|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
My second approach was to the Institute for Social and Economic ResearchISERat Essex University, a body for whose work I have had great respect over many years. Its reply, which I shall quote in full because it is helpful, was very forceful, and states:
ISER is currently responsible for producing one major longitudinal survey heavily used in scientific and policy research, the British Household Panel Survey, and is developing another, the UK Longitudinal Household Study. We would be concerned if the Statistics Bill did attempt to extend the scope of the Code of Practice beyond Official Statistics or National Statistics. There has been no opportunity to consult properly on such an extension, nor to explore its implications properly.
Again, there has been no consultation, but a significant risk is identified in that final sentence; so my second question to the Minister is whether he will confirm that when the Statistics Board prepares its code of practice under Clause 10, it will be directed solely to the range of official statistics that lie within its remit and it will not dilute that by trying to make the code applicable to a wider range of statistics outside its remit.
Finally, I return to the point I referred to earlier about the spirit of the code, which was mentioned by the Royal Statistical Society. He suggested that the spirit of the code might be adopted by non-governmental producers. I would not be so concerned if the Minister had said in reply to my noble friends question on Report, The code will, of course, be for official statistics but producers of other statistics may find some of the principles in that code of value as they produce and disseminate their own statistics. So my third question is whether that is actually what the Minister meant to say. Those were not his words, but I think that is what he may have meant.
There has apparently been no consultation with anybody on the Ministers propositions as put forward last week. They have clearly caused anxiety among important producers of statistics outside the range of official statistics. I suspect that the Minister may have gone further than he intended. He could clear all this confusion up in a moment by accepting our amendment, which provides that this code should apply to official statistics. I beg to move.
Lord Newby: My Lords, the very few cognoscenti of this issue and those who have been following the debate know that we had an issue with what we called the muddle. On Report, we attempted to deal with it, but the Government clearly liked the concept and
25 Jun 2007 : Column 421
The Bill is a muddle, and we hope that the Minister can sort it out in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, suggested; that is, by setting out that it applies to what everybody in the House understood it to apply to during the first part of the debate on Report.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I added my name to my noble friends amendments. He introduced them in a masterly way, and there is little additional material for us to cover. My main concern is that what the Minister said on Report and the nature of the amendments that were accepted then have created uncertainty. Until that moment, the status of the code in relation to non-governmental preparers of statisticsthose that are not preparing official statisticswas not unclear. The Bank of England, for example, produces a number of statistics. I understand that they are not official statistics. Does the Bank of England now have to regard the code of practice as useful guidance, or is it something entirely on a higher plane? That is very unhelpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, spotted, as indeed I did, that the text of the Bill had not caught up. Of course we are not allowed to amend headings. I am toldmy noble friend Lord Jenkin has raised this with the Public Bill Officethat the Bill will catch up as the headings do not yet reflect the amendments that were passed last time. So I do not think that we need worry on that score.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate, although I do not think that the issue has been anything except clear from the Governments point of view. If I have not expressed it with sufficient clarity, the fault certainly lies with me, and I will be as clear on it as I possibly can today. Far from there being a muddle, there has been a clear position on the code for statistics, which I want to emphasise today.
The title, code of practice for statistics, expresses succinctly exactly what the code is, and I do not see a case for change. I see a case for my clarifying and reassuring noble Lords about the anxieties to which they have given voice, and I will seek to do that. I do not think that the Bill needs amending because I do not think that there is anything between us in the arguments put forward on what is desirable in the
25 Jun 2007 : Column 422
As we discussed on Report last week, the code will be applied across official statistics, but it will have a particular role for national statistics. That is the understood position about how the code will work. We discussed it at great length last week and of course that is the position in the legislation. The particular role for national statistics is that this is a code against which the board will assess statistics to determine their compliance and whether to award national statistics status. We all know that about 1,300 statistics would be likely to fall within this framework. When new statistics are produced or when it is desirable that current statistics are brought within the framework of national statistics, they must be in full compliance with the code and be judged by the board to be up to the standard of national statistics status.
