12. We explored what alternatives there are to undertaking
a full Census. Mr Cook told us that without the Census there would
still be measures that count the population in some way. There
are very good birth and death records in the UK and important
information is becoming available through the computerisation
of administrative records in public agencies such as the Department
of Work and Pensions. Analysis of the beneficiary population provides
almost 100 per cent of people in the youngest ages and a very
good measure of the population in the older ages, but it misses
out the population in the middle. Mr Cook also told us that the
ability to measure population change accurately is limited by
the difficulty in measuring migration flows, which accounted for
some 70 per cent of the net population change in Britain over
the last four years.
13. Some Nordic countries have ceased having censuses
because of their ability to integrate information from a variety
of powerful public registers holding information on matters such
as tax and family benefits. Some countries undertake a simple
count of the population and others enhance this by asking samples
of households to complete a fuller form. ONS is investigating
the practice in France and Israel of a rolling census covering
10 per cent of the population each year.
Mr Cook told us that "the shift in access to administrative
data in the UK is moving us more and more to a Nordic country
type model where we can look at the balance of what we collect
in the Census and what we get from other sources. That has been
very much part of the ONS policy and the question is: do we have
a 2011 Census?"
14. The Statistics Commission told us that before
any firm decision is made about another Census in 2006 or 2011
there should be a rigorous assessment of need which should take
into account the way that new technology has changed the situation
since the Census was invented in the 19th Century.
Sir John Kingman, Chairman of the Statistics Commission, commented
that "We live in an age of information technology and we
are talking about information so it should not be assumed that
the pencil and paper methods which were all the 19th Century had
available are the right things to do in the 21st Century. There
is a lot of information in the computers that exist already. By
2011 there will be a great deal more. It may be that the right
thing to do is to develop the present sort of Census or it may
be that a much simpler Census which simply gives you a framework
of who there is and where they are would be the basis for an analysis
drawing in all the administrative data that had been collected
in other ways, or it may be that there is some quite radically
different way of handling the problem that we had not really thought
of. These are issues that should be on the agenda of debate and
they should be on the agenda of debate before Parliament arrives
at a firm conclusion about what should happen in 2011"
15. We consider that in evaluating the benefits
of any future Census all alternatives should be considered, including
doing without a Census altogether and reverting to a simple headcount.
Any evaluation will also need to take account of the likely acceptability
to the general public of drawing on other data sources, such as
tax and benefit records, for Census purposes. The Committee would
wish to be informed of the results of these evaluations, which
will need to be completed before a decision is taken on whether
to hold a mid-term Census in 2006.