House of Commons - Explanatory Note
Statistics And Registration Service Bill - continued          House of Commons

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Clause 11 Pre-release access

57.     This clause provides for the Treasury and (in the case of official devolved statistics) the Devolved Administrations to determine, by way of order, the principles and rules for access to official statistics in their final form in which they willl be published. Under clause 62, such orders will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Once approved, these rules and principles will be regarded as being included in, and are to be assessed as part of, the Code of Practice for National Statistics.

58.     Subsections (1) and (2) provide that the Code under clause 10 may not deal with pre-release access to official statistics.

59.     Subsection (3) provides that the Code shall apply to official statistics as if it included any rules and procedures set out in an order made under subsection (2).

60.     Subsection (4) sets out examples of the types of situation to which the rules and principles referred to in subsection (2) may apply. These could include: the circumstances in which, or descriptions of statistics in relation to which, pre-release access may or may not be granted; the type of person or persons to whom pre-release access might be granted; the period within which such access may be granted; and the conditions under which any such access may be available.

61.     Subsection (5) provides that the principles and rules referred to in subsection (2) may vary between different types of statistics or statistical releases. They might, for example, set out different rules for market-sensitive and non-market sensitive statistics. Subsection (5) also provides that the order may grant discretion to the person responsible for producing official statistics. This could include, for example, the exercise of judgment on that person to provide longer pre-release access in exceptional circumstances, such as for those preparing economic forecasts for a Budget or Pre-Budget Report.

62.     Subsection (6) establishes that the appropriate authority for setting out an order in subsection (2) is the Treasury; or in the case of wholly devolved statistics, the Department of Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland, Scottish Ministers, or Welsh Ministers as appropriate.

63.     Subsection (7) establishes that an appropriate authority making the order in subsection (2) must consult the other authorities listed in subsection (6) before making an order.

Clause 12 Assessment

64.     This clause provides a mechanism for the independent assessment by the Board of official statistics, where the Board is asked to do so by the relevant Minister or other appropriate authority, against the published set of standards set out in the Code of Practice. The results of the assessment will be made public.

65.     Under subsection (2) if the Board judges that the statistics meet the standards in the Code, then the Board must designate them as 'National Statistics'. If they do not, then they will not be so designated.

66.     Subsection (3) requires that once the appropriate authority has requested an assessment of an official statistic under subsection (1), they may not withdraw that request, and the Board must undertake an assessment of the statistics in question.

67.     Subsection (4) requires the person responsible for the statistics being assessed to provide the Board with any information it might reasonably require. Subsection (6) allows the Board, when carrying out assessments, to take into account information or advice from any source.

68.     Under subsection (5) the Board must publish the results of any assessment.

69.     Subsection (8) allows for the fact that, at the point of commencement, there will already be a set of National Statistics. These statistics will be designated as National Statistics, under the terms of this clause and subject to the re-assessment outlined in clause 13.

Clause 13 Re-assessment

70.     This clause provides for the re-assessment of statistics already designated as National Statistics under clause 12. This includes assessment of those statistics which

are already designated as National Statistics at the point of commencement (under clause 12(8)), as well as those statistics which are assessed by the Board as compliant with the Code of Practice for National Statistics (under clause 12(2)).

71.     Subsection (1) requires the Board to assess statistics designated as National Statistics under clause 12, to determine whether they continue to comply with the Code and if under subsection (2) the Board determines that they continue to comply with the code, confirm their designation. If they do not continue to comply, then their designation as National Statistics must be cancelled.

72.     Subsection (3) requires the person responsible for the statistics being assessed to provide the Board with any information it might reasonably require and subsection (4) permits the Board, in carrying out its re-assessments to take into account information or advice received from any source.

73.     Under subsection (6) cancellation of National Statistics designation can only occur if the Board has assessed the statistics and determined that they do not comply with the Code.

Clause 14 Programme of assessment

74.     This clause requires the Board to prepare and publish a programme for both the assessment and (under clause 12) of statistics proposed by the appropriate authority, and the re-assessment (under clause 13) of statistics already designated as National Statistics.

