of the Northern Ireland Proposals.
12 The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency propose to ask a question on sexual orientation in the 2021 Census to inform policy development and enable organisations to meet and monitor their statutory equality obligations stemming from section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and other relevant legislation. Section 3.6.2 of the Northern Ireland Proposals sets out the consideration process informing this proposal in more detail.
13 Without an amendment to the census primary legislation for Northern Ireland, a question on sexual orientation would remain subject to a criminal penalty for non-response. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and sitting Assembly, the UK Government has decided, following consultations with the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, to extend this Bill’s proposed amendments to the England and Wales legislation to Northern Ireland legislation. It has in particular decided to mirror the amendments rather than excluding gender identity from the amendments, notably because this does not require future Northern Ireland censuses to include such a question and ensures people in Northern Ireland are afforded the same level of protection as people in England and Wales. This accords with the UK Government’s ordinary approach in this context.
The Census in Scotland
14 The Registrar General for Scotland has statutory responsibility to carry out the census in Scotland. National Records of Scotland published its plans for the 2021 Census in Scotland in September 2018 (‘Plans for Scotland’s Census 2021’). 3 These plans include asking new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Scottish Parliament has passed the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to enable census particulars about transgender history and status and sexual orientation to be gathered voluntarily. This Bill is awaiting Royal Assent.
2 2021 Census Northern Ireland Proposals Document (April 2019), Available at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/2021-census-proposals-document
3 Plans for Scotland’s Census 2021 (September 2018) Available at: https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/documents/census2021/Plans_for_Scotlands_Census_2021.pdf