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How statistics are used and presented to people, especially via the media, plays a very important role in whether people do or do not trust official figures. Levels of numeracy and people’s understanding of figures and statistics are also likely to impact on their scepticism or otherwise of official statistics. People’s individual experiences of issues presented at an

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aggregate level by statistics also plays a part in their propensity to trust those statistics. We are all aware of the fact that these weaknesses can apply to ourselves. It is often said that politicians never take statistics more seriously than when they appear in opinion polls. However limited such snapshots may be, they become the stuff of media headlines. As we all know to our advantage or cost, politicians view them as conditioning elements in public behaviour. I again apologise for not emphasising the importance of trust in official statistics. However, it cannot be made a statutory obligation on the board to require it to achieve what it has only a role in helping to achieve.

The amendment, which would require the board to carry out research on public trust in official statistics and publish the results of that work, reflects the fact that the ONS and the Statistics Commission do such work. They commission and undertake research in this important area. It is something the board is already empowered to do and we expect that it may well do it. However, the Government are reluctant to prescribe it in the Bill. It is better to leave it to the independent board to determine what activities it will undertake at different times to deliver its core objective, to promote and safeguard the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics which serve the public good. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Amendment No. 114 would provide an additional requirement regarding what issues must be covered in the board’s annual report—in this case, the issue of public trust in statistics. As I said, we do not think it necessary to over-prescribe how the board goes about its business. I do not think that it is helpful to state in detail what it must cover in its annual report. Clause 25 already requires the board’s annual report to cover what it has done and found each year. Within that remit surely we should allow the board to use its own judgment to ensure that the most pertinent and relevant information about its activities is reported each year. We share the objectives of the noble Baroness, but we do not need to be prescriptive in statute for the board to fulfil those highly desirable objectives.

Baroness Noakes: It is at least a relief to find that the Minister is now more relaxed about using the word “trust” in relation to statistics; we are clearly making progress. He has made great play of why the board should not be accountable for achieving trust. We must look at the barriers to achieving trust. In some of the amendments that we will reach in due course, we are asking for the board to be given the power to comment on statistics being misused. There is the very important issue of pre-release, which will get at one aspect of the handling of statistics that has engendered so much distrust of the Government.

The Bill could be framed in such a way that it would be perfectly reasonable to ask the board to do things within its powers to achieve high levels of trust in public statistics, though I completely accept that, in its current form, it would be unreasonable to ask the board to do that. On the Minister’s objections to

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research, the Government are reluctant to prescribe having items specified for annual reports, as they say that that would not be helpful. However, those are not major objections to important issues that should be kept wholly within public view. I did not find the Minister’s overall response entirely satisfactory, although, as I said earlier, I am much encouraged by his ability to articulate the word “trust”. I shall have to read carefully what he said in his response before deciding what to do with the amendment on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dearing moved Amendment No. 36:

The noble Lord said: This is the third of my amendments, and noble Lords will be glad to know that it is the last for today. I am raising the flag for local authorities and the regions of England in terms of their need for information. I referred in my previous remarks to my period as a regional director, when I served the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in Newcastle. Those two years were the best in my Civil Service career, because I was let loose from Whitehall to go out and do something. The experience of being on the receiving end of Whitehall counterbalanced that joy, because there was so much frustration. Very competent civil servants were playing the national game, which was not the game that I was playing in the north of England—or in Manchester, or in Bristol. It was not quite the same. It was difficult to get an understanding at national level of how different it could be when one was looking at the specific and very different needs of different parts of the country. What made sense nationally did not necessarily fit with what was needed at the regional or at the local authority level.

The amendment relates to the definition of the objectives of the board and the definition of public interest. Clause 7(2)(b) refers to,

to which I add,

If I had drafted it better, it would say, “at national, regional and local level”. I want to get across the fact that there is a very real need.

Let me illustrate that in a little more detail than I did earlier. In February, the Office for National Statistics made it known that some much needed data sets that included gross value added by industrial sectors were being withdrawn without consultation because other things had a higher priority. These data sets mattered for the development of effective local and regional social and economic policy, but at national level the priorities were seen differently. I want a balance. Of course we must have a national view, but I want those responsible for defining the public interest to understand that it needs to be looked at in national, regional and local terms. That should be written into their terms of reference.

I very much hope that the Minister will accept from a regionalist that this Bill looks like it is drafted as I would have drafted it as a Whitehall man. If I had

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been drafting it in Newcastle, Manchester or Bristol, that point would have been picked up right away. I hope that the Minister can respond as sympathetically as he did to my earlier amendments, although, while I appreciated what he had to say, I might well come back on them. I beg to move.

