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The Government have given us their reason for objecting to the amendments that your Lordships’ House agreed to:

It is not; it is for us to decide. We decided that these are very important issues that we wanted to put in the Bill. We did not want to give the Statistics Board any scope for not looking at these things, and we also wanted to stiffen its resolve to regard this as being near the top of its list of responsibilities. While it is useful that the Government tell us that the Bill allows the board to do this anyway, they have not come up with a shred of an argument against including this in the Bill, other than that they do not want to. There is no substantive argument against what is proposed, because they, like us, accept that these are important things that the board should be doing. It therefore seems sensible to be straightforward, put the provision in the Bill and give the board a clear mandate to do these things.

Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said. Our Amendments Nos. 10 and 14 do not seem in any way detrimental. I do not think that the Minister produced an argument that there was any detriment; he argued simply that the amendments may not be necessary. We are looking at a situation where the board is not in existence and the relationship between the chairman and the National Statistician has yet to settle down, so I cannot see that these two amendments could do any harm. If they turn out not to be necessary, that will be fine because the board will not have to pay much attention to these particular provisions, but it will not do it any harm to have them there. I support the amendments.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this debate; it reflected the contention of the Government: we are against being overly prescriptive about the hub and the board because, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby,

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said, in certain areas its obligations might go beyond national statistics because of the importance of official statistics. It would need to consider that, and it could take it upon itself to exercise its functions in that scrutiny. We expect that the board will perform that kind of role, but we seek to avoid being too prescriptive in the legislation, particularly where the main issues that noble Lords have contended should be prescribed are already in the Bill. Of course the board will monitor the statistics and report on its work. That is contained in the Bill as it stands, and a case has not been made today or previously for the extra prescription sought.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that it was a matter of restoring trust. Well, is it suggested that we restore trust by putting every single duty and power of the board in the Bill? I do not see how that would lead to good practice or to good law. The board’s work will evolve as it develops. If we are overprescriptive in the legislation, we will not give the board the degree of independence that in other contexts noble Lords suggested it requires. We do not want to tie the board’s hands on every aspect of the new arrangements, but it would be unthinkable that it would not put release practices into the code for which it is responsible; nor is it conceivable that, having put the practices into the code, it would not regard it as a major duty to monitor the activities of those concerned with the release practices. That is at the very heart of the code by which the board is to be governed; it is therefore unthinkable that the board would not take very seriously its responsibilities in these areas.

I apologise for the lateness of the letter on the central hub. The discrepancy between the timing in the Commons and in the Lords happened simply because the Commons Minister was responding to a debate and had the letter ready in response. I was looking on the letter as preparation for today’s debate. I regret that it was not sent out on the sitting day, Thursday—it was a mistake in the office. The slight difference between a Commons Minister and a Minister in the Lords is that a Commons Minister has direct responsibility for limited work in one department, whereas it will be recognised that I am responsible for work in three departments. Therefore, one does not always hit the very highest standards in correspondence. The letter should have been sent out on Thursday, but it is dated Friday. That is my mistake.

However, the letter indicated our arguments all along: that we expect the board to take seriously these responsibilities. But the final arrangements with regard to the hub must be the board’s responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, endorsed that point. I am sure that the House will recognise that we do not need to identify this very valuable concept in legislation. It is an aid and a guide to the board on how the work will evolve to meet the highest standards.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that our primary role was to end distrust between those who read the statistics and learn about them in the media, and the Government. There are many reasons why

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Governments can be challenged on the question of trust; however, neither the production of statistics nor spin on statistics have been a substantial part of the country’s anxieties about government. The noble Lord will say, “Well, it is the way the Government present the statistics”, but I do not think that the issues of trust have revolved substantially on the question of statistics.

I recognise that trust between the Government and the people is of enormous significance. I cannot think of any Government who did not think that that was of enormous importance or of any who did not fall short in some respects. That is in the nature of politics and how the world changes under government. It is difficult to contend that at the heart of the problems of government is how statistics have been handled, but in so far as that is an issue, it will be recognised that the Bill—the first to be concerned with national statistics for 60 years—would create an independent board with a clear specification on which it needs to act and on its role. We seek in the Bill to create an independent board that will take responsibility for its actions, and we are being prescriptive in legislation only where we need to be. The Bill is already sufficient in those terms, and I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her Motion.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, said that he did not think the Bill should be overly prescriptive. I do not think that the amendments that are the subject of the Motion are overly prescriptive. The issue is simple: should the Bill be clear about the responsibilities of the board that are important to its role in future?