75.     Subsection (2) allows the Board to revise the programme and if it does, it must republish it.

Clause 15 Principles and procedures

76.     This clause requires the Board to prepare and publish a statement of the principles and procedures it will adopt to carry out its assessments and re-assessments of National Statistics; allows it to revise this statement at any time; and requires the Board to consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, the Department of Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland, and other such persons as it sees fit. These principles will be for the Board to determine, but it is expected that they might indicate the way that risk-based approaches and transparency might underpin the assessment of National Statistics, including:

  • the criteria that might be applied in drawing up and amending the work programme;

  • the way that assessments themselves would be conducted;

  • the way recommendations would be formulated;

  • the timing and manner of publication of recommendations; and

  • the professional standards expected of those conducting the assessment.

Clause 16 List of National Statistics

77.     This clause provides for the Board to publish once a year a list of statistics that are designated as National Statistics under clauses 12 and 13.

Clause 17 Code: transitional

78.     This clause provides for the transitional arrangements from the point the Board is established and before it has prepared and published a new Code, as required by clause 10.

79.     This clause provides that, until a new Code is adopted by the Board, the Board will maintain the current Code of Practice for National Statistics (subsection (2)). Subsection (3) permits the Board to revise the existing Code before it publishes a new Code; and stipulates that if it does so, it must publish the Code as revised.

80.     Subsection (4) provides that, in making revisions to the Code, the Board may not make any changes relating to pre-release access as defined in clause 11.

81.     Subsection (5) establishes that during the interim period the Board can use the existing Code to assess statistics proposed by the appropriate authority for assessment under clause 12, as well as to re-assess statistics already designated as National Statistics under clause 13.

Clause 18 Production of statistics

82.     This clause provides the Board with the power to produce and publish statistics. Under this power, the Board will take on one of the main roles of the current ONS, in conducting surveys, and collecting information from other sources, to produce a wide range of data on the economy and society. This includes, for example, production of the National Accounts, labour market data, information on the population, and other aspects of demography.

83.     Subsection (1) allows for the Board to prepare and publish statistical outputs, while subsection (2) provides for the Board to make available information or advice in relation to those outputs. For example, when publishing statistics on a particular topic, the Board may need to provide other contextual information for users about the appropriate use of those data, background information on the methodology, and terminology (for example, explaining the concept of seasonal adjustment) or advice on other relevant points.

84.     Subsections (3) to (5) provide that the Board must seek the consent of the relevant Devolved Administration before producing or publishing devolved statistics.

Clause 19 Retail prices index

85.     This clause sets out the governance arrangements for the Retail Prices Index (RPI). The RPI is an average measure of change in the price of goods and services, which is compiled and published monthly.

86.     Subsection (1) provides that the Board must compile and maintain the RPI, and that it must be published every month.

87.     Subsection (2) requires that the Board, before making any changes to the coverage or basic calculation of the RPI, must consult the Bank of England on whether the proposed change constitutes a fundamental change in the index that would be materially detrimental to the interests of the holders of relevant index-linked gilt-edged securities (ILGs).

88.     This is because, among other things, the RPI is used to calculate returns on ILGs, which are government securities issued by the Treasury under its borrowing powers in section 12 of the National Loans Act 1968. The prospectuses of ILGs first issued before July 2002 provided as follows:

"If any change should be made to the coverage or the basic calculation of the [Retail Prices] Index which, in the opinion of the Bank of England, constitutes a fundamental change in the Index which would be materially detrimental to the interests of the stock-holders, Her Majesty's Treasury will publish a notice in the London Gazette immediately following the announcement to the relevant Government Department of the change, informing stockholders and offering them the right to require Her Majesty's Treasury to redeem their Stock in advance of the revised index becoming effective ..".

89.     The prospectuses of eight gilts with maturities ranging from 2009 to 2030 currently contain this redemption clause and the aggregate outstanding amount of these gilts is very substantial. The rationale of the redemption clause was to protect holders against arbitrary changes in the nature of the RPI. However, depending on the nature of the change to the RPI and on market circumstances at the time, the triggering of the clause could have a significant impact on financial markets and potentially on the public finances.

90.     Subsection (3) provides that if, under subsection (2) the Bank of England considers the proposed change to constitute a fundamental change that would be materially detrimental to holders of ILGs, then the Board may not make the change without the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

91.     Subsection (4) defines the various terms used in the clause.

Clause 20 Statistical services

92.     This clause allows the Board to supply statistical services to any person and details the kind of services which may be provided. This power is intended to allow the Board to provide the range of services which the ONS provides currently. For example, the Board will be able to provide information, advice and technical assistance to outside bodies, as ONS does currently, including to statistical agencies in developing countries.

