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I know that many colleagues might think that pre-release access to statistics is a boring subject to debate. They would, of course, be entirely wrong, and in my short five minutes, I hope to convince them otherwise.
Before I move to the substance of the proposal, let me tell members that the last time a committee bill was taken forward in the Parliament by a subject committee was in 2003, with the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, so it has been 16 years since we had a committee bill. I have no idea why that is, because it is not as if there have not been opportunities and issues on which there has been disagreement with the Government.
I remind members that, at the very start of the Parliament, external commentators considered that having the ability to initiate legislation would give committees, and by extension the Parliament, more teeth. If the Scottish Government really did not want to do something and a committee thought that there was merit in the issue, it could bring that issue forward itself.
I will not rehearse the detail of the bill proposal, as others have done so already. The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has not arrived at this position lightly or quickly. As members heard from John Mason, we have gone backwards and forwards with the cabinet secretary. John Mason himself even tried to find a compromise with the cabinet secretary, without the degree of success that we imagined he would achieve; the suggested changes were not as great as we hoped that they would be. What is before members today is a compromise and a pragmatic approach from the majority of the committee.
Stopping pre-release access to statistics is not a novelty—it really is not anything stunningly new. The Office for National Statistics does it and the Bank of England does it—in fact, they have been doing it for more than two years and the ceiling has not fallen in. The UK Statistics Authority recommends it, and the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee recommends it, too. The Fraser of Allander institute recommends it, in a blog today, and Sir Charles Bean, a former member of the monetary policy committee at the Bank of England, recommends it. The Royal Statistical Society believes that it is absolutely the right thing to do, and would extend it across all departments. In short, the proposal is best practice. It is the gold standard that is expected of statistics. It is about transparency and trust—and facts free of spin.
Ed Humpherson, director general of the UK Statistics Authority, summed it up for me when he talked about statistics being a public asset
“that enables the public to understand the nature of the world, the nature of policy and the nature of decisions that are being made.”—[
Official Report, Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee,
7 November 2017; c 23.]
He also pointed to the importance of statistics being “equally available to all” without some having “privileged access”.
Every expert in the field says that we should end pre-release access to economic statistics, but the Scottish Government—