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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): My mother explained to me many years ago about our ethnicity--a difficult problem for one brought up in an Irish Catholic family in Grangetown, Cardiff. We did not speak Welsh--or English very well--and most people spoke with Irish accents. We had friends carrying splendid, traditional Welsh names such as Salvatore, Elgezebal and Marina. My mother explained that we were Welsh just as they were Welsh, but some other people were "real" Welsh and others "proper" Welsh. If my mother were still alive to design the form, she would include three tick boxes. We are all Welsh, just as the splendid Newport rugby team is. One might be surprised at the names of the players, but they feel Welsh when they play Bath, as they recently did, winning by a happy margin.
All of us were Welsh who felt Welsh, no matter our background or ancestry. The real Welsh were those from the valleys of south Wales who did not speak Welsh but had the shadow, the pattern and the music of the Welsh language in their English speech. The idioms and the cadence of the Welsh language was in them. The proper Welsh were those who had the great good fortune to be born speaking Welsh.
When the hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned something that happened 150 years ago, I thought that he was going to talk about the chartist riots in Newport, West, which we are celebrating this week. Some 21 martyrs gave their lives for what they called a noble cause, and people are proud that Welsh women and men, living in terrible conditions of cruelty and unfairness, rose against their oppressors--not, in the main, Welsh--knowing that they were likely to die in the cause. We want to mark that history, nobility and Welshness on the census form.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on securing the debate and--like several of my hon. Friends--on making a long journey to the House today.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the format and content of the form for the 2001 census in Wales were the product of detailed consultation over several years. The subject of tonight's debate was not raised until a fairly--indeed, very--late moment in that process. Not until the beginning of July was there any indication--despite informal indications referred to by the hon. Gentleman of which I am not aware--from the extensive consultation of any demand for the Welsh tick box as an option for answer to what is, in fact, an ethnicity question. The hon. Gentleman spent some time saying that he felt that this was less a matter of ethnicity than of nationality, and that is one of the several difficulties surrounding questions of this type.
We must be clear--the hon. Gentleman has made it clear in this debate, if not outside the House--that it is wrong to say that anyone who wishes to record himself or herself as Welsh cannot do so. On the contrary, anyone can write "Welsh" against the last category specified in the question.
Mr. Simon Thomas: The hon. Lady is correct, but when the issue was first raised in July, the Office for National Statistics was not clear as to whether it would count everyone who wrote that he or she was Welsh. As a result, a bone of contention has arisen.
The hon. Gentleman was fully briefed on the consultation exercise. The census questions in Wales have been subject to comprehensive public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. Let me loiter for a moment over some of the dates contained within the consultation period. Consultation began in June 1998 when the United Kingdom census committee considered a paper including recommendations on the content of the 2001 census.
Several public roadshows were held. At a meeting in Cardiff, 46 representatives of the census user community included those from the councils of Caerphilly, Carmarthen, City of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. The issue of ethnic group categories was not raised. On 22 April, a public roadshow meeting held at Mold was attended by a further 34 representatives, including those from Gwynedd council. On 25 April, a census rehearsal was held at 15,000 households. The hon. Gentleman smiles, having realised that that took place not just in Gwynedd but in Ceredigion. Contrary to what he said, the ONS was not made aware of any evidence of concern about the wording relating to ethnic group. If the matter was contentious in any way, it was not raised as a result of the extensive census rehearsal. We are not, I know, concerned only with the hon. Gentleman's constituency tonight, but about 25 per cent. of the total households there were involved in that exercise.
A further meeting was held last July with the National Assembly for Wales to discuss the output requirements. Again, the question was not raised. On 26 July 1999, there were discussions between several parties, including the Welsh Language Board, which was also involved in discussions held in January 2000. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was not yet a Member of Parliament at that point, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said, a notable member of the hon. Gentleman's party was then president of the Welsh Language Board, and, although his concentration may well have been focused on the Welsh language, he was in an ideal position to make any representations had this been a burning topic. So far as I am aware, no such representations were made.
The hon. Gentleman was elected to the House in February 2000. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda made clear, census regulations were laid before Parliament several months later--in June. The hon. Member for Ceredigion observed that, because people did not shout about these matters from Wales, the situation did not reflect what might be a sensitive issue for some there. I do not think that it would be regarded as such by all on the same basis; but let us assume that some Welsh representatives might well have wanted to shout about it--including, I have to say, the hon. Gentleman, who did not shout on 6 June when the census regulations were laid before the House.
