New Clause 4 — Legal obligation to obey the code of practice
Statistics and Registration Service Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
John Healey (Financial Secretary, HM Treasury; Wentworth, Labour)
I think that we are making some progress. The hon. Lady will recognise that clause 8 sets out the board's objective and allows it to monitor the whole sweep of official statistics and to comment in specific or general terms on any concerns that it has. She will remember that I made it clear in Committee—indeed, she quoted from those proceedings—that we expect the code of practice established by the board, particularly for the purpose of assessing and approving national statistics, to be the general standard and to become the wider expectation of the way other official statistics are handled. However, the crucial issues are the recognition that some statistics are more important than others, that the board devotes the proper and fullest attention to those that are most important, and that we are establishing a flexible framework at the outset that can evolve in the light of experience and of the changing needs of our society and economy regarding statistics.
We are starting with a list of almost 1,300 statistics already designated as national statistics, which will change over time. Additional statistics can be put to the board for assessment and if it judges them to be up to scratch—if they satisfy the standards that the board sets in its independently drawn up and approved code—they can be independently approved as national statistics.
In a decentralised system, responsibility for submitting statistics for assessment must ultimately lie with Ministers. We are responsible for making policy and, as such, we are arguably best placed to know which statistics are most critical to the development, delivery and evaluation of the policies for which we are responsible and accountable. We are also accountable, ultimately, for allocating and managing resources within the Department, including resources devoted to statistical production. I see this as essentially and primarily a policy and resource decision. It is more appropriate for Ministers to take such decisions, rather than the board, which is why I do not accept amendment No. 34.