Clause 10

Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 18 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Code of Practice for National Statistics

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment No. 140, in clause 10, page 5, line 7, leave out ‘National’ and insert ‘official’.

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Llafur, Nuneaton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 91, in clause 10, page 5, line 8, at end insert—

‘(1A) All those who produce or release official statistics must—

(a) comply with the Code under the provisions of subsection (1), consulting the Board on matters of interpretation where appropriate; and

(b) report to the Board any breaches of the Code.’.

No. 19, in clause 10, page 5, line 15, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Board, government departments, the Scottish Administration, Welsh Ministerial authorities, Northern Ireland departments and any other person acting on behalf of the Crown in the production or publication of official statistics shall—

(a) be bound by the Code of Practice for National Statistics;

(b) consult the Board on any matter of interpretation of the Code that may be necessary; and

(c) report to the Board any breach of the Code.’.

No. 93, in clause 10, page 5, line 15, at end insert—

‘(6) The Board shall lay before Parliament a report setting out any breach reported to it under subsection (1A) as soon as possible after the breach has occurred.’.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Amendment No. 140 would turn the code of practice for national statistics into a code of practice that covered all official statistics. It is supplemented and supported by amendment No. 91, which imposes on those who produce official statistics a legal obligation to obey the code. Together, the amendments would abolish the two-tier system that distinguishes between national statistics and other official statistics and ensure that the full rigour of the reforms applies across all official statistics, whether they are produced by the ONS or by Departments.

Before turning to the substantive issues that surround amendments Nos. 91 and 140, to broaden the scope of the code in the way that I have described, I should like to take some time to deal with the technical issues that arise from this group of amendments. It is necessary to go through them to understand the restructuring of the Bill that amendments Nos. 91 and 140, and some later consequential amendments, involve.

The Opposition consider it to be a matter of concern that the Bill does not require anybody to comply with the code of practice. Amendment No. 91 would impose such an obligation. We feel that imposing a legal obligation would give real statutory force to the code and the new regime for statistics and strengthen the ability of the board to hold the producers of official statistics to account. It then must be decided on whom the obligation should be imposed.

The Bill envisages that the code of practice will apply to sets of numbers. In fact, the focus should be on the institutions that produce the statistics; there should be a code of ethics and good practice for producers. That point is strongly made by the Statistics Commission, which has emphasised the importance of the code’s applying to the activities of Government bodies, rather than providing a means of kite-marking individual sets of numbers. The code of practice should set out ethical guidelines for the way in which Departments operate in relation to statistical matters. The board should monitor the behaviour of the relevant authorities to determine whether they have complied with the code across the board, rather than focusing on certain sets of statistics.

Our amendments would give the board the supervisory and regulatory powers that, as the Financial Secretary acknowledged this morning, it lacks under the Bill. The Committee will note that paragraph (a) of amendment No. 91 would require the relevant authorities to consult the board on matters of the code’s interpretation. That would address a problem with the existing non-statutory code, which has been interpreted differently by the Statistics Commission and Departments. In its 2005-06 annual report, the commission said:

“Only a few parts of the present Code are of a kind that allow an independent judgment to be made about compliance. Much of the Code is non-prescriptive and requires no specific evidence.”

That ambiguity has led to differences of view about what the code means. The Treasury Committee heard from Mike Hughes, a director of the ONS, who commented on similar concerns expressed by David Rhind. Mr. Hughes said:

“I have great sympathy with David Rhind’s remarks about the code at the moment, because the code is an articulation of good practice rather than saying, ‘You should be doing this or that,’ so it is left to individual departments to decide how they choose to interpret it.”

The most important way to remedy that problem is, of course, to eliminate ambiguity, but the Opposition also feel that paragraph (a) of amendment No. 140, with its reference to the interpretation of the code, would be a visible signal of the importance of the board as guardian of the code and the institution with real authority to interpret what it means. That visible signal of the board’s authority would also be strengthened by an obligation to report breaches of the code to the board, and that is contained in paragraph (b) of amendment No. 140.

