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Amendment No. 54 changes the title of the code to the Code of Practice for Official Statistics in Clause 10(l). There will be no separate national statistics in our scheme for this part of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 78, 80, 81, 82, 84 and 85 amend Clause 12 so that it is not for government departments to choose whether to have their statistics assessed against the code. The board will be required to assess all statistics. Amendments Nos. 87, 88 and 89 make consequential amendments to the reassessment provisions of Clause 13. Lastly, Amendment No. 91 converts the obligation of the board to publish a list of national statistics to one which publishes all official statistics together with a note of when they were assessed and the result of that assessment.
The Statistics Commission and the Royal Statistical Society oppose the treatment of official and national statistics in this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who I see is unfortunately no longer in his place, pointed out at Second Reading,
That can only give rise to suspicion, even if unwarranted, that the Government want either to tolerate a Ryman league of second-rate statistics not covered by the code or, worse, that Ministers want to keep certain statistics in the lower league so that they can get away with things that are outside the disciplines of the code.[Official Report, 26/3/07; col. 1484.]
Lord Moser: It was the most extraordinary event in the statistical world when, in 2000, those of us responsible for the reforms invented the distinction between national and non-national statistics. It had never appeared before; we had always talked about official statistics or government statisticsit is also the practice worldwide. Then this division was made between the kosher statistics, if I can call them that, which deserved all the discipline of a code and so forth, and the non-national statistics of a lower league. It is quite unhealthy and, on the whole, meaningless.
What is unhealthy about it is that Ministers themselves decide what is to be called national, and therefore subject to strict rules, and non-national, which will not be so subject. For example, when the Secretary of State for Health deals with waiting lists, the quarterly waiting-list statistics are national statistics and monthly waiting-list statistics are non-national statistics. No one could explain to me the justification for that distinction, the monthly statistics not being subject to exactly the same rules. Unauthorised migrant statistics are non-national statistics and at this time only 20 per cent of all official statistics are non-national. It is therefore a minority group, arbitrarily divided from the majority and unhealthy because, as has been said, it causes more suspicion.
A simple and, I would have thought, uncontroversial change to the Bill would be to call all statistics official, or national, or government. The simplest way of dealing with the problem, as proposed in the amendment, is allowing the board to decide what to call different kinds of statistics. Above all, it is important that Ministers lose that power. With that in mind, I support the amendment.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord, Lord Moser, has put the case cogently and briefly and therefore I do not want to say much. However, I want to remind the Committee that lying behind much of this is the report by Professor Adrian Smith on criminal statistics. In that, he poured considerable doubt on the validity of the various series of criminal statistics which are produced by the Home Office. Under the definitions in the Bill, those are official statistics; they are produced not by the ONS, but by the Home Office. In the light of Professor Smiths comments and criticisms of the handling of that in recent years, I regard it as bizarre that they should be outside the code that the Bill sets up.
The Minister owes the Committee a considerable explanation of why the Government think that that is right. If you are going to have a code of practice for statistics, it should apply to all statistics, as my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Lord, Lord Moser, said. An unreal distinction is being drawn which once again, I suspect, has been included in the Bill at the behest of the departments which want to keep a tighter control over their own statistics. They do not want the board crawling over them too much and they certainly do not want them to be subject to the boards code of practice. Well, who is in charge? This is a Treasury Bill and, surely to goodness, the Treasury should say to the other departments, Look, we are all in the same game of trying to restore trust. Now, go away. Were going to have all official statistics under the guidance of the code. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not prepared to say that to his colleagues, Lord help us.
Viscount Eccles: I support the simple solution to have one category of statistics and not two, but I have a specific question on the start-up of the board. I may be reading the Bill incorrectly, but it seems that there will be no national statistics on the day when the
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That process could take quite a long time to resolve and it never does an institution any good if it gets off to a slow start. Having heard about the amount of work going on within the present Office for National Statistics in respect of relocation, changing numbers of staff and so forth, I think that it might be the victim of a slow start. The worst thing for public expectation on the effect of the Bill, and the effect on their trust of what will come out of it, will be the board making a slow start. That will also greatly prejudice its independence. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will comment on whether the board will be able to get off to a quick start and hit the ground running.
Lord Newby: We have supported a number of these amendments and have tabled some of our own. The more we have looked at the arrangements in the Bill, the more unsatisfactory they appear to be. All statistics start life as official statistics. As new creations, they have a small o and a small s. If for some reason the Minister wants them to be made big, grown-up national statistics with a capital N and a capital S, he says to the Statistics Board, Id like these statistics to be made bigger, more important statistics. The board then looks at them. If, for a whole raft of reasonssome of which might be quite sensible under the thought processes that have gone into the Bill, but others might be quite reprehensibleMinisters do not wish their little statistics ever to reach the higher status, they just keep quiet about that and, as the Bill is drafted, the board is unable to do anything about it. That is why we tabled at an early stage a halfway house, proposing that the board should at the very least be able to initiate an assessment of any statistics it chooses, with a view to assessing them against the code and therefore seeing whether they qualify as national statistics.
