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The Governments broad case is that there is already a substantial number of national statistics and that it is bound to expand under pressures from wider society. We have already seen illustrations and evidence of that this afternoon. Because the board has an assessment role, we need to draw a line on the level of obligation that we can place on the board.
Government Amendments Nos. 6, 10, 17, 27 and 36 will change the name of the code of practice for national statistics to the code of practice for statistics. This change is aimed at making the intention more explicit; clarifying that the code is not something that applies only to national statistics. I note that those
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Another issue that has caused concern in this House has been compulsory compliance with the code of practice. On this, I believe it is already clear that to gain the national statistics designation, statistics will need to be independently assessed by the board against the standards in the code and be adjudged to have complied with them. However, I note that this issue has caused not inconsiderable worry in this House. To reassure the House, Amendment No. 15 has been drafted to require any person producing any national statistic to ensure that the code of practice is complied with. I should emphasise that this duty applies not only to statisticians, but to every individual within a department who plays a role in the processfrom those involved in preparing briefing for Ministers to the press officers, and everyone in between. If the board is not convinced of this compliance across the production process, national statistics status will not be granted. I remain unconvinced, however, of the need for such a clause to go beyond a general duty to comply by also covering issues of interpretation and reporting breaches; that is what Amendment No. 8, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, seeks to achieve.
The Government have decided that the way in which we will enforce compliance with the code is through an assessment of statistics against the standards set out in it. I think that noble Lords are agreed that conducting such an assessment is an appropriate way to ensure compliance. As to the sanction, we are of the view that what is appropriate is that if statistics do not meet the standards in the code, the statistics in question will not be granted, or will not retain, national statistics status. This will be a very public and transparent process, and that surely must be right. It also reflects the fact that there are not many attractive alternatives to de-designation as a sanction. If the process were applied to all official statistics, what would be the sanction for non-compliance?
Alternative sanctions to de-designation would be some form of legal actionto compel compliance with the code. Would it not be somewhat heavy handed if a producer of official statistics could be subject to judicial review proceedings if it produces a set of statisticson, say, the number of television licences that it holdsthat is not fully compliant with the code?
It is for that reason that the Government have made it clear in Amendment No. 15 that the sanction flowing from failure to comply with the code in relation to national statistics is a prohibition on the board confirming or designating national statistics status. That is a sanction. To my mind, this poses enough of a threat strongly to encourage compliance. I am not convinced of the need to allow for statistical producers to be threatened with some form of legal action to compel compliance with the code.
The change in Amendment No. 22 is aimed at addressing some of the concerns raised in this House and in the other place in relation to strengthening the
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Ministers are responsible and accountable for allocating the resources in their departments, including those devoted to statistical production. Decisions on how to manage the resources of departments are properly taken by Ministers. Ministers are answerable to Parliament for their decisions. Giving the board the power to compel Ministers to take decisions about their departmental resources would undermine ministerial responsibility and accountability.
That said, it has always been the Governments expectationas the Financial Secretary has said many times in the other place and as I have said in several sittings herethat the board, as part of its statutory responsibility to promote and safeguard the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics, would comment publicly on the coverage of national statistics; that is, that the board would comment where there are official statistics that it considers should be independently assessed with a view to gaining national statistics status.
Further consideration of this matter, howeverin part informed by the persuasive arguments put forward in this House during our consideration of the Billhave convinced us that there is benefit in making this a duty of the board, and placing it on the face of the Bill. As such, this amendment will require the board to call for a Minister or other appropriate authority to put forward a particular statistic for assessment, where it feels that the statistic in question would benefit from the full scrutiny of the formal assessment process established by Section 11.
Under this new clause, where such a request is made of a Minister of the Crown, it must be laid before Parliament. On receipt of such a request, a Minister must publish a statement as to whether, and when, he or she will comply. Where the Minister does not wish to comply with the boards request, the statement must include reasons for that decision.
The amendment provides yet another opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the system, as both the formal request from the board to Ministers of the Crown and the response from Ministers to the board in relation to the nomination of a statistical series for assessment will be required to be placed before Parliament. Parliament will then be able to make its own judgment about the statistic in question, the validity of the boards request and the Governments response to that request.
Clearly, in a situation where a Minister decides not to put forward a statistic for assessment following a request from the board, the Government fully expect Parliament to play a very active role in scrutinising the reasons put forward by the Minister in question, holding him to account for his decision.