Turning to the last technical point before addressing the substantive question of scope, amendment No. 93 would require the board to report breaches of the code to Parliament. That is more of a probing amendment than the others. Throughout the debate, hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have emphasisedthe importance of parliamentary involvement in scrutinising the new structures. I am sure that the board will, in any event, refer to breaches in the regular reports that it is anticipated that it will submit to Parliament. However, it is important to have the opportunity to assess how the reporting process would work. We would have to interpret the reporting obligation on the board in a proportionate way, so that it would not necessarily have to write to Parliament every week, but this amendment emphasises the importance of parliamentary scrutiny of the board’s operation.

I shall turn to the main point at issue. We tabled our amendments because we believe that the board’s role should be consistent across statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics and Departments. The Bill gives the new board the obligation to oversee statistics that fall outside the scope of National Statistics, but it does not give sufficient power and authority for the board to live up to that responsibility for oversight. Ministers will retain the power to decide which statistics from their Departments should go forward for consideration in terms of becoming national statistics and which should not, leaving important Government figures out of the new framework. Effectively, the proposals would give Ministers the power to decide to what extent the legislation should apply to them.

There is no good reason why departmental figures, many of which are vital in assessing the performance of our public services, should be treated to a lesser regime. Much of the controversy about statistics over the past  few years has focused on departmental practices and statistics, not on ONS ones. As the Royal Statistical Society has pointed out, there is nothing inherent in the social statistics that come from Departments that justifies a differential treatment by the new structures to be set up by the board. On the contrary, such statistics are a highly important part of political debate today.

Our position draws support from a range of sources. The Greater London authority data management and analysis group, for example, has stated:

“We reject the proposition that statistics which derive from management of public services are inherently different and cannot meet the requirements of the National Statistics Code of Practice. If statistics merit release for public use, especially if they are being used as performance indicators, then they merit inclusion as National Statistics.”

The Audit Commission has also expressed concern, stating:

“There is the risk of creating a two-tier system of statistics, which will be confusing to the general public and other stakeholders. Such a scenario would only seek to generate low public trust in statistics and reinforce the perception of political interference in the production and publication of statistics.”

Dr. Barry Leventhal, chairman of the Market Research Society’s census and geodemographics group agreed that all

“unnecessary distinctions should be removed between national statistics and other official statistics—such distinctions are unsatisfactory and confusing to users.”

Professor Denise Lievesley, chief executive of the health and social care information centre has stated:

“It is the IC’s belief that the code should apply to all official statistics.”

Sue Duncan, the Government’s own chief social researcher, has stated:

“It is important to recognise that much of the statistical system falls outside National Statistics and is therefore not subject to the same quality control, which has the potential to undermine confidence of the public (who won’t make the distinction between National and other statistics produced by departments).”

To put that remark in context, I should make it plain that she did not call for a total abandonment of the distinction between national and other official statistics.

Debrah Harding of the Market Research Society has said:

“The agreed definition of national statistics must be consistently and appropriately applied by government, the ONS, and the research and statistics community as a whole. Fundamentally the distinction must incorporate all official statistics including crucial policy areas such as health, education and crime which are currently produced outside of the ONS.”

Many have expressed concern about the role of Ministers in nominating statistics for the board’s consideration to become part of the National Statistics system. The British Urban and Regional Information Systems Association has stated:

“The implication is that there will be a list of statistical series that will be within scope and this will be decided bottom up by Ministers on a case by case basis. In effect Ministers are being given the job of deciding whether the legislation should apply to them. In our view, the Board should have responsibility for safeguarding the public interest.”

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the First Division Association of senior civil servants, has said:

“The FDA believes that allowing Ministers alone to decide which statistics fall within the remit of National Statistics would undermine attempts to build a clear identity for independent statistics. It would either lead to confusion and add to lack of public confidence in the statistics published or it would create a two tier regime for government statistics which is undesirable and could potentially create difficulties for the government of the day.”

