I beg to move,
That items 2 (resident particulars), 5, 6 (visitor particulars), 10, 11, 13, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24 (demographic particulars), 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 36(d) (education and employment particulars), 41, 42, 43 (accommodation particulars), 45, 46 (additional particulars for individual returns) in Schedule 2, and items 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Schedule 3 to the draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on
It is a pleasure to join you for my first time in the Chamber under these hybrid arrangements, Mr Speaker.
The draft Order in Council was laid before both Houses on
The primary aim of the census is to provide accurate data on the population, so the information that it provides includes people’s characteristics, education, religion, ethnicity, working life and health. It gives decision makers in national and local government, as well as in community groups, charities and businesses, the opportunity to better serve communities and individuals in the UK. It enables a wide range of services and future planning to be supported.
The statutory instrument before us today is unusual, with a mixed procedure. It is principally subject to the draft negative procedure, but under the terms of the 1920 Act, some questions—those printed in italics in the draft order—may be included in the census only if they are approved by an affirmative resolution of both Houses. It is with those elements of the order that the motion before us is concerned. They include questions on health, education and national identity. If the House wishes to debate the census more broadly, I would of course be happy to try to answer hon. Members’ questions, but would emphasise that the scope of the motion is somewhat narrow.
The draft order is the first stage of the secondary legislation necessary for a census to be held. The order covers England and Wales. Subject to the approval of this Order in Council, the Government will bring forward census regulations for England, which will set out the final questions and govern much of the operation of the census. Those regulations will describe the content and functionality of the online forms for this, the first predominantly online census. It will also contain copies of the corresponding paper questionnaires. Separate regulations for the census in Wales will be laid before the Welsh Parliament by the Welsh Government. Hon. and right hon. Members will be aware that the census order for Scotland has already been approved by the Scottish Parliament, and the census order for Northern Ireland has been laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly. Together, these three statutory instruments allow for the 2021 census to take place on the same date across the United Kingdom.
Let me turn to the proposals for the census. The ONS’s work has been informed by extensive consultation, research and engagement. The majority of questions will stay the same as in 2011 to ensure comparability of data between censuses. New questions or response options are only included after research and consultation that provide compelling evidence for their inclusion. For 2021, there will be new questions on past service in the armed forces, and new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
As I have mentioned briefly already, the 2021 census will be predominantly online, making it easier for people to take part when and how they want. Of course, help —including language support and paper forms—will be available for those who need it. Nobody will be missed out and everybody can identify as they wish. This will ensure that the 2021 census reflects the society we live in today, and that will enable national and local government, community groups, charities and businesses to better serve communities and individuals across the country.
Our aim is for the census to be the most inclusive ever, so the ONS will work with local groups and organisations across the country to raise awareness of the census, to promote the different response options and the new search-as-you-type functionality, and to support people in completing the census online or on paper. To be successful in its aims, the census relies on the willing support and participation of the public, on whose behalf the information is collected. With hon. Members’ help and support to promote awareness of the census and its benefits in all our communities, the ONS can ensure that the ’21 census provides reliable data that benefits all our constituents.
The census is unique in the insights that it provides into our nation and the data it provides to support policy making nationally and locally. Data from the census can inform a wide range of planning decisions, including on school places, hospital beds, GP and dental services, where to build houses and roads, and businesses’ decisions on where and in what to invest. The census provides us with the opportunity to build a detailed and comprehensive picture of the nation.
At this point I will mention, as I am sure this will come up in the debate, that social distancing measures have of course meant that some national events have been postponed or cancelled. The 2021 census, which will be primarily online, is still nearly a year away, and the ONS is working to deliver it as planned, but we will continue to assess the situation and any implications for the census, including appropriate contingency measures, should they be needed.
Community engagement will very much go ahead and onwards from now, including with local government in all our areas, to help ensure that everybody can take part. To this end, dedicated staff on the ground will have a particular focus on hard-to-reach communities, which I know will be welcome to all Members. I commend the draft order to the House, and look forward to our debate.
The census is an important tool for taking a snapshot of the country as it is today, useful for Government planning now and precious to the historians of the future, who will use this vast record of how we live our lives. Perhaps the most telling way in which this is a 21st-century census is the ambition that the majority of respondents will complete the census online. For many, this will make completing the census easier and collating the data faster. However, I urge the Minister not to forget those who are still digitally excluded.
This legislation will introduce new voluntary questions about gender identity and sexual orientation, allowing as yet unknown numbers of lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens, as well as those who have transitioned their gender identity, the chance to be recognised in official statistics. This is a huge step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people of this country. It is not only symbolically important, but practically necessary. Information derived from the census helps to inform policy, plan services and distribute resources effectively to local government and health authorities. By building a clear picture of LGBT communities, resources can be targeted more effectively. I am proud of the progress that we are making on LGBT equality, which started under the previous Labour Government, by repealing the discriminatory section 28, introducing civil partnerships and equalising the age of consent. We are now seeing an LGBT-inclusive census for 2021.
Labour is proud to support the LGBT community, and our support has never wavered. Although this is not personally the Minister’s responsibility, I cannot give up the opportunity to remind her that we are still waiting for her Government to publish the results of their consultation on reform of the outdated Gender Recognition Act 2004. I am sure that the House and the LGBT community, who will be following the progress made on the census today, would really appreciate an update from the Government for their reason in delaying reform of that Act.
With regard to statistics, the LGBT community is currently a hidden population. Although we do not have accurate data about the size of the community, we do know that it has been hit hard by a decade of Tory austerity, preventing the development of truly specialist LGBT services, and we know that homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are on the rise. Since 2014, offences against gay, lesbian and bisexual people have doubled, while offences against trans people have trebled. This analysis was released after two women were attacked on a bus in London last year for refusing to kiss in front of a group of men. That is just one example of LGBT hate crime that was recorded.
