Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 13th May 2019.

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Lord Young of Cookham:

Moved by Lord Young of Cookham

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I am delighted to present this Bill today. This may be some noble Lords’ first encounter with the census legislative process. I have an advantage, in that I was responsible for taking through the legislation in another place to enable the taking of the 1981 census. I now have the pleasure to present a Bill that paves the way for new questions in the 2021 census, 40 years later.

The purpose of the Bill is very simple: it will remove the penalty for not responding to new census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that the questions will be voluntary. Given the sensitive nature of these questions, they will be asked only in respect of those aged 16 and over in the 2021 census.

This delivers on the proposals set out in December 2018 by the White Paper Help Shape our Future. The Office for National Statistics undertook an extensive three-year programme of research and evidence-gathering, including a large public consultation on the 2021 census, and the White Paper sets out its recommendations. This includes new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to help decision-makers monitor their services and provision. The White Paper also recommends that nobody should have to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity if they do not want to.

To make these questions voluntary, the Bill amends the Census Act 1920 to remove the penalty for not responding to them. As some noble Lords will recall, this reflects the approach taken in the Census (Amendment) Act 2000, which removed the penalty attaching to a failure to answer a question on religious affiliation in future censuses.

The Bill also extends to Northern Ireland by amending the Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 to ensure that there is a consistent statutory basis across the UK for asking voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Bill does not direct either question to be asked in Northern Ireland but extends the voluntary nature of both questions, should it be decided to include these questions in this or a future Northern Ireland census. Without an amendment to the census primary legislation for Northern Ireland, questions on these topics would remain subject to a penalty for non-response. Following consultations with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, we are therefore extending this Bill to Northern Ireland. Noble Lords may wish to note that the Scottish Parliament has separately introduced a Bill to make new questions on sexual orientation and transgender status and history voluntary by removing the penalty for failing to answer these questions.

The census provides an opportunity, once every 10 years, to build a detailed and comprehensive picture of the nation. The 2021 census will be a primarily online census for the first time. This will help to improve data quality and pursue the Government’s aim of increasing the provision of public services online.

Confidentiality remains paramount. All personal data collected by the census will be stored confidentially and will not be released for 100 years. In 2021, respondents will be provided with a unique access code and anyone aged 16 years and over will be able to request a code, or individual paper form, if they wish to respond privately. This will enable people to answer these questions without having to tell the householder that they have done so. This is vital, given the clear need for this data.

The research and consultation conducted by the Office for National Statistics to inform the recommendations for the 2021 census showed a clear need to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. National and local organisations have confirmed that need, including the Government Equalities Office, the Department for Health and Social Care and Sport England. There has also been significant consultation with stakeholders in the voluntary sector, which I know the ONS values, and which will continue throughout the census.

The Office for National Statistics recommends new questions or changes to questions only where its consultations and research has shown a compelling case to do so. Data on sexual orientation, down to local authority level, is not currently available and there is no official data at all in this country on gender identity. This has a direct impact on the provision of public services. The NHS has highlighted that the absence of reliable gender identity information is a challenge for its provision of gender dysphoria services, and local authorities have sought the information to tackle homophobic incidents in the night-time economy. Without robust data on the size of the LGBT population at a national and local level, decision-makers are operating in something of a vacuum. They are unaware of the extent and nature of the disadvantages LGBT people may experience and, critically, they are unable to design and monitor the effectiveness of policies to address these issues.

I have written to my noble friend Lord Blencathra, of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, to set out the delegated powers memorandum accompanying the Bill. The Bill includes no new delegated powers but will have an effect on existing ones as they operate in England and Wales. Copies of the memorandum have been made available.

The Bill ensures that, in delivering on the White Paper’s proposals, the Office for National Statistics can arrange to include new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 census on a voluntary basis, ensuring that the penalty for not responding to these questions is removed. It ensures that robust data can be collected to inform policymakers in the planning and provision of vital public services to support citizens across the UK. I therefore urge noble Lords to join me in supporting this simple, worthwhile legislation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:25 pm, 13th May 2019

I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and for repeating his 1981 gig. I do not know whether he will do this every 10 years from now on. I also congratulate the Government on using our spare Chamber time on a useful piece of legislation, for once. Perhaps we could also now have the public service ombudsman Bill, the Grocott hereditaries Bill or some Law Commission Bill to put our otherwise rather idle hands to good use.

