Select Committee on Treasury Second Report


The Treasury Committee has agreed to the following Report:


(a)We identified a number of weaknesses in the management and structure of Government statistics. The Government has responded by introducing changes and innovations which, as far as they go, we support, although we are dissatisfied that the Government has not placed the new arrangements on a statutory footing, something to which we return in the concluding paragraph (paragraph 2).
(b)It is important that the scope of National Statistics expands over time, so that Government policy-making, and the scrutiny of it by Parliament and the public, is increasingly well informed (paragraph 6).
(c)We welcome the intentions of the Statistics Commission and the National Statistician to advise on scope, and recommend that, in its reply to this Report, the Government acknowledges and clarifies their roles in this area (paragraph 7).
(d)Our concerns remain about the role of Ministerial discretion in determining the scope of National Statistics and we prefer the scope of National Statistics to be an independent decision for the National Statistician, in consultation with the Statistics Commission (paragraph 8).
(e)Users of statistics, particularly in Parliament and the media, should pay careful attention to whether or not Government statistics carry the National Statistics badge. We hope the media will adopt a practice of reporting whether or not a particular Government statistic is a National Statistic (paragraph 8).
Statistics Commission
(f)The Statistics Commission could complement Parliament in scrutinising the work of the ONS, the statistical work of other Government departments, and the ways in which the Government uses statistics. We hope that our successors in the next Parliament use the Statistics Commission's reports to continue our scrutiny of National Statistics (paragraph 9).
National Statistician
(g)Irrespective of the Minister's understanding that direct access to the Prime Minister is usually indirect, through the Head of the Home Civil Service, in this case, where the National Statistician is responsible for guaranteeing the integrity and quality of National Statistics, we recommend that direct access should mean direct, not through the Head of the Home Civil Service (paragraph 11).
(h)We welcome the early attention which the Statistics Commission will pay to the division of responsibilities for the Retail Price Index (RPI) between the National Statistician and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have heard no sound argument why the scope and definition of the RPI, like the features of any other important statistical series produced by the ONS, should not be under the control of the National Statistician and we reiterate our earlier recommendation that the Chancellor should not control these matters (paragraph 12).
Reliability of National Statistics
(i)It is promising that the Statistics Commission has paid early attention to the reliability of National Statistics and we look forward to the development of clear, consistent guidance for users on this issue (paragraph 13).
Labour Market Statistics
(j)The ONS's reassessment of the reliability and use made of job vacancy statistics is a positive indication of the impact of the new arrangements for National Statistics. We recommend that the Statistics Commission, in its work on the reliability of National Statistics, pays close attention to labour market statistics (paragraph 16).
Average Earnings Index
(k)We recommend that, in reply to this Report, the Government publishes in full its thinking on the future development of average earnings data (paragraph 17).
(l)It is absolutely essential that the new arrangements for National Statistics should be enshrined in a Statistics Act. If the Statistics Commission concurs with our opinion in two years' time, we expect Ministers to bring forward legislation as a matter of priority (paragraph 19).

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Prepared 18 January 2001