Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 3:15 pm, 17th July 2019

It is a pleasure to wind up this debate. I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for their support and their kind words; I was almost blushing at times during their speeches. I confirm that, as my right hon. Friend Brandon Lewis said when he opened the debate, anyone who wishes to disclose a particularly private matter will be able to apply for a number and make a separate census return that overrides the household census. That information, in a non-anonymised form, will be held for 100 years. I want to make it very clear that that opportunity will be available.

It is clear from the debate that there is strong support for the Bill, and there is widespread recognition of the importance of the census as an event. As you have confirmed, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is designed solely to enable the next censuses in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on a voluntary basis. The Bill does not prescribe that those questions should be asked, or how they should be asked. That is a matter for secondary legislation, which Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise later this year.

On that subject, I recognise the passion with which some Members of the House—especially Gareth Thomas and my hon. Friend Steve Double—support additions to the census. Those are matters for the census secondary legislation, rather than for this Bill, which is purely about making the questions voluntary rather than compulsory.