Previous Section Index Home Page

Throughout our proceedings on the Bill, including in today’s debate, I have stressed the importance of the independence of the board—we have examined that in great detail. If the provisions on independence are effective, the question of who has residual responsibility will become much less significant. I have made it clear before that I think, on balance, that the board could benefit—it is right to see this in positive terms, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff,
13 Mar 2007 : Column 240
South and Penarth (Alun Michael) urges—from having the Treasury as a link with the Government.

The functions are better discharged by the Treasury for several reasons. I think that all would accept that the Treasury has a long experience of working with and understanding statistics. It has a role in co-ordinating performance reporting and monitoring across government. I strongly disagree that the Treasury is somehow interested in only economic statistics, because more than any other Department it has an interest in ensuring that we have a good evidence base, including statistics on departmental policies, given the importance of statistics to reporting on departmental performance and to understanding the levers for the successful reform and development of public services, in which the Treasury plays a leading and co-ordinating role. The Treasury is well placed to play a co-ordinating role across Government, as it does on so many other occasions, such as during the spending review or the Budget process.

Given that background, I maintain that the Treasury is well placed to play a constructive part with respect to the board and its future role. The Treasury Committee took that view in its report, and the Government concur, so I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) will not press her amendment.

Mrs. Villiers: I will not press my amendment today. Obviously, I have listened to the debate, but I apologise to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) for suggesting that my mind was closed to his amendments even before I had heard his arguments. However, he will acknowledge that those arguments were aired in Committee. Sadly, he has not changed my mind today.

The point made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) about the importance of stability struck me as sensible. He expressed the concern that a shift to the Cabinet Office would involve further instability, but given that we are creating an entirely new structure, I do not think that that is a significant factor.

I assure the House that I am not a Treasury-basher, although I was accused of being one. However, I am of course happy for Treasury Front Benchers and shadow Treasury Front Benchers to engage in robust political debate. I certainly understand the importance of the Treasury’s being involved in pursuing a value-for-money agenda across the Departments. Treasury-bashing is not the motivation behind the amendments at all; the issue is simply the practical consideration of which arrangement would work best. I acknowledge that the argument has two sides, and that the international pattern is mixed. If anything, I think that the Treasury is the home Department in a slightly greater number of countries. I acknowledge, too, that the Treasury Committee came to a different view.

There is not a serious divide between the two sides of the House on the issue, and I acknowledge that it is not as significant as the important matters that we discussed today. I will therefore not press the amendment to a Division, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

13 Mar 2007 : Column 241

Clause 4

Non-executive members

John Healey: I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 2, line 42, leave out ‘has misbehaved’ and insert

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 26 and 28 to 33.

John Healey: This group of amendments deals with a number of issues, both substantive and technical, that were raised with me in Committee, and that I said I would take another look at. They relate to the dismissal of board members and laying directions before the House, and there are some consequential amendments relating to Scotland, too.

Let me start with Government amendment No. 25. We had an animated debate in Committee that gave me unexpected insights into the domestic lives of certain Committee members and their disciplinary regimes for children. I rejected the idea of putting the naughty step on a statutory basis, but I agreed to look again at the grounds on which, in clause 4, a non-executive member of the board can be dismissed for misbehaviour. I hope that Members will accept the amendment, which specifies that there are grounds for dismissal if a member

I hope that that is helpful, and that hon. Members find it clearer than the previous designation of misbehaviour.

Turning to Government amendment No. 26, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) proposed in Committee an amendment suggesting that a copy of any direction made under clause 27 be placed in the Library of each House of Parliament. I needed to consider the position of the devolved Administrations, so amendment No. 26 requires that copies of any direction issued to the board under clause 27 be laid before Parliament and the relevant devolved legislatures.

Government amendment No. 30 ensures that the Registrar General for Scotland continues to have access to patient registration information currently held on the NHS central register for England and Wales, because it is our intention to transfer that register from its current home in the Office for National Statistics.

Finally, Government amendments Nos. 28, 29, 31, 33 and 32 allow a translation of freedom of information and ombudsman legislation into Scotland, so that the provision for such action in Scotland is consistent with that in England.

