Amendment 1

Part of Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:34 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:34 pm, 18th June 2019

My Lords, I want to speak at this point because I want to leave another question with the Minister and give him time to respond.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his amendment and his explanation. I remain puzzled by the Government’s view on this, because I have now had the chance to consider their letter of 31 May. It seems to say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, “Yes, you’re probably right, but as we didn’t do it properly in 2000, it might prejudice that, so we should remain consistently with a less-than-perfect form of words”.

There are two aspects to this, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. One is the legal aspect and whether it is absolutely clear in law that “no penalty” means “not criminal”; I will leave the two noble and learned Lords to adjudicate on that. The other aspect, which was just touched on, is whether it will be clear enough to all respondents that, unlike the rest of the form, they do not need to answer these questions. We non-lawyers want absolute clarity on this second point, to ensure that no one should feel compelled to answer these questions, nor to expect to have to answer on behalf of those for whom they are completing the form. They should not even be nudged to ask someone for the answer to these questions. We would want to see some real guarantees on that not to support these amendments.

I turn now to another matter regarding voluntary and compulsory questions: military service. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his letter of 10 June, a copy of which he has placed in the Library, in response to my concern that, for whatever reason, somebody may not want to disclose their history of service in the Armed Forces to other members of the household. I am probably not alone in wondering about this. Indeed, only 88% of veterans and their families thought this question was “publicly acceptable”, which is interesting. One-fifth had doubts about whether it was publicly acceptable, which I think is significant. In Northern Ireland, the question was found only “generally acceptable” and the Minister’s letter says that,

“some veterans may be unwilling to disclose this information”.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency thought:

“This could be mitigated by providing assurances about privacy and through additional guidance”,

although it said it would look carefully at the 2019 census rehearsal before making a final recommendation for the 2021 census.

Obviously, members of households can request their own individual census form if there is information they do not want to disclose to the person completing the census on behalf of the household. However, by opting out of the household, one might be looked at slightly askance and it could raise questions as to why one is doing that. This is as true for the gender and sexual orientation questions as for the military service one I have in mind. I do not wish to pursue this separate issue now, but I ask the Minister, who I hope will be able to reassure us that, in all the guidance and testing, the sensitivities about military service, as well as those related to the areas that are the subject of this Bill, will be borne in mind.