The position of LGBT homeless people warrants particular attention in this discussion, not least given the shocking statistic that up to 24% of the youth homeless population are from the LGBT community. I pay tribute to the Albert Kennedy Trust for its continued work in this area, but the unprecedented rise in homelessness under this Government is a national shame. I ask the Minister whether, when the census data eventually exposes the size of this community, which has been neglected for so long, the Government will finally provide the specialist LGBT services that are so desperately needed, including support for those who are homeless?
The Labour party fully supports the inclusion of a new question about armed forces personnel and veterans in the census. This will ensure that charities, public bodies and service providers will be able to meet the needs of this community. It is right and proper that those who have stood up and served our country are recognised and supported when they return to civilian life. Referring back to my earlier points on homelessness, it is a scandal that so many veterans find themselves street homeless.
If minority groups are represented in the census, they will have a better chance of receiving the resources they need. That is why we warmly welcome the inclusion of the Roma community in the 2021 census. The Roma are among the most disadvantaged people in the country and have poorer outcomes in key areas such as health and education. The community has faced overt discrimination and abuse for generations. Data about this community will hopefully lead to better resource allocation.
Last year, the Women and Equalities Committee released an eye-opening report, making a damning critique of the progress made in addressing inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I challenge the Government to do more to improve the outcomes in education and health and to tackle discrimination and hate crime, as well as violence against women and girls. Today’s inclusion of Roma in the next census is an important step in that, but will the Minister say more about what she hopes the Government will do, or what she believes they have done, to develop a clear and effective plan to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities?
I know that my hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin, my right hon. Friend John Spellar and my hon. Friend Matt Western hope to speak in this debate about the issues raised by the Sikh communities that they represent in this place. They will express how their constituents want to see the campaign for the inclusion of a Sikh tick box in the ethnic identity question raised in our discussions this afternoon. There is no doubt that policy decisions have overlooked the Sikh community in our country. Up-to-date statistics are few and far between, but the UK Sikh survey in 2016 found that almost one in five Sikhs had encountered discrimination in public places over a year, with Sikhs who wear religious iconography or clothing most likely to experience abuse. The report stated that the Government had
“systematically failed the minority Sikh community by not adequately responding to the disproportionate impact of racism and hate crime targeting Sikhs since 9/11.”
A freedom of information request submitted by the Network of Sikh Organisations revealed that 28% of victims recorded under the Islamophobic hate crime category during 2015 were in fact non-Muslims. Indeed, in 2018 we saw a Sikh visitor to our Parliament racially attacked, with his turban ripped off while queuing for the security checks to enter Parliament. A lack of accurate data can mean that such anti-Sikh hate crimes are perhaps neglected, because many are inaccurately recorded. Indeed, evidence suggests that the census has historically underestimated the Sikh community in the UK. For example, Sikhs are believed to constitute just 1% of the London population, yet account for 5% of deaths among homeless men. Either the Sikh population is higher than estimated, or the Sikh community has been disproportionately affected by homelessness. That point is especially pertinent in the context of the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on minority communities, including health and social care workers.
How does the Minister plan to address such inequalities while we lack the accurate data needed on the Sikh community? Does she recognise that the chronic statistical under-reporting of communities such as the Sikh community could allow discrimination to go unnoticed? Currently, only data collected under the ethnicity question in the census is used by public bodies for resource allocation and service planning decisions. We know that data collected under the optional question of religion would be more accurate in reflecting the Sikh community. The religion question should not be made compulsory, but what action could be taken to ensure that the census data collected on religion could be used by public bodies in the same way that data on ethnic groups is handled?
Lastly, will the Minister outline what action the Government are taking to ensure that the Sikh community does not remain statistically invisible to law and policy makers? It is clearer now more than ever that minority groups can no longer be left invisible to those responsible for making public policy decisions.
We do not want to see delay in the census, and we support the important changes in the legislation. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s responses in her closing remarks.
I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes. I advise hon. Members who are speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.
Frankly, this measure is a slap in the face for the Sikh community, a community that has contributed so much to our country not only in recent years, but over the past couple of centuries of our joint history. As we know, this sizeable, dynamic community is contributing in business, the professions, the armed forces—we recorded last year the huge contribution and the vast number of deaths in world war one—politics, the media and medicine. Only a month or so ago, that was highlighted by the death of Manjeet Singh Riyat, the A&E leader at Royal Derby Hospital. Clearly, the Sikh community feel strongly about this: in the 2011 census, 83,000 ticked the box saying “Other” and wrote in, “Sikh”.
Why does this matter? First, because Sikhs have been legally recognised as an ethnic group for nearly 40 years, since a House of Lords ruling in 1983. The ethnic group set question was only introduced in the 1991 census. At that time, the Office for National Statistics stated that it was introduced to help public bodies assess equal opportunities and develop anti-discrimination policies. Ethnic group data, not religious data, is what is used by public bodies to make decisions on the allocation of resources and the provision of public services. The Prime Minister’s most recent race disparity audit indicated that there were 176 datasets spanning sectors from housing and education to employment, health and the criminal justice system, but no data on Sikhs. Effectively, they are invisible. As the covid-19 crisis has shown, there has been no systematic collection of data on the number of Sikhs tested as positive or on the number who have tragically died, even though we are inquiring into the question of differentiation in different groups of health outcomes. Although they come to prominence when a key worker dies, nobody is actually properly collecting the data. Quite frankly, we either need to change the local practice of how this is assessed and how Departments work, or we need an additional box in the census. I would argue that one is probably quite a bit simpler than the other.
I am frankly still perplexed by the Government’s stubbornness on this issue. It seems perverse of the Government to marginalise and ignore this important community and our society. The Minister mentioned bringing forward further orders on the census at a later stage, so I ask her, even at this late stage, to restore the Sikh community to their proper place in the census.