93.     The Board may also undertake quality assessment of statistics produced by organisations outside the scope of the Bill, in a manner akin to those it carries out in relation to National Statistics. Those bodies' statistics could not be designated as National Statistics, but the Board could if it wished make public its views on the quality of those statistics. The Board may also undertake statistical surveys and analyses on behalf of others, as ONS does currently with its 'Omnibus' Survey.

Clause 21 Statistical research

94.     This clause allows the Board to promote statistical research, including facilitating research through making available to researchers data held by it, as ONS does currently. For example, ONS provides anonymised data under licence through the UK Data Archive at Essex University. It also provides access to certain data to researchers and academics in a secure environment, and this will continue as described in relation to clause 36.

Clause 22 Delegated functions

95.     This clause allows a Minister of the Crown, Welsh ministerial authorities and Northern Ireland departments, by order, to delegate to the Board any of their functions relating to the production of statistics. The Chancellor of the Exchequer currently delegates Ministerial functions under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 - to the Director of the ONS - and this provision will retain the possibility of delegation in the future.

Clause 23 Census etc and Schedule 1

96.     This clause transfers the current statistical functions of the Registrar General for England and Wales to the Board. These functions include responsibility for conducting the census and the production of an annual volume which, among other things, contains figures on the number of births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships that have taken place in England and Wales during the previous year. The functions also include the role of assessor to the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England and for Wales. This involves giving advice to the Commissions on issues such as population estimates.

97.     The Schedule contains the amendments consequential on, and supplementary to, clause 23.

The Census Act 1920

98.     The amendments to the Census Act 1920 give the Board the same responsibilities that currently apply to the Registrar General apart from two specific provisions. Paragraph 3 amends section 3 to require the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Welsh Ministers to consult the Board prior to making any regulations under this provision. The references to the Welsh Ministers in the amended section 3 anticipate the transfer of the regulation-making power in section 3 to Welsh Ministers under the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions)(No. 2) Order 2006.

99.     Paragraph 5 provides for the Board to acquire information from any government department or local authority, having first consulted with the Registrar General, in relation to registration information. Paragraph 6 amends section 6 in order to clarify to whom a local authority should submit an application for a local census in England and Wales or in Scotland respectively.

The Population (Statistics) Act 1938

100.     Paragraph 8 amends section 4 to permit the Board to disclose information collected under this Act, providing it is necessary in connection with the performance of its functions under section 5 of the Census Act 1920.

The Registration Service Act 1953

101.     Paragraph 9 amends section 19 to place on the Board the responsibility for sending an annual abstract to Ministers.

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986

102.     Paragraph 10 amends paragraph 5(a) and (c) of Schedule 1 to place the role of assessor to the Boundary Commissions for England and for Wales on the Board.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

103.     Paragraph 11 amends section 14(6)(a) to place the role of assessor to the Boundary Commissions for England and for Wales on the Board.

Clause 24 Ancillary powers

104.     This clause enables the Board to do anything necessary in connection with the exercise of its functions or incidental business. The purpose of a clause of this nature is to give the Board the powers it needs to transact its day-to-day business. It does not widen the scope of the Board's activities, nor provide any powers of compulsion.

105.     Examples of the use of the powers are:

  • the gathering of information in relation to the exercise of its functions;

  • the establishment of advisory bodies;

  • the entering into of agreements; the acquiring and disposing of property; and

  • promoting, or assisting in the promotion of, publicity about the work of the Board.

106.     These powers will also entitle the Board to charge for certain services on a discretionary basis, as ONS does currently, for example for paper copies of its publications, for any statistical services it provides and for services promoting statistical research. Any charges would be made in line with Government charging policies, which apply to all public bodies.

Clause 25 Reports

107.     This clause requires certain reports to be laid before Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, or the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it also allows the Board to lay further reports as necessary.

108.     This clause would enable the Board, if it thought it appropriate, to lay reports which are wholly on devolved matters only before the relevant devolved legislature.

109.     Subsection (1) imposes a duty on the Board to lay a report before Parliament after the end of each financial year. This will include details of what it has done during the year and what it has found as a result of those activities. The Board must also provide information about what it intends to do during the following financial year.

