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I have one further question. I believe that the appointment of chairmen was announced in the name of the Treasury and that that process is proceeding. Is the Treasury or the Cabinet Office in the lead on that process?
Lord Newby: My Lords, we are pleased that the Government have decided to accept the spirit of the amendments passed on this issue. During the discussions of this Bill in your Lordships House, we have sought to persuade the Government that four issues of principle needed addressing satisfactorily in the Bill, of which this is one. On two other of these issuesthe first to do with the nature of official versus national statistics and the second to do with staff, members of the board and their dutiesthe Government have, very sensibly in our view, followed the line that we have taken, and the Bill now reflects that. We shall come in a minute to the remaining area in which the Government have so far not been persuaded. However, we are optimistic that, having got three out of four proposals across so far, the Ministers powers of persuasion will carry the day when he goes back to his colleagues after the conclusion of this afternoons business.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, in introducing this large group of amendments, the Minister said that the question of residual responsibility was less important now that there was to be proper scrutiny by Parliament. Here I am echoing a point made by my noble friend Lady Noakes: will this be done by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament? I asked for this when we first discussed the matter in the debate on the Loyal Address to the Queens Speech last year and the point has been repeated again and again by a number of Members of this House, so we need to know where we stand.
The terms of the Prime Ministers Statement, as I shall come to under another amendment, were not very encouraging. The only mention that the right honourable gentleman made of the House of Lords was in the paragraph about House of Lords reform.
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Lord Moser: My Lords, I welcome the Governments acceptance in principle of this amendment, so that ultimate responsibility for what are now called the residual responsibilities will go back to the Cabinet Office. I remind your Lordships of a nice historical point. When Winston Churchill established the first statistics office in 1941, he set up a central office because of the lack of coherence and co-ordination in statistics across Whitehall. He placed the new statistics office in the Cabinet Office. It remained there happilyincluding during the many years I was in charge of itand moved to the Treasury in, I think, 1989.
The welcome for its move back to the Cabinet Office has nothing to do with any negative feelings about the Treasury; indeed, I am confident that since 1989 the Treasury has looked after government statistics very carefully, especially economic statistics. However, there is no doubt that it had a conflict of interest because of its leadership in economic affairs, whereas the Cabinet Office is a consumer-neutral department, so to speak. Therefore, it makes total sense that these responsibilities should go back there. I wish the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who will now have the ultimate responsibility, well in this task. I am sure that this new situation will help the reforms that we have debated.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Moser, for his small historical contribution, which enlightened us all. I am grateful that he and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, are delighted that the Government have moved on this. I am sure that the House will recognise that this listening Government have responded to the pressures that it has applied.
On several other points I can give only a factual response. The Treasury is carrying on with the appointment of the board because, as the House may have noted, this legislation is not yet in place. It will be in place very shortly, if the House agrees to the Governments proposal today, and not so shortly if it does not. The Treasury started the process of appointing the chair and will continue with it until the appointment is complete. However, when this Bill is enacted, all aspects of the board and national statistics will be the residual responsibility of the Cabinet Office, not the Treasury, as we debated.
We do not want to put the length of time for pre-release access in primary legislation as we want flexibility, but the 24-hour intention was clearly expressed by the Prime Minister. That point is significant and will govern the position of the Government in the development of the work. We have further pre-release issues to discuss on subsequent amendments, which we shall consider shortly.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that we expect this House to play a full role in the scrutiny of the statistics system. It will have many opportunities to do so. I refer to the obligations on the board in relation to its report and the opportunities for debate. There will be other significant opportunities. This House will play its part.
The appointment will be proposed to Her Majesty the Queen by the Prime Minister. Therefore, it is appropriate that the vote should take place in the House in which the Prime Minister sits. It is, after all, the elected House and it has a critical role to play in scrutiny of important work such as that of the board and the whole statistics system. I hear what the noble Lord says, but I think that on this matter he would probably recognise that the Prime Minister would identify the lower Houseanother placeas having the primary role in the scrutiny of appointments.
