I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am delighted to present the Bill, the purpose of which is simple: it will remove the criminal penalty for not responding to new census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that these questions will be voluntary. The Office for National Statistics recommended that these questions only be asked of those aged 16 and over and, importantly, that they be voluntary. The Bill enables that by following the same method used to make the question on religion voluntary in the Census (Amendment) Act 2000, which is by removing the criminal penalty for not responding to census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Following consultations with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, we have extended the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Bill does not require either question to be asked in the 2021 census, but it does extend the voluntary nature of the questions should Northern Ireland decide to include either question in the 2021 census.
The 22nd national census is due to be carried out in March 2021, and that will be provided for by secondary legislation in the normal way. This Bill is distinct from that secondary legislation. It simply ensures that, in delivering on the White Paper’s proposals, the ONS can include these new questions on a voluntary basis. I want to make a couple of brief points on how that voluntary nature is guaranteed.