I will also touch on another matter: how we run the census in the first place. The Minister rightly indicated some improvements and changes, but fundamentally, the basic way of collecting the census remains unchanged over the last couple of centuries. My hon. Friend Cat Smith said that this is a snapshot. It is, but as public bodies, we are still using data from 2011, and in many of our constituencies and right the way across the country, there have been very significant changes. Are we capturing that or is there a better way of doing this? Would it not be better now, in the modern age of technology, to look at, for example, creating a virtual national register and having up-to-date information undertaken by sampling and polling?
A whole number of areas are going to be changed by the coronavirus epidemic, including travel to work, work patterns and holiday patterns. A huge range of changes will take place, and we need to be able to capture those in real time. I therefore ask the Minister to look at that, and, by the way, there is an additional layer of her responsibilities where this would be an advantage: we could end up with a much more accurate and comprehensive electoral register, and do it much cheaper.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and her Department for the work that she has done on this subject so far. The House can probably tell by my accent that I am not actually Cornish-born. While many proud Cornishmen and women are Cornish by birth, some are Cornish by choice. I have adopted Cornwall as my home and Cornwall has adopted me, and I am grateful to live its abundant heritage, flamboyant culture and its unique way of life every day. It is not all sandy toes and salty kisses, but Cornwall is my family’s home and roots for our daughter as she grows. As much as I love and care for Cornwall and the people I represent, I will never actually be Cornish and I certainly do not pretend to be. I was not born there. Instead, I consider this subject as objectively as possible and with a sense of fair play.
Recently, we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the recognition of the Cornish as a national minority through the framework convention for the protection of national minorities under the Council of Europe. When Cornwall received this recognition, the Government at the time pledged that the Cornish would now be afforded “the same status” as the UK’s other Celtic people—the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.
Since then, the Government and Cornwall Council have worked together to try to further the cause. I have no doubt that the inclusion of a Cornish tick box in the next census in 2021 would go a long way to our achieving the same status as our fellow Celts. This would mark a significant milestone in our journey as a national minority. I say with deep regret that the Cornish are the only national minority who would be denied a tick box if the present draft of the 2021 census is to be agreed, so there is more to do to ensure that the Cornish are treated in the same manner as the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, despite the equal minority status.
I believe that there will be an option for people who identify as Cornish to tick the “Other” box. In the 2011 census, 83,966 people in Britain ticked the “Other” box and physically wrote “Cornish” as their national identity. Within Cornwall, that total was 73,220, or 14% of the total population. We can assume that many more thousands would have ticked the Cornish box had the option been available. By way of comparison, in the 2001 census, when there was no Welsh tick box, 14% of Welsh residents wrote the word “Welsh”. In 2011, when a tick box was available for the Welsh, the percentage who recorded themselves as Welsh rose to 67%. That clearly indicates that without a tick box, there is significant under-counting of an important national minority.
An education survey of schoolchildren in Cornwall showed that more than 50% of the children identified themselves as Cornish. Identifying as Cornish is a growing trend among our young people, rather than a dated one. The Cornish are proud in every sense of the word, and we must remember that there are thousands of Cornish men and women who do not live in Cornwall. It was once said that it was possible to find a Cornishman in every mine on earth. Although we can give only the Cornish people living here the opportunity to tick their box, I believe it is important that we make that an effortless and straightforward exercise.
The census is not just a tool for identity; as we know, it is much more than that. The census is a once-in-a-decade data collection exercise of epic proportions. It asks questions of all of us, our households and our homes. In completing it, we help to build a detailed snapshot of our society. Information from the census helps the Government and local authorities plan and fund our local services, such as health, education and highways. That helps to ensure that funds are allocated where they are most needed.
In a motion put to full council last year, all 123 elected members of Cornwall Council—at the time, that included me—voted in favour of supporting a Cornish tick box at the next census. Councillors from all political groups, along with the Cornish MPs, have campaigned for a tick box for many years. As a newly elected MP, I am probably rather late to this particular party. However, Cornwall’s minority status and how we quantify that is extremely important to Cornwall and the Cornish people, wherever they happen to live, and therefore it is important to me.
I look forward during my time in this place to working closely with my Cornish colleagues and Ministers to further this cause, to ensure that we meet the obligations set out six years ago and demonstrate a positive commitment to Cornwall’s national identity and culture. Consideration of a tick box at the 2021 census would be a most welcome start.
First, I want to congratulate those in Wales, including my Plaid Cymru colleagues, who have campaigned hard for the right of Welsh people to identify as Asian Welsh or black Welsh in the ethic question if they so desire. That reflects the reality in Wales today, and I am glad that the Welsh Government and the ONS have responded. I am, however, concerned that the census order does not reflect that change in the tick box options. Will the Minister therefore assure us that the census regulations, when they are laid before Parliament and in the Senedd, will reflect that change?
This will be the first predominantly digital census, which I welcome. However, I am concerned about the robustness of the process where there is poor internet or no internet at all, as is the case in much of rural Wales. Will the Minister therefore update us on the arrangements with community organisations to support people to access the census, and give us the number of those who will need digital support or may want a paper copy instead?
There are good census datasets, from the 19th century onwards, on the number, percentage, location and so on of Welsh speakers, but we have no information about Welsh speakers in other parts of the UK. In the 2001 census, some respondents in England were intrigued by question 17, which was marked “intentionally left blank”. That was because question 17 in Wales asked about the Welsh language ability of respondents—something that was not deemed to be required in England. However, the 2011 census showed that 507,000 people in England were Welsh-born. If 20% of those people speak Welsh, that is another 100,000 Welsh speakers on top of the 600,000 in Wales. That was a missed opportunity, because we have a target in Wales of increasing the number of Welsh speakers to 1 million. Will the Minister, even at this late stage, consider including a question on the Welsh language in the census in England?
