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Mr. Gray rose--

Miss Johnson: I have already given way to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.

Mr. Fabricant: It is called courtesy.

Miss Johnson: I shall give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I was not sure until the very last moment whether the hon. Lady intended to give way to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), but we do not need any further help from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant).

Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I could see in her eyes that she was just about to, which is why I persisted.

The Minister has said several times that the information will be useful in the delivery of Government services. She has now briefly mentioned SSAs, and she seems to be indicating that information about the religious breakdown of the nation will be used in the delivery of local government services through the SSA mechanism. Will she confirm whether the current study of SSAs being carried out by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will take account of the information which will be gained next year with regard to the religious affiliations of the people surveyed?

Miss Johnson: Those are not questions to be determined tonight. We are here to give the Bill a Second Reading. I am well aware that a number of points that hon. Members have raised are matters which can be discussed later or which will be more appropriately dealt with when the Bill--if it receives support this evening, as I trust it will--goes to a Standing Committee for proper, detailed consideration.

When it approves the Bill, Parliament will bring census legislation in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Subject to the passing of the necessary secondary legislation, that will enable information on religion to be available from the 2001 census throughout the United Kingdom, and will have the added advantage of giving us a United Kingdom picture.

Well-informed hon. Members will know that the draft orders for the other aspects of the 2001 census have already been debated elsewhere in the House. As the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) remarked, those orders were agreed without a Division. From that, it is clear that they were not considered controversial.

To underline the importance that the Government attach to the need for information on religion to be collected, we have agreed to provide time to facilitate the further

20 Jun 2000 : Column 308

progress of the Bill. The Government will do everything possible to do that in time for a question on religion to be included in the 2001 census in England and Wales.

Subject to the Bill passing through the House and receiving Royal Assent, the Government propose to lay before Parliament an amendment to the census order providing specifically for particulars in respect of religion to be added to those that have already received the approval of this House for inclusion in the 2001 census.

Conservative Members refer to the explanatory notes when it suits them, but seem reluctant to read them in their entirety. Paragraph 13 states that the Office for National Statistics has taken legal advice, which holds that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights and meets the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Office for National Statistics also consulted widely about the inclusion of a question on religion. The religious affiliation sub-group of the 2001 census content working group comprised members of a wide range of faith organisations. As well as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, the organisations involved included, among others, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Network of Sikh Organisations, the Buddhist Society, the National Council of Hindu Temples, and the Zoroastrians, as well as a number of representatives from the Christian Churches in Britain.

We have assessed the public reaction to a question on religion in the census. Some Conservative Members seemed fearful about pride in this matter, but I believe that many people are proud of their religious affiliation, whatever it might be, and will want to answer the question.

The Government have been mindful of the particular sensitivity of such a question. We took careful note of the concerns expressed in the House of Lords when the Bill was debated there. Consequently, the Government supported an amendment to the Bill that would remove the statutory penalty for people who refuse or neglect to state in their census returns the particulars in respect of religion. I should make it clear, however, that the statutory requirement--under the terms of the Census Act 1920--to respond to all other census questions would remain.

Mr. Tyrie: The Minister has asserted that the question will be left voluntary, but Lord McIntosh did not agree. He told the House of Lords that it would not be a good idea, because

Does not the Minister agree that making the question voluntary devalues the census?

Miss Johnson: As the Minister most closely involved with the Office for National Statistics, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the statisticians are strongly motivated to ensure that we have as good a statistical result as possible. The Bill would not be before the House if it did not have the ONS's support as being perfectly sustainable, and the outcomes--

Mr. Hogg: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to trouble you with a technical point, but the

20 Jun 2000 : Column 309

Minister who is in charge of the Bill has told the House that it is compatible with the European convention on human rights. You will know that clause 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires that a Minister of the Crown must make a declaration of compatibility in writing, and before Second Reading. The only declaration of compatibility in this case is in paragraph 13 of the explanatory notes, which contains a legal opinion taken by the Office for National Statistics. That is not the same as a declaration of compatibility by the Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The occupant of the Chair has absolutely no responsibility for ensuring that these matters are dealt with in the correct way: it is not a matter for the Chair.

Miss Johnson: This is, of course, a private Member's Bill, not a Government Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Before I conclude, it is worth mentioning that the 1851 census included a question that is sometimes thought to be about religion, although that is not strictly the case. The census included a voluntary survey of churches, chapels and other places of worship with respect to the numbers attending services on the census day and the average attending in the month before, together with some other information about places of worship.

Perhaps we can learn from some of the ideas that lay behind that census. In the first census of the new millennium, we need the census information that will be collected to reflect the religious diversity that is now very much a part of the United Kingdom, to ensure that we accurately reflect that in the services that we provide and that we get it right for all communities and all religions.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 10.

Division No. 238
[1.12 am


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bayley, Hugh
Beggs, Roy
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Day, Stephen
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Drew, David
Efford, Clive
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Goggins, Paul
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hayes, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Heald, Oliver
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kemp, Fraser
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Lidington, David
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Ottaway, Richard
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pope, Greg
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Randall, John
Rapson, Syd
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shaw, Jonathan
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Squire, Ms Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Vis, Dr Rudi
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Wilson, Brian
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mr. Don Touhig.


Chope, Christopher
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Fabricant, Michael
Gray, James
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Nicholls, Patrick
Paterson, Owen
Swayne, Desmond
Tonge, Dr Jenny

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Edward Leigh.

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 Jun 2000 : Column 311

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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