The second unsatisfactory issue in the drafting of the Bill is that if the board assesses the statistics against the codethe Minister having said that he would like some statistics to become national statisticsand they do not meet its requirements, all that will happen is that they return to being little official statistics and everything is all right. Again, that does not seem satisfactory. The proposal in Amendment No. 54 largely gets around that problem, so we support it.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that it is desirable that the board should hit the ground running. Under Clause 12(1), on day one of the new system, all the statistics designated as national statistics shall be regarded as being designated as national statistics for the new system and automatically subject to assessment by the board. Therefore, there are no problems with the board being able to set about its work immediately.
I want to reflect on the nature of the code of practice for which the board is responsible and why it is valuable to have the concept of national statistics. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, indicated,
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Why do we make a distinction between official and national statistics? The noble Lord, Lord Moser, asked that excellent question, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who reiterates it now. In a modern statistical system it is most important and practical that the boards independent audit function covers all the statistics that are most relevant to policy formulation, delivery and accountability. Those statistics are the most valuable to business, academia and a wide range of other users.
Statistics produced and published by the Government differ in importance. Unemployment statistics are important for a wide range of purposes and uses. They are a bit more important than the number of television licences held by a government department. Few would argue that such statistics should all be treated in the same way or have the same status. An active assessment programme will necessarily bring with it resource implications, both in funding the process itself and in placing a compliance burden on those assessed for the code. It is right that we should limit this assessment to the core set of national statisticsthe key statistics that government, business and the public rely on for an accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive description of a modern United Kingdom.
Currently, about 1,300 national statistics cover the vast majority of key statistics on health, education and crime. That set of national statistics is already comparable with our international counterparts. That is not an unimportant factor in terms of issues of international comparison.
Most of the key national indicators are already national statistics. Some have suggested that national statistics comprise around 80 per cent of all official statistics. That is not the case. The very broad legal definition of official statistics, which we use in the Bill, means that it is not a straightforward task to quantify the volume of official statistics.
The definition in Clause 9 includes all statistics produced by the Government, their agencies, the devolved Administrations and other Crown bodies. Statistics from other public bodies can also be added to the scope of official statistics. That reflects the Government's desire to ensure a wide coverage and definition of official statistics which is flexible and can capture the wide, evolving and increasing range of data produced and used by government. The volume and range is vast and covers all sorts of information.
The Government have adopted this broad definition, as set out in the Bill, to ensure that the vast range of statistical information produced across government is within the scope of the board's objective. The board is required to promote and safeguard its quality, comprehensiveness and good practice. We believe that we should remain committed to the principle that it is right within the vast category of official statistics that the boards assessment process starts by focusing on those key national statistics on which we all rely, and which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, will enable the board to hit the ground running.
The Bill creates a framework that can evolve in the light of experience and changing demands from data users. It means that inevitably the set of national statistics will evolve. There will be a strong incentive for Ministers to look actively at submitting additional departmental statistics for approval as national statistics where they are central to the policy functions they carry out or to the delivery of programmes for which they are responsible.
As my honourable friend the Financial Secretary said many times in the other place during the passage of the Bill, we also expect the board, as part of its statutory duty, to comment on the comprehensiveness and coverage of official statistics and to comment on any official statistics if it thinks they should become national statistics. That is the process of evolution to which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, drew attention.
I treat with the greatest respect the position indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, when he suggested that it is difficult to draw the lineas inevitably it is, although we are indicating that the line is an evolving line, at which official statistics get translated into national statistics once a case has been made out for them. Also, he sees no need for such a division. There are implications for resource allocation when the board is doing its job properly and makes comments on departmental work and the adequacy of statistics. There will be resource implications if departments have to respond in order to guarantee that they meet the boards requirement, wherever it occurs, that certain statistics should be brought up to standard. The board should primarily be concerned with the national statistics central to the development of policy formulation in the country.