Professor Tim Holt has pointed out:

“The proposal that Ministers should decide what statistics are to be covered by the arrangements is unacceptable. We have seen the effect of this fragmentation of decision making to individual Ministers under the current arrangements and it is unsatisfactory. A legal framework will not command public confidence if Ministers can decide whether or not it applies to them and activities within their departments.”

The Opposition believe that Ministers are unlikely to be keen to nominate their departmental statistics to go into a new scrutiny system. According to Dr. Fellegi, the chief statistician of Canada, allowing Ministers to decide what should or should not be designated a national statistic

“would undermine the whole idea of statistical independence...surely the likelihood that, should they do so, their statistical activity would be subject to audits is not a very strong incentive to opt in.”

If this aspect of the proposal is not changed, Dr. Fellegi feels that the whole exercise amounts to no more than “tinkering”and would fail to solve the problem of public trust in statistics. The academic and statistician, Lord Moser, whose views we have heard a number of times in Committee, told the Treasury Committee that that aspect of the Government’s proposals was a basic flaw.

The RSS has stated that the extension of National Statistics over the past six years has been patchy. Many people, including the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, have expressed concerns about the number of statistics relating to areas such as crime, education, health, and social security that are outside the scope of National Statistics. The Statistics Commission has stated

“We believe it is essential for the new arrangements to relate to all official statistics, not just those which are currently the responsibility of ONS or labelled ‘National Statistics’. The arguments here are largely obvious: many of the most politically sensitive and controversial statistics are produced by the major policy departments of government and based on administrative data crime, education, health and social security records not statistical surveys. The new arrangements must recognise this or risk public confidence in such statistics being reduced rather than enhanced”.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Llafur, De Caerdydd a Phenarth 3:15, 18 Ionawr 2007

I am following the hon. Lady’s argument with interest. Objectivity and trust in statistics are, of course, a good thing. However, she seems to imply that statistics are an instrument used by Ministers, who are not interested in the integrity of them. That is quite wrong, and I am puzzled by why she should take such an approach. For example, there were no figures on the length of time it took to get young offenders before a court, until this Government came in and designed ways of measuring it—we did so because we had a commitment to halve that time. Statistics were actually being driven by ministerial interest in delivering a promise to the public. Will she acknowledge that?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I acknowledge, of course, that Ministers can do valuable work in relation to statistics, but the whole point of the Bill is to restrict political interference in relation to statistics and to take politicians out of the presentation and production of statistics. What I have been saying is consistent with the goals of the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Llafur, De Caerdydd a Phenarth

With respect, the hon. Lady is missing my point entirely. Those preparing statistics had not considered measuring or recording that sort of information until it was needed to deliver a better service to the public. That service was delivered, but it was done because Ministers set a priority to measure something that needed measuring.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

And no doubt that would continue under what I am proposing. All I am proposing is that Ministers should not have the right to veto their statistics from going into the regulatory system that we are trying to set up. The Home Office disclosed to the Treasury Committee that only 12 per cent. of its statistical outputs were national statistics. I would be interested to hear whether the Financial Secretary is prepared to disclose the same figures for other Departments, because I am sure that that would be of great interest to the Committee. I have tried, so far without success, to elicit an answer to that question from different Departments.

The Financial Secretary stated on Second Reading that he does not believe that it would make sense to give the same attention or submit the same processes to less significant statistics, such as UK TV export figures, as to key economic indicators such as jobless totals. Surely, if a statistic is worth producing, it is worth applying to it the principles of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality that we expect to be set out in the new statutory code. It is difficult to see the value of statistics produced without the application of those ethical principles. One of the difficulties of a two-tier system is that it is not always possible to predict with certainty which statistics will be significant and which will not, because certain statistics might suddenly acquire an unexpectedly high political significance.

