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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, as the noble Lord may remember, when I referred to the Bill at a much earlier stagein the debate on the Queens Speech, I thinkI drew attention to the report by Professor Adrian Smith on crime statistics, which the noble Lord has just mentioned. I think he now owes it to the House to tell us what the Government are going to do in response to Professor Smiths report. It is perfectly clear that the definitions of crime and the
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are on Report. I am not prepared to go into a wide discourse now about a range of other issues related to this. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and other Members of the House brought the important issue of crime to my attention, but I was using it merely as an illustration of the problem. I am not going to open up a big discussion on crime rates and the degree of public trust in these issues. If I did, we would stray way beyond Report stage and our concentration on this amendment. I am talking only about one specific part of the amendment; namely, the level of public trust.
The board has levers to achieve its objectives, but we cannot expect it to be responsible for meeting an obligation to enhance levels of public trust. There are simply too many other factors involved in the situation for the board to take that as a chief responsibility. The boards objective rightly focuses on helping to deliver high-quality and comprehensive statistics that serve the public good. That is what we should expect of the board, and it is something the board can take a direct role in, using the functions assigned to it in the Bill.
While I am sure the board will wish to undertake work to determine levels of public trustto seek to understand better what causes levels of public trust to change and to play its part in helping to improve levels as necessarythat is not something that it alone can control. I am therefore resisting the crucial part of the amendment being included in the core objectives, which of course Clause 7 involves.
I accept from the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to whose arguments on this front I paid tribute earlier today, and from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who has emphasised this point again, that local statistics are important. I can reassure the House that the wording of the objective was drafted using the term public policy to encompass the fact that official statistics should play a role in supporting the evaluation of policy at all levels, be that local, regional, national or even international.
User needs are important, and the boards objective already states that it is to promote and safeguard the quality, comprehensiveness and good practice of official statistics, including accessibility, relevance and coherence. In fulfilling that objective, clearly stated in Clause 7, the board will undoubtedly need to set up mechanisms to establish user interest and to set about addressing them.
The amendment specifies producing benefits for citizens. As we have said repeatedly during the course of the Bill, one of the core reasons the Bill was amended in the other place was to make quite explicit the Governments belief that official statistics exist to serve the public in the widest sense, not just to help the work of Government.
I hope it will be recognised that the amendment identifies areas that the Government have thought about clearly and carefully and believe are included within the broad aims of Clause 7. We wish to defend the clause as being a realistic, proper and accurate definition of what the board should seek to achieve. For that reason, I hope the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
I am of course disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, by what the Minister has said in response. He said that trust was a complex matter, and so should not be in the Bill. We think it is so important that it should be clear and visible for all to see, as one of the most important objectives that lie behind the Bill. My noble friend Lord Jenkin gave the very good example of the crime statistics and why we need the issue of public trust in the Bill. The Ministers response to that was interesting: he said that the board was just going to concern itself with high-quality statistics, and that was the beginning and end of its role in that regard. We disagree: we think there are other aspects to public trust which, for example, underline the approach to pre-release which is embedded in the Bill that we will send to another place. It is also implicit in many of the other issues that we have debated in Committee, such as whether the Statistics Board should be commenting on the misinterpretation of statistics. Public trust goes way beyond simply putting out good-quality statistics.
I shall not press my amendment today but I hope that those who become members of the Statistics Board take the trouble to read the deliberations of your Lordships' House to see what we believe they should be doing to ensure that public trust is achieved and that the needs of a much wider group than has hitherto been met by the ONS and other statistics will be at the heart of the boards work. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has been retabled to encourage the Minister to give a little more thought to the issues it raises. The slew of government amendments we are considering today testify to his close consideration of the points my noble friend made in Committee. I hope I can convince him to extend this same helpful attitude to this amendment as well.
In Committee, the Minister made the point that statistics produced at a local level are bound to diverge to a greater or lesser extent. He is quite rightstatistics should be produced close to where they are collected and used. However, the amendment in no way discourages this. Localism shouldand, I hope, willencourage greater responsiveness to the needs of users. That will indeed cause a certain amount of divergence in how statistics are presented or what data are collected, but there will also be a considerable amount of divergence arising for no reason whatever. One example might be the time of year that identical statistics are published in different areas of the country. There would be no benefit to such diversity and it would be extremely inconvenient for any user wishing to compare data between these areas.