Lord Newby: Given that we supported the noble Lord’s earlier amendments, it is logical that we should support this one. The advantage of putting this phrase on the face of the Bill is that it would require the Statistics Board to take the local and regional tiers of statistics more seriously than it might otherwise. It also would make it easier for those who argue for greater resources for the production of statistics at those levels to make their case. We support the amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who attests to why a perspective that is wider than that of Whitehall can be of advantage. The Government stand by the statutory objective in the Bill. That objective is a cornerstone and is appropriate, succinct, broad and high level. It is a clear statement of the overall purposes of the board. The board must,

that serve the public good. It is from that core objective that the board’s functions flow.

I understand that emendations can be made to that in a number of ways. The noble Lord has made a persuasive case, but I do not think that we should specify that there should be local and national levels. The objective uses the term “public policy” to encompass the intention that official statistics should play a part in supporting an evaluation of policy at all levels.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, indicated that “regional” might play its part between “local” and “national”. We think that “neighbourhood” or even “international” statistics might play their part in certain contexts, as well as “local”, “regional” and “national”. So, to be totally comprehensive, we could use phrases in the Bill that would detract from its precise core objective. I assure the noble Lord that the broad “public policy” objectives include local, regional and national objectives.

Lord Dearing: I thank the Minister. It would be nice to have that on the face of the Bill. I do not see how the amendment would subtract from it; it would clarify the intention. I look forward to resuming this discussion on another day. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 pm

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 37:

( ) establishing and maintaining the accuracy, integrity and transparency of statistics for the benefit of the individual citizen.”

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The noble Earl said: This amendment would broaden the Bill’s definition of the “public good” to encompass,

echoing, at least in part, my noble friend’s Amendment No. 35.

The Committee will recall that, although at Second Reading I welcomed the Government’s decision to insert the reference to “public good”, I also expressed concern that the way in which it was drafted might be too Westminster-centric. Thus, the primary purpose here is to create some measure of citizen focus to the definition. I may be stretching the point a little but I hope that, at least to some extent, this is consistent with the identification by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, at Second Reading of a,

I accept that, in a sense, the amendment states the glaringly obvious. Indeed, its sentiment, albeit from a different perspective, is repeated in subsection (4)(a) of the clause by virtue of the reference that the quality of statistics includes,

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the strictures of the Minister in respect of Amendment No. 35, I believe that there is considerable virtue in establishing an explicit association between the public good and these qualities, if only as a means of emphasising the significance of the Bill in reinvigorating public trust in statistics—a proposition that engendered unanimity in the House at Second Reading and has been an especial feature of our earlier debates.

Here, I echo the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, already cited by the Minister. He said:

But this persuades me that there is much to be gained from tailoring the Bill, especially in the context of the objective to satisfy the public good, in order that as much public trust as possible can be generated. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes: My name is added to the amendment and we support my noble friend, who is always capable of approaching a Bill in an entirely innovative way. His argument is that the reference to serving the public good, which includes informing the public about social and economic matters and assisting in the development of policy, treats the citizen as a mere object to be informed at and made policy about. My noble friend makes a very important point in saying that the Statistics Board should see statistics as having a much wider relevance than that. I hope that the Minister will see fit to meet the points that he has made.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I shall not be any more receptive than I was on the preceding amendment, although I accept the intention behind the amendment, as I did with that moved by the noble Lord, Lord

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Dearing. However, when discussing his amendment, I was far too kind to say that I had noticed that a tail was coming up in the next amendment to add to the definition—and so we could go on.

We want to leave the Bill as it is because it is precise, succinct and clear on what it establishes as the board’s objective. This amendment is another shot at clearly expressing an objective to which we all subscribe, but in fact it is unnecessary because the objective is already there. The board is charged with promoting and safeguarding the quality of statistics, which, as subsection (4) of the clause explains, includes accuracy and impartiality. The board is also obliged to promote and safeguard good practice, which includes accessibility.

The other aspect of the amendment emphasised by the noble Earl is maintaining official statistics for the,

I agree that that is an important concept but it, too, is unnecessary. The Bill was amended in the other place to deal with the issue of “public good”. The precise sentiments expressed by the noble Earl were expressed in the other place, and the Government accepted the concept. However, we should emphasise that the objective was not just good government. Statistics play a very important part in that but they are also for the public good—for the good of the citizen. That point was taken on board by the Government in the other place.

So we are at one on the objectives expressed by the noble Lord and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but we are determined to maintain the definition in the Bill, lest we leave ourselves open to the many fertile minds in all quarters of the Committee adding endless refinements to what is defined as being in the public good. I do not have the slightest doubt that there would be many, but they would not add to the inherent heart of the objective already stated in the Bill.