To illustrate that statistics that fall outside the scope of National Statistics are not significant enough to merit the application of the code of practice, the Minister referred to the egg bulletin. However, data relating to eggs can certainly be significant—they were of career-killing importance for Edwina Currie back in the 1980s. Within a day or so of the Minister mentioning that issue on the day of the Queen’s Speech, figures on egg imports issued by the Food Standards Agency hit the headlines, when it was disclosed that about one box out of every 30 imported into the UK tested positive for salmonella.

On Second Reading, some other specific examples were discussed of statistics that fall outside the scope of the National Statistics system. We discussed the fact that quarterly waiting lists are designated as national statistics, but monthly waiting lists are not. However, as the list set out in the Treasury Committee report shows, there are many other sensitive and significant figures that are outside the scope of National Statistics. To take just a few examples, they include statistics on race and the criminal justice system, women and the  criminal justice system, local sentencing patterns in magistrates courts, the end-of-the-month prison population count, quarterly figures on total time spent in accident and emergency from arrival to admission, discharge or transfer and waiting for emergency admission, quarterly waiting times for suspected cancer patients, quarterly figures for cancelled operations, annual figures on bed availability and occupancy, benefit expenditure tables, quarterly figures for council house sales in England, collection figures for council tax and non-domestic rates in England, creative industry economic estimates, business competitiveness indicators, the development of oil and gas resources in the UK, energy and its impact on the environment and society, survival rates for businesses still registered for VAT after one and three years, annual progress reports on the UK fuel poverty strategy, women’s attitudes to combining paid work and family life, the quarterly report of NHS stop smoking services in England, armed forces medical discharges, households below average income in Northern Ireland, alcohol-related health and mortality, cancer audits and cancer waiting times in Scotland, absenteeism from primary schools in Wales, the admission of patients to health facilities including detentions under the Mental Health Act 1983, cancer survival, cervical screening, exclusions from schools—

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Llafur, Nuneaton

Order. The hon. Lady has an exhaustive list, which is getting tiring. I would have thought that her point had been made.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I appreciate the patience of the Committee. I was going to refer to only two more statistics, namely those on NHS beds and NHS dentists. All those statistics would fall outwith the full rigour of the proposed reform, since none are designated as national statistics. We think that many of them cover issues of significance and concern to people and policy makers across the country, and we believe that they are important enough to be subject to the code of practice on impartiality, objectivity and integrity. That is why we appeal to the Government to support our amendments.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee

I want briefly to discuss amendmentNo. 19. The reason why I need to speak only brieflyis that it is, of course, very similar to amendmentNo. 91—my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet came up with the amendment by a process of competitive drafting, which I commend to the Minister and his officials. The problem is fairly simple and my hon. Friend has alluded to it already. We have a code, but it is not enforceable. That is a difficulty with the existing code and, given that we are putting it on a statutory basis, it will be a missed opportunity if we continue to pursue the concept of a code of practice, but do not say that anybody has to be bound by it.

It is also important for there to be a duty to consult on the interpretation of the code so that potential or confirmed breaches can be identified. As the code stands, that will be left to the good offices of the board, which will be left to discover breaches for itself unless there is a whistleblower at work. That duty would be  useful, but I have no preference for either amendment No. 19 or amendment No. 91. Perhaps the drafting of the latter is a little more elegant than my amendment No. 19, but that is the benefit of competitive drafting. Either way, I hope that the Minister will accept the point that, if there is to be a code, it should be enforceable.

Photo of Julia Goldsworthy Julia Goldsworthy Shadow Chief Secretary To the Treasury, Treasury 3:30, 18 Ionawr 2007

We share the concerns about the two-tier statistics system that the Bill will entrench and the fact that the code will not be binding. We do not know what resources, if any, will be available to the board if it is not convinced that the code has been complied with.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet about important statistics that are not currently national statistics, the problem is that we already have a two-tier system. For information such as that on dentists that is not collected locally, will there need to be a brand new national statistic? What mechanism does the Financial Secretary envisage for converting an official statistic that is not collected in a uniform way nationally into a national statistic if a Minister believes that it should be given that importance?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Llafur, De Caerdydd a Phenarth

I can assure you, Mr. Olner, that I shall be brief and not read extracts from the London telephone directory. I hope that I shall again have the sympathy and encouragement of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary.

