Statistics and Registration Service Bill
Julia Goldsworthy (Shadow Chief Secretary To the Treasury, Treasury; Falmouth and Camborne, Liberal Democrat)
As we have been talking about the need to share data and the clause is among a set that deals with devolved bodies, I wanted to ask how we deal with the fragmentation of statistics and what co-operation exists with devolved Administrations. We know that the census agreement for 2011 has been signed by the three Registrars General of England and Wales, of Scotland and of Northern Ireland. None the less, the Treasury Committee report “Independence for Statistics” raised a concern that the fragmentation of some statistics across the UK was continuing. One of the report’s recommendations was to review the concordat on statistics. It states that the Select Committee
“welcome the Minister’s commitment, on behalf of the Government, to review the Concordat on Statistics, particularly in light of his suggestion that, while this fragmentation has been an issue for some time because of differing local circumstances and requirements, devolution has led to an inevitable intensification of the problem.”
It goes on to recommend
“that the Government negotiate a revised Concordat with the devolved administrations, that the National Statistician, in consultation with the chief statisticians for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, be given responsibility for drafting a revised Concordat and that the new independent board be given responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the revised Concordat.”
Taking into account that recommendation and the evidence of witnesses who believe that recent experience has provoked the need to review the issue now, surely it makes sense for a review and renegotiation to take place. I am asking for the Minister’s commitment not only to review the concordat but to renew it. What plans does he have to update that?
John Healey (Financial Secretary, HM Treasury; Wentworth, Labour)
If the hon. Lady looks at the official record of our discussions on Tuesday afternoon, she will see that we had quite a good debate on devolution and concerns about the coherence, comprehensiveness and co-ordination of statistics. I will not reiterate the detailed points covered by the Committee, but I will say one thing about the Treasury Committee and then deal specifically with the concordat, as I accept that we did not deal with it in particular detail on Tuesday afternoon. The hon. Lady will find that the Treasury Committee report was published before I could announce the full participation of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Bill’s provisions. She will also probably find that that participation was welcomed by members of the Select Committee as well as by Opposition Front-Benchers.
As the hon. Lady said, I made it clear when I gave evidence to the Treasury Committee that we had begun work with the devolved Administrations to take a fresh look at the concordat and see where it needed updating and strengthening. The concordat is an important and useful arrangement that cannot be replicated or imported into primary legislation, so it has an important part to play alongside the Bill.
The hon. Lady will appreciate that producing UK statistics, and doing so in a combined way when those statistics relate to devolved matters, relies on the co-operation of the devolved Administrations rather than on legislation. All Administrations expressed their commitment to co-operation in the concordat, which was annexed to the memorandum of understanding on devolution in 2001. Given that it set the overall framework for co-operation and was supported by other non-legislative bilateral agreements between the Administrations, that framework had the full support of the devolved Administrations. The framework document described in detail how the framework for national statistics, which we introduced in 2000, would operate in each Administration. There is clearly more to do, and that is probably the reason behind the hon. Lady’s concern. I strongly welcome the decision of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to sign up to the legislation. It will give the board a role working with all four Administrations. I expect the board’s objective of promoting and safeguarding the quality of official statistics, which includes coherence with other statistics, as stated explicitly in clause 7(2)(b), to give it a role in promoting consistent statistics throughout the United Kingdom.
To further our aim for improvement in the consistency and coherent co-ordination of statistics, we are working with the devolved Administrations to see whether other, non-legislative mechanisms may be needed to support the Bill, including the possible revision of the concordat on statistics between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured that we are working on those non-legislative matters with the commitment of all four Administrations, although the work that we are doing on the legislation may be more obvious.