I want briefly to flag up the issue of devolved statistics, which the Minister could deal with either now or under clause 18. There is a reference to devolved statistics in clause 11(6), and it would be useful to have the Minister’s clarification as to what it means. I do not think that that concept is defined in the Bill, but he may be able to correct me.
As I shall explore in our debates on clause 18, the concept of devolved statistics raises certain concerns about the fragmentation of statistics across the UK. There is consensus on both sides of the House that we want to avoid the fragmentation of statistics and to grapple with and reduce the related problems that have arisen. Subsection (6) seems to insert the concept of devolved statistics, which could cause a problem and exacerbate the fragmentation difficulty that the Bill is partly designed to deal with. I reiterate that I am happy to deal with that point in our debates on clause 18.
I reserved my next point for this part of the debate because it was not really covered by the amendments. Subsection (8) refers to the rules on pre-release access relating to
“statistics in their final form prior to publication.”
Leaving aside for a moment all the discussions that we had this morning about who should decide what the rules are, it seems to me that a key problem with pre-release is the use of information prior to the finalisation of figures circulating around Departments—possibly to be leaked or used to soften up the news agenda in the way that we discussed.
The drafting in subsection (8) seems to suggest that there will be no regulation of the raw data and statistics and their use until the last i has been dotted and the last t has been crossed. Does the Minister expect that the new rules will provide guidance as to how data should be dealt with—who may see it, who may use it and what treatment it may receive—prior to the finalisation of its release for circulation? If there is to be complete freedom to use and circulate data before they reach their final form, that seems to constitute a significant loophole in the rules that the Minister is contemplating.
I am grateful for that clarification, but it would still be useful to have further clarification from the Minister as to how all this will work and how we will prevent it from leading to further fragmentation problems.
In conclusion, I say only that for the reasons we discussed earlier, the official Opposition would like the opportunity to vote against the clause. We believe that the board and not Ministers should set the rules on pre-release.
On a point of order, Mr. Olner. Not forthe first time, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West did my job for me. I was not quick enough to catch your eye. I want to say to the hon. Member for Sevenoaks that I signed the letters on Friday. They went into the system. I shall look into the fact that he and one or two other members of the Committee have not received a copy of the letter. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for that.