Finally, I would like to add my voice and those of my Plaid Cymru colleagues to the call for a Cornish identity tick box, for which Cornish Members rightly make a strong case, as we have just heard. In 2001, as we heard, there was no option for a Welsh tick box, so handy little stickers the size of the tick box were produced by a person or persons unknown, allowing people to tick that box, even though it was not part of the official form. There was also a write-in option, and 14% of Welsh people wrote “Welsh” in the “Other” box. Does that mean that only 14% of people at the time in Wales identified themselves as Welsh? No, it was a fault with the question. In the following census, there was a tick box, and the percentage of self-identifying Welsh people shot up to 67%.
Enabling Cornish people to assert their national identity will not only allow them to feel represented, but give us a correct result as to the Cornish identity in 2021. Let me therefore conclude by saying meur ras, or diolch yn fawr in Welsh.
As I make my maiden virtual speech, some people will say that the last thing we should be worrying about at the moment is a national census. Well, I disagree. In all the circumstances, this is an excellent moment to decide how we best prepare for the census. An awful lot has happened to our country in the past 10 years, and the world has changed. Accordingly, it is more important than ever that we know precisely how many people actually live in the country. Is it 65 million, 70 million or 75 million? What is the number?
Stemming from that, we need to deal with an issue that has been dodged for so long: how many Members of Parliament should there be? I am not au fait with the Government’s current thinking as to how many Members of the House of Lords there should be, but I was one of those colleagues who were content to see the number of Members of Parliament reduced from 650 to 600. When we get the accurate figures for the number of people living in this country, I would hope that all Members of Parliament would represent roughly the same number of people.
I would also like to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister a little more detail as to how the census will be conducted, what the penalties will be for failure to comply and over what period it will be carried out. We have heard from colleagues about the Sikh community being represented in the new questions. I would like to know the basis on which the new questions were included and who made the decisions. The more questions we include, and the more complicated the census becomes, the less accurate it will perhaps be.
Apparently, the Government are hoping that 70% of respondents will fill in the form online, and paper copies will be made available only on request. Surely, it would make more sense and be more cost-effective to send people both the paper copy and the online details. How many people—particularly the elderly and the vulnerable—still do not have access to a computer at home? Will there be a cost for people who request paper copies?
With that in mind, I would like to raise a further issue with regard to accessibility. What provisions are being made to ensure that the census is accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted? Will it be made available in large print, audio description or Braille? In addition, what provisions will be made for those for whom English is not their first language? Will the census be made available in other languages, and what languages will those be? While on the subject of accessibility, I would also like clarification of the special arrangements available to ensure that those who live in communal establishments rather than individual households are counted.
I note that consideration is being given to changing the question on long-term health and disabilities, and I would welcome some clarification on that. Will the census now make a distinction between mental and physical health, and what guidance will there be on answering the relevant question?
We need to think sharply about the purpose of this census. It is not to pry into people’s lives, but to make sure that we understand and get a real sense of what we are as a country. Let me pluck out just one bit of information: fair allocations of money in each area. Taking that into account, we need to encourage respondents to fill out the census online, so it will be more important than ever to ensure that individual personal data is secure. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Minister: is there a robust system in place to ensure that no sensitive data is susceptible to cyber-attacks, and is there a contingency plan if a successful attack does happen?
There is no point in conducting what will inevitably be an expensive census unless we put the information to good use. That debate can perhaps wait for another time, but the evidence produced by the census will undoubtedly prove that Southend should be made a city.
I am delighted to speak in this debate because I have long waited for an opportunity to raise an issue that is very important to many of my Sikh constituents in Bedford and Kempston. In advance of the debate, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh gurdwaras in Bedford and Kempston and local residents got in touch, asking me to make the case for the inclusion of a Sikh ethnicity tick box in the next census.
The ONS has considered changes to the ethnic group question, including the introduction of a Sikh tick box, but following research and consultation, it decided not to recommend implementing those changes. After a decade of many UK Sikhs making the case for Sikhism to be counted as a separate ethnic group, when it has been legally recognised as such for the last 40 years, that was very disappointing.
Sikhism is already an option under the religion question on the census, but Sikhs also identify as a religio-ethnic community, and many therefore wish it to be considered an ethnicity on the form. In the 2011 census, more than 83,000 Sikhs—or 20%—rejected the 18 existing ethnic tick boxes and chose instead to tick “Other” and write “Sikh”. Their preferred option is to include a Sikh tick box in the ethnic group question, in addition to the Sikh tick box in the religion question.
It is important to remember the reason behind this. This is not just a question of identity, but more about asserting a stake in society, which can be very difficult for minority groups. Ethnic groups specified in the census are used by public bodies for resource allocation, to inform policy development and make service planning decisions. Without a Sikh tick-box response option to the ethnicity question in the 2022 census, how can Sikhs be properly monitored by public bodies in the exercise of the public sector equality duty? Many Sikhs have campaigned for this so that action can be taken to address major issues such as bullying, intimidation and hate crimes against the community.
We do not even have an accurate count of the Sikh population in the UK because the optional box on religion is so poorly answered. While official data recorded the Sikh population in the UK at around 430,000 in the 2011 census, the real estimate is between 600,000 and 700,000. What is the point of collecting data if it is not accurate? That is vital, and not only because the point of the census is for public bodies, including the Government and local authorities, to formulate relevant policy and appropriate services. As covid-19 has exposed, it is about so much more. The high number of black, Asian and minority ethnic deaths is now the subject of an official inquiry. If Sikhs are not identifying in accurate numbers under the religion census box—and we know that they are not—the Government do not know what proportion of Sikhs have tested positive for covid-19 or tragically died. Sikhs of course are represented across all ethnicities, but that highlights the importance of collecting data for a very relevant purpose.
This is more than a tick-box exercise. We are failing the Sikh community if they do not feel truly represented. The management committee of 112 gurdwaras, large and small, across the UK—with an official membership of more than 107,000 and an estimated congregation of 460,000—has asked the Government officially to recognise their religio-ethnic status. That is a lot of people in the minority community to ignore. It is time this Government officially acknowledged them.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I wish to discuss the matter of a tick box for Cornish national identity.