However, I should make it clear that it is always up to Parliament to decide on the arrangements that apply in Parliament. Therefore, if it were thought that a joint committee would give greater effect to the work and that one should be set up consisting of Members of this House and of the Commons, it would certainly be for Parliament to decide. The Prime Minister identified the primary responsibility, but arrangements between the two Houses might come into effect here, as they do in relation to many other aspects of our work. However, such arrangements are not identified in statute and it would be surprising if it were to be suggested that arrangements on the appointment of the board should be identified in statute. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that no offence is given to this House when the Prime Minister identifies the responsibility of the other place. He is clearly saying that he wants Parliament to play its role, but it will be for Parliament to decide how it gives effect to that position.
These amendments relate to the important issue of how and when statistics are released under the new system and the monitoring of the arrangements for release. We have discussed amendments similar to these at considerable length at earlier stages. I have explained in some detail that these amendments seek to make explicit something that is already possible under the Bill as drafted.
These amendments would require the board to monitor the arrangements for the release of official statistics and pre-release access to those statistics. They would take this duty further and require the board, through its code of practice, also to provide for the rules and principles relating to release practices that the board would be monitoring.
I emphasise that the board already has this power. Under Clause 10, the board must prepare, adopt and publish a code of practice. It is inconceivable that such a code would not provide guidance as to how and when statistics shall be released and who shall be responsible for that. Moreover, under Clause 12, the board has a duty to assess compliance with that code. The Government fully expect the board to include in its code of practice arrangements for the release of statistics. Indeed, the Bill before us allows the board not only to monitor these arrangements as required under Amendment No. 10, but to determine them in the first place, as required by Amendment No. 14.
As part of thisas I have explained in some detail, and as I set out in my letter to noble Lordsthe Government are committed to the creation of a central publication hub, through which all national statistics will be released in the new system, separating statistical commentary from policy statements. That has been at the nub of the issues presented to us on this question of pre-release matters. Clearly, as a release practices tool, it will be for the board, in consultation with the National Statistician, to create the hub. The Government have made it clear that their expectation is that the board should do so, and I hope that the House will agree with that strategy.
In anticipation of the creation of the new board, and with an eye to the board establishing a central hub in good time, statisticians and officials across government have been considering how this hub might operate in practice, and its key features. I have laid in the Library of the House a paper summarising the outcomes of this early consideration, which we intend to pass to the board, once it is established, to guide the hubs development. I note, however, that the final form and specification of the hub will be for the board to decide; that is its responsibility.
I fully accept the position taken on these amendments in another place. As I have set out, the Bill as drafted makes more than adequate provision for the boards supervision of release arrangements. That is why I hope that the House will recognise that the position adopted in another place should be endorsed. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 10 inserted a requirement for the board to monitor the arrangements for the release and pre-release of statistics. The reason for disagreement given by the other place is that,
and pre-release. We accept that under the Bill the board could look at the mechanics of publication but we are not sure that it is crystal clear that it should look at all aspects of how statistics are released, including, for example, their separation from governmental and ministerial comment.
The board can produce a report at any time in relation to its functions; that is provided for in Clause 26. We need to ensure that it is clear and unambiguous that monitoring release and pre-release are part of the boards functions. Release and pre-release, which we will consider in Motion C, have given rise to grave concern. We debated that at length during our consideration of the Bill. That has contributed to the lack of trust in statistics that now undoubtedly exists. We believe that Amendment No. 10 should stand precisely because ourand, we hope, the Governmentsambition is to rebuild public trust. That means that the locus of the board in the areas that have gone wrong in the past must be clear.
Amendment No. 14 ensures that, when the board draws up its code of practice for statistics, it must cover the rules and principles for release. The reason given for disagreement is that it is for the Statistics Board to decide what is in the code. The Minister said that he expected that the code would cover release arrangements, but the Bill does not say so. The arrangements for release are so important that they must be included in the code.
This morning I received from the Minister a letter dated last Friday, setting out the Governments proposals for the new statistics hub. He referred to that letter earlier. I thank him for it, but I suggest that a letter sent only in hard copy on a non-sitting day is not designed to give noble Lords much notice of its contents. Fortunately, my colleagues in another place had already given me a copy of a virtually identical letter from the Secretary to the Treasury, released three days earlier. This letter sets out, as the noble Lord explained, the detailed arrangements for the hub, through which some statistics will be released. It is clear that in the Governments mind the hub will apply only to that subset of official statistics that are designated national statistics. It will not apply to the devolved Administrations, even where national statistics are involved, and, what is more, the rules will usuallynot invariablybe mandatory for Whitehall departments.