We on this side of the House welcome and support the Bill for the very reasons the Minister articulated. We believe that the timing is right to include the two new questions, not only to ensure that services and policies are appropriate but to help with the development of rights and the removal of discrimination. I say this particularly as an old campaigner—first and foremost, one needs good evidence to measure problems and monitor progress in order to formulate responses and make a strong case.

However, I confess that my enthusiasm for the census comes also from speaking as an historian. A plethora of data going back more than 200 years provides us historians with a rich treasure trove. Along with other noble Lords, I am delighted that the Government still believe in the census given that, in July 2010, the then Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, called it,

“an expensive and inaccurate way of measuring the number of people in Britain”, and planned to replace it with existing public and private databases, including credit reference agencies. That would have been awful for historians and today’s users of data, since those sources are neither as comprehensive as the census nor as rich in detail and depth. We are delighted that the Government did not follow that idea.

Planners clearly need extensive data, including on children, if they are to cater for future needs. The census is the only time when everybody in the country is counted; it is therefore used by the Government to determine spending priorities and track population movements. Without accurate data, it is nigh on impossible to distribute resources effectively or target them where they are most needed. As the Minister reflected on, it is similarly important for those monitoring the impact of legislative, demographic or policy changes. Whether for campaigners, historians, faith leaders, planners or politicians, the census must be comprehensive, consistent and credible, and provide confidence that it will be used correctly, that personal data will be kept private and that its oversight will be thorough and in the public interest. To achieve accuracy, we need very high compliance. That requires confidence in the process and a willingness to participate, so the questions must have public acceptance. Their wording therefore needs extensive consultation and testing, as well as explaining nearer the time to build trust in the process.

We on these Benches consider that the White Paper and the Bill have correctly judged that the moment is right to add these two questions and to ensure they can be voluntarily answered. We might discuss some details in Committee and seek assurance on the degree of consultation, but we are very supportive of the proposals. However, I will ask a couple of wider questions about the 2021 census.

The first is about the homeless. For the census to be complete—that is, a picture of everyone in the UK on that Sunday in March two years hence—it needs to count those who are homeless as well as those who are housed. This is important both to measure the impact of demographic or policy changes and to plan services for this vulnerable group—to say nothing of the future needs of historians—but, as we know, this group is currently underrepresented on the returns. Last year Shelter met the relevant ONS team and made suggestions to improve the situation. In particular, it argued that the key to achieving an accurate count by including homeless people is really just trying harder to reach them. That might mean providing extra reassurance to the homeless about dealing with officials and stressing to every local authority the importance of that. Without accurate numbers, there is little chance that services to help those experiencing homelessness will be fairly and adequately delivered. This issue is particularly important and relevant to the debate today, given that the Bill is about groups that we know have a higher propensity to homelessness. Particularly given the broader move to an online approach, what discussions has the Minister’s department had with the ONS on ensuring that the census captures those experiencing homelessness?

Secondly, I want to ask the Minister about the Royal British Legion’s “Count Them In” campaign, which seeks the inclusion of a question to make good the patchy data on the Armed Forces community, which leaves statutory and voluntary service providers unable fully to meet the needs of that cohort at the moment. Parliament would need to approve such an addition. At the moment, nobody knows the size or demographics of the Armed Forces community resident in the UK. The legion estimates it to be about one in 10 of the population: some 2.8 million veterans, perhaps 2.1 million dependants, another 1 million dependent children and perhaps up to 250,000 hidden ex-service personnel in care homes. In 2007 the MoD estimated that there were 2.4 million veterans. These are large numbers to be left so vague, especially five years after the Armed Forces covenant was enshrined in legislation. That covenant recognises the sacrifices that the Armed Forces community makes and pledges that no one should face disadvantage as a result of their service. Local authorities have promised to deliver the principles of the covenant, but they need data to do that.