Obvious criticisms could be made of any division in these terms, but I ask the Chamber to recognise that we must have some regard to the priorities for the board and its work across the massive range of official statistics which exist. Any line drawn is bound to raise the kind of challenges that the noble Lord, Lord Moser, expressed so forcefully in his contribution, but we are indicating that we are devolving to the board considerable responsibilities and very important powers. The role of the National Statistician is greatly enhanced against the background of the rest of the Bill in terms of how the system works. Within that framework I defend what the Bill already says about the definition of national and official statistics. I recognise the valid
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Baroness Noakes: I am not sure that we can discern wisdom in the Governments position. I start by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. They have highlighted the practical areas where illogical distinctions exist at present. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, put the matter rather well when he said that there would be big statistics and little statistics, and that it would be the Government who determined which escape having to comply with the code and thereby become big statistics. The Minister said that it was valuable to have this distinction, but I did not hear him say anything that made it at all valuable to have the distinction between national and official statistics. The Minister made much about the resource implications, not only for the board but also for those needing to comply with the code. I do not think we would have any problem with that.
The key issue is who should decide the priorities and therefore who should decide what is to be assessed against the code of practice. The Minister's argument is that the Government, through the devolved Administrations and government departments, should decide whether or not they want their statistics judged under the terms of the Bill against the code of practice and thereby become big statisticsnational statistics. We have argued that it should be for the board to determine that. The board will determine what it does in the light of the resources available to it. It does not have infinite resources and therefore will have to set its priorities.
The Minister argued, in effect, that departments that do not put enough resources into their statistics should be allowed to carry on putting out ropey statistics. That simply does not stack up. There is a large difference between us on whether it is the Government or the board that calls the shots. The board is being set up to restore trust in official statistics. We do not think that trust will be achieved in the way that the Government have described. We would like to think carefully about what the Minister said but it is fair to put him on notice that it is likely that we will be returning to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I can be brief with Amendment No. 55, which is probing. The amendment inserts additional words at the end of Clause 10(1) so that the code of practice required by Clause 10 must be issued within 12 months of the board being established. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the work of restoring trust in our official statistics must begin as soon as possible. In the absence of a code of practice there may be some degree of statistical mayhem, as the Government have the opportunity to manipulate statistics and their release.
We strongly support the statutory code of practice, but our concern is to ensure that it is available as soon as possible. We know that the Statistics Commission has done good work with its draft code, but it is by no means certain that a new statistics board would pick up that work. We do not know if the Government will use their appointment rights to secure some continuity with the Statistics Commission or will try to make a clean break from a body which they have sometimes found troublesome.
If there is a clean break, there is a possibility that the code will be delayed. The code should be operational within weeks of the new arrangements coming into effect. However, we have allowed 12 months, to allow some leeway, from the time that the Statistics Board is established. I hope that the Government will share our desire that the code should get out and be available early in the life of the Statistics Board. I hope that the Minister will set out how and when the Government expect the new code to be issued. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: In relation to this amendment, it is interesting to remind ourselves what the chairman of the Statistics Commission wrote in his letter of 8 December when he sent copies of the draft code of practice as an interim report for consultation. He wrote:
Although the new Board is unlikely to be in a position to take decisions on the Code until late in 2007 or early 2008, we are seeking comments at this time so as to be able to deliver well-considered public advice in summer 2007.
It is clear that the commission has regarded this as an exercise which has to be taken at a measured pace. It is right that it is consulting on the December draft, but it does not believe that the new board is likely to be able to take decisions until early next year2008. If the code is going to play the important role which the Government have earmarked for it, it is really important, as my noble friend has said, that it should be operative at the earliest possible opportunity. That timetable, which is already long drawn-out, should not be delayed more than conceivably necessary.
An amendment along the lines of that proposed by my noble friend seems highly desirable. We all support the idea of the code. No doubt, when the commission has considered all the representations we shall have another draft to consider but we must get on with it. Otherwise, we are going to have a long delay and we do not want that. In the words of my noble friend Lord Eccles, we will not hit the ground running.
Lord Northbrook: I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Noakes to carry on the good work of the Statistics Commission. I wonder whether 12 months to adopt and publish a code is rather generous and whether that should be reduced to maybe three or six months.
Lord Davies of Oldham: That last contribution emphasises how important the code is. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made a persuasive case on the
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If the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is probing to find out if the Government are aware of the significance of the code and the necessity for urgent work upon it by the board, I say that we are fully aware of that. We are taking steps to ensure that the code is developed as rapidly as possible. It will also be recognised, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, indicated when he talked about the present consultation from the commission, that this is a challenging task. As the code is the fundamental building block of the boards work, it is essential that it is constructed and in place properly.
The noble Baroness was kind enough to indicate that this is a probing amendment. I hope that she feels that she has communicated her sense of urgency, buttressed by others who have spoken, about the importance the code. The Government are fully apprised of that, but to put a 12-month timescale on this may not be particularly helpful. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Noakes: I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate for their contributions. I had hoped that the Minister would set out in some detail how he saw the timing, and the relationship with the current code which is being consulted on by the Statistics Commission and that he would flesh things out, but of fleshing-out we got nothing. All we got was that the Minister was aware of the issues importance.
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