Lord Northbrook: I disagree with the Minister and support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Northesk. Clause 7(2)(a) refers to giving information to the public about social and economic matters and paragraph (b) refers to,

My noble friend’s amendment is a useful addition. I would like to focus on the transparency of statistics for the benefit of the individual citizen.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I hear what the noble Lord says. He will recognise that preceding that is a clear definition of official statistics serving the public good. That point is all-embracing of those concepts.

The Earl of Northesk: This issue is rather more important than the Minister suggests. Trust is a complex matter; it is all about perception. My difficulty, in a major sense, is that the Minister seems to start from a platform of saying that, in the generation of trust, perception does not matter. I believe that that approach is fundamentally flawed. I recall on a previous amendment that he was very disparaging—dare I say?—about the

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role that symbols play in the generation of trust. I am deeply dissatisfied with the Minister’s response, but I shall not press the issue at this time of night. I am fairly certain that I shall return to this point on Report, because unless the Government get their heads around the concept of trust and how perception plays into that concept, this will end up being the Bill that never barked. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 38:

( ) meeting the information needs of users of statistics”

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 43. It is too easy to see statistics as a production factory, where information goes in one end and statistics come out the other. There is no market for the output from that factory and it is too easy to fall into the trap of expressing the aims and objectives of the factory in terms of its own processes.

The reference to “public good” is a helpful move in evaluating output, as is the previous amendment of my noble friend Lord Northesk, moving the focus of public good away from policymakers towards the citizen. I am sorry that the Minister did not feel able to accept that amendment. Amendment No. 38 takes that further and makes meeting the information needs of users of statistics a component of serving the public good. Amendment No. 43 gives the board a specific function of monitoring whether statistics meet the information needs of users.

The Statistics Commission issued its 33rd report in March this year entitled The Use Made of Official Statistics. I hope that the Minister will join me in commending the quality and quantity of output from the Statistics Commission in its short existence. In that report, the commission highlighted the need to improve consultation with users and communication with them, especially those who do not speak fluent statistics, if I can use that term. The amendment responds to that key issue and ensures that user orientation will be at the heart of the new board’s work. That is particularly the case for statistics which do not yet exist or which do not fully meet users’ needs. I think all noble Lords have received a number of representations from organisations or individuals who clearly do not feel that their needs are currently well served. It has been a particular concern, for example, of the Local Government Association, which said in its submission that,

That is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his amendment. It is sometimes easy for a national organisation to lose sight of the granular policy needs of users in local communities. I hope that my amendments would make it more likely that they would be remembered.

There is also the question of developing new statistics. For example, the social capital project has been drawn to our attention. Statistics which monitor

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social and domestic cohesion are much sought after by those active in this field—by which I mean active in helping to cure society’s ills with practical projects on the ground rather than developing policies. A lot of statistics and data are available, but they omit some important information on marriage breakdown and family status at a local level. Many groups think that this is particularly important, and the information has not yet been pulled together in the form of a social capital index, as has been suggested to us. I do not know why that has not been done, and I hope that the Minister can tell us why we have no social capital index or equivalent measure available at local level.

The board should have the needs of users at the heart of its work, and there should be full engagement with them. I hope that the Minister agrees. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As we have heard, these amendments are about augmenting the board’s objective in Clause 7 and monitoring function in Clause 8, and deal with some issues raised by the previous amendments. We can understand some of the thinking behind these amendments, but they do not ultimately improve the objective are are not really necessary.

As my noble friend said on the previous amendments, the objective as it stands is absolutely right. It is the cornerstone of the Bill and is appropriately succinct, broad and high level. It is designed to provide a clear statement of overall purpose for the board, stating that the board is to promote and safeguard the quality, comprehensiveness and good practice of official statistics that serve the public good. It is from this core objective that the board’s functions, which will allow it to deliver on the objective, flow.

Amendment No. 38 would augment the board’s objective to state that the public good is served by statistics that meet,

In drafting the objective, particularly references to how statistics serve the public good, the Government knew that we could not exhaustively list all the ways in which statistics contribute. With that in mind, we included a brief statement of some of the key ways in which statistics serve the public good. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, added to this list with some interesting suggestions that we will consider before Report.

The board’s objective also states that it is to promote and safeguard the quality, comprehensiveness and good practice of official statistics, including the accessibility, relevance and coherence of statistics. In fulfilling its objective and ensuring the relevance, coherence and comprehensiveness of statistics that serve the public good, the board will undoubtedly need to establish mechanisms to establish user interests and set about addressing them.

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