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It is a moot point whether "British" can refer only to Wales and England given the way in which the census form has been put together. When the form appeared on the website back in July, it sparked a reaction in Wales and a little uproar began which, it would be fair to say, was led initially by the Western Mail. It gave this matter much attention, but pretty soon other parts of the media and Members of the House took it up. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), ran her own petition in her
I have also received letters of support from more than 100 community councils in Wales, which are the forum of local debate and democracy in Wales. As I was trying to make my way to the House tonight, I heard about the flood problems along the Usk, Wye and Severn valleys--all border areas with England. I was struck by how many of the community councils in those areas had written to say that they would like the census form to have a tick box to record whether people are Welsh or not.
Ten of the county councils in Wales have sent me letters of support. More importantly, the Welsh Local Government Association has said that the census form should be amended, as has the Commission for Racial Equality in Wales and the Welsh Language Board.
Mr. Thomas: I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you have a definition of Welshness. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, my definition of Welshness is anyone who lives or works in Wales and who wants to be Welsh. It is as simple as that. The hon. Gentleman's other comments were not worthy of his so-called socialist background.
I shall press on, because I am sure that many hon. Members want to sleep after their hard work getting here today. I ask the Minister to consider the deep hurt that was felt by many in Wales because the Office for National Statistics had seemingly overlooked this aspect of Welsh public life. The Minister will note that I referred to the Welsh Local Government Association, the Commission for Racial Equality and the community councils and local authorities in Wales. They are the ones who will use the census forms, and they will evaluate the information gathered by the census to deliver better public services in Wales.
Usefully, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales made an announcement to the press today that every census form not filled in and returned from Wales would be a cost to Wales of £3,000 per person. That is a useful figure to play with, because, as the Economic Secretary to the Treasury may know, there is serious talk in Wales of a boycott of the census forms, and that still cannot be ruled out, despite the recent concessions.
We have one chance in 10 years to get this right. We want to maximise the number of people who fill in the census forms and get them back so that the national statistics present the best argument for Wales. To get it right we need to design census forms that are easy to fill in and which do not put people off. To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), that is why tick boxes were designed. Any statistician will tell
The response from the Office for National Statistics was not as welcome as the hon. Member for Rhondda may think. It first tried to ignore the campaign in Wales, and then tried to belittle it, saying that it was unimportant. It went down the road that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent wishes to go down. It then said that individuals could write "Welsh" in the "other" box if they so wished. Finally, last week, it accepted the point of principle. It accepted that it was wrong and that something needed to be done. So far, that something has been a local campaign in Wales to encourage people to write on the form that they are Welsh, and a second survey within the labour force survey that will be carried out at the same time.
Many people in Wales have told me that they told the Office for National Statistics, at least informally, that that amendment should have been made. I should like to bring a particular case to the Economic Secretary's attention. Following the exercise in Gwynedd, one of the people who was distributing the forms--an Englishman as it happens--told the local managers from the Office for National Statistics that people filling in the forms in Gwynedd had told him that they would like to see a "Welsh" tick box. Somehow that message did not get back. It got back much too late, possibly after the forms had been printed.
I believe that senior staff in Government organisations, such as the Welsh Language Board, may also have mentioned this matter informally, but it is not the board's role to deal with the ethnic question: it is concerned with the provision of the forms in both Welsh and English.
The whole business has added insult to injury in Wales. In response to the hon. Member for Rhondda, I would argue that the tick box, which is designed to achieve complete and accurate reporting, symbolically has equal status with the tick box in Scotland. Many people have a gut reaction to this issue. It is important that we recognise that statistics are not politically neutral: they are politically loaded. The unemployment statistics in the 1980s were massaged by the Conservative Government, and the present Labour Government want to change them. That is a clear sign of how statistics are used for political purposes. If we look at the history of European funding in Wales, it took the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales to get to the bottom of the statistical mess of that funding. In time, that led to the concession on the comprehensive spending review that was announced in the summer.
Without a proper set of statistics that everyone in Wales can use and be confident about, we are in danger of losing the political gain. This debate raged in Wales until last Wednesday when, in advance of my question to the Prime Minister, the subject of which was clear, a £1 million campaign in Wales was announced. There will be
I understand that the survey will look at 3,000 households and will ask further questions about Welsh identity. I welcome the first concession, but have serious doubts about the second, which involves the problem of which figures we now believe. Some people will write on census forms in Welsh, some will follow the labour force survey and respond that they are Welsh. If they are asked that question, they may respond more easily. However, I am concerned that we will not get accurate figures and that we may get conflicting evidence. As a result, we will not know where we are or be sure about national identity in Wales for the next 10 years.
No doubt the Minister will say that I should welcome £1 million being spent in Wales on those matters. However, that money could have been saved if the census forms had been correct in the first place. We have to shout all the time in Wales for our voice to be heard. Last week, the BSE inquiry showed that the views of the Wales Office were ignored because its civil servants were junior to those in London. It seems as if we always have to shout to make a louder noise before we are heard. When we are heard, as we have been in the past few weeks, it is too late to make a fundamental change.
I shall conclude with one or two small points about the Welsh language aspect of the census. It may be too late this year, but certainly for 10 years' time and the future, will the Minister look again at why the census cannot measure the number of Welsh speakers outside Wales? A simple question could be put on the census form in England, Wales and Scotland.
In the days of digital television, when our Welsh language television channel S4C is no longer terrestrially bound to Wales, but is available in the House of Commons and throughout England, it would be useful if that television channel could know the extent of the market of Welsh speakers or Welsh learners outside Wales. On a practical front, that would be good for advertising and for initiatives such as the Welsh language school in London, which could make its case on the basis of firm statistical information. It would not be hard to add such a question to a census form in England and many people feel that, as the Welsh Language Act 1993 gives equal status to Welsh and English, it is a natural progression to ask people in England, many of whom have moved out of Wales, whether or not they speak Welsh, so that we could tailor and deliver some element of services in England to Welsh speakers, especially, for example, the Welsh language school in London.
May I put some direct questions to the Minister. On what date did the printing of the census forms begin? We are told that the forms cannot be amended as it would cost £2 million to pulp and reprint them which, I agree, would be a waste of paper. We are told that that cannot be done as the forms have already been printed. I have been unable to find out when printing began, but wonder whether it was after concerns were first raised and whether, therefore, a mistake was made.
Will the Minister confirm that the different treatment of Wales and Scotland meets the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998? That question has been asked an awful lot in Wales, so the Minister's confirmation would be useful. Will she outline the concessions announced last week by the Office for National Statistics, especially the meaning of the survey that is going to be carried out? Where and how will the survey be carried out and how will it identify Welsh identity? How will the Office for National Statistics treat the National Assembly for Wales as an independent body?
An alternative form is now available in Wales that can be downloaded from the internet and is exactly the same as the official form. It probably breaks all the copyright rules, but has been slightly amended to include a Welsh tick box. Will the Minister tell me and others in Wales whether that form would be ruled admissible if people were to choose to fill it in and send it back? Does she accept that the results of that question in the census will be flawed, however we look at it, as the question was not asked in quite the right way? What will happen in 2011? What are the Government's plans to ensure that this never happens again? Will the identity survey that will be carried out as part of the labour force survey next year be carried out again in future to measure progress?
About 150 years ago, as many Members will know, the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" said "For Wales, see England". There is a danger of the National Office for Statistics saying "For Welsh, see British (other)". Many people in Wales think that that is not good enough, and I would welcome an explanation from the Minister about how the Government will undertake to remedy the situation.