As my noble friend Lord Jenkin noted, that concerns its role in relation to trust. There have been issues about the release of statistics that have engendered a loss of trust. That is why we believe that the Bill should be absolutely clear about what the board is expected to do in those areas. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

4.06 pm

On Question, Whether the said Motion (No. B1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 143; Not-Contents, 144.


Division No. 1


CONTENTS

Addington, L. [Teller]
Ampthill, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor of Hever, L.
Avebury, L.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Barker, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blaker, L.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Bradshaw, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Bruce-Lockhart, L.
Byford, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Cathcart, E.
Chidgey, L.
Chorley, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]


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Cotter, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Craigavon, V.
Crickhowell, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
De Mauley, L.
Denham, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
D'Souza, B.
Dykes, L.
Eccles, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V.
Fearn, L.
Feldman, L.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Freeman, L.
Garel-Jones, L.
Geddes, L.
Glasgow, E.
Goodhart, L.
Goodlad, L.
Greaves, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lucas, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
Lyell of Markyate, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
McNally, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Methuen, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Moser, L.
Naseby, L.
Neuberger, B.
Newby, L.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Noakes, B.
Northover, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Palmer, L.
Palumbo, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Patten, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Plumb, L.
Ramsbotham, L.
Razzall, L.
Reay, L.
Rees-Mogg, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell-Johnston, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Seccombe, B.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Steinberg, L.
Stern, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tonge, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Trenchard, V.
Trumpington, B.
Tugendhat, L.
Vallance of Tummel, L.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Walpole, L.
Wilcox, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Windlesham, L.

NOT CONTENTS

Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B.
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Armstrong of Ilminster, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. [Lord President.]
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bilston, L.
Borrie, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cobbold, L.


9 July 2007 : Column 1247

Colville of Culross, V.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Corston, B.
Crawley, B.
Cunningham of Felling, L.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dearing, L.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Drayson, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. [Teller]
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkender, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Ford, B.
Foulkes of Cumnock, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Jordan, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Leitch, L.
Lipsey, L.
Listowel, E.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Maxton, L.
Meacher, B.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Murphy, B.
Newcastle, Bp.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Ouseley, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prosser, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rea, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Rogan, L.
Rooker, L.
Rosser, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Sawyer, L.
Sewel, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Slim, V.
Snape, L.
Soley, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Tenby, V.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Triesman, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
West of Spithead, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion B agreed to.

4.17 pm
Motion C(a) the circumstances in which, or descriptions of statistics in relation to which, pre-release access may or may not be granted;

9 July 2007 : Column 1248

(b) the persons, or descriptions of persons, to whom pre-release access may be granted;(c) the period, or maximum period, during which pre-release access may be granted; and(d) the conditions subject to which pre-release access may be granted.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 20, 67 to 70 and 72 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 12A, 13A, 15A, 20A, 67A to 70A and 72A and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 15B and 15C to the words restored to the Bill by the Commons disagreement with Lords Amendment No. 15.

These amendments all relate to the important issue of who, under the new system, should determine the rules relating to early access to official statistics in their final form prior to publication—the so-called pre-release access. There was a great deal of discussion on these matters not only when the Bill was last before this House but on other occasions, as indeed there was in the other place. I have in previous sittings set out in detail the Government’s rationale for the way in which they propose to handle pre-release in the new system. As I indicated earlier, the Prime Minister has since announced that the Government will further reduce the length of time that pre-release access is available to 24 hours, down from the previously agreed reduction to 40.5 hours for all statistics. By committing to reduce pre-release access from up to five days as enjoyed at present to a maximum of 24 hours, the Government are demonstrating that they have listened to the robust debate on this issue in this House and the other place.

This is a big move. It amounts to an 80 per cent reduction in pre-release for some statistics. Under the Government’s proposals, as the House will know, it is for the Government to determine the precise content of the new pre-release arrangements under the new system. We propose to set out the arrangements in secondary legislation. We expect that the statutory instrument will set out rules and principles to restrict the number of people who receive pre-release access and the statistical series to which pre-release might apply. It will also restrict the length of time that pre-release access is available to the new maximum of 24 hours.

We are not yet in a position to share with the House a draft of the statutory instrument—a point which would no doubt be made in our subsequent debate if I did not anticipate it now. Noble Lords may

9 July 2007 : Column 1249

ask why. We intend to consult the shadow board when it is created on the content of the order before laying it before Parliament. The board is bound to have strong views on these issues and we want to make sure that it is consulted. This provides a powerful role for the board in determining the new arrangements. Further, putting the pre-release arrangements in secondary legislation rather than in the code of practice reflects the fact that it has never been the Government’s intention to hand a free rein to Ministers on the matter. On the contrary, there will be public consultation on the proposed content of the statutory instrument and detailed discussions with the shadow board and other interested parties before any final decisions on the nature of the statutory instrument are made. Such consultation will be key to creating rules and principles for pre-release access that are credible, practical and appropriate in the context of the wider code.

