Statistics and Registration Service Bill
Lord Jenkin of Roding (Conservative)
My Lords, in his magisterial way, the noble Lord, Lord Moser, spelt out the history of the Bill and how we have reached the position we are in now. He made a compelling case for putting this measure in the Bill. In these circumstances I do not think that I need to add very much. He referred to the commission's annual report, which was published today,
I wish to refer to two paragraphs of the report. We should bear in mind that the Statistics Commission is not a statutory body and that the code that it has been operating is not a statutory code. I refer to annex D of the report, should anybody wish to pursue some of the other examples. It states:
"The National Statistics Code of Practice sets out principles and practices that government departments and agencies should follow in producing and publishing official statistics. However, only a few parts of the present Code are of a kind that readily allow an independent judgement to be made about compliance".
Some of the examples that the commission dealt with in that year are set out in the three or four pages that follow. It had to consider whether what happened was consistent with the code. I shall not read out all the examples, because we wish to reach a conclusion on this; I shall mention only one matter which related to the publication by the Department for Education and Skills of annual results for key stages 1 and 2. The argument arose in the department about the right date on which to publish them. The commission said:
"However, internal DfES correspondence, made available to the Commission in order to explain the Department's decision-making process, suggested that senior officials and special advisers believed that their own views on the appropriate release date for the figures were a relevant consideration".
The commission makes it clear that it did not think that that was at all appropriate. The issue must be considered against that sort of background.
The Minister will recognise that we have raised this issue previously; there has been a tug within the Cabinet between the Treasury, which was originally in charge of this Bill, and other departments that publish statistics, which were desperate to retain control over their pre-release arrangements. I shall not quote him exactly, but the Minister said that anyone who has been in Cabinet knows that that is how it works. That has happened here, but the Minister in the Treasury at that time was the right honourable Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor the Exchequer and now the Prime Minister. He is now in a position to impose his will on his colleagues and make sure that they fall into line with what he originally would have liked to see: these matters firmly set out in the Bill, with the board having the monitoring role. These amendments would do that. One would delete Clause 11, which states simply that the board shall have no responsibility for the pre-release of statistics. That flies in the face of everything that the Minister said in moving his Motion and that is why it is absolutely right to insist that the code shall deal with these matters in the way set out in the amendments spoken to by my noble friend.
This is a matter of enormous importance; it is emphasised by how the Statistics Commission has reported on what will be its last year of operation. We now have a statutory Statistics Board; that is in the Bill. We now need a statutory code backed by legislation. That is what our amendments would achieve, and I hope that the House will support them.