It being Nine o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

13 Mar 2007 : Column 242

Clause 7


Amendment made: No. 48, in page 4, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 22 and insert—

‘(1) In the exercise of its functions under sections 8 to 19 the Board is to have the objective of promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good.

(2) In subsection (1) the reference to serving the public good includes in particular—

(a) informing the public about social and economic matters, and

(b) assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy.

(3) The Board is accordingly, in the exercise of its functions under sections 8 to 19, to promote and safeguard—’.— [John Healey.]

Clause 27


Amendment made: No. 26, in page 11, line 35, at end insert—

‘( ) Where the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives a direction under this section—

(a) he must lay a copy before Parliament, and

(b) he must notify the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Department of Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland of the direction, who must lay a copy before the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively.

( ) Where the Scottish Ministers give a direction under this section—

(a) they must lay a copy before the Scottish Parliament, and

(b) the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy before Parliament.

( ) Where the Welsh Ministers give a direction under this section—

(a) they must lay a copy before the National Assembly for Wales, and

(b) the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy before Parliament.

( ) Where the Department of Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland gives a direction under this section—

(a) it must lay a copy before the Northern Ireland Assembly, and

(b) the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy before Parliament.’. — [John Healey.]

Clause 37

Freedom of information

Amendments made: No. 28, in page 16, line 20, leave out ‘this section’ and insert ‘subsection (1)’.

No. 29, line 21, at end insert—

‘(3) Section 26 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (asp 13) (prohibitions on disclosure) does not, by virtue of section 36 above, apply to personal information which—

(a) is held by a Scottish public authority who has received it directly or indirectly from the Board, and

(b) is not held by that authority on behalf of the Board.

(4) In subsection (3) “Scottish public authority” has the same meaning as in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.’. — [John Healey.]

13 Mar 2007 : Column 243

Clause 57

Consequential amendments

Amendment made: No. 30, in page 28, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) Section 57 of the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (asp 14) (which provides for a central register kept by the Registrar General for Scotland for health and local authority purposes) is amended as follows—

(a) in subsection (2), in paragraph (d), after “department” insert “or an NHS body”;

(b) after that subsection, insert—

“(2A) In subsection (2)(d), “NHS body” has the same meaning as it has (apart from in Schedule 15) in the National Health Service Act 2006 (c. 41).”’. — [John Healey.]

Clause 60

Investigation by Parliamentary Commissioner

Amendments made: No. 31, in page 28, line 28, leave out ‘In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (c. 13)’ and insert

(2) In Schedule 2’.

No. 32, line 31, at end insert—

‘(3) In the Notes to Schedule 2, after the paragraph relating to the Ministry of Defence insert—

“Statistics Board

In the case of the Statistics Board, no investigation is to be conducted in relation to any action taken by or on behalf of the Board in the exercise of any of its functions where the function is being exercised only in relation to Scottish devolved statistics (within the meaning of section 63 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007).”

(4) The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 (asp 11) is amended in accordance with subsections (5) and (6).

(5) In section 7 (matters which may be investigated: restrictions), after subsection (6A) insert—

“(6B) The Ombudsman must not investigate action taken by or on behalf of the Statistics Board in the exercise of any of its functions unless the function is being exercised only in relation to Scottish devolved statistics (within the meaning of section 63 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007).”

(6) In schedule 2 (persons liable to investigation), after paragraph 91 (Security Industry Authority) insert—

Clause 64

General Interpretation

Amendments made: No. 61, in page 30, line 34, at end insert—

‘“Intelligence Service” means—

(a) the Security Service,(b) the Secret Intelligence Service, or(c) GCHQ (within the meaning of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 (c. 13);’

No. 33, in page 31, line 20, after ‘authority”’ insert ‘(except in section 37(3))’.— [John Healey.]

Order for Third Reading read.