110.     Subsection (2) states that a report under subsection (1) must be laid before the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

111.     Subsection (3) in addition allows the Board at any time to produce a report about any other matter relating to the exercise of its functions. Subsection (4) notes that any report produced under subsection (3) may be laid before any of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

112.     Under subsection (5) the Board must publish any report that it makes under this clause.

Clause 26 Efficiency etc

113.     Subsection (1) obliges the Board to have regard to efficiency and cost-effectiveness when making decisions relating to the exercise of its functions.

114.     Subsection (2) requires that the Board seek to limit the costs that individuals, businesses and other organisations bear as a result of its activities (for example, when requiring them to fill in a survey, or when their statistics are being assessed). As a result, the Board must consider the burdens it places on others as a part of decisions such as, whether to acquire data from existing administrative sources or whether to commission new data instead.

Clause 27 Directions

115.     This clause allows the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give the Board such directions as he considers appropriate, in the event of a serious failure by the Board to perform any of its functions, or to comply with EU obligations. Given that, the new Board will be established as a Non-Ministerial Department (NMD), the power in subsection (1) is intended as a power of last resort. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have no role in the day-to-day decision-making of the Board.

116.     In a similar manner, subsections (2), (3) and (4) permit the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers or the Department for Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland, with the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give the Board such directions as they consider appropriate to remedy a serious failure by the Board to comply with its objective, or to perform any of its functions in relation to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland respectively.

117.     By subsection (8), if the Board fails to act on a direction, the authority that gave the direction may carry out that direction itself, and in so doing, may exercise the Board's powers. Where the authority is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this power is exercised subject to the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Clause 28 National Statistician: advisory functions

118.     This clause provides that the National Statistician is the Board's chief professional adviser on the quality and comprehensiveness of, and good practice in relation to, official statistics. Subsection (2) provides that the Board must take account of the National Statistician's advice in relation to all those matters.

119.     Subsection (3) requires the Board to publish a statement if it overrules the National Statistician on what are purely professional statistical matters, that is, the development and maintenance of definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for any official statistics, or the application of definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards to statistics produced by the Board itself.

120.     Subsection (4) requires any statements published under subsection (3) to be laid promptly before Parliament.

Clause 29 National Statistician: executive functions

121.     This clause establishes that, as well as being the Board's chief professional adviser, the National Statistician is also to be the Chief Executive of the Board, with direct authority to conduct the Board's business, subject to the exceptions in subsection (3). This clause also requires the National Statistician to establish an executive office of the Board. It is expected that the executive members and employees of the Board will undertake the day-to-day business of the Board, under its direction.

122.     Subsection (2) enables the National Statistician to exercise any functions of the Board, except, under subsection (3), the functions of deciding whether or not to adopt or revise the Code of Practice for National Statistics, or determining whether official statistics comply with the Code.

123.     Subsection (4) allows the Board to direct the National Statistician on whether he may exercise a particular function and if so, how. This may include reserving the exercise of particular functions to the Board collectively.

124.     Subsection (6) requires the executive office established under subsection (5), to be headed by the National Statistician and to include the other two executive members of the Board, subject to the conditions in subsection (10), that the Head of Assessment may not be part of the executive office. The National Statistician may appoint to the office any other employees of the Board as required.

125.     Subsection (7) enables the National Statistician to delegate to any employees of his office any functions that he exercises on behalf of the Board under subsection (2). In effect, this will be much of the day-to-day work of the office, including the range of activities related to statistical production. However, subsection (8) makes clear that the fact that a function has been delegated to employees of the office under subsection (7) does not itself preclude the National Statistician from exercising it himself.

126.     If there is a vacancy in the post of National Statistician, subsection (9) enables the Board to appoint one of the other two executive members of the Board to carry out the National Statistician's functions as Chief Executive.

127.     Subsection (10) establishes that, if the Head of Assessment is one of the executive members of the Board, he may not be a member of the National Statistician's executive office (responsible for statistical production). This is consistent with clause 31, which establishes that the Board must separate its assessment activities from its production activities. In the event of a vacancy in the post of National Statistician (subsection (9)), the Head of Assessment cannot be appointed to carry out that role.

 
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Prepared: 22 November 2006