Of course, the other recommendation in the White Paper was that there should be such a question. I know the Government have agreed to add something about past UK service. While the wording has yet to be decided, it would be helpful if the Minister could update the House on this. If I have understood it, it would not be in the voluntary section and that is why it is not included in this Bill. What thought was given to not excluding it and dropping it into the voluntary section?

I will just check with the Minister whether a couple of things that appear to be from a previous era remain. Is the approach taken in the census still that there is a “head of household”, which sounds a little not of our time? I hope the question on “issue born in marriage” is no longer there. Maybe the Minister can just update us, to make sure that the language and questions are appropriate for the 21st century. For the moment, though, we very much support the Bill and look forward to its helping to produce useful and relevant data on important human rights issues in due course.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 3:34 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and thank him and his team for the briefing they gave Peers the other day. He is right: this is the first time I have been involved in census legislation. My previous experience of considering the census in great detail was in 1971, when my mum was an enumerator. Most enumerators were women because it was short-term work that working mums could do. She was an enumerator in a working-class area of the west of Scotland. I guess in those days we did not bother to ask about people’s religion because everyone knew what everyone else’s religion was, and if in doubt asked which school they went to.

I am pleased with the provisions of the Bill, which I hope will command general agreement. It is high time our data gathering became more inclusive. The LGBT community has suffered over time, particularly in the provision of public services, because there has been no basic data from which service planners have been able to work. All the information we get these days—patchy though it is—about LGBT people’s use of the NHS is not population data but data about our use of the NHS. That is all there is to go on, whereas for the rest of the population there is basic data from which projections can and should be made.

It is right that the Bill will ensure that it is not compulsory to answer that question—it is voluntary—and that there should be no penalty for not doing so. For many people it is still a matter that they wish to remain private. Other people cannot divulge their sexual orientation because they fear for their safety in the communities in which they live. It is therefore right that we should do this in the way that we will.

I was pleased to read the White Paper and about the great care that has gone into the preparation of the whole census and many of the questions. However, it is not what the Bill is trying to do that is important but what is not said in it. It is not clear what the questions will be and how they will be framed, and that is crucial. My understanding is that while the sexual orientation question has been subject to consultation, the gender identity one has not. I hope there will be extensive consultation with people likely to have to answer that question.

I understood from our briefing the other day that the sex question is likely to be, “What is your sex? Male or female?”—to be answered by everyone over 16—but the gender identity question is likely to be, “Is your gender the same as the sex you were registered under at birth? Yes/No. Please write in the gender or ‘Prefer not to say’”. Working from that, the assumption would be that a transgender woman would tick “Female” for the sex question and tick “No” and write in “Female” for the gender identity question. A non-binary person would tick the sex that they most closely identify with in the sex question and then tick “No” and write “Non-binary” in the gender identity question. A cis person like me would tick the sex assigned at birth in the sex question and “Yes” in the gender identity question. That is the basis on which I am working.

The standard sex question being left as it has been since 1801 causes a problem for people from three different groups: trans people, non-binary people and intersex people. First, trans people have for many years been filling in the census and have done so in their lived-in identity. Is it anticipated that that will happen from now on and that a trans person will respond in their lived-in identity? We have to bear in mind that the Government are currently consulting on a review of the Gender Recognition Act and these two proposals may come in at the same time. Let us remember that gender recognition is a legal process, not a medical process.

Secondly, what do the Government expect non-binary people to do? Whatever the Government expect them to do will have to be written into the guidance that goes along with the question. How are the Government going to consult on that?

The most difficult question, however, is about the smallest group of people: intersex people born with the characteristics of both sexes. As a result of the current way of not legislating properly for intersex people, they are currently assigned a sex at birth to have their birth recorded. Subsequently their sex may be changed. What are those people supposed to do? I know this all sounds horrendously complicated but I have talked to a number of people involved and they are aware that they are filling in a legal document. They want to do it properly. They do not want to deceive; they just want to know what to do, so it is critical that we get the guidance on this right.

