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Government Statistics

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2013

Public trust in Government statistics is incredibly important. As the hon. Gentleman knows, all official statistics in the UK are now subject to independent scrutiny by the UK Statistics Authority. As he also knows, that is now independent of Government and directly accountable to Parliament, rather than through Ministers.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but have the Government not failed to respond to the Public Administration Committee recommendations because of the Prime Minister’s numerous breaches of the code of practice for Government statistics?

I am not aware of any failings in communicating with the Committee. The Prime Minister has responded to those suggestions directly and to the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority very vigorously, which is the right and proper way of approaching it.

May I tell my hon. Friend how much I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General when he said in opposition that we should end the practice of pre-release—the release of statistics to Ministers and officials hours or even days before they are released to the public, so that they can be spun? Would it not increase trust in statistics if the Government adopted the views of the UK Statistics Authority and the Public Administration Committee and ended this practice, as they have in many other jurisdictions?

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this, as does the Committee he chairs. He will know that we inherited a regime that had, rightly, been tightened up, with arrangements embedded in legislation. He will also know that we reviewed the arrangements when we came into power and took the view that the right balance had been struck. The arguments are well rehearsed and although I know that he does not like the message, we are not going to change the arrangements and I do not think that that message is going to change.

Let us look at cyber-statistics. In answer to my parliamentary question, the Minister put the cost of cybercrime at £27 billion, but that turns out to be a 2010 “guestimate” from defence company Detica. The National Audit Office misused Cambridge university figures, managing to confuse pounds with dollars. We all know that online crime is rising, but the Government rely on outdated third-party figures. Is he surprised that the public do not trust the Government’s efforts to fight cybercrime, given that they clearly cannot even measure it?

The Government take the whole issue of cybercrime incredibly seriously. I am not sure that we are going to take any lectures on trust in public statistics from the Labour party; the reason the UK Statistics Authority is in place is because public trust in Government statistics cratered after 13 years of Labour, for ever associated with the dark arts of spin and media manipulation.