13 Mar 2007 : Column 244
9 pm

John Healey: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill establishes an independent statistics system in the UK that will help to deliver the Government’s principal objectives of a high-quality and high-integrity system, clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities and greater transparency, flexibility and value for money, as well as important independence from Ministers and a more central role for Parliament. There is no doubt that statistics matter. As well as informing us all about our economic, political, social and environmental worlds, they are crucial in a modern democracy to the judgments that people make about the promises that Governments make and their ability to keep them. In a rapidly changing economy and society, statistics matter more and more to a wider and wider range of users.

The UK statistics system already has great strengths, and its technical and professional capability is recognised as world class. The modern world places demands on our statistics system and, alongside developing consistent quality, we must improve public confidence in official statistics. The new statistics system set out in the Bill will help us to achieve both. It can evolve in the light of new, shifting statistical demands and experience, and it is the next step in the Chancellor’s reform of the machinery of economic governance, which began in 1997 with the statutory independence of the Bank of England, followed by independence for the Competition Commission and the Financial Services Authority. Each reform, like the reform in the Bill, set out in legislation independent, credible institutions with a clear remit from Government or Parliament, with decisions taken at arm’s length and full reporting with maximum transparency.

The quality and coherence of statistics across the UK will be improved, and we welcome the full participation of all the devolved Administrations in the new approach. We have retained as the basis for the Bill the framework for national statistics—perhaps the most radical reform of statistics for 30 years—that we introduced in 2000. We have retained, too, the long-established, well-supported decentralised system of UK statistics, whose considerable strengths were widely acknowledged by respondents to our consultations, by the Treasury Committee and by the Statistics Commission. We want to use the opportunity offered by the Bill to make the Office for National Statistics—the single largest producer of national statistics—independent of Ministers. We believe that independence for the ONS and independent scrutiny and oversight of the statistical system as a whole are most effectively delivered by a single institution—hence the central importance of the independent statistics board in our arrangements.

The board will have the core objective of promoting and safeguarding the quality, and comprehensiveness of official statistics as well as good practice. Following our proceedings on Report, it will do so in the wider public interest.

We need the non-executive membership of the board to bring a wide range of skills, backgrounds and expertise to its work from business, academia, public service and other fields. The members of the board will be crucial to the credibility of the board and its ability to hold the National Statistician properly to account
13 Mar 2007 : Column 245
for the running of the executive office and, where necessary, to challenge Government Departments and Ministers on the quality and integrity of the statistics for which they are responsible.

Crucially, the board will no longer be answerable to Ministers. It will answer directly to Parliament. Parliament will therefore play a central role in the future of our statistics system and will play an important role in holding the system to account. It will also set arrangements whereby the accountability function will operate. Ultimately, it is for Parliament to decide the arrangements that it wishes to have in place and the relationship that it wishes to strike with the board. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House takes an active interest in that, and is considering the comments that have been made throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

The Bill’s provisions, importantly, set out a way of enhancing data sharing in a way that has been widely welcomed by those in the statistics field. Stronger sharing of administrative data can improve the quality of statistical data and analysis, and our ability to make policy and judge its impact, and it can reduce the burden on those responsible for completing the surveys on which many of our statistics depend. The Bill provides, therefore, for the increased sharing of personal data between the board and other parts of Government where that sharing is for the sole purpose of statistical production and analysis. Of course, it is vital that the confidentiality of such data is properly protected, so we are taking the opportunity in the Bill to increase the safeguards and sanctions on the disclosure of personal data, including a tough criminal sanction for its unlawful disclosure.

We are using the Bill as an opportunity finally to establish proper employment status and rights for registrars in England and Wales. This is a matter on which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has campaigned tirelessly in his years in the House. The Bill will make the 1,700 registration officers employees of local government and give them access for the first time to the rights and protections that are already available to others. It will ensure that registration officers retain their current terms and conditions on transfer to local authority employment.

This has been a thorough and productive scrutiny process. I hope hon. Members who have given so much to the work of scrutiny have found it as constructive and useful as I have. I thank in particular the hon. Members who led from the Opposition Front Benches—the hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy). I thank also the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie).

Next Section Index Home Page