That leads me to my next point, which will perhaps be raised by others, and is about privacy. I understand from the briefing the other day that the data will not be released for up to 100 years. As the Minister will know from our meeting, there is a fear, particularly among the trans community, that while at the moment our society is broadly well disposed towards its members, it may not always be. We are in the middle of a very vicious anti-trans campaign, orchestrated by one or two of our main media outlets. It may be that in 100 years’ time, people may not wish this information about their family to be released. Will the Minister say what might be done with this information in future? It needs to be handled with as much sensitivity as that afforded to religion.

I have two final two points. First, this will only ever give us a minimum number because there will be all sorts of reasons why people do not respond to the question. When the statistics are released and show that there are far fewer people than we thought, let us not be surprised about that and let us not base public service provision on what will inevitably be a small number. I took the point made by officials that the census is kept as simple as possible to obtain information that cannot be obtained from other sources. That is why we do not ask every question that people would like to ask.

Secondly, I return to the point I made to the Minister the other day. There is another group of people—men who have never had children—about whom it is extremely difficult to find data. It is possible to work out which women have not had children through their medical records. Why is it important? Currently, 1 million people over the age of 65 do not have children, and we have a health and social care system predicated on the fact that your kids will look after you. It is estimated that by 2030 there will be 2 million people with no children. The trouble is that, because we cannot count them with any degree of accuracy, this significant emerging public policy issue is being ignored. I realise that this matter does not come within this Bill, and I realise, from questions, that the Minister will instantly go away and appoint a working group to look at what I have said. I thought I would throw it in on the off-chance, because I believe it is a significantly overlooked point of public policy. With that, I welcome the Bill very much.

Photo of Baroness Finn Baroness Finn Conservative 3:45 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. He and the Government, in their 2018 White Paper, have laid out a clear case for the introduction of these questions to the census, as well as the rationale for them being optional. Historically, there has always been pressure to include more questions and response options in the census than can be accommodated without putting an unacceptable burden on members of the public in completing the form. However, I think that the Government have the balance right in introducing these two questions.

The surveys by the Office for National Statistics indicate that a large majority of the public—over 70%—find it acceptable to ask the questions, and only very low percentages would elect not to answer them. Although—again, according to ONS data—1% of the population claim that they would refuse to complete any aspect of the census questionnaire if the questions were to be included, this consideration is, I believe, outweighed by the utility that these questions will provide to the Government in fulfilling their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The fact that there is currently no official data about the size of the transgender population, for example, speaks volumes. The time is right for these questions to be included in the census.

In debating the 2021 census, I pay tribute to the Government’s work and to their success in acting on the recommendations endorsed by my noble friend Lord Maude when he was Minister for the Cabinet Office. During the coalition, we called for modernisation of the census. The Government recognised its value but believed that it was outdated in its current form and could be more effectively and more cheaply delivered. This is the first census to be predominately online, with an ambition for 75% of responses to be online. This will not only save a great deal of money but allow for the data to be processed faster and put to use while it is still fresh, rather than no less than 16 months old, as was the case after 2011.

I note also that steps are being taken both to help people complete the survey online and to provide offline materials for those for whom that is not possible. I hope that these efforts to get people online will also enable them to unlock the tertiary benefits of access to online governmental resources other than just census forms. Are the Government confident that they will meet their 75% online target or even exceed it? Can the Minister also confirm whether there are plans to offer help to people to get online that go beyond simply completing the census?

During the coalition, we encouraged government use of complementary data, and I am pleased to see that this is being undertaken. The ONS is working with tax data from HMRC and benefits data from the Department for Work and Pensions to develop census-type income data that can be integrated with the data collected on the 2021 census. The Office for National Statistics is also developing approaches to integrate 2021 census data with health and social care data, government surveys and administrative sources such as benefits data. This, in turn, will produce new research which will help to describe the health of the population in innovative ways and with greater depth and precision.

If the 2011 census was calculated to provide £500 million per year to the economy, I trust that the benefits of the 2021 census, with a more modern rollout, asking more useful questions and capable of being processed much faster, will be far greater. I commend the work of the Government and the ONS in their efforts to improve the 2021 census and their collaborative and open approach when conducting the work.

