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These notes refer to the Statistics and Registration Services Bill as brought from the House of Commons on 14th March 2007 [HL Bill 53]
STATISTICS AND REGISTRATION SERVICE BILL
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill as brought from the House of Commons on 14th March 2007. They have been prepared by the Treasury in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
3. The UK's statistical system has historically been decentralised. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the central producer of statistics in the United Kingdom but a large proportion of statistics are also produced by government departments and agencies other than the ONS. Official statistical work covers a wide range of tasks (including the collection, analysis and publication of statistics, statistical support for departmental and agency functions, and policy-related work for Ministers) and all areas of national life.
4. The ONS is currently an Executive Agency accountable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as described in the ONS Framework Document 1. It comprises around 4,800 staff based in London, Newport, Titchfield and Southport and is headed by the National Statistician who is also the Registrar General for England and Wales. Consequently, the General Register Office (GRO), which administers the system for the registration of births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships in England and Wales, is part of the ONS. The ONS is also currently responsible for the creation and maintenance of the National Health Service Central Register (NHSCR).
5. The non-statutory Framework for National Statistics 2 introduced the key structures currently in existence. These include:
2 Office for National Statistics (2000) Framework for National Statistics
3 National Statistics Code of Practice (2002) available at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/about_ns/cop/default.asp
4 United Nations Economic and Social Council (1994) "UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics": Report of the Special Session of the Statistical Commission (New York, 11-15 April), E / 1994 / 29
6. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to Parliament in November 2005 the Government's intention to legislate for independence in statistics. A written consultation, Independence for Statistics 5, was launched by the Treasury in March 2006, inviting views on the proposed way forward.
7. Following the consultation, the Bill provides for the creation of a new body, the Statistics Board, with a statutory responsibility for ensuring the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics. The Board will be a Non-Ministerial Department (NMD), acting at arms' length from Ministers and will be composed of a majority of non-executive members. The Board's responsibilities will cover the whole UK statistical system, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
8. The Board will be the legal successor body to the ONS. The ONS's current responsibilities will, with the exception of civil registration functions, become the responsibility of the new Board. The Statistics Commission will cease to exist. The Board will also have powers to produce statistics, provide statistical services and promote statistical research. It will undertake the statistical functions of the Registrar General, including the preparation and publication of the Census.
9. The Bill leaves unchanged many other aspects of the current system, including:
10. Civil registration in England and Wales was first introduced in 1837. Since then, the process and the administration of the service have remained broadly unchanged with responsibility shared between the Registrar General, local authorities and registration officers.
11. Both the Registrar General and the registration officers are statutory office holders, with their duties set out in statute. The rights and liabilities of the Registrar General are currently the responsibility of the office holder. Registration officers are paid and appointed by local authorities but can only be dismissed by the Registrar General. They have no legal employer and as such have no access to employment tribunals.
12. The Government proposes to establish the Registrar General as a corporation sole, in order to separate the rights and liabilities of the office-holder from the office. The Government also proposes to change the employment status of registration officers by moving them into local government employment.
13. The Bill provides for the creation of a new Statistics Board (referred to in the Bill and in these explanatory notes as 'the Board') operating at arms' length from Ministers, with a statutory responsibility for promoting and safeguarding the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics.
14. The new Board will be a Non-Ministerial Department (NMD), with a non-executive Chairman who, along with the National Statistician, will be appointed by Her Majesty. The Board itself will be composed of at least six non-executive members, including the Chairman, and three executive members, one of whom will be the National Statistician.
15. The Board may have other employees as needed. These will include the staff in the executive office of the National Statistician, who will be involved in the production of statistics, as well as the Board secretariat and those working on assessment of National Statistics.
16. The Board will have an overall objective of promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good, including by informing the public about social and economic matters, and assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy. The Board is accordingly to promote and safeguard the quality of official statistics, good practice in relation to official statistics and the comprehensiveness of official statistics (clause 7).
17. The Board has a number of functions, which will enable it to fulfil this objective, including powers to monitor the quality of official statistics, and to develop, maintain and promote the use of definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for official statistics. Clauses 10 to 15 require the Board to draw up a Code of Practice for National Statistics (clause 10) and to assess National Statistics against the Code (clause 12).
18. Pre-release arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation, and the Board will have a statutory duty to assess compliance with the arrangements as part of its duty to assess National Statistics under clauses 12 and 13.
19. The Board also has a number of statistical functions which are not confined to official statistics and National Statistics. These include the power to provide statistical services to any person (clause 20) and a power to promote statistical research (clause 21).
20. The Board is also required to lay an annual report before Parliament (clause 25) and to exercise its functions efficiently and cost-effectively (clause 26).