Amendment No. 195 would insert a requirement stating:

“In preparing the Code the Board shall have regard to the usefulness of National Statistics at a local level and the importance of coterminosity of raw data.”

Both parts of the amendment are important. The usefulness of national statistics is manifest, and in my intervention on the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet I made the point that those who use statistics to inform public policy and the public benefit sometimes need to point out that statistics collected for mere academic purposes do not necessarily answer the questions that need to be answered. It is important that the code should address that.

The coterminosity of raw data is different from all the other considerations on how data are collated, because it is absolutely basic. If raw data are consistently collected at the most local level possible they can then be aggregated, like blocks of Lego, for any combination of areas as required by public bodies, non-governmental organisations or others seeking to develop policy and deliver services. They can be aggregated at ward, local authority, health authority or police area level. I could give more examples, but the point is clear. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will explicitly support the essential nature of collecting raw data at the most local level possible and state it as his expectation. I would prefer it to be stated in the Bill, because it is such a basic point, but I would at least like an assurance.

Amendment No. 196 suggests that

“representatives with experience of using statistics to identify public need or improve service delivery, including representatives from local government and non-governmental organisations” should be included. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he almost proposed such an amendment when he said that that would be an essential way of proceeding in his response to me in an earlier debate. Again, it is essential that there should be a reminder in the Bill, because it is easy to forget about the local level, especially for those in academic institutions who consider things at the broader level. I hope that my hon. Friend will either be positive in his response or accept my amendments. Either way, our expectations for the future will be explicit.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Ceidwadwyr, South West Hertfordshire

I shall briefly speak in support of the amendments in the name of my hon. Friends, and draw to the Committee’s attention two pieces of evidence that were given to the Treasury Sub-Committee on the very point that we are discussing.

The first point, from Lord Moser, was that by having a code that applies to national statistics but not to official statistics, the Bill will have a greater impact on the ONS part of the current statistics arrangements, which is in least need of reform. Secondly, the chief statistician of Canada, whose evidence was referred to in our earlier sitting today, argued that the public are unlikely to distinguish between statistics that originate from the ONS and those from other Departments. The same point can be made with regard to national statistics and official statistics. The distinction is not likely to be appreciated and understood by the public at large, for entirely understandable reasons.

It was for those reasons that the Treasury Sub-Committee expressed concerns in its report about the proposed approach. The concerns that my hon. Friends have raised are therefore somewhat widespread, particularly since the decisions as to what will be national statistics and what will be official statistics will be made by Ministers, not by the independent statistics board.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The clause places a statutory duty on the board to prepare, adopt and publish a code of practice for national statistics. That is an idea that was widely supported during our public consultation, especially by many of the professional groups. The code of practice is the tool that the board will use to undertake its assessment of candidate national statistics, as set out in clauses 12 to 15.

However, we also expect the code to be one of the board’s main vehicles to promulgate the standards and definitions that it is required under clause 9 to produce and promote across all official statistics. I stress the importance of that point, which has perhaps not been clear before, and about which the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet has been worried. It is important to note that, although the code’s formal status is as a statement of practice against which national statistics or candidate national statistics will be assessed, we expect the board to promote it as a code of good practice across all official statistics.

Statistics that are produced and published by the Government clearly differ in importance. Few would seriously contest the importance of unemployment statistics for a wide variety of purposes and users.  Others might regard the statistics on the number of television licences that a Department holds, for instance, as less important. Few would seriously argue that those data—in other words, official statistical data—should be treated in the same way or with the same status as the jobless figures, which are national statistics.

