Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Official Statistics Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone 

Bray, Angie (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con) 

Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) 

Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) 

Dodds, Mr Nigel (Belfast North) (DUP) 

Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab) 

Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab) 

Hurd, Mr Nick (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)  

Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab) 

Lumley, Karen (Redditch) (Con) 

McPartland, Stephen (Stevenage) (Con) 

McCartney, Karl (Lincoln) (Con) 

Mitchell, Austin (Great Grimsby) (Lab) 

Rees-Mogg, Jacob (North East Somerset) (Con) 

Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow Central) (Lab) 

Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab) 

Truss, Elizabeth (South West Norfolk) (Con) 

Williams, Mr Mark (Ceredigion) (LD) 

Willott, Jenny (Cardiff Central) (LD) 

Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Third Delegated Legislation Committee 

Tuesday 30 November 2010  

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair] 

Draft Official Statistics Order 2010 

4.30 pm 

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Official Statistics Order 2010. 

May I be the first to welcome you to the Chair, Mr Hollobone? We entered the House on the same day and it is a great privilege and honour to serve under your chairmanship. 

I am sure that all members of the Committee recognise the importance of building public confidence in official statistics. They will be aware of the important work being done by the UK Statistics Authority. That body was created in 2008 with a statutory responsibility to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics. That includes the authority monitoring and reporting on official statistics. 

Under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics, Government Departments, the devolved Administrations and other Crown bodies are automatically deemed to be official statistics. The Act also makes provision for identifying other organisations as producers of official statistics. That is important, as it enables their work to fall within the remit of the authority and enables the public to have confidence in their statistics. The purpose of the order, which is obviously subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, is to specify those organisations. 

The UK Statistics Authority was consulted in the preparation of the order, in accordance with the Statistics Act, and was content for it to be laid. The Cabinet Office laid the order on behalf of Government Departments, in preference to each Department laying an order for the bodies for which it is responsible. I am sure that the Committee will agree that this approach saves considerable parliamentary time. 

This is the third such order and it revokes and replaces the one that came into force on 1 April 2009. Regular updates give Parliament a chance to scrutinise the list, while keeping it relevant. The previous order contained 54 bodies. For the current order, three bodies have been removed from the previous order and six new bodies have been added, as set out in the explanatory memorandum. Inclusion in the list is a sign to the public that the body’s statistics will be produced according to an independent code of practice and that the UK Statistics Authority will be able to act if it perceives that the statistical integrity of the body is being compromised. 

On 14 October, the Government announced their plans to reform 481 public bodies. Consequently, 37 of the 57 bodies in this order will be reformed. Once the Public Bodies Bill has received Royal Assent, many of

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these will be abolished through secondary legislation. However, until the bodies are abolished or reformed, it is important to continue to recognise them as producers of official statistics, so that the public can have confidence in their statistical output. The Government will lay a further order for the House to consider once the reforms have been completed. That is likely to be some time in 2012. 

In summary, this order extends slightly the number of bodies that are subject to the UK Statistics Authority’s oversight. These bodies 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 House agreeing the order is a vital part of enhancing public confidence in official statistics and therefore I ask hon. Members to support the order. 

4.33 pm 

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab):  Welcome to the Chair, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am sure that you will be both firm and fair—firm with the Government; fair with the Opposition. 

As has been said, the order is relatively non-contentious. We do not intend to detain the Committee long—I suppose everyone will be pleased to hear that, given the weather. Subject to the Minister’s responses to the questions that I shall pose, we do not intend to divide the Committee. 

As the Minister explained, there is a regular review of bodies that fall within the remit of the Statistics Board. To ensure the most effective use of parliamentary time, Cabinet Office Ministers under both Administrations have made a consolidated list, which is presented to the Committee, normally once a year. That is what we are being asked to approve today. As far as I can see, this consolidated list makes nine changes. In the first instance, three bodies have been removed from the 2009 list. The Learning and Skills Council and the Gas and Electricity Consumer Council have both been abolished, and their successor bodies will now be responsible for producing official statistics, in so far as that is done. The third body to be removed is the Certification Officer, who it turns out should not have been listed in the first place, because he is an officer of the Crown, and the data that he produces is already part of official statistics. Thus far, the order is straightforward. 

We now turn to the other six changes, which are slightly curious. They relate to bodies that have been added to the list for the first time, and I will mention them in a moment or two. First, however, will the Minister briefly indicate what data he expects each of these six bodies to produce that will henceforth be counted as official statistics and to what use the Government will put those data? 