21. These clauses also provide for the transfer of statistical functions, including the Census, from the Registrar General for England and Wales to the Board (clause 23 with Schedule 1) and enable a Minister of the Crown (or Devolved Administrations) to delegate to the Board functions relating to the production of statistics (clause 22).
22. The National Statistician and the Head of Assessment will act as the principal advisers to the Board on, respectively, professional statistical matters and the assessment of National Statistics. The National Statistician will also be the Board's Chief Executive, and will be accountable to the Board for the operation of the executive office of the Board. Clause 31 establishes the separation of the Board's statistical production and assessment functions.
23. In principle, much of the information obtained by the Board in connection with one function may be used by it for another (clause 35). However, clause 36 places a general obligation on the Board, and anyone to whom the Board has passed personal information, not to disclose it unless one of the exemptions at clause 36(4) applies. Failure to comply with this duty of confidentiality is a criminal offence.
24. Clauses 39 to 43 (with Schedule 2) allow existing information flows to continue between the Board, as the legal successor body to ONS, and: the General Register Office (clause 39); the relevant Secretary of State, and Welsh Ministers, for patient registration data (clauses 40 and 41); HM Revenue and Customs (clause 42, clause 43 and Schedule 2); the Bank of England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (clause 43 and Schedule 2).
25. Clause 44 allows the Treasury, with the consent of the Minister of the Crown responsible for the public authority from which the information will be obtained, to make regulations to allow information to be shared with the Board where this would normally not be allowed (either because of a barrier to sharing in existing law, or because such a public authority would not otherwise have the power to share information with the Board). Information shared under the regulations can only be used for statistical purposes, and cannot be disclosed by the Board other than in the limited circumstances set out in clause 36 and where the regulations provide for further disclosure. Clause 47 allows the Treasury, with the consent of the Minister of the Crown responsible for the public authority from which the information has been obtained, to make regulations to allow the Board to use information it has received where such use would otherwise be prohibited.
26. Under clause 48, the Treasury may, with the consent of the Minister of the Crown responsible for the relevant public authority, make regulations to allow information to be shared by the Board with another public authority where this would normally not be allowed. Information shared under this provision can only be used for statistical purposes, and onward disclosure of the information is restricted, under clause 36.
27. Clauses 45 and 49, and 46 and 50, duplicate clauses 44 and 48 for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. In these clauses, the power to make regulations operates with the consent of the Treasury.
28. The ONS will cease to operate. However its existing property, rights and liabilities will pass to the new Board under provisions in these clauses, other than property, rights and liabilities that will transfer to the Registrar General or a Minister of the Crown on behalf of the Registrar General.
29. Part 2 makes provision about offices established under the Registration Service Act 1953 and the status of the persons holding those offices.
30. Clause 65 establishes the Registrar General for England and Wales as a corporation sole with legal personality separate from the office holder. Clauses 66 to 69 transfer registration officers into local authority employment, provide for the retention of their existing terms and conditions and make various minor and consequential amendments to the Registration Service Act 1953.
31. Part 1 of the Bill, apart from clause 59, extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as described below. Part 2 extends only to England and Wales.
32. The Bill applies generally to Wales. The Board in Welsh is to be known as "Y Bwrdd Ystadegau". The powers of the new Board will extend to Wales, so that, for instance, the Board will monitor the production and publication of Welsh devolved statistics and assess Welsh devolved statistics nominated by Welsh Ministers for designation as National Statistics. Welsh Ministers will have certain functions in relation to the Board, for example in relation to appointments (clause 3) or the issuing of directions (clause 27). The definition of Welsh devolved statistics is in subsection 63(3).
33. Annex A lists the standard abbreviations of enactments and technical terms used in these notes.
34. Annex B lists the clauses in the Bill that affect the powers of Welsh Ministers, the First Minister, the Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government or the National Assembly for Wales.
PART 1: THE STATISTICS BOARD
Clause 1 Establishment
35. This clause establishes a body corporate known in English as the Statistics Board, in Gaelic as Am Brd an Staitistig and in Welsh as Y Bwrdd Ystadegau, referred to in the Bill and in these explanatory notes, as "the Board".
36. This clause sets out that the Board will exercise its functions on behalf of the Crown and that the property, rights and liabilities of the Board are therefore the property, rights and liabilities of the Crown.
37. Subsections (1) and (2) stipulate that the Board will have a mix of non-executive and executive members, with a non-executive Chairman, appointed by Her Majesty, and at least five other non-executives.
38. Subsection (4) provides for one non-executive member to be appointed to the Board by the Treasury after consultation with Scottish Ministers, one after consultation with Welsh Ministers and another after consultation with the Department of Finance and Personnel for Northern Ireland.
39. Subsection (5) provides for the Treasury, in consultation with the Chairman, to appoint one of the non-executives as a deputy Chairman.