Calling the code, as the amendment suggests, the code for official statistics may be confusing and could imply that it refers only to those official statistics and not to the subset of statistics that are national statisticsthe ones for which we have a specific category. It was always the Governments intention that the code should have application to both categories: national statistics with their particular appliance of the codewithdrawal of that status would be the ultimate sanction if statistics fell below standardsand official statistics.
Questions were addressed about whether the code would have application beyond government. Clearly, the board does not have any jurisdiction beyond the official statistics boundary and I do not think that I suggested that it did last week on Report. It does not apply to the commercial world, the world of charitable organisations, the universities or any other category. However, there is a proper expectation that a code produced by the United Kingdoms pre-eminent statistical authority will have significance beyond government and the scope of official statistics. Others, such as those in local government or even commercial organisations, would be free to use the code as a guide for the production and publication of statistical outputs if they wished. For these reasons, the Government feel that the amendments would blunt the edge of the codes clear, concise and appropriate title. Of course, the code applies to official statistics, especially national statistics, but others may aspire to it in the quality of work that they do.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, indicated that that may not be an aspiration for organisations carrying out certain kinds of surveys because they cannot match the official surveys of government. That is fully understood. No one is suggesting that the code has jurisdiction over unofficial statistics. It is merely an exemplar of what can and should be achieved in the production of statistics at the most rigorous levels, and it may be a useful guide for those outside its framework. The legislation does not go beyond official statistics.
The noble Lord asked about consultation. We consulted very widely on the Bill, as he will recognise. Indeed, we would not have been able to produce the Bill without the benefit of such consultation. We did not consult commercial organisations that produce statistics outside the public realm because we never intended to legislateand have not legislatedfor statistics outside official statistics. What I said last week seems to have given rise to uncertainty in the House about the extent to which the code might obtain outside official statistics. It does not pertain to those statistics. I was merely indicating that it might be a reference point for quality and rigour. I hope that that is clear and that consultation was never really an issue.
The noble Lord also asked about the code of practice in relation to official statistics. We have made the position absolutely clear. The code of practice applies to official statistics, but the sanction that it contains of withdrawing national statistics status applies only to a very limited number of statisticsthe most important ones that meet the full rigour of the test of the code. We are all too well aware that the boundaries of national statistics will fluctuate over time; some statistics may move in and others may move out. That will be at the boards discretion. The boundaries are porous under the terms, provided that the criteria are met. We have made it quite clear that national statistics have a particular status under the code and that official statistics embrace national statistics as well as a wide range of statistics that go beyond them.
I resist the amendment because the Bill is absolutely clear about the code of practice governing statistics. I have sought to respond to the noble Lords anxieties, which arose from our last debate; I do not think that he had them before. In so far as I helped to generate them, I am glad of the opportunity to clarify the matter. The Government have always been clear about the position with regard to the code. I hope that I have clarified that further in answer to the noble Lords questions and that he and other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate will accept that the amendments do not advance the position in any way, shape or form. The code for statistics is in the Bill, which I seek to defend. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we found very confusing the argument that it would be difficult to understand that national statistics were within the code, national statistics being a subset of official statistics, if the code were called the code for official statistics. Unless I missed it, I do not think that the Minister answered my question: is it open to the board to call the code the code for official statistics or not?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the board will operate within the framework of legislation, which will say the code for statistics. If the board finds that that is in any way, shape or form restrictive, in a way that I cannot anticipateand I do not think that the noble Baroness has substantiated what may cause difficulty for the boards operationit would be for the board to make representation on that point and we would have to address our minds to it. We do not see
25 Jun 2007 : Column 424
Lord Desai: My Lords, would my noble friend help the House by reiterating that the code is permissive as far as non-governmental statistics are concerned and that it is not obligatory? After all, the board is called the Statistics Board, not the official statistics board, so we can easily have a code for statistics.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I hope that I have identified the reason why the code of practice for statistics in the legislation accurately defines the responsibilities of the board, which is why I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has an enviable reputation for concealing his retreat under a remarkable torrent of verbiage. It is clear that he has answered my third question, which was that other bodies,
That meets the substance of my point. I hope that that will be drawn to the attention of those who have expressed concerns. The words that he used last week had a very different purport. That may be what he intended to say, but it is not what any of us, or any of those with whom I have been in touch, understood him to say.
