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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 Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I congratulate those in the public gallery who have stayed the course and stuck with it. When I was allocated a speaking slot in the debate, I realised that Gordon Lindhurst would be opening the debate and I would have to listen to his dulcet tones for more than 10 minutes. Naturally enough, my heart sank. However, he exceeded himself and gave one of his wittier performances.

I would not have thought that anyone could get passionate about the subject, but members have done, and Andy Wightman summed it up rather passionately when he said that we may well ask—as someone who is not a member of the committee, I certainly did—what the fuss is all about.

What is it all about? I turned to the very useful report that was produced by the committee, and there it was. John Pullinger, the chair of the UKSA, said that, as the president of the Royal Statistical Society, he has

“always argued that fairness demands that everyone has equal access to statistics”.

That seems reasonable.

The report asks why we should care so much about the issue. Ed Humpherson, the director general of the UKSA, told the committee:

“It is because, at the heart of what statistics are about, they are a public asset.”—[

Official Report


Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee

, 7 November 2018; c 23.]

They are a public asset that belongs to us all. The figures do not belong to the Government but are there for public consumption, as information that enables the public to understand the nature of the world, policy and decisions that are being made.

That is all reasonable enough. Then we come to the attitude of the Government, which is probably the attitude of Governments across the world. It wants to know things first, because—as Kate Forbes said—it does not want to give a “knee-jerk” reaction to statistics. We can understand why a Government would say that. However, given that the statistics are a public asset, is it right that the Government should know them before every member of the Scottish Parliament?