There is no doubt about the historic identity of the Cornish. We have been around for more than 12,000 years and, along with our Welsh cousins, we are the most ancient people on this island. We have our own language, which is about 5,000 years old but is enjoying a revival. We have our own flag, patron saint and even our own party. The idea of Cornish as a national identity in its own right is not some ageing romantic notion; it is a belief that is alive, real and passionately held today—and growing.
The Cornish received a huge boost when, in 2014, the Council of Europe framework convention for the protection of national minorities officially recognised our identity. That was duly welcomed and embraced by the UK Government, who stated at that time that they would give the Cornish the same recognition as the other Celtic people of these islands—the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish. It was a moment of celebration: at last, for the first time in centuries, the Cornish had been recognised by the UK Government. A sense of optimism was unleashed, the struggle was over: we had been recognised and told that we would be given equality of recognition.
However, that optimism proved to be misplaced. Far from the struggle being over, it has never felt more important, because having been granted that recognition, what is now important is that it is acted upon—that it actually comes to mean something, not just in words but with something tangible.
An advisory committee from the Council of Europe visited the UK in March 2016 to assess how the UK Government and other public bodies were complying with the articles of the framework convention. In early 2017, it published an opinion that was very critical of the UK Government and their failure to act on the articles of the convention. In the committee’s report, one key proposal to address that shortcoming is to include in the 2021 census a Cornish tick box for national identity. It is hugely disappointing, and indeed frustrating, that we are here today and a tick box for the Cornish has not yet been included in the upcoming census. It would be simple and straightforward to grant, and enable the Government to say that they had actually delivered something to recognise the Cornish.
However, the frustration has not been having to convince Ministers; we have been consistently told that we need to convince the ONS. From the numerous meetings and discussions that I and others have had with the ONS, it is clear that it sees this as a localised and minority issue. It has failed to recognise that there are hundreds of thousands of Cornish men and women living across the UK who wish to be able to register their nationality as Cornish.
I cannot say often enough that this is not about the geographical place of Cornwall; it is about the national identity of Cornish people, who are found living in all corners of the UK. I am sad to say that it appears that the ONS simply does not get this. It certainly feels as though the ONS was determined not to grant the tick box for Cornish national identity, whatever case was made, because every objection that it has raised to a tick box has been answered. We have demonstrated time and again the unique case for the Cornish, and it is a unique case—no other indigenous national people in these islands are able to make such a claim. We are the only indigenous national identity that is not recognised in that way.
Sadly, because of the circumstances that Parliament is currently operating in, we find ourselves unable to push this matter to a vote in order to amend the order. If we had been able to vote, I feel sure that one would have been called.
In winding up, I have two points to put to the Minister. First, we have been told that, in place of a tick box, a write-in option will be available for people to identify as Cornish, and that a campaign will be run to draw awareness to this, focused in Cornwall. But the Cornish diaspora are spread far and wide across this nation. In fact, more Cornish people live outside Cornwall than in it. Will the Minister therefore ensure that any such campaign is national and not limited to Cornwall?
Finally, the Government continue to have an obligation to give the Cornish equal recognition as the other Celtic people, so if not a tick box, what will the Government do to ensure that the Cornish are recognised as we rightly should be?
We live in a multicultural society that is full of self-expression, and a census provides a snapshot of that diversity. The questions in a census, therefore, are themselves important; if we do not ask the right ones, the picture of our country is distorted. Making sure that all people count is important.
On census night 1911, Emily Wilding Davison hid illegally in a broom cupboard in the Palace of Westminster, to ensure that a woman would be recorded as being in the House of Commons that night. Clearly, the contents of a census take on their own intrinsic value, which is another reason to ensure that we take care how the questions are worded and what responses they enable people to give. That is one of the reasons why the addition of questions about sexuality and gender identity are so important: it demonstrates that we regard sexual and gender identity as a core part of people’s lives. For LGBTQ people, who often suffer so much discrimination, recognition in itself can mean a great deal.
Such care must also carry over to how members of the Government express themselves. I know that many Members were very concerned by the excluding comments of the Minister for Women and Equalities when she appeared before the Women and Equalities Committee. How politicians, as representatives of their constituents, use their language matters to the people they represent.
We should take care in how we word our questions. If different groups and people are not carefully consulted, we risk generating questions that people do not want to answer. For some communities, their religion is also how they express their ethnicity, and in order to be truly inclusive we must work to ensure that the census reflects that. If a large number of individuals from a particular community, such as the Sikh community, feel that filling in a free-text box is the only way to express their identity, then we have failed to be truly inclusive.
These questions of identity also matter practically. The census directly informs how Government go about delivering public services. One of the great benefits of the new questions on sexuality, gender identity and veterans is that, over the next decade, hopefully, we can ensure that those groups of people who have historically lacked support and provision can get the services they need. Having previously worked in military resettlement, I am pleased that the Government are recognising that community’s contribution. The census will help to ensure that the public services we provide meet the duties under the Equality Act 2010, one of which is to eliminate discrimination. I wholeheartedly support that.
However, it seems strange to me that, while public service delivery is determined by the number of people in the census, for constituency boundaries we seem interested only in the number of people on the electoral roll. MPs provide a public service too—I think that is very obvious at this time. We are often the people our constituents turn to when all other public services have failed. It is electors who determine boundaries, but it should be the number of people who require services.
It is not just about the questions on the census; it is also about who answers them. Looking forward to the next steps in the process, it will be the census regulations that will deal with the operational practicalities. Although 2021 will be the first time that the vast majority of responses will be made online, the census has to capture everyone in our society. We must ensure that the most vulnerable in particular are represented. I would welcome representations from the Minister on how the census will reach deprived and disadvantages communities and individuals, such as the homeless and rough sleepers.
