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I also understand that the Isle of Man Administration have been involved in projects to ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach to marine management across the Irish Sea. The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are part of the British-Irish Council subgroup on integrated coastal zone management. I had the honour to chair a meeting of Environment Ministers at the British-Irish Council in Jersey only a few weeks ago, where we discussed the marine Bill and our determination to ensure a consistent approach. A group has been set up to discuss and share best practice examples of individual approaches to marine and coastal management. Ireland also welcomed the close co-operation that exists through the British-Irish Council subgroup. The Ministers of the council are updated on the progress of individual countries’ marine and coastal strategies.

In a sense, we go back to the issue that we discussed for many hours on how the Bill will relate to the different Administrations within the UK. Just as I have been reassured by the discussions between the devolved Administrations that there is a determination to make this work as well as possible in the context of the devolution settlement, I am also satisfied from the discussions that I have taken part in that, as far as the Crown dependencies are concerned, there is also a mutual understanding and determination to make this work effectively.

On the issue of consultation raised by Amendment 126D, the advice that the Government have received is that it would be inappropriate to include wording of this nature in such a provision, as it would, to our knowledge, be unprecedented and would set a bad precedent for future legislation. We believe that it would be inappropriate for Her Majesty’s powers to be

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fettered in this way, although of course it is, where possible, our policy and practice to consult the Crown dependencies and overseas territories before legislating for them. The Bill contains a standard clause that reflects the constitutional relationship that is accepted by the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories.

In conclusion, I know that the noble Lord has concerns, but the Government’s view is that the arrangements by and large work well and that it is better to work through consensus and consultation, which also seem to work well. Nothing detracts from the UK’s treaty responsibilities. I know that the noble Lord has an energetic campaign going on this issue, but overall I believe that the Bill is consistent with the known and understood relationship between the UK, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. I am also satisfied that we will achieve an integrated approach, particularly in relation to the Crown dependencies, where such an approach to marine environment issues and fisheries regulation is so important.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting and informative reply, some of which requires further study and thought. It ranged all the way from the nature of the royal prerogative through Orders in Council to how to deal with wrecks in disputed waters. I look forward to the next occasion when a wreck is discovered just off Gibraltar, and the Spanish, Gibraltarians and Moroccans dispute exactly who is responsible for raising it. There are a whole range of areas to be covered.

My concern, as the Minister will know, is that historical processes do not entirely move at the speed at which we are now having to deal with marine resources intergovernmentally and globally in terms of international law. When I first raised the question of the Crown dependencies some years ago, a group of executive officers of the Government of Jersey came to see me. Their opening question was whether I understood what the Duke of Normandy had promised the Channel Islands in 1204. However, the world has moved on since 1204 and we are dealing with rather different problems. Indeed, we are dealing with very different problems from the ones that we had in the 1970s. I mark that as important because we will find ourselves coming back to climate change, marine pollution and a whole set of other problems in an area in which Her Majesty’s Government, for historical reasons, find that they are responsible for large parts of the world’s marine territories. I thank the Minister for that lengthy and useful reply, but it raised a number of questions that many of us will want to explore further on other occasions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 126D withdrawn.

Amendments 127 to 129 not moved.

Amendment 130

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

130: Clause 313, page 211, line 6, at end insert—

“( ) paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 (amendments to the Fishery Limits Act 1976 (c. 86)),”

Amendment 130 agreed.

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Arrangement of Business


7.17 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, as our consideration of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill has finished earlier than expected, the Question for Short Debate will now run for a maximum of 90 minutes rather than 60 minutes. That means that Back-Bench speakers will now have six minutes rather than the three minutes advertised on the speakers list.

Government Statistics

Question for Short Debate

7.18 pm

Tabled By Lord Hamilton of Epsom

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful for those two bits of good news: that the Marine and Coastal Access Bill has finally ended after so long; and that noble Lords whose names are on the speakers list can now speak for six minutes rather than three.

