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Census Order 2000

8.3 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, That the particulars in italics in Schedules 2 and 3 to the draft order laid before the House on 10th January, and the provisions of Article 6 of the draft order in so far as they relate to those particulars, be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this rather peculiar wording for a Motion arises from the fact that the draft census order is a unique instrument in that some topics may be included in the census without a formal Motion of approval--that is, by negative instrument--whereas others can be included only if they receive the approval of Parliament by affirmative resolution. Those items requiring such approval are set out in italics in Schedules 2 and 3 to the draft order.

The draft order gives effect to the Government's proposals for a census in England and Wales on 29th April 2001. Those proposals were set out in a White Paper in March 1999.

Under the Census Act 1920, an Order in Council is necessary to prescribe the date of the census, the people to be counted and those to be responsible for making the census returns and the information to be given in those returns.

We have had a census in Britain every 10 years since 1801, except for 1941, and they have traditionally been held in April because that allows for the necessary fieldwork to be conducted at a time when there are sufficient daylight hours and less risk of poor weather conditions; and 29th April has been chosen to avoid Easter and the major holiday periods.

Following devolution, separate legislative arrangements will be made in Scotland and Northern Ireland for the censuses there. However, a common date is proposed throughout the United Kingdom. The date also complies with European Union guidelines for the 2001 round of censuses.

The categories of people to be counted are set out in Article 4 of the draft order. The people to be responsible for making the returns are covered by Article 5. The information to be given in the returns is covered by Article 6 and is set out in Schedules 2 and 3 to the draft order.

The final lay-out of the questions that will appear on the census form will be published in regulations, to be laid before the House once the Order in Council has been made, setting out the detailed conduct of the census and containing facsimile copies of the forms, and to be approved by negative resolution. A few questions set out in Schedule 2 are either new to the

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census in England and Wales or have been significantly revised since the 1991 census. Some, but not all, of them need the affirmative resolution.

Item 2 refers to the relationship of each person in a household of two or more people to the first person on the form and to the relationship between each person in that household. This new style of question expands the information that was collected in the 1991 census, and responses will provide statistics for more detailed analysis of household and family structure to reflect the needs for information on an ever-changing society.

Item 9 relates to a revised question on ethnic group. The ethnic group question was one of the main successes of the 1991 census. Information from it has been used to provide the baseline figures against which the Government are able to monitor possible racial disadvantage. The wording of the question set out in the draft census order has been extensively researched and tested since the 1991 census, both to meet users' requirements for additional information about people of mixed origin and sub-groups within the "white" population, particularly the "Irish", and to be as acceptable as possible to respondents. The form of the question also allows for respondents to describe their ethnic group in their own words using the "write-in" option.

Item 10 asks people to assess their own health over the preceding 12 months as either "Good", "Fairly good" or "Not good". The question is new and simple and, although it is subjective, the information from it has been demonstrated in sample surveys to have a good predictive power for health policy and the provision of services, particularly for the elderly.

Item 11 relates to the provision of unpaid personal help. The Government recognise that an increasing amount of unpaid personal help is given to people with poor health. This new census question will help the understanding of the variations in the need of care and the targeting of resources more effectively.

The information from a revised question on academic and vocational qualifications in Item 14 will be used to assist the better provision of education and training and monitoring of take-up of government initiatives.

Item 16(e) relates to the time since last paid employment. This new question will help determine local differences in the periods of unemployment and the extent of long-term unemployment. Information from this question will also be used to assess and monitor disadvantage and exclusion, in education and training planning, in labour market analysis and in mortality and morbidity studies.

Item 23 seeks to collect information on the lowest floor level of a household's accommodation. This question was included in the census in Scotland in 1991 but is new in England and Wales. The information will help to provide a better measure of households living in potentially unsuitable accommodation, particularly households with children or households with elderly residents or people with a long-term illness living several floors above the ground.

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Your Lordships will be aware that the 2001 census White Paper proposed that a question on religion be included in England and Wales for the first time. The question would help provide information that would supplement the output from the ethnicity question by identifying ethnic minority sub-groups, particularly those originating from the Indian subcontinent, who increasingly prefer to identify themselves in terms of their religion. However, as currently worded, the Schedule to the Census Act 1920 does not permit particulars on such a topic to be collected and, consequently, the inclusion of a question in the 2001 census in England and Wales will depend on a change being made to the primary census legislation. Your Lordships will be aware that to effect this change a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the Census (Amendment) Bill, is currently being considered by this House.

The White Paper also set out the principles governing the treatment of the information given in the returns. Census information is used only for statistical purposes. The Census Act makes it a criminal offence for Census Office staff or agents providing services to the Registrar General to pass on personal census information to anyone without lawful authority. The forms will be destroyed after processing has been completed. Electronic copies of them will be kept secure and closed to public inspection for 100 years. Great care will be taken to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of information about identifiable individuals in the tables produced from the census, particularly those for local areas or specific sub-groups of the population.

The security of census data and the measures to be taken to protect confidentiality in output will be subject to independent reviews, the results of which will be announced prior to the census. In short, I can assure the House about the confidentiality of all census information. The Census Office in England and Wales, along with its partners in Scotland and Northern Ireland, has an outstanding record for maintaining that confidentiality and one which it is determined to maintain.

The main national and local results will be released to a committed timetable as speedily as possible over a short period of time. The timetable will be announced once all the production systems have been fully rehearsed. Under the terms of the census legislation the Registrars General for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland each have a statutory responsibility to report the results of the census to their respective Parliaments.

The 2001 census in England and Wales is expected to cost an estimated £202.3 million, of which about three quarters falls into the next two financial years. The census will meet crucial requirements for statistical information. The burden on those who have to complete the census forms has been kept to a minimum, consistent with those needs, and the questions have been fully tested and found acceptable. I am confident that the census package as proposed

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strikes the right balance between meeting the essential needs for statistics while minimising the burden on the public, and I commend the draft order to the House.

Moved, That the particulars in italics in Schedules 2 and 3 to the draft order laid before the House on 10th January, and the provisions of Article 6 of the draft order in so far as they relate to those particulars, be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. We on these Benches do not believe that the provisions are in any way contentious and we are therefore happy to support them.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I too endorse the noble Lord's statement. We on this side of the House certainly support the order. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining a number of questions likely to be in the census, particularly those on ethnicity, which have caused some concern in the past. I assure the Minister that on the basis of previous experience, the community feels comfortable with the way in which those questions have been put to them in the past. I hope that the census will receive a good response. I would plead with the Minister that, since we are waiting until April 29th 2001, it might be appropriate to ensure adequate publicity so that all communities are aware of the purpose of this particular census and to give them the right information so that they again feel comfortable.

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