40. Subsection (6) provides for three executive members of the Board: the National Statistician (ex-officio) and two others, who will be appointed by the non-executive members of the Board.
41. This clause sets out the rules for the appointment of, resignation or dismissal of, and reappointment of, non-executive members of the Board.
42. Subsection (1) stipulates that the term for which a non-executive member of the Board may be appointed is to be at least one year, and no more than five. Subsection (6) provides for non-executive members to be reappointed on any number of occasions when their term of office has expired.
43. All non-executive members of the Board will be appointed in accordance with guidance from the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments.
44. This clause sets out that the Board is to employ a National Statistician, on terms set by Her Majesty in his appointment, which may include terms relating to dismissal. The clause also establishes that there is to be a Head of Assessment, appointed by the non-executive members of the Board. The holders of these posts will be civil servants and employees of the Board. The Board may also employ other staff, as required, subject to the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service as to numbers and terms and conditions. These employees will be civil servants, and will include the staff in the executive office of the National Statistician, who will be involved in the production of statistics, as well as the Board secretariat and those working on assessment of National Statistics.
45. Subsection (1)(a) defines official statistics as statistics produced by the Board, government departments (which will include executive agencies), the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or any other person acting on behalf of the Crown.
46. Subsections (1)(b) and (2) allow for a Minister of the Crown, the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, or a Northern Ireland department, by order (draft affirmative), to add to the coverage of official statistics - beyond that covered in subsection 1(a) - all the statistics of a given body, or a more limited number of that body's statistics, or a specific statistical series. The kind of bodies whose statistics might be added under this section are local authorities, health authorities and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) that are not Crown bodies. Once added by order, statistics will be treated as official statistics for the purposes of the Act and could, for instance, be subject to monitoring by the Board (under clauses 8 and 9), or be eligible for assessment as National Statistics.
47. Subsection (3) requires the relevant authority to consult the Board before making an order under subsection (1)(b).
48. This clause provides the Board with an objective for its functions relating to official statistics (clauses 8 to 19). The clause requires the Board to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good, including by (among other matters) informing the public about social and economic matters, and assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy.
49. Subsection (3) requires the Board to safeguard and promote the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics, as well as good practice in relation to official statistics.
50. Subsection (4) defines 'quality' to include impartiality, accuracy, relevance and coherence with other official statistics. In addition, accessibility (making statistics easily and widely available in a fair and open way) is defined as an element of good practice. The Board is not limited to considering only these aspects of quality and good practice, and might also be expected to look at those other dimensions, including aspects of quality highlighted by Eurostat 6, such as timeliness and comparability.
6 Eurostat is the European Commission's body responsible for providing the EU's statistical information service. (http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu)
51. This clause requires the Board to monitor the production and publication of official statistics. This role draws on the duties under the current Framework for National Statistics of the Statistics Commission (which advises Ministers of areas of widespread concern about the quality of official statistics) and of the National Statistician (who produces a high-level work programme for National Statistics, that the Statistics Commission must comment on).
52. In this clause, production encompasses all aspects involved in producing official statistics, including the design of the inquiry, the collection of data, the compilation of those data and the dissemination of results.
53. Subsection (2) provides that the Board may report its findings about official statistics to the person responsible for those statistics, usually the relevant departmental Minister or the relevant Devolved Administration. This enables the Board either to comment reactively if a concern about any official statistics, or gap in the coverage of official statistics, is brought to its attention; or proactively, developing its own programme of work to fulfil this duty.
54. Subsection (3) enables the Board to publish the results of its work under this clause.
55. This clause requires the Board to develop and maintain definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for official statistics, and to promote their use in relation to official statistics. In addition, the Board may provide guidance and advice on these matters to statistical producers.
56. The Board would be expected to develop definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards in line with European Union (EU) and international guidance as appropriate. There are a number of standard definitions and classifications already in existence of the type the Board would be expected to use and promote among producers of official statistics. 7 Examples include the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) 8, the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 9, the European System of Accounts (ESA) 10 and the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) 11. Guidance is also published by ONS on preferred definitions and survey question designs (for example to define areas as 'rural' or 'urban', and on ethnicity information) for use in survey and census data collection. 12
7 The above classifications may be found at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/about/data/classifications/current/default.asp
8 UK Standard Industrial Classification 2003 available at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Product.asp?vlnk=14012
9 Standard Occupational Classification 2000 available at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/methods_quality/ns_sec/soc2000.asp
10 European System of Accounts (ESA) (1995) available at: http://forum.europa.eu.int/irc/dsis/nfaccount/info/data/esa95/esa95-new.htm
11 National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (2001) available at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/methods_quality/ns_sec/default.asp
|© Parliamentary copyright 2007||Prepared: 15 March 2007|