We have no worries about the data that are produced complying with the Statistics Board code of practice for statistics or about best practice being adopted in all cases; indeed, that should already be the case, and best practice should be the norm. However, each of the six bodies, which are principally quangos in essence, is required to comply with the relevant rules and principles relating to the granting of pre-release access to official statistics. That is part of the code of practice. Will the Minister say a word or two about the process of pre-release

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access? As I understand it, the information and data that are to be released will be seen before they are released to the public. Does that not add a further layer of red tape and bureaucracy, which the Government are always saying they want to reduce? Has the Minister made an assessment of the additional burden and cost of pre-release access to the bodies that will be required to comply? Who will have pre-release access and for what purpose? Will Ministers and politicians be given access as part of the pre-release process before the public have seen the data? If so, why? Would that not imperil the principle that statistics should not be politicised? The extension of pre-release access does not seem to conform with the Government’s wider commitment to transparency and reducing bureaucracy. 

It is widely known that the coalition Government have resolved to continue with Labour’s review of all quangos. Indeed, as the Minister said, the Public Bodies Bill, which is before the Lords, creates powers to abolish or significantly reform a wide range of quangos and other bodies. Will he confirm that the future of at least five of the six bodies that have been added to the list is in fact in doubt? Indeed, in some cases, it is beyond doubt. The Government have already announced that the Bill will abolish the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. BECTA’s website says today that it has received no public money since June; it has effectively been wound up. In that case, why are we adding these bodies to the list of organisations that are subject to the order? It feels slightly as if one arm of the Government is getting on with abolishing bodies without fully knowing what another arm is doing—in this case, putting bodies on a list of organisations that produce official statistics. How does the order relate to the Bill that the Minister mentioned in passing, which is currently being discussed in another place? 

Will the Minister enlighten the Committee as to the Government’s intentions in relation to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services, and the NHS Business Services Authority, which are covered in the order? Will any or all of them be reformed or scrapped? I am told that the results of the review will be announced within the next four weeks. If that is the case, the Government must already have a view on the future of those three bodies and on what their successor bodies may be. Therefore, they will have to come back quickly with a further order. Should the current order not refer to those changes, in particular to the first two bodies that have been abolished? 

Do the Government envisage any changes to the Marine Management Organisation—the sixth body that we could talk about—that might impact on its capacity to produce statistics? Yesterday, my office rang all those bodies that have been added and are subject to the review and, in two cases, to abolition. We were unable to find anybody who was able to answer the questions I wanted to ask so as to put the responses before the Committee. That is probably because the organisations are in flux. 

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Paragraph 8.2 of the explanatory notes indicates that each of the bodies in question have been consulted about the order. Nevertheless, we had difficulty in getting a response from them. Will the Minister indicate the general nature of such discussions and, more specifically, whether the consultation focused on each body’s capacity to comply with the order, given the organisational uncertainty that each faces as a consequence of its impending abolition or further review? If the Minister can provide reassurances on those matters, we shall be content not to press the order to a vote. 

4.41 pm 

Mr Hurd:  I will do my best to answer the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman, although there were quite a lot of them. He asked about the additional six bodies. As he is aware, bodies are recommended by the heads of profession for statistics in Government Departments. They decide which bodies should be included and they work to agreed criteria. One of the criteria for the inclusion of a body is whether it produces any national level statistics that fulfil one of the following requirements: 

“They inform the public about the social and economic position of the country; they are likely to be used to judge Government performance and targets, and; they are likely to attract sufficient media attention that the Government would regard it as important that the public has trust in them.” 

As the hon. Gentleman recognises, that process is co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, although the head of profession for statistics in each Department is responsible for recommending bodies for inclusion. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about pre-release access. He will know that arrangements for pre-release were well established under the previous Administration. The principle is that some pre-release is necessary for ministerial accountability to ensure that the public can hold the Government to account. The debate is about for how long Ministers should have the information before the public get access to it. The Government position is not to change the system inherited from the previous Administration. 

The hon. Gentleman queried why some bodies were included in the list of those that might be abolished as part of the review of public bodies, or those whose future might be in doubt. Rather than provide an analysis of each body, the important, catch-all principle is that while a body exists and produces statistics—it may take up to three years before some bodies are abolished—they must be in the order until they are formally abolished. We apply that principle, and that is why we have signalled that a new order will be brought before the House at the end of the process in 2012, if the relevant legislation has been passed. 

Question put and agreed to.  

4.44 pm 

Committee rose.