Clause 58

Part of Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 25th January 2007.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:15 pm, 25th January 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 175, in clause 58, page 28, line 14, leave out from beginning to end of line 16 and insert—

‘(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the expenses of the Board shall be paid out of monies provided by Parliament.

(2) The Chairman of the Board shall, for the financial year ending immediately after this Act has been passed and for each subsequent financial year, prepare an estimate of the six year rolling use of resources by the Board; and the Commission for Official Statistics shall examine that estimate and lay it before the House of Commons with such modifications, if any, as the Commission thinks fit.

(2A) In discharging its functions under subsection (2) above, the Commission for Official Statistics shall have regard to any advice given by the Board and the Cabinet Office.

(2B) The Commission for Official Statistics shall appoint a person to be responsible as accounting officer for preparing resource accounts for the Board for each financial year; and that officer shall discharge such other duties as the Commission may determine.

(2C) The Commission for Official Statistics shall appoint the Comptroller and Auditor General as auditor for the Board.’.

The amendment is linked to an issue on which my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham commented earlier. It deals with the crucial matter of how the new arrangements put in place by the Bill will be funded. We propose to put the funding decisions in thehands of a parliamentary commission of the sort that was described and discussed in relation to earlier amendments. Two other bodies are funded in a similar way: the Electoral Commission and the National Audit Office.

It is obvious why the clause and the amendment are important: it is possible for funding arrangements to undermine measures that ensure genuine independence from political control. Therefore, the problem to be addressed is how to ensure that there are proper limits on and scrutiny of the budget, while preventing the ministerial interference that the Bill is designed to deal with.

We in the official Opposition believe that the best way to tackle that conundrum is to put the fundingin the hands of Parliament and have a direct parliamentary vote on it. That would create the necessary independence from the Treasury, while securing value for money for the taxpayer. Doing so would give the board the opportunity to work closely on its funding arrangements and have them scrutinised, agreed and determined by the commission that we want to set up.

The concern about funding arrangements possibly undermining true independence for statistical services was addressed by a number of stakeholders who contributed to the consultation and, probably, to the  evidence taken by the Treasury Sub-Committee, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks. Certainly, the British Society for Population Studies emphasised that

“Arrangements should be made to avoid concerns about political manipulation.”

The British Urban and Regional Information Systems Association stated that

“the initial level of funding should be determined by a joint review involving Parliament”.

A similar comment was made by the fire and rescue statistics user group.

We tabled the amendment to answer the concerns of the stakeholders in the statistical community, who want greater parliamentary involvement in the funding process. Essentially, there is concern that the Treasury’s involvement in determining funding will lead to the Government determining the scope of additional work done by the ONS. The Economic and Social Research Council, for example, was anxious that the Government might push funding for statistical series that they wanted, but not emphasise funding for statistical series that they were not so keen on.