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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 Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I do not understand the committee’s position. Committee members are asking us to do something while saying that we cannot because we have talked about the independence of the chief statistician.

On the second matter, of course I would not liken the Scottish Government to Whitehall departments. However, I take issue with the argument that we are the only ones that allow PRA—that is clearly not the case, given what I have said about other Whitehall departments. There is a big distinction between arm’s-length statistical agencies such as the ONS and statisticians working in Government. The evidence of policy and practice that has been presented to the committee is based on the views of individuals working outwith Government.

Pre-release access is a long-standing practice in Scotland and only a small part of maintaining trust in our official statistics, which, incidentally, is something for which we have a strong reputation. The arrangements for PRA to economic statistics in Scotland have been in place for many years, including under Labour, and it was common practice even before the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Order 2008 was introduced.

We have engaged very positively with the committee’s economic data inquiry and have accepted the majority of its recommendations, but we feel strongly about this matter. There is simply a difference of opinion. The fact that each Administration of the United Kingdom drafted its own order shows the division of opinion on the practice of PRA.

We have always been led by the judgment of professional statisticians. The committee’s proposal disregards the fact that the Scottish Government has a managed and well-functioning process for PRA.

The Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Order 2008—I highlight that it passed through this Parliament with no division—means that the rules that everyone follows in the week before publication are very clear and, critically, that the process is managed by the professional statisticians.

We strongly support the existing PRA framework, which strengthens and empowers statisticians to act in a professional manner. There has been no material change that would warrant a change in practice.

This debate has come about because the committee has refused to acknowledge and honour the statistical arrangements that the Government adheres to whereby ministers accept the professional advice about statistical matters of Scotland’s chief statistician. The proposal for a bill disregards the established practice that successfully operates in Scotland.

Presiding Officer, I cannot remember how much time I have left, but I want to draw to a close with some positive words from the Government on this debate.