I am afraid that I am rather a Johnny come lately to the world of statistics and I fully acknowledge that there are much greater experts than me in your Lordships’ House. I welcome many of them here today and the fact that they have an opportunity to speak. Through a mutual acquaintance, I met Professor Michael Chisholm, a retired Cambridge don, who became interested in the statistics that were used to promote unitary authorities. He had previously sat on a local government boundary commission. I was most grateful for his guidance because, as I said, I am a novice in the world of statistics.

Professor Chilsholm has been troubled by the statistics used to justify the creation of unitary authorities and wrote a book in collaboration with Professor Steve Leach entitled, Botched Business. I am pretty dispassionate about how local government is organised. Instinctively one worries when local government becomes less local, but if significant savings for council tax payers can be achieved, maybe the price of more distant local government is worth paying.

If the argument hinges on savings, the figures for savings have to be right. Professor Chisholm reveals that in a Parliamentary Answer on 12 May this year, the Minister stated that the new unitary authorities estimated restructuring costs at £138 million, with an outturn of £135 million. Not bad, on the face of it; quite an accurate forecast. Except that if you take the councils’ figures, the costs are £182 million. If you exclude Cornwall, where recurrent savings have not been very clearly divided, they are still £158 million. Durham County Council estimated that it will save £12.5 million in its bid to be a unitary authority, which includes £5.2 million savings on adult well-being and health plus children and young people's services, which

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it already runs, so it is difficult to see how they can be savings. Those are massive miscalculations and cast doubt on all other statistical forecasts in unitary authority bids.

Many similar discrepancies are to be found in widely different areas of government activity. I fear that, despite what has changed, many of the statistics are still extremely questionable in every way.

Your Lordships will be well acquainted with the debacle of the issue of the knife crime statistics. I will not dwell on that saga at length today, but suffice it to say that on 11 December, a special adviser at No. 10 prematurely published provisional statistics that had come from the National Health Service that showed that the number of teenagers admitted to hospital with knife wounds had fallen by 27 per cent. That was limited to 10 priority areas. In fact, the figures for knife crime since this Government took power show an increase of 34 per cent, and knife crime is at the moment at an all-time high.

Despite objections from the statistics authority, the Prime Minister insisted that those statistics should be released. So we have the story of a political adviser jumping on uncollaborated statistics and a Prime Minister keen to tell a good political story that knife crime was falling. What do the Government do? First, the Home Secretary apologises. Why was it not the Prime Minister? The figures were distorted by an official working for him in No. 10, and he insisted on their release. We have come to learn, have we not, that the Prime Minister does not do apologies.

It is what followed that is truly perturbing. The pit bull terriers were released. I can hear noble Lords asking whether pit bull terriers were not banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act introduced by my noble friend Lord Baker some years ago. No, pit bull terriers are still alive and well in Whitehall; they are now called special advisers. Those attack dogs went into action and articles appeared besmirching the reputation of Sir Michael Scholar, the chairman of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority.

Michael Scholar is public service at its best. He was permanent secretary in the Welsh Office and then at the DTI and he is now the president of St. John's College, Oxford. It was contemptible to suggest that the independent United Kingdom Statistics Authority was picking up on misleading statistics on knife crime because Sir Michael Scholar was seeking revenge because his son and other dedicated public servants had been moved out of the Prime Minister’s private office. That saga speaks volumes for the way that this Government do business.

There was an interesting letter dated 27 February from Kevin Brennan, Member of Parliament and Minister for the Third Sector, to Tony Wright, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee. It stated that on 22 July last year, 73 special advisers were in Whitehall, of which 24 were in Downing Street. I worked in No. 10 as Parliamentary Private Secretary to my noble friend Lady Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. At that stage, there was a total of 65 people in all working in No. 10 Downing Street. One of them was reluctant to describe himself as a special adviser. First, Sir Stephen Sherbourne and

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then John Whittingdale, now Member of Parliament for Colchester, were the only political advisers who worked permanently there.

You have to ask: where do all these people go in Downing Street? I think that the answer is that they threw the Whips out of No. 12 Downing Street and packed many of them in there, where they are involved in spinning and campaigning endlessly as a sort of press unit.