I think that we agree with the Government that the board should set the rules on release but we believe that they should go wider than is envisaged for the
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Even if the board has set the rules in the code, that does not mean that they will be followed. As we debated on Report, there is only a weak duty to comply, and that applies to statistics which have been designated national statistics. That duty carries no legal consequences, and the penalty for non-compliance may be no more than the loss of status as national statistics and the possible use of the public disagreement provisions in Clause 15. But at least we shall ensure that the board sets the rules and that they are designed for all statistics and not just non-devolved, national ones.
On the next Motion we shall come to the important area of pre-release, where these arguments have much more force, but we continue to believe that the boards role in relation to the release arrangements should be in the Bill to ensure that it is clear and unambiguous. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I certainly support my noble friend on this. We have referred to it already today, but I want to call attention again to the Statement on constitutional reform made by the Prime Minister last week. His very first sentence in another place was:
Those who have taken part in the Bill will recognise that we have had a great deal to say about what the Government have called enhancing trust but what the rest of the country has referred to as restoring trust. The main debate started with a report, which I shall not bother to quote, from the Treasury Select Committee in another place; it, too, made it very clear that the restoration of trust had to be at the heart of this legislation.
I recognise that Ministers, under sustained pressure in both Houses, have moved quite a bit, but they have not yet done what is necessary if their aim of restoring trust is to be achieved. At the heart of this public mistrust lies the perception that it is Ministers and departments that spin the figures which, no doubt with complete honesty and integrity, are produced by statisticians at the ONS and at the departments.
Again, as was drawn to our attention by the Select Committee in another place, we need to remember that the United Kingdom is alone in suffering this massive loss of public trust in its statistics, and therefore we have to make a special effort to put that right. The Governments strategy on this has been to separate the role of Ministers from that of those who produce and disseminate statistics, and the principal instrument has been the creation of the Statistics Board, which has been widely welcomed in all parts
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I was here on Friday and got the Ministers letter, and therefore I have been able to study it carefully. He set out the reasons for rejecting the amendments agreed to in this place, which would have put the board, not Ministers, at the heart of managing the process. The Government have said that they will deal with this by secondary legislation, but that is not good enough. We all know that secondary legislation cannot be amended and that almost exclusively it is passed by the Government using their majority in another place. Rarely are regulations rejected.
The Ministers letter describing what has been set out referred to the central publication hub, and I believe that at last we have some information about it. We have been asking about the hub from the beginning of the Bill. Now we have it in the paper that he says he placed in the Library, and which he attached to his letter. Much of this is very welcome. The roles of the board and the National Statistician needed to be clarified. I come back to the same sentence referred to by the Minister in his letter. He said:
Clearlyas a release practices toolit will be for the Board, in consultation with the National Statistician, to create the hub. The Government has made clear its expectation that it should do so, and I hope Parliament will do likewise.
Parliament can do likewise by making sure that the provision goes into the Bill. That is our role; we are legislators. Amendments Nos. 10 and 14 will do that. I hope that this House will insist on those amendments. The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that the restoration of trust in our political system is now a top priority. I contend that putting the board and not Ministers in the driving seat on release and pre-release would be a real touchstone of his sincerity. I support my noble friend.
Lord Moser: My Lords, I hope I am right in thinking that at this stage we are simply discussing release arrangements and not pre-release. On those, I ally myself completely with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The idea of the hub is a good development in that it would seem to centralise publication of statistics, and take it further away from political comment. If I am right in thinking that, I warmly welcome the establishment of the hub. There are quite a lot of specific things to sort out in its creation, but I am reassured by the Ministers commitment that the board will be fully involved in that task. I am talking purely about the hub and not about pre-release arrangements.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for not having risen earlier, but I wanted to check something that the Minister said about the hub. Although I got his letter on Saturday, I have not had a chance yet to commit it to memory. He
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