The amendment would ensure that such unnecessary divergence is prevented. It would not give the board to power to enforce consistency or give it a higher priority than local needs. Such an approach would be inappropriate and undesirable. But it would allow the board to identify and address unhelpful inconsistencies and make sure that different producers are aware of how similar statistics are produced in different areas.
The Minister accepted in Committee that the board was the right body to undertake this role. I hope that he will be persuadable this time around about the benefits this amendment would bring. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I have sought to make these points at various stages of the Bills proceedings. On Second Reading, I drew the Governments attention to the fact that the year 2000 framework had firmly placed an obligation on the chief statistician to engage in planning and on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to maintain and develop the co-ordination structure for national statistics.
In Committee, I again drew the Ministers attention to the fact that I had asked those questions. Why is there nothing in the Bill about either of those matters, both of which were part of the year 2000 framework? I have still not received an answer. If it is thought that they do not need to be put in the Bill because they will be done automatically, why were they specified in the 2000 framework? My noble friends amendment gives us an opportunity to repeat the questions. If these matters were thought important to make specific seven years ago, why are they not important enough to be made specific in the Bill?
Lord Moser: My Lords, this is an important amendment, and I hope that the Minister will accept it. This legislation has had to face a fundamental problem from the very beginning; namely, that we have a decentralised system. One needs only to think how easy it would be if we had a single statistics office as is the case in most countries. Some of the problems that we have spent time discussing would not then arise; quite a few of them would be much easier to solve. However, our sticking, rightly, with a decentralised system is the reason for many of the problems that we have discussed.
I have on one or two occasions tried to describe the double role that the National Statistician, and therefore the board, has. One job of the National Statistician is to run ONSwhat used to be called the CSOand provide leadership as director of a single office at the centre. It is an extremely important role. In her other job, the National Statistician is rightly to be held to account as adviser to the statisticians in all the other government departments and, in a sense, as having ultimate responsibility for anything that happens anywhere in government statistics. That was certainly the case in my time as director of the CSO. If there were problems in health statistics with which the Department of Health would not or could not deal, I was ultimately held responsible, and rightly so; and so it has remained throughout the years.
The amendment touches not only on the geographical consistency that is obviously neededit has been remarked on by other noble Lordsacross regions, but also on the fact that we are part of an international statistical system. Many of our statistics have to relate to the UKthat has to be dealt with. The amendment would mean also that the National Statistician and her forces had a responsibility for helping to plan the system as a whole, covering all government departments. It is a difficult role, because one has to recognise that, in a decentralised system, there is obviously great power in the hands of Secretaries of State, Ministers and civil servants in the departments. It is a much more diplomatic, indirect role, but it is nevertheless the National Statisticians responsibility.
I had hoped from time to time that the National Statisticians responsibility for the GSS as a whole would be formally recognised in the Bill. I understand that this has not happened for two reasons. The first is reluctance on the part of the draftsmen to recognise the GSS as a legal entity. I do not quite understand why that is such a problem. The other reason is that, in many departments, statistics are in the hands of people who are not part of the professional group of statisticians, which I understand. However, it makes acceptance of the amendment even more important, so that, in one way or another, all statistics are seen as a single system, though decentralised administratively.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I add one point to those already made, which relates to the second part of the amendment and, in particular, the issue of consistency across nations and regions. This is particularly important as nations and regions with their own assemblies or Parliaments adopt policies which differ from those that operate in England, so that in terms of student finance the Scottish system is increasingly divergent from the English system. On both sides of that Border and the other borders, the proponents of these systems engage in discussions as to which is preferable, which can take place on a sensible basis only if we can understand the statistical basis on which they are being undertaken and if we can compare like with like. My slight fear is that as policies diverge, the statistical bases for working out how successful those policies are or their consequences might diverge. The amendment would put a requirement on the board to ensure that those problems of interpretation between nations and regions are minimised.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as we have heard, this amendment or ones like it have been discussed on many occasions and the Governments view remains that the Bill already strikes the right balance between providing the board with a clear objective, and wide-ranging duties and powers to deliver on that, while at the same time giving that independent boardand this is a very important pointthe flexibility to establish mechanisms, and determine what particular activities it will undertake to ensure that it is fulfilling those responsibilities.