On a final note, however, I also ask the Minister to confirm that the 2021 census will be the last traditional census. During the coalition, we agreed with the ONS that it would run the next-generation census based on continuous use of administrative data for a couple of years before 2021 to ensure that the two processes were aligned. I look forward to receiving his response.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 3:49 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, I am a facts geek. I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics with Kelvin Hopkins in the Commons and am vice-chair of Full Fact, the fact-checking charity, so naturally I welcome the Bill because it is going to provide more facts.

I also welcome something that is slightly more unusual to welcome: that there is such a short speakers’ list. I think that, if we had been debating this 30 years ago, there would have been a large number of noble Lords deploring the normalising of homosexual orientation through this kind of action. Indeed, not much more than 30 years ago the Prime Minister of the day cancelled the NatCen sexual survey, then very important in the combating of AIDS, out of just such prejudices. One of the things that give me comfort in the difficult world that we live in has been the huge advance in the acceptance that people’s sexual orientation is a matter for them and no one else.

There is, however, a question about the use of the census for this purpose. Many of the facts that we have at our disposal do not come from the census, which asks the questions of everyone; they come from various forms of sample survey. Obviously, that is less intrusive and requires less work, so could we not do it for sexual orientation? Well, I do not think you get very good numbers that way. Just over 10 years ago, in 2008, the ONS did an analysis of all the sample surveys that had been done into sexual orientation, and it found that the proportion of homosexual people in the community varied from 0.3% to 3% depending on the survey—a factor of 10. So they do not mean much.

Surveys are not very good for very small numbers. I came across another survey on the prevalence of out-of-control gambling; it was a big sample, but I would not trust the figures further than I could throw them since they jerk about all over the place. The reason for that is that sample surveys do not work well when you are trying to identify small groups of people. That is even truer of much smaller groups such as transsexuals, so I would not much trust the accuracy.

There are yet other estimates. An opinion poll recently found a figure for homosexuals of 4%, while the ONS’s latest estimate is 2%. These figures are all over the place. Some people think that the census figures will be all over the place too because many will refuse to answer but, for the reasons that I have already given regarding the change in society, they will probably turn out accurate enough. The ONS itself is testing its questions really thoroughly in an attempt to ensure accuracy.

The census is the only thing that tells you facts regarding a relatively small geographical area. Samples can give you national figures and sometimes regional ones but very rarely constituency-wide figures, let alone local authority-wide figures or figures for wards. There are areas in this country where the gay population happens to be very concentrated and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, those areas may require something quite different from other areas by way of services. I would not push this too far, but they probably do not need quite as many schools for primary-age children, for obvious reasons. So it is going to be of extraordinary value to local authorities and others in the planning business to have this definitive statement of what percentage are gay in particular areas instead of having to rely on national figures and trying to interpret from there.

Culturally, this move represents an important step forward in the recognition that homosexuality is a perfectly natural human condition and accepting that condition with complete equanimity. I therefore welcome the Bill with unusual warmth.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:54 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Barker has made clear, we on these Benches also welcome this Bill and the proposed new census questions. This takes us into a broader debate on the 2021 census which we will undertake over the course of the next year. I recognise that this is barely the soup course of that—it is certainly not the main course—so perhaps the Minister could start by telling us, either now or during further consideration, when we may expect publication of the census order and the full consideration provided by taking it through the House. It is very tempting to ask about wider issues at this point, such as the integration of census data with other government data—household surveys and the like—and the discussions within government since the passing of the Digital Economy Act on how one begins to provide for administrative data replacing the survey data of the census in the next 10 years, as chapter 9 of the White Paper suggests. Clearly, when we discuss the census order, we will need to include debate about the future of the census and government management of public debate post 2021.

I cannot resist pointing out in passing that there seem to be some limits on UK sovereignty in the census process. Paragraph 1.29 of the White Paper notes that,

“the census in England and Wales aims to align with international standards set at global and regional level”.

