Clause 58

Part of Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 25th January 2007.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1:45 pm, 25th January 2007

I well know my hon. Friend’s expertise and experience. He has lived in Canada and may even be a British and Canadian dual citizen, so he may know Canada better than any other member of the Committee. He is quite right that Canada has a distinct federal structure, but the federal responsibility of the statistician in Canada is quite different from the central statistical service function in the United Kingdom. As I have explained to the Committee before, there is no appropriate universal model when considering the reforms. Any country, with its different circumstances, history, forms of government and policy, will rightly and inevitably require a statistical system suited to itself. In the legislation, we are setting up an innovative system that is breaking new ground, and there is simply no automatic precedent anywhere else in the world.

On the proposal of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, we have discussed why both the National Audit Office and the Electoral Commission in principle are not appropriate comparators. I did not merely refer to plans for a new way of funding the statistics board in the future, as she suggested, but gave a commitment on how the Government would do that. I gave a commitment to the House on Second Reading, on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks rehearsed again for the Committee the view on funding taken by the Treasury Committee. He will accept, I think, that the proposals for funding as they stood when the Select Committee undertook its inquiry, the Canadian chief statistician gave his evidence, the Committee reported and the Government gave their formal response are different from the ones that we have before us. Only on Second Reading, after the Committee reported and the Government formally responded, was I able to set out in more detail the commitments on funding.

For the benefit of the Committee, I shall clarify those commitments. To meet the key requirementsof the new statistical system of independence, transparency and flexibility, we will guarantee the board funding certainty over periods of five years, in direct contrast to the normal spending review period and process of setting such funding commitments. In addition, that certainty will be guaranteed through the  setting of a transparent formula, so that annual resources are given to the board in each of the five years. Furthermore, funding for the census will also be set for a five-year period and integrated into the overall budget of the board. Parliament must then hold the board to account for the way in which it allocates and controls its resources, in the same way as Parliament holds the Government to account for decisions such as resource allocation. As I said, the role of Parliament in scrutinising the new system will be central, including in matters of funding and resources for the board. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will not press her amendment to a vote.