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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Nicholas Winterton
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Baldry, Tony (Banbury) (Con)
Brady, Mr. Graham (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)
Brennan, Kevin (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Devine, Mr. Jim (Livingston) (Lab)
Engel, Natascha (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Hemming, John (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Laxton, Mr. Bob (Derby, North) (Lab)
Lepper, David (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield, North) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Sara Howe, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 2 March 2009

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Draft Official Statistics Order 2009

4.30 pm
The Chairman: I shall be extremely strict because I anticipate a lengthy debate. If there is a vote in the Chamber, I shall suspend the sitting for a quarter of an hour.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Brennan): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Official Statistics Order 2009.
I shall follow your clear hint about this highly controversial order, Sir Nicholas. May I say how pleased I am to serve under your chairmanship again? I have done so occasionally before as a Minister in a previous job as well as in Westminster Hall and it is always a great pleasure.
All members of the Committee will be aware of the important work being done by the UK Statistics Authority. It was created last year by the Government and has a statutory responsibility to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics. Two of its main functions are to monitor and report on official statistics wherever they are produced in the United Kingdom and to assess independently the quality of a core set of key, official statistics for formal approval as national statistics.
The order relates to the definition of official statistics that the authority must monitor and on which it must report. Under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, which created the Statistics Authority, all statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics, Departments, devolved Administrations and other Crown bodies are automatically deemed to be official statistics. It means that numerous bodies are automatically under the oversight of the Statistics Authority and must follow its code of practice.
The Act also allows us to add further statistics by order so that we can cover bodies that do not fall within the core definition, but that clearly produce statistics in which it is important for people to have trust. Bodies that do not fall within the core definition, but which should be covered, include the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. If a body is included in the order, the public can be assured that the Statistics Authority can monitor and comment on its statistical work. It also makes it possible for a statistic to be nominated for formal assessment as a national statistic, assuring the public that it has been produced in a way that is fully code compliant.
Under the Act, we are required to consult the Statistics Authority before laying the order. My officials have worked closely with the authority while drafting the order. The authority has had several opportunities to comment on the draft order and, after the formal consultation required by the Act, it said that it was content with what is before us today. We expect to update the list once a year. It is an advantage of the flexible definition under the Act that we can respond to changing needs and refine the list subject, as we are today, to parliamentary scrutiny.
In summary, the order extends the number of bodies that are subject to the oversight of the UK Statistics Authority. They will have to work to the new code of practice for official statistics, and their statistics will have the potential to be nominated for formal assessment by the authority to be national statistics. The order is a vital part of the Government’s statistical reform programme, allowing greater independent monitoring and assessment of official statistics to enhance public trust in statistics.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I am following the Minister’s explanation with interest and I see the logic of all that he has said, but can he reassure me on one matter? I always become a little nervous when we hear about co-operation between different bodies, not because there is anything wrong with joined-up government, but because of the risk of privacy leaks. Is there any risk of individual data being lost or is there any other possible ramification that we should be wary of regarding the privacy of the individual?
Kevin Brennan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which was thoughtful, as always. The order is not one about sharing statistics, which would be subject to scrutiny elsewhere, but it is important, as he says, for public bodies to be able, with the proper safeguards, to share statistics, not least, as I am sure he would agree, sometimes to reduce the burden on business of the Government’s activities. This order, however, simply refines the list of bodies, the statistics of which will be treated as official statistics for the purposes of the Act.
4.36 pm
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Your guidance, Sir Nicholas, was characteristically subtle, but even I detected that the briefer the contribution, the happier the Chairman, so I will follow that course.
The order is basically a sensible evolution of the Official Statistics Order 2008. As the Minister clearly explained, it does no more than expand the list of institutions with which the Statistics Board can work in monitoring output. It is another brick in the wall in the Herculean task that the board and the Government face in rebuilding public trust in statistics and data released by the Government.
In registering our approval of the order, it would be wrong of me not to place on the record our concern that there continues to be a gap between what the Government say and the legislative process that we are scrutinising today, and what they continue to do. Let me illustrate that. I know that you, Sir Nicholas, are a dedicated reader of The Guardian. You will remember that before Christmas it revealed that the Government were embroiled in another damaging row about crime figures and that the head of the UK Statistics Authority on that occasion had accused the Home Office of releasing “selective” knife crime figures. He said that the figures were “premature, irregular and selective”. He revealed that statisticians behind the data had tried to prevent the Government from publishing the information and he said that the decision to publish the data in their current form was “corrosive of public trust”. However sensible this order is, we clearly have a long way to go before the damage done by the current Government’s reputation for manipulating statistics and data is healed. The order is a small step on a long journey.
4.39 pm
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Nicholas. I think that you and I share concern about one statistic, which is that relating to the adoption targets that the Government half scrapped—they managed to scrap one half of them, but not the other. That is a good example of how a statistic can be badly produced, because they compared the number of children adopted in any one year with the number of children in care. From a dimensional analysis perspective, that means that they are comparing the number of people per year with the number of people. One hopes that this type of order will prevent that from happening in future. It is basically a meaningless figure from a statistical point of view, because when one analyses the dimensions on the numerator and the denominator, they are different. Therefore, the figure does not show us something that we would wish to see.
Before I was banned from talking to the statisticians and the database managers in what was the Department for Education and Skills—now the Department for Children, Schools and Families—I managed to work out how they could produce the figures properly, and that is what we have done. Obviously, I support the order, but I would be very pleased to see the statistics produced properly. It would be nice if performance assessment framework C23 were scrapped as well.
The Chairman: I call the Minister to reply succinctly to what has been a succinct debate.
4.40 pm
Kevin Brennan: Indeed I shall, Sir Nicholas.
I hear the point that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood makes on behalf of his party, and I understand why he makes it. I simply say that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his party’s Front-Bench spokesperson produced some statistics over the Christmas period, which were based on a trawl of parliamentary questions about police forces, but those statistics themselves were not really ready for release in the form in which he is asking us to release Government statistics. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider a code of practice governing the way in which the Opposition use statistics, so that we can all contribute to enhancing public trust in statistics—Government and Opposition alike?
None the less, I welcome the support that the Opposition and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley have expressed for the order.
Question put and agreed to.
4.41 pm
Committee rose.
 
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