It is good that the Office for National Statistics is considering British Sign Language support, alongside Braille, large-print and easy-read versions of the census. I would like to see such measures in the UK Government’s daily covid briefings too.
According to the White Paper on the census regulations, at least 17,000 census field officers are being recruited to support those who cannot complete the census online. Of course, with the census taking place in March 2021, the covid-19 outbreak might continue to pose a particular challenge. It is certainly not unforeseeable that we will still be in this state of social distancing by next March. Can the Government confirm what steps they and the ONS are taking now to ensure that, if social distancing is still in place, the census can still reach people who are not able to take part in it online?
This census represents a huge commitment of resources. We must take every opportunity to ensure that the results returned are truly reflective of all corners of British society.
I represent a large Sikh population in Erith and Thamesmead, and I am speaking in this debate today to represent their views on the inclusion of the Sikh ethnic tick box response in the census 2021. I agree with the comments of the shadow Minister for young people and voter engagement, my hon. Friend Cat Smith, along with my parliamentary colleagues, my right hon. Friend John Spellar and my hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin. I also take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Slough (Mr Dhesi), who have spent a significant number of years lobbying for the change, along with the Sikh community.
Approximately 6,000 people attend the Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh temple in Erith and Belvedere, which is in my constituency of Erith and Thamesmead. The committee of that temple is in full support of the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box and feels that it is long overdue.
The ethnic group question on the census was introduced in 1991 to help public bodies to assess equal opportunities and develop anti-discrimination policies. The data is used by 40,000 public bodies to address their legal responsibilities under equalities legislation and to make decisions about the allocation of resources and the provision of public services. We can therefore conclude that, if Sikhs do not have an ethnic tick box option, their needs will not be properly monitored and assessed by public bodies. Just because discrimination is not properly monitored does not mean that it does not exist.
According to the UK Sikh survey 2016, almost one in five Sikhs have encountered discrimination in a public place. Sikhs have also reported discrimination in schools, in public and in the workplace and have failed to have their ethnicity properly recorded by the authorities. We can see the effects of the exclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box currently in that there is no systematic collection of data on the number of Sikhs who have tested positive for, or tragically died from covid-19. That point has been echoed by a number of my colleagues.
There is a clear demand for the Sikh ethnic tick box option to be included in the census, not only from the Sikh community in my constituency, who have made it clear that they are in favour of it, but across the country. In the census 2011, more than 83,000 Sikhs, or 20%, rejected the eight existing ethnic tick boxes and chose instead to tick “other” and write “Sikh”.
The all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs carried out an independent survey of gurdwaras to assess public acceptability. All 112 gurdwaras surveyed were in favour of the option of a Sikh ethnic tick box. In 2018, it was concluded that a Sikh ethnic tick box would not be acceptable to a proportion of the Sikh population. That was based on 53 participants in six Sikh focus groups assembled in 2018. In the light of the most recent survey results, I join the Sikh Federation UK in asking whether Ministers appreciate that the management committees of 112 gurdwaras large and small across the UK—with an official membership of more than 107,000 and an estimated congregation of more than 460,000—carry much more weight than 53 individual Sikhs in focus groups.
Sikhs have been legally recognised as an ethnic group for nearly 40 years, since the House of Lords ruling in 1983. As well as the need for the correct allocation of resources and support for Sikhs from public bodies, it is right that after 40 years Sikhs should be allowed the opportunity to identify their ethnicity. For those reasons, I support my Erith and Thamesmead constituents in their calls for there to be a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census 2021.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare. Let me start by saying that I welcome the order. I am sure that there is almost universal support for a census. Although I support it, I am interested to know more about the decisions the Government have made in arriving at it.
The purpose of the order is simply to provide direction for next year’s census on the population of England and Wales. It includes the date of the census, the area to be covered, what is required in the return, who is included and the particulars that may be requested and from whom. I remember my first census back when I was eight years old, and just how excited I got. I do not understand quite why, but I just appreciated the scale of this enormous exercise.
Given the fact that we have one coming up next year, we must recognise the importance of this data collection in giving some snapshot, as my hon. Friend Cat Smith said, of the nature of our society and the people that we are. For a nation and for the purposes of good governance, I have always believed this data to be of huge importance and believed in the value of the continuity of measurement decade after decade.
What is also important, beyond the standard information, is the ability to use the census to update it and ensure its relevance in relation to social and economic change. Ten years is a long time to wait for these changes, and I suggest that a few that are being proposed are long overdue, given that we are now in the third decade of the 21st century. Let me come to identity in a moment, but may I just say that it is good to see the introduction of a new question capturing past service in the UK armed forces, which has been added? It should go some way in recognising the lives of our fabulous forces personnel.
On identities, I want to support the addition of two new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. At last, LGBTQ people will be acknowledged, and that is most welcome. However, I also see there will be the continuation, for those not included in the existing tick boxes, to allow that to be expressed through the write-in option on both paper and online questionnaires. Interestingly, for the first time, an additional response option of Roma will be included under the ethnic group question, which is also welcome. In addition, the national identity question allows respondents to record multiple identities across the tick boxes and write-in box. But other than those changes, the proposed questions appear to be much as in the previous census 10 years ago.
Perhaps surprisingly, there has been no inclusion of a Sikh tick box, despite the House of Lords ruling in the Mandla v. Dowell Lee case of 1983 that Sikhs are an ethnic group, not simply a religion. The Sikh community is important to the UK in every sense, and I commend the speeches by my right hon. Friend John Spellar and my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Erith and Thamesmead. In my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, the community accounts for a significant and welcome share of our population and our community.
The Minister will be aware that there has been a long-running campaign by the Sikh Federation and, indeed, the whole British Sikh community for this change to be introduced. The concerns among the community, as has been widely shared this afternoon, are that, if Sikhs do not have a Sikh ethnic tick box response option, they will continue not to be properly monitored by public bodies and face possible discrimination in schools and the health sector, where there are known disparities, as well as in housing and across the public sector more generally. As has been evidenced in the current covid-19 crisis, there is no systematic collection of data on the number of Sikhs tested as positive or the number that, tragically, have died, despite the significant number who are actually working on our frontline.