Mr. Rogers: In fairness to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), and as a member of the Committee involved, let me say that two members of that Committee never saw the census form. We never saw that there was no tick box. We looked carefully at the Hansard,
We must, I think, conclude that regular liaison meetings were indeed held with the Welsh Language Board, and that the statistical directorate of the National Assembly has been involved at all stages of the planning process. There was extensive local authority engagement with the Welsh census user network, which was consulted a number of times before the questions were finalised. As I have said, there were rehearsals.
Mr. Thomas: I appreciate what the Minister has said about the census consultee group, on which local authorities were represented, but why have local authorities suddenly woken up to the issue since then--so much so that their own body, the Welsh Local Government Association, has said that it wants the census forms to be changed? We should not accept, "Something went wrong in the consultation process."
Options for answering the ethnicity question include a write-in box in which people can identify themselves as Welsh if they wish to do so. As the National Statistician announced last week, the Office for National Statistics has undertaken to organise a significant advertising campaign to publicise that option.
The National Statistician also announced a new study of Welsh identity. That brings me to the hon. Gentleman's point about the separate survey now being planned for 2001--the Welsh labour force survey. A survey is already in progress, but will be expanded following the Assembly's request for a "booster." The aim is to obtain additional data on Welsh identity, and the results will be used to refine and expand information gathered in the census from the write-in option.
Let me reassure the hon. Member for Ceredigion. The labour force survey is a large and well-established Government survey, providing key information on labour market and related topics. The expanded and enhanced version that will be carried out at about the time of the census is designed to provide additional estimates of aggregate labour market statistics for unitary authorities in Wales.
The extra information will consist of questions about Welsh identity and a range of other variables, and will be brought together with the census information at local level. The result will be an unprecedented amount of detail about Welsh identity in every part of Wales, and the National Statistician has undertaken to publish a special report based on the information. The Office for National Statistics responded properly to issues that emerged from the census rehearsal.
Other measures have been taken to ensure the success of the census in Wales. A question on the country of birth will provide a tick box enabling people to indicate that they were born in Wales; my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda mentioned that issue. For the first time, a census manager has been appointed specifically for Wales, and is a Welsh speaker. Efforts are being made to recruit bilingual field staff in Welsh-speaking areas, and the public inquiry line will offer full support in the Welsh language. We have tried to accommodate the points made during the extensive consultation period and reflect them in a census that will, in many respects, be well-tailored to Wales.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion asked about the parliamentary process. The census is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the respective Registrars-General are responsible for holding the census. The Registrar-General for England and Wales, who wears another hat as the National Statistician, has responsibility for the census in those countries. The census is governed by the Census Act 1920, which requires draft Orders in Council to be laid before both Houses. Those orders were approved in the Commons on 2 February, and in the Lords on 16 February, after which the census regulations were laid. The lead time is long and the period from the start of the parliamentary process to the holding of the census also needs to be long because of the scale of the logistical exercise to be undertaken.
The time scales allow the Registrar-General to recruit census field staff, prescribe the detailed arrangements for the delivery and collection of forms and set out the actual questions to be asked on facsimile copies of the census forms. The regulations were laid before both Houses on 6 June, and came into force on 27 June. Both those statutory instruments could have been objected to by Members of Parliament or peers at any time, but such objections did not arise.
In Scotland, a parallel process was conducted through the Scottish Parliament. The census regulations in Scotland were made on 15 June--a couple of weeks before ours came into force--and the regulations were laid before the Scottish Parliament the following day. The decision to include a "Scottish" category in the census in Scotland was taken by the Scottish Executive. The demand for a Welsh tick box had still not arisen.
The census is the biggest peacetime civilian operation affecting the whole population. Years of planning are required. The process includes not only the forms, but the preparation of the systems for their scanning, processing and analysis; in addition, there are logistical issues and contracts for the haulage company to deliver millions of forms. A lengthy time scale is required for the whole process.
To make a considered change to the census form would require testing and an assessment of the effect on the choices open to all the major communities. The addition of a Welsh tick box now would require additional legislation and parliamentary time, and technical and logistical operations that have been in train for months
The National Statistician has promised that the possibility of a Welsh tick box will be considered during the consultation process for any future census. In the meantime, I urge the people of Wales to complete their census forms in April 2001--if they wish, using the write-in option to register their Welsh identity. The census informs £3 billion of public spending in Wales each year and I do not believe the people of Wales will want to see any part of that substantial sum put at risk. Those who
For those concerned about the lack of a tick box, the message is a simple one: "Tell us that you're Welsh and we'll count you as Welsh." As I am sure the House agrees, that is the best course of action for the people of Wales.