Amendment No. 5 would require the board to promote the co-ordination of planning for and production of official statistics and the production of official statistics that are consistent across all government departments and all parts of the United Kingdom. On the question of promoting consistency across the UK, the Government recognise that consistent UK-wide statistics are beneficial and desirable. Such consistency means that statistics about the devolved countries can be combined, allowing figures to be produced for the UK and allowing the situation in the different Administrations to be compared. I should therefore note how pleased the Government are that the devolved Administrations have all decided to join the new arrangements. However, some divergence in statistical outputs across the different parts of the UK is to be expected, given the different political, legal and administrative systems and policies across the four nations, many of which existed prior to devolution, which can limit the development of consistent statistics. For example, statistics on education are sometimes not consistent, reflecting the fact that Scottish educational qualifications differ from those in England.
In addition, the countries have different characteristics, which can lead to the need for different classifications and definitions. For example, Scotland is less densely populated in parts than England, leading to a demand for a different statistical definition of what it means for an area to be called rural. This means that it may not always be appropriate or desirable that statistics be consistent. If any inconsistency has a material effect on the quality and relevance of the statistics being produced, the board already has mechanisms available to it to help address that. It can take such issues into account in the assessment of national statistics and as part of its wider duty to monitor the quality, comprehensiveness and good practice of official statistics, as set out in Clause 8.
Clause 9 requires the board to develop, maintain and promote definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for official statistics. We would expect that, when appropriate, and taking due account of the specific issues and needs of the different constituent parts of the UK, the board will promote consistent use of such definitions and classifications.
On co-ordination, I remind noble Lords that the board already has a statutory objective to promote and safeguard the quality of official statistics, which includes coherence and relevance, comprehensiveness and good practice. To deliver on that objective, the board will need to ensure effective co-ordination across
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Rather than give the board additional obligations on how it must deliver on its statutory objective, we think it best to leave it to the independent board to determine how best to achieve it, including what mechanisms it will establish to do so. We must remember that this is a statute and that a number of documents will be produced, such as the framework of detailed mechanisms of roles and responsibilities. I hope that that assurance, coupled with what I have said, will enable noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, even though I am afraid that I do not agree with what he said about the balance being right. Amendment No. 5 would have allowed flexibility while promoting consistency. I do not wish to press the amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.
The government amendments in this group are aimed at addressing a number of the concerns eloquently expressed in this House in relation to the coverage of the statistical system that is established by this Bill. They aim to clarify and further underscore the Governments intentions in a number of areas around the code of practice and official and national statistics, and they will add even greater transparency to the new statistical system that we are creating. They reflect, as we have been clear from the outset, that the Government intend to retain the established distinction between official and national statistics. At the heart of that is the desire for the new independent board to be responsible for promoting and safeguarding the quality and comprehensiveness of a very broad range of statistics. It reflects a desire that the definitions used in the Bill will well serve the statistical system and all who use its outputs both now and in the future. As such, the Government have been concerned to ensure that the Bill includes as broad and flexible a definition of official statistics as possible.
There has never been a legal definition of official statistics in the United Kingdom, nor is there an agreed international definition, and at the start of this process it was not immediately clear the best way in which to define it. While we considered linking the definition to the professional group that produced the statistics, the Government Statistical Service, the Government wanted to avoid a definition that would unnecessarily limit the role envisaged for the board, given developments in statistical production and activity in Government. Members of the Government Statistical Service are no longer the sole producers of statistical information within government and, indeed, many of the key statistics that the public use to judge the Governments performance come from administrative sources, the production of which may not be within the direct control of the statistical head of profession in a department.
We have, therefore, concluded that the definition of official statistics should include all those statistics produced by the 200-plus government departments, agencies, devolved administrations and any other person acting on behalf of the Crown. Such a definition meets our goal of a definition that is both very wide and, we hope, future-proofed.
However, having opted for that wide definition of official statistics, it was necessary to focus and prioritise the application of the formal assessment against the code established in Clauses 11 and 12. The aim was to help ensure that greater resource is devoted to statistics that have relatively greater importance, not just for policy makers, but for business, academia and the wide range of other users. The current set of around 1,300 national statistics provides the key statistics that the Government, business and the public rely on to provide an accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and meaningful description of the UK.
I am sure that the House recognises the challenges that the new board would encounter if it were legally bound to undertake a formal assessment of the vast and expanding number of official statistics, given the likely resource implications for the board and those being assessed. I expect that the added credibility that will come from securing independent endorsement of the quality and integrity of a set of statisticsand indeed, the public and parliamentary scrutiny that will inevitably follow a Ministers refusal to comply with a boards request to put a statistic forward for assessmentwill incentivise the evolution and expansion of the national statistics system.
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