I appreciate that this is a statutory instrument and is unamendable as such, so there will not be any opportunities to change the proposals. I simply want to ask the Minister why the decision was reached to exclude the Sikh identity as a tick box and what steps the Government will take to ensure the Sikh community is properly accounted for in data collection, ensuring the fair allocation of resources and provision of public services.
May I first declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief? I have been asked to raise an issue by a group of people within a religious minority—the Sikhs—as other Members have done, including the hon. Members for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare). I also want to thank Preet Kaur Gill, who I call my friend, for all that she has done for the Sikhs over the years.
Sikhs have been legally recognised as an ethnic group for nearly 40 years, since the Mandla v. Dowell-Lee House of Lords ruling of 1983. The ONS has stated that the ethnic group question was introduced in 1991 to help public bodies to assess equal opportunities and to develop anti-discrimination policies—all good stuff. Census ethnic group categories are used by 40,000 public bodies to assess legal responsibilities under equalities legislation, so the group data—not the religious data—is used by public bodies to make decisions on the allocation of resources and provision of public services.
The Prime Minister’s last race disparity audit indicated that there were 176 datasets spanning sectors from housing and education, to employment, health and the criminal justice system—but no data on Sikhs. What does this actually mean? Well, if Sikhs do not have a Sikh ethnic tick-box response option, they will continue not to be properly monitored by public bodies, and to face potential discrimination in relation to schools, the health sector, where there are known disparities, housing and across the public sector.
The covid-19 crisis has shown that there is no systematic collection of data on the number of Sikhs tested as positive or the numbers who have tragically died. That means something to this group of people, it means something to me, and it should mean something to everyone in the House. In the 2011 census, more than 80,000 Sikhs—20%—rejected the 18 existing ethnic tick boxes and chose instead to tick “Other” and write “Sikh”. I believe that this provided the ONS with the strongest indication possible that Sikhs who completed the census form in 2011 did not find the ethnic tick boxes offered acceptable and wanted an additional Sikh ethnic tick box. It is clear that there must be change and I am asking for that change.
I have four questions for the Minister. Why was the May 2018 online quantitative survey—which had 1,412 responses and showed 93% support, from those who understood the question, for the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box—not published and referred to the census White Paper of December 2018? Why was there no reference in the census White Paper and the associated equality impact assessment to research and modelling by the ONS that showed that more than 53,000 Sikhs—or 12%—were missed in the 2011 census? In the interests of data collection, honesty and evidence, this gap has to be addressed.
Do Ministers appreciate that the management committees of 112 large and small gurdwaras across the UK, with an official membership of over 107,000 and an estimated congregation—or a sangat—of over 460,000 should be considered, as well as 53 individual Sikhs in focus groups? Can the Minister explain why the ONS has requested and received the individual returns from the all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs in August 2018, and yet, it would appear, has made no attempt to conduct any independent validation; and why the deputy national statistician appears to have kept no notes or minutes of meetings that he attended at gurdwaras to consult Sikhs?
I look to the Minister for an adequate, suitable and helpful response. I understand that some of my questions may not be answerable today, but I would appreciate a response. More than that, I would appreciate a change to include Sikhs in the census in their own right in order to ensure that they have protection against discrimination and the recognition that they rightly deserve. Better late than never.
You will appreciate, Madam Deputy Speaker, that as I have so many answers to give I must ensure that I have all my papers in front of me. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate for what was a thoughtful and helpful consideration of all the issues that pertain to the running of an exercise of this scale. I sympathise with Matt Western, who said that, as a younger version of himself, he marvelled at the scale of the census exercise. We can all appreciate that.
Let me turn to some of the questions raised by Cat Smith, who spoke for the Labour party. She asked some questions about the Gender Recognition Act; I can confirm that the consultation response from the Government will be forthcoming before the summer recess. She also asked whether specialist LGBT support would flow from the census results; I assure her that the Government will look carefully at that. Furthermore, she asked whether there might be a support plan for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities following the data that we hope to collect from the census. I refer her to the plans announced last year by the noble Lord Bourne, who was then the Minister responsible in the Lords—which is to say that yes, we do intend to look at where greater support can be given.
Let me turn to the points that were raised about Sikh ethnicity—I shall then go on to discuss Cornish national identity and other points that I hope to be able to tick off for Members. On the point about Sikh ethnic identity, I reassure Members that in no way is either the ONS or the Government ignoring a community, tolerating discrimination or—to address some of the remarks made today—ignoring the possibility of there being a greater impact of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. It would be very grave if the Government or the ONS were doing any of those things, and we are not doing them.
I recognise the passion with which people have spoken on this issue, including Preet Kaur Gill, who is chair of the all-party group on British Sikhs, and other members of that all-party group who have campaigned on this matter for a long time. It is never a reflection of the ONS’s or the Government’s recognition of or respect for any ethnicity, religion or national identity if it does not have a tick-box response option on the census. That in itself answers a number of the points raised by Members today: not to have a tick box is no marker of discrimination or the ignoring of any particular community.
The content of the draft census order is informed by an extensive programme of research and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders carried out by the ONS, and it is necessary to prioritise what is included in the questionnaire. I remind the House of the point made by my hon. Friend Sir David Amess: 55 new tick boxes were requested for the ethnic group question alone—that gives a sense of the context—and each request has to be reviewed against a detailed set of prioritisation measures before the final recommendation is made.
As a result of that rigorous process, the only additional response option that has been included in the ethnic group question is Roma. It has to be found that there is a strong need for data and that no suitable alternative data or alternative sources are available to meet the need. The process is detailed by the ONS; I am giving some selected points from it. In the Roma case, a new tick box was found to be acceptable for those answering the census question.
