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The key proposal is that the hub will be the separation of policy commentary from statistical commentary and release. Therefore, it will be clear that what are released are the official statistics with proper analysis of their significance, and then separately the policy commentary, which Governments are bound to have and which the nation is bound to be interested in, in response to salient and significant figures. How will that be done in the framework of the hub? The board has the responsibility for overseeing the hub and agreeing how it will operate. We expect, however, that as an executive function, the National Statistician will oversee the day-to-day operation. Indeed, the Financial Secretary has already announced that a key motivation of the hub is that very separation I identified a few moments ago.

I recognise that the hub does not appear in the legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would have sharply pointed that out to me had I not acknowledged the fact. Until the board is established the actual operation of the hub cannot be finalised. It will need extensive discussion on how it will work. It impacts on the role of the board and the relationship of the National Statistician and chairman of the board. I emphasise—the Financial Secretary has already made this quite clear—that it should necessarily be a clear separation between the statistics for which the board is responsible and which are issued, and policy commentary from Ministers. The hub concept would develop that.

The board will have a crucial role in overseeing compliance with the new pre-release arrangement. Parliament will oversee the general policy on the secondary legislation. The board will have a statutory duty to assess compliance with the new tighter arrangements that we are putting into place and enforcement of the code of practice. We expect that if these new rules are complied with, the board will take an assessment of those statistics. If the board is critical of the way releases have taken place then it could use sanctions, such as identifying the fact that those statistics do not meet national standards. The board would do so in a public report. It would also appear—this would be serious—in the annual report to Parliament, although it would not wait upon it.

We are emphasising that: first, we have sought to meet the anxieties expressed in the Committee that arrangements should be codified and that the period of pre-release should come down significantly to the limited time that we are proposing of 40.5 hours; secondly, that the board will have responsibility for assessing this process and ensuring compliance with it; and thirdly, that there has to be a distinction between the release of the statistics and the policy commentary on them by Ministers. The Bill is constructed against that background on these pre-release concepts.

It will, I hope, be recognised that the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Moser, spoke first seek to put responsibility solely with the board. The

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Government’s strategy is one which will meet with public approval in terms of guaranteeing that the pre-release period is restricted, that there is proper supervision of that process, and that the board has a crucial role in commenting on the way national statistics are used by policy makers. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able therefore to accept the Government’s position and withdraw his amendment.

Lord Moser: I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed reply to the debate. There were one or two points that I felt uncomfortable about. One was the reference to international acceptance of pre-release; this is true, but not in the sense of international acceptance of the degree of pre-release that we have. In most places it would be regarded as excessive. I said when I introduced the amendment that tightening up to 40.5 hours for non-market-sensitive data is a mini-step in the right direction, but no more than that.

The Minister made very clear that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the board commenting on pre-release arrangements, or monitoring anything to do with statistics. Listening to that took me back to the early days of the route towards this debate when the Chancellor first mentioned what he had in mind. I was one of many in the professional statistical world who welcomed the Chancellor’s initiative, as I still do. I welcome that there is a Bill. I welcome the fact that this is all intended to improve public confidence in official statistics. It is evident to everyone that the lack of public confidence has less to do with the quality of the statistics than with how they are used by Ministers, the media and everyone else. That is the central issue.

Any commentator from the statistical world, either here or abroad, considering the Bill and welcoming this route towards greater confidence would want to know what is proposed about pre-release—the one subject on which this country is so out of line with most others. They would be surprised to find that Clause 11, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has already drawn attention, states that that is nothing to do with the code. It would surprise everyone that the board is evidently not given prime authority.

It is not enough to know that nothing can stop the board from taking a key interest in the area. The amendment provides that governing pre-release—in other words, deciding on pre-release arrangements, which, incidentally, should be uniform across Whitehall—should be a prime responsibility of the board and a prime content of the code. It should be able not just to comment or to monitor; it should be in charge of that central aspect of public trust.

Because that view is still some considerable distance from what the Minister said, I suggest that we test the opinion of the House.

5.03 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 42) shall be agreed to?

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Their Lordships divided: Contents, 196; Not-Contents, 133.