I think that is code suggesting that we are aligning our national census with European standards. I am sure that many on the Conservative Benches think that is entirely improper and that we should move as far away from them as possible.

I have some specific questions. I also received a note from the British Legion about the Armed Forces questions. If I understand the difference between its note and what is in the White Paper, the question is about how far one includes the dependents of members of the armed services, and veterans and their families, in the survey one undertakes? I very much hope that the Minister will tell us more about that, either now or in Committee.

I noted with interest the discussion on questions of national identity from paragraph 3.115 of the White Paper on. In particular, it spends some time on whether or not one should allow Cornish identity to be written in. I give notice to declare that we would of course wish to insist that Yorkshire identity is also allowed to be written in under those circumstances. I was a little puzzled that it appears not to allow for multiple identities. As we know from the rather complex discussion we have had about different identities—English, Scottish, English and Scottish, British, European—these are out there in the public and it may be time to take some of them on board.

I also noticed the delicate discussion on whether or not one allows the Somali community, which has very particular needs, as discussed in the White Paper, to be identified separately from other African communities. It seems that, in public policy terms, there are some quite important questions about identifying particular communities. I once happened to canvass in a part of London which had a remarkably strong Congolese community. They were very surprised to know that I understood that some of them spoke Lingala and other languages; they did not expect a white person to understand anything about the Congo at all. There are good public policy reasons for wanting to identify certain communities, and I was puzzled about why that had been left out.

I was also slightly puzzled that there was no question on digital skills, given that we are moving towards a digital census. I am aware from discussions with the social housing association and other authorities in Bradford that there are some pockets where there are a remarkably large number of people who lack digital skills. Again, perhaps we might return to that in Committee.

As far as the new questions are concerned, I recognise their sensitivity but also their great utility. As a Liberal, I am in favour of open information as far as possible in an open and tolerant society and in the maximum transparency. We are, after all, talking about our preference for evidence-based policy, as against the myth-based policy that has unfortunately taken hold in British government in recent years. Perhaps the Minister could remind us, either now or in Committee, which other questions on the census are voluntary. I noted in the White Paper that the question about religion is voluntary. I am not sure whether there are others. It would be helpful if that was provided to be sure that we understand the categorisation taking place.

I also noted the question on heads of household filling in questionnaires. I wonder whether that is still appropriate and, although very convenient, whether it still provides something of a problem in some parts of the United Kingdom when it comes to sensitive questions such as sexual orientation and gender identity, thus discouraging full returns. I wonder whether there is a particular problem with heads of household in Northern Ireland.

I am torn on the question of privacy. I know that some within the LGBT community are concerned, as my noble friend Lady Barker suggested, about allowing this information to become public even 100 years after it was provided. Again, as a Liberal, I am in favour of making as much information public as soon as possible. I remember the exchange we had in this House when I was in government about the information in the Denning report and Lord Denning’s promise to those whom he interviewed that their answers would never be made public. The position I took as a junior member of the coalition Government was that, at the point when all of those who had been involved in that particular scandal were dead, it would be time to release those answers. I am in favour of limiting the length of privacy, but we should hear the concerns of those worried about it and do what we regard as necessary to allay them.

I welcome the Bill and the proposals. I look forward to further detailed examination in Committee and on Report.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 4:02 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said in her opening remarks, the Opposition welcome and support the Bill before the House. There are, however, other pressing needs that require parliamentary time, and I hope we will see a few Bills to address those matters as well.

We have had a census in a form we recognise, providing useful data for Governments, local authorities and a whole range of other organisations, for the past 200 years, collected every 10 years, except in 1941, for very understandable reasons. I understand that the 2021 census will largely be conducted online, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, referenced. That is a sensible move, but where people are unable to complete the form online, then a paper-based option should remain available for use since there are still a number of people in this country who are digitally excluded. I am sure that that is an issue of concern to the Government and I very much support the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, that the Government should look into how we can get more people to complete the form online.

The census provides a whole range of data that would be almost impossible to collect in such a comprehensive form through any other method. As my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said, it must be accurate, complete, comprehensive, consistent, credible and provide confidence that it will be used correctly.

