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In this debate, we see two different ways of achieving a system that will tighten and standardise the requirements and methodology of pre-release. On the one hand, the Government have said that they will introduce the system in the form of an affirmative statutory instrument, which will be debated upstairs and which therefore will have the imprimatur of Parliament, rather than by a code of practice that the board can produce, which Opposition Members have suggested is a better way forward. Given the wide welcome that we have for the basic approaches in the Bill to making statistics more independent, this is really the only matter that has raised people’s blood pressure. Reading the controversies that have raged throughout the Bill’s passage, I am not sure that the Government have been given the proper credit for the improvements that they have suggested in their methodology for creating a system for pre-release.
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First, we have the affirmative resolution procedure; secondly, my predecessor has already said that the matter will be reviewed after 12 months to see whether change is needed; and today, I have undertaken to issue the statutory instrument in draft form for consultation, which again allows the structure of the system to be debated.

Mrs. Villiers: The Minister seems to have put forward two arguments today: first that we should continue to operate pre-release in the same way because that is how it has been done for years, which I do not find very convincing, and secondly that what is being proposed is not ideal but is an improvement on what has gone before. Perhaps the Government should make a more significant improvement and give the board the power to decide this critically important question.

Angela Eagle: I do not accept the hon. Lady’s interpretation of what I have said. I said earlier that the different approaches to pre-release that we see internationally tend to have grown out of custom and practice, which is why they are of slightly different lengths and why some countries agree in principle with pre-release while others do not have pre-release.

Mr. Gummer: It is true that the time scales are all different, but all have one thing in common—they are very much shorter. What is it about Britain that makes us utterly different from any other country in the world, in the sense that what the Minister is suggesting is some 10 times as long as most people would have?

Angela Eagle: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also give us credit for reducing that time limit from five days in many instances to 40.5 hours. We can have debates about the length of time, as we are doing with the other place. I am here to oppose the amendments that were passed in the other place and to argue that we should stick with 40.5 hours. But I hope that he will also accept that improvements have been announced during the Bill’s passage with respect to the current situation on pre-release, and I hope that he will welcome them. He may not think that they go far enough, and that is a matter of opinion, but I hope that he will at least give us credit for the improvements that we have proposed.

Mrs. Villiers: The Exchequer Secretary has said repeatedly that the reduction in the time limit to 40.5 hours across the board is “an improvement” to the current rules. Why will she not improve them further by reducing the time period further?

Angela Eagle: Because my duty at the Dispatch Box tonight is to say that the Government think that 40.5 hours is the appropriate time for pre-release, and that is what I will do.

7 pm

I do not want to detain the House for too long on an argument that has raged throughout the passage of the Bill, but I do not accept the Opposition’s view that organising the board under a code of practice is superior to an affirmative resolution for secondary legislation under a statutory instrument of the House. A draft will be put out for consultation, as I announced earlier today, so we will be able to consider it. There will not simply be a yes or no vote.

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In addition, there is the promise of a review after 12 months when the board is up and running and when we will be able to see how the new, more consistent arrangements for pre-release have worked in practice. That is a robust and welcome improvement in the existing system. The code of practice might be another way of dealing with the situation, but it is not something the Government feel minded to support at present, which is why I oppose the amendment and I hope that colleagues will support our motion to disagree.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 172.
Division No. 170]
[7.1 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brown, Lyn
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chapman, Ben
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul

Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mann, John
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis

Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Alan Campbell and
Alison Seabeck

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Barker, Gregory
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David

Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Rogerson, Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Tredinnick, David
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Tobias Ellwood and
Angela Watkinson
Question accordingly agreed to.
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Lords amendment disagreed to.

Clause 10

Code of Practice for National Statistics

Lords amendment: No. 11.

Mrs. Villiers: I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 16 to 19 and Nos. 31 and 39, and amendments thereto.

Mrs. Villiers: We very much welcome the Government’s change of heart on the issues covered by this group of amendments. Although the amendments do not go as far as we would like, they represent a significant change to the scope of the Bill and the impact of the code of practice. In essence, our arguments on the code and the
2 July 2007 : Column 733
distinction between national and official statistics—those issues are at the heart of the amendments—have been simple and threefold.

7.15 pm

First, the two-tier distinction between the two types of Government statistics is unnecessary and confusing and could undermine confidence in official figures outside the scope of national statistics. Secondly, if it is worth producing a Government statistic on an issue, it is worth producing it according to the standards of integrity and impartiality set out in the code. There is no reason to believe that the board cannot be trusted to come up with a proportionate and workable approach to the enforcement of the code across the range of different Government statistical activities. Thirdly, to leave Ministers to determine whether the code and the scrutiny of the board apply to their departmental statistics undermines the credibility of the reforms and in effect allows Ministers to decide whether to opt into the new framework or stay out of it.

Throughout the debate, both Opposition parties pointed out that the structure proposed in the Bill gave Ministers too much power to keep the statistics board away from sensitive departmental statistics—to keep official figures in the shadows and prevent light from being shone on the darker corners of departmental statistical activity. In effect, it gave Ministers the right to say to the board, “Thus far and no further.”

Widespread disquiet was expressed during the consultation about the distinction between national and official statistics and the fact that the code would not be applied across all Government statistical activities. That disquiet came from organisations such as the Royal Statistical Society, the Statistics Commission, the Audit Commission, the Market Research Society, the Health and Social Care Information Centre, and the FDA—to name but a few.

Let us return to the comments of Lord Moser, as we have done on a number of occasions. He described the distinction between the two types of statistics as meaningless and actually harmful in relation to public trust. Lord Turnbull hit the nail on the head on Second Reading in the other place when he said that the way in which the Government have approached this issue

I am afraid that the protestations of the former Financial Secretary, the hon. Member for Wentworth (John Healey), that the prestige of having departmental figures awarded the status of national statistics would motivate Ministers to propose them for inclusion in the board’s new independent system of scrutiny and regulation were risible. I cannot believe that even he could have taken that seriously—no one else has, from the Treasury Sub-Committee onwards.

Thankfully, the Government have gone on a journey. Little by little, in the face of pressure in the House and the other place, they have retreated. At first, they said
2 July 2007 : Column 734
that the idea of extending the scope of the code of practice was, to use the then Financial Secretary’s words “extraordinary”, “absurd” and “impractical”. He confirmed that the Government expected the code

We then had the formal cave-in when the Government tabled amendments in the other place to remove the formal restriction of the code to national statistics by removing the word “national” from its title and leaving it as a code for statistics instead. Finally, Lord Davies of Oldham, speaking on behalf of the Government, went still further and said that the code, of course, applied to “official statistics”

The Opposition warmly welcomed that statement. It was what we had been calling for since Second Reading and what the former Financial Secretary used to oppose. Our amendments are entirely consistent with the statement made by Lord Davies. They would rename the code so that it was a code of practice for official statistics. They would confirm the destination that the Government have reached by making good on the noble Lord’s undertaking that the code should apply to official statistics. I hope that the Government will accept our amendments, if they intend to fulfil the promise made by the noble Lord.

Our amendments also serve another important function by clarifying the confusion that has crept into the Government’s position. The Government’s journey was not quite over, even with the statement made by Lord Davies to which I have referred. Despite their starting point of restricting the application of the code only to national statistics, they ended up not only conceding the point on official statistics, but actually suggesting that the code should apply outside government. That would certainly be consistent with a common-sense interpretation of their amendments in the other place that removed the word “national” from the code and left it as purely a code of practice for statistics.

Lord Davies confirmed that sudden and unexpected switch when he said on Report in the other place:

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