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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 Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

We are talking about economic data, but I will come back to that point.

Dean Lockhart spoke at some length about the comparison between the two Governments. I will not reopen his argument, save to say that the Scottish Government appears to find itself in an anomalous position. It is down to this Parliament to take a view on whether that is acceptable.

Bill Bowman went into some depth on the bill proposal document that the committee has published. As I said previously, how we take forward those principles of fairness and good practice will ultimately be a matter for Parliament. He spoke about the merits of the option of having a phased approach and an independent review of the impact of the removal of pre-release access. Although a default position is proposed, it can be adapted to exceptional circumstances. It is not an ill-considered proposal that disregards caution; it is one that addresses legitimate concerns.

I want to briefly cover some other contributions. Graham Simpson highlighted Gordon Lindhurst’s fantastic, witty performance and was disappointed that it was only 11 minutes long, but I thought that he made a good contribution for somebody who was clearly inspired by the subject of the debate.

I was a bit disappointed with John Mason who, in his clear desire to move to a demoted position on the Finance and Constitution Committee, has, I feel, betrayed his former committee colleagues.

Andy Wightman spoke with great passion and knowledge. He also offered practical solutions in what I thought was an excellent contribution.

I thought that the minister engaged well with the discussion. It is clear that she is a great fan of all things data—I will leave it to you how you take that comment, minister. She mentioned the Scotland Office and other organisations, but it is our responsibility as MSPs to be able to hold the Government to account—that is why there is so much concern over pre-release.

Jackie Baillie mentioned the Fraser of Allander institute. In relation to today’s debate, it said in its blog:

“this is an important event and covers a crucial aspect of the economic landscape in Scotland.”

I certainly agree. The importance of the debate has been highlighted by the fact that, since it started, the Government front bench has been beefed up by an additional minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work—albeit that he arrived slightly late.

Graham Simpson touched on a quote from Ed Humpherson, the director general of the UK Statistics Authority. He observed that statistics are a “public asset”. The public and civic society have as much of a right to see and comment on the fruits of the public sector’s work as a Government minister. That gets to the heart of the issue and why the committee has taken it forward, and I hope that the Government will support what the committee is proposing.