Division No. 1


Addington, L. [Teller]
Alderdice, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Arran, E.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Avebury, L.
Barnett, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Best, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blaker, L.
Bowness, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Bruce-Lockhart, L.
Byford, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Cathcart, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L.
Chadlington, L.
Chorley, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Cobbold, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Cotter, L.
Cox, B.
Craigavon, V.
Crickhowell, L.
Croham, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
De Mauley, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dear, L.
Dearing, L.
Denham, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
D'Souza, B.
Dykes, L.
Eccles, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Erroll, E.
Falkland, V.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freeman, L.
Garden, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goodlad, L.
Goschen, V.
Hamwee, B.
Hanham, B.
Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Hanningfield, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hooper, B.
Hooson, L.
Howard of Rising, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
Hylton, L.
Inglewood, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kirkham, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lindsay, E.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Listowel, E.
Liverpool, E.
Lucas, L.
Luke, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
MacLaurin of Knebworth, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mar, C.
Marland, L.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Moser, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Naseby, L.
Neuberger, B.
Newby, L.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Northesk, E.
Northover, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Patel, L.
Patten, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Quinton, L.

2 May 2007 : Column 1088

Rawlings, B.
Reay, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rees, L.
Rennard, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rogan, L.
Roper, L.
Rowe-Beddoe, L.
Russell-Johnston, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sandberg, L.
Sandwich, E.
Seccombe, B.
Selborne, E.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Sheikh, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stern, B.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Teverson, L.
Thatcher, B.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tonge, B.
Tordoff, L.
Trenchard, V.
Trimble, L.
Turnbull, L.
Tyler, L.
Ullswater, V.
Vallance of Tummel, L.
Verma, B.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Windlesham, L.
Young of Hornsey, B.


Adams of Craigielea, B.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B. [Lord President.]
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Bhattacharyya, L.
Bilston, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Crawley, B.
Cunningham of Felling, L.
David, B.
Davidson of Glen Clova, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Drayson, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. [Teller]
Falconer of Thoroton, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Falkender, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Ford, B.
Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kingsmill, B.
Kinnock, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Levy, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.

2 May 2007 : Column 1089

Morgan of Huyton, B.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Morris of Yardley, B.
Ouseley, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Puttnam, L.
Quin, B.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Rooker, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Sewel, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Snape, L.
Soley, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Triesman, L.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.15 pm

[Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]

Lord Howard of Rising moved Amendment No. 45:

(d) the way that official statistics have been misinterpreted whether by Ministers, departments, civil servants or otherwise.”

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 148. Amendment No. 45 seeks to ensure that the board has a clear power to draw attention to the misinterpretation of official statistics and can notify the Minister and others responsible of offenders. At present, there is no adequate safeguard against misunderstandings or the misuse of statistics. Clause 8(2) deals only with the production of official statistics and not with their dissemination. Even flawlessly accurate statistics can be misrepresented. Almost all statistics can be presented in a manner that is designed to confuse or to present only one side of an argument. Data can be misinterpreted deliberately or accidentally by a government department or respected media source. Either way, the Statistics Board should be the appropriate authority to be given the responsibility for monitoring and highlighting any concerns so that the appropriate steps can be taken to correct the damage and prevent further mistakes happening in the future. I beg to move.

Viscount Eccles: I support the amendments. As we have already heard this afternoon, the creation of public trust is at the centre of the endeavour. Public trust will be better created if there is independent and professional critical analysis of statistics. I would like the amendments to be widened at the next stage to include the positive aspects of critical analysis as well as the negative ones.

We are dealing with a profession whose workings are not widely understood by the public. Therefore, the public will always have a feeling that these matters need to be explained to them by someone whom they

2 May 2007 : Column 1090

can trust, which means someone who they believe really understands what they are talking about. That means the professionals. It is therefore central to the working of the Act that the board has the role of critical analysis and that it delegates that role to the National Statistician. Indeed, one would hope that, when there is a question of interpretation, a consultative process would be undertaken between the interested parties to consider where the issues lie and to work out who might be in support of what before the dialogue goes into the public domain. The thrust of these amendments is entirely right.