I believe that this new clause would be a worthy addition to our Bill in that it would serve to add further transparency and clarity to the statistical system that we are seeking to establish. Therefore, I hope that Amendment No. 22 will be accepted and that noble Lords opposite will not press their Amendments Nos. 9 and 12.
I cannot support Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 and 18 to 21 in so far as they attempt to do away with the distinction between national and official statistics. I do not propose to address these amendments individually. As I have said several times already, the Government are committed to the maintenance of the national statistics system. I have advanced arguments as to why that is necessary and have also argued why the board should be given some responsibility for official statistics. I hope it will be seen that the Government have listened to strong arguments presented from all parts of the House on this very important part of the Bill and that we have tabled amendments which improve the Bill and which I hope can be supported. I beg to move.
This group contains a number of amendments tabled in my name and in those of other noble Lords. The Minister will be aware that we tabled them prior to the Government tabling theirs, and I should say at the outset that I do not intend to move the amendments that stand in my name or to oppose the government amendments. However, we hope that there may be a little reflection by the Government between now and Third Reading on one or two aspects. Perhaps I may deal with those.
The first is that Amendment No. 11 would describe the code as applying just to statistics. We did not like the fact that it would apply just to national statistics, and that is why, in our amendment, we propose that it should apply to official statistics, which are now defined in the Bill. Will the Minister explain the subtlety of saying that it is a code for statistics? Is it intended to apply to statistics prepared by voluntary or commercial organisations and, if so, how does that fit in with the Bill? Essentially, the Bill deals with statistics produced by government, which is why we used the Governments own definition of official statistics in renaming the code. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point when he replies.
The second point concerns compliance with the code. The Minister will be awarehe referred to itthat that was one of the very important issues that we debated at some length in Committee. The Royal Statistical Society and the Statistics Commission were united with us against the Governments position on this matter. The Government have already created a duty of compliance for national statistics, so that leaves open the possibility of government departments keeping their statistics out of the national statistics net if they want to cheat on the rules. I know that there are
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I have tabled Amendment No. 16, which deletes the words but no action shall lie in relation to any such failure, as an amendment to Amendment No. 15, to probe what the Government intend by those words. The Minister said that the intention was that no legal action should lie in relation to non-compliance. I wanted to ensure that the Minister was entirely content and desired the Statistics Board to take action in the sense of shouting loudly and often about non-compliance. We accept that legal action would be inappropriate, but the other subtle ways of bringing pressure to bear on non-compliers is particularly important.
That brings us to the new procedure and duty in Amendment No. 22. As the Minister knows, we would have preferred assessment to be in the hands of the board. We regard the Minister's Amendment No. 22 procedure as a naming and shaming provision because it will ensure that the board looks at those cases of statistics that have not come forward for national statistics assessment and name them if they are inappropriate to that category. We are certainly happy to support that and I hope that the result will be that the majority of statistics, certainly all those that have any significance, will be national statistics within a relatively short period of time. With those remarks, I reiterate that we are happy to support the Government's amendments.
Lord Newby: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, we are grateful to the Government for having listened to the debate in Committee and for making these changes. They deal more comprehensively with the problems that we have identified than the amendments on the muddle, which we discussed before. Therefore, we are grateful for them.
However, I still think we have in place an extremely cumbersome system for dealing with what might be perceived as a problem by the board on one single set of statistics. The board has to apply to the Minister, saying, in effect, Please can we designate these as national statistics so that we can look at them?. For example, last week for the second time, MORI had a Market Research Society decision against it in terms of the way in which statistics, which it had produced for DCMS on live music venues, had been used by DCMS. The argument was that DCMS had misrepresented what MORI had done. The Market Research Society found against MORI, at which point DCMS refused to accept the finding or to do anything about it.
When the Bill, if amended as proposed, comes into forceperhaps the Minister can confirm whether I am right about thisand the Statistics Board hears about such a situation, it may think that is not very satisfactory and that the statistics are not national statisticsI would be amazed if they were. Under Clause 22, the board would go to the appropriate Minister at the DCMS and say, Please, we would like
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My slight concern is that the Statistics Board will decide in a number of cases that it is not worth its while going through the cumbersome procedure in the Bill, because the statistics questioned are not hugely significant. I therefore have some questions about whether that is an overcumbersome way of dealing with the problem, but I shall come on a later amendment to another way in which the board might be able to deal with such rap on the knuckle instances.