I very much welcome the two new categories that the Bill allows to be asked on the census. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that it is very welcome that we have made such strides in the acceptance of people’s sexual orientation. There is always more to do, but I think we have made tremendous progress in recent years.

I am also very pleased that the Government have, through this Bill, ensured that there will be no financial penalty for respondents who do not complete these questions. It is regrettable that we still have no functioning Executive or Assembly in Northern Ireland. In the absence of such institutions, it is right that the Government have legislated to ensure that the same questions are asked in Northern Ireland, and that there will be no penalty there either for anyone who does not respond.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raised several points that I wish to support her on. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, will be able to give satisfactory replies when he responds to the debate shortly. In respect of the sex question, where an individual is asked to pick either “male” or “female”, can the noble Lord tell the House how trans people should answer that question? Is it their sex at birth, their sex now, or should they respond in a way outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker?

Can the noble Lord say something about the guidance that will accompany the gender identity question? Can he say something about how intersex births are to be recorded? On the question of publishing de-anonymised data in 100 years’ time, I understand that there is the ability, through an instrument, to extend that period further, if it is thought necessary or desirable. Can it be extended only once, or can it be done many times? Has the noble Lord's department looked at this question, and can he provide information on this matter?

It is important that we get the same data for the United Kingdom, so I am pleased that the Scottish Government are also legislating on these matters, and that a legislative consent Motion is being sought from the Welsh Assembly.

Like many other noble Lords, I received the excellent briefing from the Royal British Legion, and while the issues raised are not directly the subject of this three-clause Bill, I will refer to them—as others have done—and hope that the Minister can provide the House with some information. First, I pay tribute to the work that the Royal British Legion does generally, supporting veterans and their families. Data is invaluable for the Legion in its campaigns—as it is for the Government and for local authorities. The Armed Forces Covenant is enshrined in statute, and has also been adopted by many local authorities in the United Kingdom. The Legion calls and campaigns, and the Government have an obligation that no member of the Armed Forces is left disadvantaged because of their service. To deliver that objective, the Legion is reliant on uniform data.

I very much support the Legion’s campaign for a new topic to be included in the 2021 census that concerns military service and membership of the Armed Forces community. I look forward to the final details of the question that will form part of the census coming forward for approval in 2020, but anything that the Minister can say now is most welcome.

My noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town also raised the issue of homelessness. In terms of the census, how do we reach these people and get as accurate a picture as possible? Again, it would be welcome if the Minister could say a little about what he expects the Government will say to encourage local authorities to do everything possible to collect data from this important group who are difficult to communicate with. There are several voluntary projects that could help. In Lewisham, where I live, the 999 club could certainly help the local authority. We must find ways to get to these people. For all local authorities to go the extra mile, they have to feel that the Government really want this data to be collected and will support them in doing so.

In conclusion, I confirm that the Opposition support this Bill and will work constructively with the Government to enable its passage through this House and on to the statute book.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:08 pm, 13th May 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this relatively short debate, and particularly welcome the broad support for the legislation we have brought forward. I will try to answer the questions that have been raised, but if I do not, I will ensure that noble Lords have the answers before the Committee stage.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her support. The business managers will have noted her suggestions that there are other pieces of legislation—some of them controversial—that should be introduced. She set out why we need firm data in order for the public services to be effectively targeted. The census will be trialled later this year in a number of places, including Tower Hamlets, and there will be further consultation on the detailed questions.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked a key question about how homeless people will be counted. I agree that it is vital that those who face severe challenges in their lives are reached when we assess how public services are to be delivered. Since 2011, further research and engagement with charities have been undertaken to understand how people without a fixed place of abode can make a census response, so the ONS is planning to make forms available in night shelters and day centres, with practical help for filling them in. The ONS continues to work with these centres and other groups to ensure that people who may attend them only on a given day will also be able to take part.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, also asked about the Armed Forces and veterans. We will consult the Royal British Legion and others on the detailed question or questions, which will be determined by secondary legislation later this year. There was a question about whether the veterans’ questions should be voluntary. I do not think they raise quite the same sensitivities as the two questions that will be voluntary, so they will be part of the compulsory section. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the only voluntary question is the one introduced in 2001 on religion and the two questions being dealt with today. All the others are voluntary.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Sorry, did I misspeak? All the questions are compulsory, apart from the religious question and the two questions before us today—corrigendum.

