Clause 18

Part of Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 23rd January 2007.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 5:30 pm, 23rd January 2007

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet used the opportunity given by the discussion of the clause to register a few concerns about the nature of devolved statistics and comparability across the United Kingdom, and she was right to do so. We share her concerns, which was clear from the consultation and the way in which we framed the Bill. The decision of the devolved Administrations to participate fully in the provisions of the Bill goes some way to addressing those concerns.

Under the devolution settlement, devolved Administrations have responsibility for devolved matters such as education, health and local economic development. That includes the production of statistics relating to those matters, such as statistics on pupil numbers, cancer operations and local planning applications. Devolved statistical production predates by some way the devolution settlement and Simon Briscoe’s comments in the Financial Times. Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly Scotland have different legal, political and education systems, which leads to the production of relevant statistics. That has meant that direct comparability in those areas has been difficult for some time.

Given the devolution settlement and our determination not to open it up wider with this Bill, it is right that the Board should obtain the consent of the relevant devolved Administrations to produce statistics on devolved matters. The clause allows the board to produce and publish statistics on any UK matter. It is important that the board should continue to do so, not least because we are concerned to aid the coherence of UK statistics, as the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is. The Office for National Statistics compendium “Social Trends”covers both devolved and non-devolved statistics to give a definitive overview of the United Kingdom. Where it impinges on devolved statistics, it is right that consent is obtained from the Administrations.

The hon. Lady cited some of the technical and practical difficulties that analysts and researchers had in bringing together statistics from devolved sources. Those concerns were raised during the consultation, and we are as keen as she is to deal with that issue. She urged me to confirm, as I think I already have, that I believe that the Bill will be helpful because the devolved Administrations have decided to participate fully. That means that the board will have a responsibility in its remit to monitor and report on statistics in the devolved Administrations.

As I have said, the Government are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to review what is already in place as non-legislative agreements, including the formal concordat to try to improve the degree of consistency and coherence. I hope that this brief debate has been useful to the hon. Lady and that she will agree to the clause standing part of the Bill.