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Pre-release Access to Economic Statistics (Committee Bill Proposal)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th September 2019.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

It does not interfere with the independence of the chief statistician. It interferes with the Government’s head start on spin when statistics are released.

The committee does not recommend that we end pre-release access for situations in which the UK Government continues to have it.

That action would bring the Scottish Government in line with EU best practice, which does not agree with PRA. We note that the Bank of England and the Office for National Statistics have ended PRA.

The Royal Statistical Society’s written submission to the committee stated that it believes that

“such privileged access undermines public trust in official statistics as, for example, it creates opportunities for figures to be ‘spun’ to the media or ‘buried’ beneath other announcements.”

It is clear that, by providing some Government officials with an unfair political advantage ahead of statistics being released to the public, PRA creates an uneven playing field. The committee underlines that it is important to build public trust in statistics and to make sure that that trust is retained.

In its report “Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics: A review of the statutory arrangements”, the UK Statistics Authority stated:

“We believe it would be in the public interest if all UK administrations amended their secondary legislation to adopt a maximum period of pre-release access of 3 hours, with a shorter period as the norm. A three hour limit was also recommended by the House of Commons Treasury Committee in 2006.”

That goes back some time. It is clear that the authorities on statistics and their release are in favour of ending pre-release. We support the committee’s position that that should be legislated for, albeit in a modest bill, by ending pre-release in some areas and possibly eventually ending it entirely.