My second question about Amendment No. 22 related to what seemed to be asymmetry of approach between UK statistics and those produced by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Under the proposed new clause:
and when he responds the Minister has to lay a copy of his statement before Parliament. If the Minister is not a Minister of the Crown in the UK but a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland Minister in the devolved Administrations, there is no provision in the Bill about what the board does. It does not have to lay anything before the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly. Equally, the relevant Ministers in those three jurisdictions do not have to make a statement in response to their legislative bodies. Therefore, there seems to be a lot less scrutiny and accountability in respect of statistics produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than in UK-wide statistics. Given that the amendments have been produced relatively recently, I suspect that this is just a gap in the drafting, but I hope that the Minister can reassure me that that disparity of treatment will be rectified at Third Reading.
Lord Turnbull: My Lords, in the original Bill, there were two defects. The first was that the concept of national statistics and the code of practice were made coterminous, so if a series was not in national statisticsbecause it either had never been there or had been de-designatedit was outside the code, including provisions such as confidentiality. That made no sense, and I welcome the separation of the two concepts. I rather support those who prefer code of official statistics; it makes more sense and is more accurate. In the stages that remain, I hope that that can somehow be introduced.
The second defect was that there was a voluntary system in which the right of initiative as to whether something had the status of national statistics lay
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I welcome the reconstruction of the amendments. I am not sure that I would have done it exactly in this way, as I would have placed a duty on the board to assess the quality of statistics, and to have a rolling programme to do so on which it would decide. I do not think that it is necessary to have the sharp distinction, or that the de-designation mechanism will ever work. If something is important enough to be in national statistics, such as crime statistics, no one will ever say, We will put this into a lower category. The pressure will be to improve it and retain its status. Nevertheless, where we are left is a great deal better than where we started.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I add my thanks for the amendments tabled by the Government, which go a long way to meet the concerns expressed in this House and in another place during earlier stages of the Bill. Like my noble friend Lady Noakes, I am puzzled by Amendment No. 6, which takes out the word national and leaves statistics because the Bill cannot cover statistics that are produced outside the machinery of government. The amendment tabled by the Opposition, Amendment No. 7, replaces national with official, which makes it clear that we are talking about official statistics. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that.
The Minister made it clear that he expects that most statistics will become national statistics in due course by qualifying through the process of assessment to be accepted by the board. He suggested that the failure of a set of statistics to qualify as official national statistics would operate as a condign punishment of some sort. I think that it will be the other way round and that a lot of departments will fight against their statistics becoming national statistics. They will want to retain their statistics as official statistics, which do not receive the same degree of scrutiny. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that the proposals appear quite complicated. It may well be that the board will have the power to make sure that the process can continue. However, the idea that departments will feel under pressure to have their statistics upgraded to national statistics does not seem to represent the reality of what the Minister described at an earlier stage as a process of negotiation between the Treasury and other departmental Ministers. In the Governments determination to preserve two grades of statisticsnational and other official statisticsI detect that that argument continues and that the Treasury would like to see all official statistics as
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Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is right on that last point. In my experience in the Home Office many years ago, we were certainly keen to keep as many statistics and bits of information down at our level as we possibly could.
Lord Moser: My Lords, I rise only because I fussed about this point at every stage of the Bill. My reactions are the same as those of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and I am grateful to the Government for taking this step, although it is a bit complex.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I think we are reaching a broad measure of agreement about the way in which we should go forward.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, whenever the words future proof occur, I give an involuntary shudder. However, I shall defend our position on this because we did not want to give an illustration or a definition of the borderline between national statistics and official statistics that acted as a complete barrier to movement. We are all too well aware that that definition is in the process of changeas I speak I have no doubt. Certainly, on future developments we have to assume that whole ranges of statistics that emerge obtain a salience which requires them to meet the full rigour of the code of practice and sanction and be included within national statistics. That was the only point on future proof. We would hope that the structure had sufficient malleability about it so that statistics could move from one category to another.
The other point that has emerged in this short debate is the crucial stance of the Government that there has to be a barrier between national and official statistics. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, says that this strategy may not work. He is right that this is a process of discussion and debate between government departments, the National Statistician and the Office for National Statistics. That goes without saying. And it will be with the board. The reason we want the board is to reinforce the National Statisticians position regarding the control of these statistics and to challenge departments and other bodies which produce official statistics about their quality. Of course there will be give and take on this matter and none of that can be laid down in statute. The point I seek to make, which was reflected on by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, in his contribution, is that of course there will be other measures from the board denying the status of a national statistic to any statistic which is produced outwith the code. Of
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