Another incident of dispute occurred in February this year when the UK Statistics Authority published figures showing that one in nine UK residents working here were from abroad. This came after the ill advised and infamous speech by the Prime Minister about British jobs for British workers. What was the Government’s response? It was a rant from the Minister with responsibility for immigration, Mr Phil Woolas, that the Office for National Statistics had highlighted the figures because they were topical. That was at best naive and at worst sinister. I suppose we should be grateful that Phil Woolas was at least his own attack dog in this incident and did not rely on an unattributable briefing so dear to the heart of this Government. Phil Woolas’s attack on the independent UK Statistics Authority was typical of the reaction of this Government to statistics they do not like. The Government deserve congratulation on setting up the UK Statistics Authority, but you cannot create an independent body to monitor national statistics and then complain when it acts independently.

Another important aspect of dealing with statistics is the period for which departments can sit on statistics before they have to release them. It is sad that Scotland argues that it is a special case and must have five days for this; Wales is still consulting. For UK legislation and in Northern Ireland, it is 24 hours, and less for market-sensitive information. There may be some reason why government departments want a little time to prepare a case to go with an announcement on statistics, but not 24 hours. I should have thought that a maximum of three hours was enough, although the Royal Statistical Society, which has done so much to raise the profile of statistics and improve control of them, thinks that they should be released without any time at all, as does my honourable friend the shadow Home Secretary in another place.

The Government have made good advances with the introduction of impact assessments to demonstrate the financial costs and benefits of most primary legislation. Why can this information be found only on the internet? Should the impact assessment not be an addendum to any Bill and should it not subsequently be audited to find out how accurate the original calculations were? Almost more important, should impact assessments not be extended to secondary legislation? I am particularly mindful of orders enacting legislation from the EU, which always seem to be mindful of the benefits to individuals, but ignore the cost to taxpayers and employers.

In summary, the Government have made some important advances in the supervision of statistics. They have set up the UK Statistics Authority, but many would argue that they had to do that because the culture of spin and misinformation had become so

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pervasive that it was damaging the whole body politic. However, there is still a steep mountain to climb. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding reminded the Grand Committee on 16 March, the United Kingdom comes 27th out of 27 EU nations when it comes to trust in government statistics. To think that the Italians and the Bulgars have greater faith in their government statistics than we do is deeply shaming.

Let us take the independence of the UK Statistics Authority one step further; let us set up an independent national statistics commission and make it answerable to a Joint Committee of both Houses, in line with the recommendation of the Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. That Joint Committee would reflect the expertise on statistics that your Lordships' House contains and the other place does not. It would also recognise that the House of Commons Public Administration Committee has many other areas of responsibly. Statistics are at the heart of how the public can judge government. They should play a major role in deciding how we legislate and whether we legislate at all. This Government have proved that they cannot be trusted with statistics; statistics must be put in the hands of those beyond reproach.

7.30 pm

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I resist the temptation to comment on the statistics that led to the splitting of Cheshire County Council by the Government, which has been a blot on the landscape of an otherwise very successful Government. It is a great honour to be a mere statistic between the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, who introduced this important debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Moser, whose social survey method was my bible for so many years. Mentioning the Bible leads me to remind the House of my long debate, some years ago, on the use and funding of Britain’s historic places of worship. It was, in part, a response to the steep and precipitous decline in church attendance, now thought to be around 6 per cent, according to Christian Research’s English church census.

I am now appalled to learn that the ONS will keep the flawed 2001 question—“What is your religion?”—in the forthcoming 2011 census. This is a leading question. The census should ask first whether the respondent has a religion. It not only overrepresents the religious in our country, but underrepresents the non-religious. It also fails because it confuses and conflates the concepts of belief and ethnicity, as exemplified by our own Sikh and Jewish communities. It is, indeed, arguably discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2006.