There is also to be another key way in which the board will be able to influence the content of the new pre-release arrangements. As we have discussed on previous occasions, the Government expect the new board to play an important role in monitoring the production and publication of official statistics. This function is established in Clause 8(1) and (2), while under Clause 25(3) the board may at any time provide a report about any matter relating to the exercise of its functions. Under Clause 25(4), such a report must be laid before one or more House of Parliament or the devolved legislatures. So the board is active on the matter and its role is clearly created within this framework. Even after a full consultation with the board before the pre-release rules are determined, the Bill provides that should the board not be content with that outcome or in the fullness of time wish to see further changes to the regime established in the secondary legislation, it could call publicly for further changes. Were it to do so, we would expect Parliament and the wider media to question the Government quite closely on whether they were going to take up the recommendations of the independent board, and if not, why not. Such a report from the board would be bound to attract attention.

In any case, the Government are committed to reviewing the operation of the pre-release arrangements after 12 months. Clearly this is precisely the sort of event that we might expect the board to be closely involved in, and precisely the sort of event that might trigger it to write a report under the provisions in Clause 25(3) should it feel it necessary to do so. Indeed, the Government believe that there would be benefit in the board putting its views on public record in this manner, regardless of the outcome of the review. As such, the legislation, together with this commitment to consult the board in determining the content of the pre-release regime, will ensure a strong and meaningful role for the board both in influencing the content of the pre-release regime itself and in enforcing the new arrangements.

When the content of the secondary legislation has been agreed, it will be laid before the House for approval by affirmative resolution. Once commenced, Clause 11(3) provides that the board must treat the

9 July 2007 : Column 1250

content of the secondary legislation as though it were part of the code of practice. In particular this means that in assessing a set of statistics for its compliance with the code, the board must assess whether the rules and principles for pre-release have been followed. If the board determines that those rules and principles had not been adhered to, for example if it determines that a person has been given pre-release access beyond that set out in the rules, the board cannot designate the statistic as a national statistic. I want to emphasise a point that cropped up in the previous debate. It will be no small matter if a statistic put forward by the department and defined as a national statistic loses its status because of non-compliance with the board’s requirements. We would expect the board to comment publicly on the reasons for its decision against the loss of national statistic status. It is safe to say that Parliament and, of course, the media would pursue the matter very vigorously indeed.

At the risk of repeating myself: securing the new pre-release arrangements, which will have to be determined in consultation with the board, is not about safeguarding ministerial control over this key issue; rather, by putting the new, tighter pre-release rules in secondary legislation rather than directly into the code of practice—which is backed by statute but not set out in statute—it will be clear that these rules are backed by Parliament and by Ministers. Statisticians across government will therefore benefit from the significant authority that such a status provides for this important part of statistical practice.

In summary, there will be a full and powerful role for the board under these new arrangements. The board will be consulted on the content of the secondary legislation before it is laid before the House. It will have the power to comment publicly on any concerns it may have, either now or in the future, in relation to the pre-release regime and a duty to lay such concerns before the House and the devolved legislatures. It will have a statutory duty to assess compliance with the new arrangements and to withhold or withdraw national statistic accreditation from any statistical release it finds to have been prepared or released in contravention of the new, tighter pre-release regime.

I do not, however, propose to put the duty to consult the board on the content of the pre-release secondary legislation on the face of the Bill. I again emphasise, as I did in the last debate, that I do not want to over-complicate the legislation nor to over-specify matters on which the Government are already clearly committed. However, just to clarify the point, I give an undertaking to the House today, just as the Exchequer Secretary did in the other place, that the Government will consult the board on the content of the pre-release secondary legislation before it is laid before this House.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 20, 67 to 70 and 72 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 12A, 13A, 15A, 20A, 67A to 70A and 72A and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 15B and 15C to the words restored to the Bill by the Commons disagreement with Lords Amendment No. 15.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)



9 July 2007 : Column 1251

Baroness Noakes rose to move, as an amendment to Motion C, leave out from “House” to end, and insert “do insist on its Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 20, 67 to 70 and 72, and do disagree with Commons Amendments Nos. 15B and 15C.”.


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