Let me come back to the Sikh community. There will continue to be a specific Sikh response option in the census question on religion. Despite it being a voluntary question, the response rate on the religion question is very high, at more than 92%, and we are confident, through the ONS, that religion data from the census will provide high-quality data for public bodies to inform service provision and equalities monitoring.
John Spellar said that we should either do one thing or another—that we should make things better or we should have a tick box. I assure him that we are making things better. The ONS recognises that data on religion is not routinely collected and that that is a source of concern for communities, so the ONS will use the new possibilities provided by the Digital Economy Act 2017 to address precisely that point. The ONS began by producing an analytical report on religion in February this year, and there is more work to come. I look forward to seeing it, as I know other Members will, too.
I should say, for members of the Sikh community, that people will continue to be able to record their ethnic group in the census however they wish, by recording it in the write-in boxes provided. An online functionality will assist people in doing that. With those reassurances, I hope it is clear that the ONS and the Government recognise the need for data on different communities; will provide a wide range of statistical outputs to meet their needs; will work with local authorities and public bodies to ensure the availability of that data; and will, given the innovations in this census, provide some of the best analysis that there may ever have been, to help them to better serve the different communities in their areas. Let me also offer reassurance at this stage that Public Health England has been asked to undertake a more detailed analysis into differences between ethnic groups in respect of covid-19.
Let me go on to the somewhat related challenges that have been put forward around Cornish national identity. Here I want to offer a further recognition, which is that the Government understand the points that have been made by Cornish Members today about the distinct culture and heritage of Cornwall and how important this is to the people of Cornwall, who are understandably very proud of their history. May I say—I hope I do not mangle the pronunciation—meur ras to those who have made those points here today? However, the ONS has found that the need for data on Cornish populations is localised and not strong enough, in the context of the many requests for new census questions, to justify the inclusion of Cornish national identity in the nationwide census.
The ONS is absolutely committed to working with Cornish MPs, Cornwall Council and others to meet its data needs through data gathered through the write-in option and will be promoting this in both the national and local census campaigns. I particularly want to reassure my hon. Friend Steve Double that that will go beyond the boundaries of Cornwall and will be available anywhere across the country. The ONS will be marketing this work both nationally and locally, and will promote beyond Cornwall the ability to self-identify as Cornish, acknowledging the point that has been made about the Cornish diaspora. I hope that is helpful to hon. Members here today who have raised points about Cornwall.
Let me turn to the points that have been made—for example, by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West—about digital exclusion. Here I also offer some points about homelessness and the provisions for how the census will be completed. The ONS will be working with various organisations to provide support to those who are offline for various reasons or finding it difficult to complete the census online. There will be additional help, including language support and paper forms. There is also an option of completion by telephone, which may be helpful in relation to my hon. Friend’s point about those who are blind and partially sighted. The ONS will also employ community advisers with various relevant language skills, which I hope goes to his point about those with English as a second language. He also asked about communal establishments. They will be enumerated differently to households, as they were 10 years ago, so there will be a particular communal establishment questionnaire. He also asked what the penalties would be for failure to comply. Those penalties derive from the Census Act 1920, and failure to complete and return the questionnaire can attract a fine of up to £1,000.
I want to mention homelessness, which is an important topic here. It is important that rough sleepers and homeless people are included in the 2021 census. I know that we all appreciate the fact that rough sleepers, in particular, are a small, visible and very disadvantaged subgroup within the wider homeless population, so there are provisions to ensure that the ONS reaches homeless individuals by, for example, working with day centres and night shelters. It is finalising that approach, and I am confident that it will make more details available to the House, should that be wanted. Let me tick off the question of a risk of a cyber-attack, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West asked about. I can give him an assurance that the ONS has that plan in place, including having used the services of the National Cyber Security Centre to carry out a security review.
Let me now turn to some of the questions raised by Hywel Williams. He asked a specific question on whether the final questionnaire would include the terms “Asian Welsh” and “black Welsh” in the high-level descriptions. I can confirm to him that that is occurring, following a point that was raised by the Welsh Government. We welcome the improvement of the census by that interaction, and I thank my colleagues in the Welsh Government for that.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about how those who speak Welsh outside Wales will be accommodated in this census.
I hear support for that from another Welsh colleague in the House. There are proposals for ensuring that those whose first language is Welsh, and those who have both English and Welsh as first languages, will be able to record that in the “main language” question, but perhaps it would make most sense for me to write to the hon. Gentleman to be clear about how else that issue will be accommodated throughout the questionnaire.
I think I am coming to the end of the questions that hon. Members raised with me, so I will now make a few general points before I commend this order to the House. As I said in my opening remarks, I hope that hon. Members will find it easy and rewarding to work with the Office for National Statistics in their communities and constituencies, and help constituents to respond to the census. I thank in advance right hon. and hon. Members who I am sure will do that, as well as all those who have contributed to this debate. Given the quality of debate that we have had, I hope we have supported a high-quality census, which in turn will provide vital information for decision making in our society. The ONS has worked hard over a number of years to bring forward proposals that will work for the population of this country and give us the good quality data we need, and I hope I have provided those reassurances to the House today on its behalf. I have further tried to provide reassurances to the House about other Government actions regarding those topics that have been mentioned today.
It is essential that everybody is counted in the census next year, as that will provide policy makers and decision makers with the information they require to help target resources where they are most needed, as efficiently and effectively as possible. I am confident that this first predominantly online census will deliver that, and over time I look forward to bringing forward the remaining regulations. I commend this order to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That items 2 (resident particulars), 5, 6 (visitor particulars), 10, 11, 13, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24 (demographic particulars), 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 36(d) (education and employment particulars), 41, 42, 43 (accommodation particulars), 45, 46 (additional particulars for individual returns) in Schedule 2, and items 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Schedule 3 to the draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on