The new question on past service in the Armed Forces is proposed for the 2021 census to identify those who are 16 and over and who are veterans. This will enable us to serve those who have served their country and keep the commitment which we made to them when they joined the Armed Forces. As I said, the detailed question will be determined later in the year.

The term “head of household” has not been used since 1991, so the argument that some noble Lords on the Cross Benches have with their wives as to who is the head of household is unnecessary. It has gone to a more neutral form, either “householder” or “joint householder”.

On the 100-year rule, there is such a rule but of course Parliament could always change that if it wanted to. It has 100 years in which to come to that decision if some of the concerns voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, took place. The noble Baroness asked a number of questions and I will do my best to answer them. One was about what intersex people do. The ONS is recommending that there be a note on the sex question, to advise that a gender question follows and include guidance that those who wish to can use the free-text box on gender identity to write “intersex” or another identity. Engagement by the ONS with the intersex community has not shown any objection to this proposed approach. She asked what we will do with this data and how it will be protected. Public confidence in the security and confidentiality of all information given in the census is paramount, including in particular on the questions that we have referred to today.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Hayter, asked whether we were going to consult on the guidance. The guidance for the online and paper versions of the census is in development and being informed by research and testing with members of the public, and by input from stakeholders. On an additional point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, we do not use “issue born in marriage” in the census. Just to clarify, responsibility for completion now falls to the householder or joint householder, as I said, which is defined as the person who owns or rents the property, or is financially responsible for day-to-day expenses.

A homeless person would use the address of the establishment—the day or night shelter—where they fill the form in. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Finn, who worked in the Cabinet Office and helped to move a number of public services online, as that has made the forms much more convenient for the citizen to fill in.

Yes, we have an objective of 75%, which I will come on to in a moment. My noble friend also referred to the value of cross-referencing census data to other data to build a more granular picture of society as a whole.

The 2021 census is part of a wider modernisation programme to transform ONS data collection to provide improved population statistics. As part of this programme and by using data-sharing provisions in the Digital Economy Act, the ONS is exploring how administrative data could replace the need for a decennial census after 2021. As to whether this is the last census, the UK Statistics Authority will make its recommendations on the future of the census in 2023. The ambition remains as set out in 2014: censuses, after 2021, will be conducted using other sources of data and by providing more timely statistical information. How will we hit the 75% target? ONS will provide assistance, including in-person support sessions, for example in schools and libraries. There will be a dedicated census contact centre working with community groups, and also work by census field staff on the doorstep.

Along with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and me, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, welcomed this being a non-controversial debate. I suspect that, had I introduced this provision in 1981 in another place, the debate would have lasted slightly longer than it lasted today. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, as a statistician, particularly for his reference to the value of data at a ward level.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked when we will get the order. We hope to debate it towards the end of the year, around October. “Later in the year”, my briefing tells me—that is perhaps a broader definition than the one I just used.

A person can tick as many national identity boxes as they like and write another. The noble Lord, if he wants to, can identify himself as English and Yorkshire. I think I have addressed most of the issues raised in the debate.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector)

On exactly that point, I put two questions to the Minister to which he has not responded. How do the Government expect non-binary people to respond? Are trans people expected, as they do now, to reply to questions going by their lived-in experience? Perhaps the Minister will write to me about the interrelationship between this and the Gender Recognition Act.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

In so far as the compulsory question is concerned—the binary question of male/female—the guidance is minded to say, “Fill in what was on your birth certificate”. If you have changed your gender and have a gender certificate, you would put in that gender. The noble Baroness’s question underlines the importance of the guidance being right, and we propose to consult on it. If she agrees, I will write to her on the other question. Having said all that, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.