Census Day — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 7th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat 2:36 pm, 7th March 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to publicise census day on 27 March.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, were there a topical question for today, my noble friend might well have secured it, because this is the day when the first household forms will be sent out. Advertising for the 2011 census has already started. The first television advertising began on 21 February and will continue up to and beyond census day on 27 March. In England and Wales there will be a national campaign, including TV, online and outdoor advertising on, for example, billboards and bus shelters. Separate targeted advertising is aimed at black and ethnic minority audiences, students and young people who are traditionally hard to reach.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given the importance of the census information and in light of the fact that in 2001 many people did not complete a form, and with a return rate of under 80 per cent in some London boroughs, how confident is the Minister that completion rates will be higher this time, particularly among households where English is not the first language?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, the Government share my noble friend's concerns. There are areas of the country where returns are low, and those are the very areas where accurate information can often assist government decisions on resource allocation. I should remind the House that £100 billion-worth of resource allocation depends on the sort of information that the census provides. The advertising campaign is therefore constructed to that end. The organisers have been working in partnership with local authorities to plan and prioritise engagement, and advertising with voluntary groups, organisations and community leaders to promote the census.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench

My Lords, have the Government identified what interpretation and translation services they need to complete the census, and how have the relevant specialists been recruited?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

A large number of specialists have been recruited and translations of the questions and information leaflets will be available in 56 languages. There will also be drop-in centres located in local communities to assist in completing the forms where that will be of help. Community leaders are being encouraged to become involved in helping to complete the forms.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I may have misheard my noble friend, but in his original Answer, did he say that advertising was going to go on beyond census day; and if so, why?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

I am afraid that much of the effort involved in the census has to be made in chasing those who have not returned the form. The task of some 35,000 field staff will be to chase up the addresses from which no return has yet been received. That is the reason for the chase-up advertising.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is it not rather ironic that all this effort is being put into the census when the same is not being done for electoral registration?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

I think that the noble Lord has made that point before when we were discussing other matters, and I appreciate his contribution on this. I am sure that he will agree that getting accurate information is important for proper and effective government.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

Does the Minister accept that there is a certain lack in the census? There is no way of taking into account illegal immigrants-the "invisible" people, of whom it is estimated there are many hundreds of thousands in this country-if they cannot be identified in any way, and do not wish to be.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, it is a household census; therefore the head of the household is responsible for accounting for the people within it on census day. When the Government examine the future of the census, the points that my noble friend has made will be borne in mind.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

My Lords, it is rumoured that this will be the last census in its current form because of cost. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case? If it is, how will such data be collected in future? These data are important not only for current planning purposes but for historical purposes as well.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. The cost of conducting a census is £487 million-an enormous sum which Governments have found has augmented over time. The Government are indeed looking at alternative methods. It may be possible to have much more real-time information-after all, at the end of the 10-year period, the data are already very out of date. A project beyond 2011 has been set up to provide and examine alternatives to the current paper-based method of collecting these data. It will report within the next three or four years.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many families there are in this country whose English is not sufficiently good to understand the census form?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

We cannot be sure, which is part of the reason why the census exists. It will inform that debate.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given the importance of the information to be obtained by the census and the uncertainty about its future, will the Minister make certain that, on this occasion, very careful study is made of the value for money of the contracts that have been placed to carry it out?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

Yes. Although the contracts have been placed under open tender, the Cabinet Office and the Government in general have a policy of transparency in contracting and of making sure that cost-effectiveness is at the top of the list.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, the census form arrived in our household today and, on immediate reading, it seemed to state, "complete on 27 March or as soon as possible thereafter". It is not immediately apparent to me-I may have to look at it again-that there is a closing date for putting in the information. Is there such a closing date on the census form?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

The chase-up period will go on until 9 May. It may be necessary for people who are absent to complete the form after 27 March, but the Government's objective is to have a snapshot view on 27 March. That is the end in mind. I should add that it is possible to complete and submit the form online in anticipation of 27 March, if one wishes to do so.

Photo of Lord Christopher Lord Christopher Labour

My Lords, my impression is that not many people have seen the form yet. I had the misfortune of getting it this morning. I glanced at it only very quickly, and won't ask the unkind question of whether the noble Lord has seen it, but I think that it runs to 32 pages. It provides some notes for what you should do if you make a mistake-well, there is some opportunity there, I can assure the noble Lord. So my question really is: what steps are proposed to monitor the accuracy of returns, even for those of good will who might wish to return them? I did the census 60 years ago, for £10, when every form was taken and completed by an operative, but we are now relying on the public.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

I am pleased to hear that the noble Lord received his form this morning; he is higher in the alphabet than I am, so mine might come a little bit later-but I have actually downloaded a form online. I will make sure that a copy of the form is available in the Library for examination.