An active assessment programme will therefore be necessary. Such a programme will necessarily bring with it certain resource implications for national statistics, in funding the process, in placing a compliance burden on those assessed and in occupying the concern and attention of the statistics board. Surely it is right that we apply that assessment to the central set of national statistics—the key statistics that the Government, business and the public rely on for an accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and meaningful description of the UK. There are about 1,300 national statistics. For the Committee’s benefit, I do not propose to read out the entire list.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I do not propose to repeat that list. Are statistics in Wales on, for example, exclusions from schools or cervical screening not important enough to be treated with integrity and impartiality?

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I think that the hon. Lady did not hear what I said. The standards of integrity and impartiality of production and release that are likely to be captured in the code of practice that the statistics board draws up to assess national statistics against will be the same standards that we expect the board to promote for the production and handling of all official statistics. The important thing, which I believe the hon. Lady will have heard me say before, is that we are setting out in the Bill a framework that can evolve in the light of experience. We are starting with the central list of about 1,300 established national statistics, but the definition and list of national statistics clearly can and will evolve in the future.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Ceidwadwyr, South West Hertfordshire

I take the Financial Secretary’s point that the statistics board will have a power to promote the code with regard to official statistics. What powers will the statistics board have to enforce the code with regard to official statistics?

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

My point is precisely that the main attention, the important resources and the important expertise of the statistics board in its assessment, audit and compliance function should be directed principally at the assessment and approval—the auditing, if one likes—of the national statistics that form our central set of statistics. Let me reassure hon. Members that the framework is likely to evolve. It seems to me that under the process there will be a strong incentive for Ministers to look actively at submitting additional departmental statistics for approval as national statistics where they are central to the policy functions or the delivery of the programmes for which that Department and those Ministers are responsible. I would expect the board, as part of its statutory duty under the Bill, to comment on the comprehensiveness and coverage of official statistics and to comment also on any official statistics that it believes should be national statistics.

Amendment No. 140 would change the title of the code of practice from “National” to “official”. A consequence of what I hope I have been able clearly to set out before the Committee today is that that change in itself would make no material impact on the standards of good statistical practice that we expect. We expect the code to be a model of good practice for official statistics, and we expect the board to promote it as such. The board is to monitor the production and publication of official statistics and comment on concerns about the quality and good practice in relation to all official statistics.

Amendments Nos. 91 and 19, supported by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, would place a requirement on all Departments that produce official statistics to be bound by the code and report any breach of the code to the board. I do not believe that the reporting of breaches is a matter that should be set out in legislation. The board, working, as it becomes established, with all the interest groups and stakeholders, will develop mechanisms for engaging in respect of the interpretation and application of the code and reporting breaches to it. Those may well be set out in the code itself. For example, under clause 9 the board can provide advice and guidance to persons responsible for official statistics in this context.

Amendment No. 93 would require the board to lay before Parliament a report on any breach that it has investigated. Under the Bill, the board is empoweredto lay any such report or assessment of sufficient importance before this House or the devolved Administrations, or to report it publicly. As with our discussions on clause 8 and the reporting of concerns, it is fundamentally better to leave it to the independent board’s judgment to respond proportionately than to impose obligations on it.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy the hon. Members who tabled the amendments that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will not press the lead one and that other amendments will not be moved.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 3:45, 18 Ionawr 2007

I shall not press the amendment owing to the lateness of the hour and because we hope to return to this important issue on Report. We welcome the Financial Secretary’s acceptance of the fact that the code will apply across Departments, but he failed to address the problem of enforcement.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The code is relevant not just across Departments, but to all official statistics. Furthermore, the board’s assessment and approval functions relating to national statistics must be conducted according to that code.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I appreciate that clarification. As I said, I shall not press the amendment, but hope to return to it on Report.

