Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questins 360-375)



  Q360  Peter Viggers: Yes.

  Angela Eagle: I am sorry if I gave you the impression that we say to the ONS, "You know that figure of 8%? We think it is nine and so it is going to be nine." Clearly, the ONS figures are the figures that everybody works from. We do not second guess them in that sense.

  Q361  Peter Viggers: You start from the ONS figures. Do you apply perhaps common sense revisions when making your spending allocations?

  Angela Eagle: Not in that sense because the ONS will often produce a range. If you look at the population statistics upon which the CSR settlement was based in 2007, you will see that there is an upper and a lower range. That was using the 2004 mid-year estimates. The newer estimates came out just after the CSR process had happened and they demonstrated that in all cases the ranges that had been assumed had not been over-topped by the new figures. There is a range that we are given for population projections, which is how the population application is used in deciding on public expenditure commitments. It is not a single figure; it is a range, from the lower to the higher end.

  Q362  Peter Viggers: A different area. The ONS told us that it has worked with the Home Office on the e-borders system; what role has the Treasury had in those discussions?

  Angela Eagle: Liam Byrne, who is a Treasury minister as well because of his role in the new border security forces being put together now, is really the connection, and a pretty direct connection, between the Treasury and what is going on with e-borders. He clearly keeps us in touch with what is going on there; he is a minister in both departments.

  Q363  Peter Viggers: Is that the answer to the question as to what action the Treasury is taking to ensure that the Home Office e-borders programme can provide robust population estimates?

  Angela Eagle: It is certainly high on the agenda.

  Q364  Chairman: Thank you, Peter. Some final questions from me on the Statistics Board. Do you think if it wanted to the Statistics Board has adequate powers to reform population statistics?

  Angela Eagle: I do not see why not. If it had suggestions of different ways of counting or compiling them, or it had some comments on how ONS were compiling them, it could certainly make those public and the ONS could then decide what to do about it. The issue here as well is that it is not only national statistics, there are local statistics involved here as well in making a reasonable compilation, but I am sure that will be in their mind.

  Q365  Chairman: I am just wondering whether you felt they had adequate power in this area.

  Angela Eagle: If they had a series of suggestions that the ONS disagreed with I suppose they could have some debate about it, but I would not see that there would be any role for the Government to interfere in how those were defined.

  Q366  Chairman: Parliament continues to take an interest in how the Statistics Board can be made sufficiently accountable, which is an issue that will be familiar to you.

  Angela Eagle: Yes.

  Q367  Chairman: The House of Lords Liaison Committee has recently supported the suggestion that there should be a joint committee of both Houses; do you have a view on that, as to how we can strengthen the accountability of the Board to Parliament?

  Angela Eagle: My view—and obviously it is a matter for Parliament—is that the Treasury Select Committee sub-committee (this committee) did an extremely good job in its oversight of the ONS and the whole area of national statistics. I do not think there is any reason why the Public Administration Committee who look after the Cabinet Office where the ONS is moving shortly should not do an equally good job. There is only one joint committee really in existence at the moment and that is the Human Rights Committee. It would cut across quite a lot of the work that the select committees do ordinarily if we were to establish another joint committee, it would not sit with the select committee system that we have got. I do not think that means that Sir Michael cannot get called to give evidence to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee or any other committees that wish to see him, but the logic of the shift to the Cabinet Office is that the Public Administration Committee take on the job that this committee has done since the ONS moved to the Treasury, and done with great distinction in my view.

  Q368  Chairman: It is kind of you to say so, but that was not quite the view of your predecessor, was it? During the passage of the Bill he implied that perhaps Parliament should take a fresh look at it.

  Angela Eagle: You asked me my opinion on it; I have not talked to John Healey about what his view was.

  Q369  Chairman: All right. Your consultation paper in December proposed limiting pre-release of information to 24 hours, another issue that will be very familiar to you.

  Angela Eagle: Very.

  Q370  Chairman: Much shorter than the current limit of five days but well short of our recommendation, to which I think you were party, of three hours.

  Angela Eagle: I think I was.

  Q371  Chairman: Can you explain why 24 hours has now been suggested?

  Angela Eagle: It was the length of time the Prime Minister announced in his statement on constitutional reform; I think we should try it and see how it works. We have not even got to the Statistics Act coming into force which happens in April, properly yet. I personally am reasonably relaxed about these things but clearly the Government has a particular view which I expressed during the passage of the Statistics Act. I think we should see how it works; a reduction from five days to 24 hours is in the right direction, we should see how it works and see what the effect of it is. On the other side of the argument, ministers are expected to be able to have a fairly sophisticated analysis of statistics when they are published. 24 hours is a lot shorter than five days and we should see how that pans out and take another look at it, as I am sure the Statistics Board will, in due course.

  Q372  Chairman: You said this has been announced before the Statistics Act is fully in force; it does seem odd therefore that the decision has been made by the Government and not the new board and indeed without the advice of the new board because the new board has not started.

  Angela Eagle: There is a consultation document out and we will look with interest at the responses that come back.

  Q373  Chairman: If the Board said it was not at all happy with 24 hours you would look at that again, would you?

  Angela Eagle: The Prime Minister has announced 24 hours, that is clearly the current government position; we should look to see what happens with the consultation document and it is not for me to anticipate what might be the result of any decisions that come subsequent to that, but the current position is that there will be a reduction from five days to 24 hours.

  Q374  Chairman: I understand that, but are you actually consulting on that number or is that a final decision for the moment?

  Angela Eagle: I have not got the text of the consultation document in my head but there is consultation on this issue and if people have views about it then I am sure they will express them in their response to the consultation.

  Q375  Chairman: Thank you very much. You have promised us a couple of notes at some point during the afternoon.

  Angela Eagle: I am sure a note will have been taken of the notes I have promised and I will get them to you as quickly as I can.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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