The British Humanist Association, of which I am a member, sought information from the Office for National Statistics under the Freedom of Information Act on the result of its trialling of two alternative questions, including,

The answers have been both tardy in coming and incomplete. I understand that face-to-face encounters between the ONS and the BHA indicate that results on the question of non-religion are more in line with many other surveys, which show a substantial rise in

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the number of the non-religious. Could the Minister comment on that? Incidentally, the alternative question and its trial were not even reported in the White Paper, Helping to Shape Tomorrow. Can my noble friend comment on this serious omission, which should have been included in the White Paper?

I therefore conclude that the Government should, first, ensure that there is complete disclosure of the internal data of the Office for National Statistics and the debate on the questions about this important issue that should be used in the 2011 census. Indeed, a further question might be added that separates data revealing ethnicity, to make it discrete from that gathered on religion. If that is not included, I suggest that the question on religion should be eliminated, especially in this flawed form. It was only introduced in 2001. If we do not have proper data to inform the debate and formulation of public policy, there will be inaccuracies and the direction of funds, resources and policies will be unhelpful to the nation as a whole. I include the example that I started with. We have a duty—and I speak as an atheist—to ensure that the wonderful churches that are part of our heritage are perhaps found new uses, or certainly sufficient funding to be retained as part of the stock of our culture. The debate is flawed and unsatisfactory. We must have good data and statistics to inform a proper public policy debate.

7.34 pm

Lord Moser: My Lords, I have spent much of my working life in official statistics, inevitably with issues of public trust never very far from my mind, so the initiative and comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, are very welcome, not least in these generally untrusting times.

I am rather optimistic. For one thing, we have a very good statistical service. Most people who know the international field, as I certainly do, would probably put Canada way ahead, with perhaps Australia not very far behind, but they have a centralised system that is much easier to run than our decentralised arrangements.

The other reason why I am pretty confident is the new structure; the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, has already talked to us about that. We now have the UK Statistics Authority, which emerged as the central piece of the legislation in which your Lordships played such a crucial role. The existence of the authority gives me every reason for confidence. It has Sir Michael Scholar as its very strong chairman, a powerful board and very good staff. Above all, it has already shown us that it means business. That business is summarised in precise detail in the code of practice which the authority published earlier this year.

The code applies not just to the Office for National Statistics but to every government department. That is very important, because we are decentralised. It sets out the exact rules of practice that are to be followed, and, as has already been mentioned, we have seen in recent months that failure to comply with the code will be relentlessly pursued. That can apply in several directions. It can apply in the direction of the statisticians, as has already been experienced, but more likely it can

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be brought into action with politicians and, above all, Ministers. I have had much experience of Ministers failing to resist the temptation when dealing with statistics to release comments and so on.

The most blatant example has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. From the Home Office and then No. 10—after all, the initiative for the new legislation came from the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown—came the totally inappropriate issue of data on knife crimes. What happened then was extraordinary and very impressive; Sir Michael immediately sprang into action, and No. 10, and the Home Secretary in the other place, had to apologise publicly. Moreover, the Cabinet Secretary followed up by instructing all the government departments that the code had to be obeyed. To my mind, that is the most encouraging thing that has happened in government statistics and is the reason for my confidence that public trust will be enhanced.

Finally, I refer to another piece of so-far unfinished business, which the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, has already mentioned. The UK Statistics Authority reports to Parliament, and it has been assumed from the very beginning that this requires a Joint Committee of both Houses. It was debated in this House and strongly backed by your Lordships. Unfortunately, the Leader of the other place rejected the initiative, so we do not have a Joint Committee. To my mind, this unfinished business now has to be tackled. We must remember that hardly any government business or policy does not require official statistics. Surely, it is in the interests of both Houses, the general public, and of trust generally, that a Joint Committee should be set up without delay.

7.40 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hamilton has launched a debate which so far has led us into some interesting byways—not only his speech about the costs of local government reorganisation but the fascinating remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about the impact of the census, the questions that are asked, and the need to get those right. The business managers are wise to have originally given us three minutes, because it means that we have at least to start off with a very short speech.

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