The noble Lord has now made it very clear that others are free to use the code as a guide and that the code might be, as he said, an exemplar to others. It was never intended to apply to others outside, which is why none of them was consulted. But that was not their reaction when they saw what he had said last week. I quoted some of the responses that I received.
My only other point takes up that made by my noble friend on the Front Bench. Surely national statistics are a subset of the wider range of official statistics; they are not something separate. As the Minister has explained, within the whole range of official statistics are those that qualify to be called national statistics. So I am not sure that I buy entirely his argument that the use of the term official statistics would be inappropriate. However, I do not want to prolong the debate. I think that the noble Lord has retreated and has given the undertaking that I was looking for: that the code is a code for the official statistics and that others may use it as a guide. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, because of commitments overseas which meant that I was unable to be here for the Report stageI apologise to the HouseI begin by thanking the Minister for the assurances he offered in Committee and repeated to my noble friend on Report that it is categorically not the intention of the Government that the Bill,
That is most welcome. However, it is important to bear in mind the context in which these data and information-sharing provisions will operate. It is undoubtedly the case that identity management and associated issues of privacy and confidentiality are becoming an increasingly important and significant area of public debate. By the same token, and for entirely understandable and potentially beneficial reasons, I am certain that the Government have no intention whatever of abating their information-sharing agenda. To that extent, considerable pressure exists for sharing to be widened and deepened.
I have no difficulty with this per se, although I am bound to confess that in respect of statistics my own preference might have been that we follow the Canadian model, generally acknowledged to be the best in the world, and disallow any sharing of raw data at all. As I sought to point out in Committee, the board will
25 Jun 2007 : Column 426
No doubt the Minister will cite the existing powers afforded by Section 43 of the Data Protection Act 1998 as a defence against the amendment. To be fair, it would be accurate to say that that goes some way towards satisfying the intentions expressed in the amendment. However, as the noble Lord will be only too well aware, the power is constrained by Section 42 of the 1998 Act, which requires not only that the intervention of the Information Commissioner must be subject to an external request or complaint, but also that the reason for the intervention must be substantive. In other words, unlike the amendment, the existing powers do not allow the processes through which data and information sharing are conducted to be subject to independent audit. This is the crucial point. If public trust is to be fully and adequately engaged in this area, the legislation must be seen to satisfy minimum standards of privacy and confidentiality in respect of the generality of the regime rather than merely affording the individual a form of redress when things go wrong. As things stand, my understanding is that the Bill achieves only the latter.
I would not want to be misunderstood. I have every faith and confidence in the probity of the board and its statisticians in this area, something I am less willing to say in respect of other elements of the public sector. Witness, for example, the data breaches at the DVLA or within the NHS at, from memory, the Leeds trust. Indeed, it could be said that as a generality the public sector in respect of privacy and confidentiality is as leaky as a sieve. Needless to say, it would be undesirable if the board were to be tarred with a similar brush. This makes it all the more important that the data protection regime of the Government Statistical Service should be made as robust as is humanly possible, even to the extent of stating the obvious in the legislation, in order that the perceptions as well as the actualities which frame public trust can be satisfied.
I would add another small point to address the Ministers previous comments about the Information Commissioners views on, and lack of criticism of, the Bill. The power granted by the amendment to the Information Commissioner is entirely permissive. In other words, he need only intervene in the way and to the extent that he may feel it necessary to satisfy himself that everything is operating according to the data protection principles. Indeed, we could hope that he would not envisage an occasion when he may feel that it was necessary to exercise the power, but I would emphasise that that does not obviate the need for the power to be available to him, in the interest of public trustnot as much to address his concerns or, more correctly, lack of them, but to assuage the very much wider interests and needs of public trust.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|