The Financial Secretary is concerned about the problems that could arise from vesting the board with enforcement powers over Departments that breach the code and stated that some statistics are less significant than others and should not be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny. He might be concerned about the  burden that would be placed on statisticians, but surely we can trust the board to take a proportionate approach to the statistics and their significance. After all, under clause 26 it is obliged to minimise the burdens that it imposes on those affected by its activities. I feel that the Financial Secretary has not produced a reason why certain statistics should be subjected to a lesser regime, but as I said I welcome his acceptance of the code’s impact across Departments.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Let us compare my two examples of statistics held by particular Departments—on unemployment and television licences. Would the hon. Lady not accept that they should be treated differently?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

They should both be treated with impartiality and honesty, and should be accurate. Good practice should apply to both.

I am grateful to the Financial Secretary, however, for the clarification that he has given and look forward to further discussion of the matter at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment No. 141, in clause 10, page 5, line 8, at end insert

‘taking account of the principles set out in the European Statistics Code of Practice and the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and other international codes or agreements which the Board considers to be appropriate.’.

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Llafur, Nuneaton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 195, in clause 10, page 5, line 10, at end insert—

‘(2A) In preparing the Code the Board shall have regard to the usefulness of National Statistics at a local level and the importance of coterminosity of raw data.’.

No. 196, in clause 10, page 5, line 14, at end insert—

‘(ca) representatives with experience of using statistics to identify public need or improve service delivery, including representatives from local government and non-government organisations, and’.

No. 96, in clause 17, page 8, line 12, at end insert—

‘(6) The Board shall publish the Code within 12 months of being established.’.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am sure that the Committee will be delighted to hear that I shall be brief.

Amendment No. 141 is self-explanatory. In drafting the code, the board should have regard to the European statistics code of practice, the United Nations fundamental principles of official statistics and other international agreements. Both those documents contain a number of very useful principles that could inform the drafting of the board’s code. They are consistent with the line taken by both sides of the House on the importance of objectivity and of focusing on user needs—a matter raised by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. They also focus on the importance of identifying errors in published statistics and correcting them as early as possible; they emphasise objectivity, transparency and user consultation. Importantly, they also emphasise  equal access to statistical releases and ensuring that there are clearly defined rules to govern pre-release, when that is allowed. In drafting the final code, the board would do well to consider the clear approach to release practices, particularly shown in the European code.

To conclude, the UN fundamental principlesof official statistics focus on the professional consideration, scientific principles and professional ethics on the methods of procedures for collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data. They provide a useful source of information and international best practice on which the board would do well to rely. That is why I tabled the amendment.

Amendment No. 96 is self-explanatory. It requires the board to publish the code within 12 months of its being established. We all agree that the Bill is important; it would make sense to get the code up and running as soon as possible. I am grateful to the Committee for its patience.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

This is a useful and, I hope, probing amendment from the hon. Lady. We expect the board to draw on the relevant guidance and principles contained in various documents such as the code of practice for national statistics, the European statistics code of practice and the United Nations fundamental principles of official statistics. I do not want to get into another long list. However, we would also expect the board to consider the commendable work of the Statistics Commission, which recently published its own proposals on a revised code of practice. However, it is unnecessary and potentially unhelpful to place  statutory obligations on the board to do so. I hope that my clarifications have convinced the hon. Lady not to press her amendment.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth tabled amendments Nos. 195 and 196. I fully expect the board to take account of the considerations that he sets out in amendment No. 195. I understand, as he does, the importance of good local-level data—for use locally, but also as a building block for understanding what may be going on at the regional and national levels.

As we discussed, specifying in the Bill particular statistical uses or considerations of which the board must take account in drawing up the code would be unnecessarily inflexible. I expect the board to consult those with the experience and user interest set out in amendment No. 196, but it is not necessary to stipulate that in the Bill. My right hon. Friend welcomed my earlier clarification that under clause 32, the board would have the power to establish advisory committees. Those would allow it to consult individuals with the expertise on which my right hon. Friend is concerned to see it draw.

Given my comments, I hope that the hon. Lady will see fit not to press the amendment to a Division.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I do not wish to press amendmentNo. 141. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Kevin Brennan.]

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Four o'clock till Tuesday 23 January at half-past Ten o'clock.