Lord Jenkin of Roding:I believe that we are also discussing Amendment No. 148, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and his colleague, and of the noble Lord, Lord Moser. That amendment states:

That is a duty that the National Statistician should certainly be encouraged to perform, and it is the duty of the board to back up the National Statistician if, as has happened to previous chief statisticians, they are subject to serious criticism by Ministers. If Ministers quote selectively from statistics and thus distort the full message that those statistics are intended to convey, it must be for the head of the profession, the National Statistician, to point out that that is misleading the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, may have views on this, but I can well understand that it would be a brave National Statistician who chooses to take on a senior Minister. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lord Eccles has just said, if we are going to restore faith, this may need to be done. Further, the knowledge that the National Statistician can say, “Minister, you have actually misled the public with this and we are going to make a statement”, and that he is backed by the board on that, would act as a pretty condign disincentive to Ministers who try to fiddle with statistics. While I have not put my name to the amendment, I regard it as important. It would be the head of the profession who would comment professionally on the misuse of statistics. I hope that in his reply the Minister will be able to address himself to that.

Lord Desai: I apologise to the Committee for not being in my place when the noble Lord moved his amendment. In my long experience of dealing with statistics, I know of few which have a single interpretation. I spent a lot of my professional life debating monetarism, and no money number ever commands even partial unanimity, let alone universal unanimity. We have to be very careful. Freedom in these matters is important and, once a number has been released, it is impossible for anyone to declare, “That is a misinterpretation”, because there is no single interpretation. I will not cite examples but, whenever a number is released, if the rate of growth looks good, you talk about that; if the absolute increase looks good, you talk about that; and cycles

2 May 2007 : Column 1091

can go long or short. We should not burden the Statistics Board with this absolutely useless and time-consuming duty.

Lord Newby: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to our Amendment No. 148, not least the noble Lord, Lord Desai, because he has given us a starkly different interpretation from that of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. In an ideal world, this amendment would not be necessary. One would imagine that the National Statistician, who is responsible for the corpus of statistics—if that is the right collective noun for statistics—would comment publicly if she felt that they were being misinterpreted.

While I take what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, says and agree that many statistics are open to a number of interpretations, I believe that in some cases they are clearly misinterpreted, whichever logical view one might take. The reason for tabling the amendment is to give the National Statistician legal cover so that, if or when she wished to comment on a set of statistics that had been misinterpreted, she would be protected against a barrage from Ministers. If, in responding to the debate, the Minister says that the amendment is completely unnecessary because the Government accept that this would be part of the role of the National Statistician, we would be pleased to hear that. Otherwise, the amendment is important.

Lord Moser: When I was in charge, many years ago, I had no problem publicly in doing what is suggested in the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, if the Minister can reassure us that the amendment is not necessary and that the National Statistician still has this freedom, even encouragement, to comment on misunderstandings, I should be happy.

My second point relates to what I have just said. The Statistics Commission, which has done an increasingly powerful and important job in recent months and years, is to be abolished. When it was set up a few years ago, I took the opportunity of saying to Ministers that I hoped that its terms of reference could include the power and encouragement to comment on Ministers as well as on statistical officials. However, that was not accepted. This is an important point for the future role of the board.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am delighted to be able to respond positively to the amendments. I shall not accept them—that would be asking a little much—but I shall respond in exactly the terms that the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Jenkin and Lord Moser, suggested. I give assurances that that is exactly how we believe that the situation will obtain after the Bill becomes an Act. Clause 8 guarantees that. It has the added advantage—the noble Lord, Lord Newby, drew attention to this in his amendment—that the National Statistician, provided that his judgment is right and is supported by the board, has that dimension to his representation, too.

Under Clause 8, the board is empowered to do exactly what noble Lords have suggested. Where the board judges that a comment by a Minister, department or civil servant is not in keeping with good practice in

2 May 2007 : Column 1092

relation to official statistics, or would undermine their quality, it can report and publish its findings. I give those assurances. I hope that they will be taken in good faith and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Howard of Rising: I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances, which I should like to consider carefully when I have the opportunity to read at leisure his words in Hansard. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 not moved.]

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 49:

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 49 would give an additional function to the board. It would add a new clause after Clause 8 requiring the board to monitor the resources available for the production and publication of official statistics. If the board has any concerns on that, it must report its concerns to the person responsible for the statistics and to the Treasury, and it must publish its report and lay it before Parliament.

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