[Relevant documents: Eighth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Pre-appointment hearing: Chair of UK Statistics Authority, HC1162; Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 29 March 2022 on the pre-appointment hearing for the Chair of the UKSA, HC1162.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House endorses the nomination of Sir Robert Chote for appointment as Chair of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority.—(Mrs Wheeler.)
I want to begin by putting on record the Opposition’s endorsement of Sir Robert Chote’s appointment as chair of the UK Statistics Authority, and to echo the sentiment made by members of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in wishing him well in his new role. I look forward to observing his continued engagement with the Committee. It is appropriate that I mention that, since being appointed as a shadow Minister, I have yet to be discharged from PACAC, but I can assure the House that I have recused myself.
Nevertheless, there are points about the appointment process and the wider use of statistics by the Government, Secretaries of States and Ministers that I would like to raise with the Minister. The Committee’s report on the appointment of Sir Robert directly states:
“Diversity data relating to the applicants for this role (gender, disability and ethnic background of applicants) was not provided to the Committee.”
While I am aware that the Cabinet Office has attempted to justify this decision, I agree with the Committee that such a decision allows the inference that there was little diversity in the applicant pool for this role, but we just do not know. If the Government’s words on diversity are to amount to more than simply hot air, they need to commit to delivering greater openness in future public appointment processes. It is the only way of measuring whether the Government are making inroads in creating a diverse public sector.
Accurate statistics that properly represent the whole population are crucial to effective policy making, but much of the data on which our public policy is based fails to represent marginalised communities accurately. Statistics such as census data provide a vital tool for public bodies to decide resource allocation and service planning decisions, so I hope the Minister will seek to address the chronic statistical under-reporting of minority communities such as the LGBTQ population, which continues to limit access to vital services given the inaccurate understanding of such communities.
I was pleased to hear Sir Robert’s firm commitment to data transparency in PACAC’s pre-appointment hearing. I know this is of particular concern due to Ministers’ conduct during the pandemic. PACAC’s data transparency and accountability report affirmed:
“Statistics quoted by Ministers have not always been underpinned by published data, which goes against the UKSA Code of Practice.”
Access to data is essential in building public trust in Government decision making. If data is withheld, there is no way to verify the information. As Sir Robert rightly put it, the
“ministerial code says one should be ‘mindful’ of the code of practice. That seems weaker than it ideally would be.”
All of us in this House must have accuracy and honesty at the heart of everything we do. A high degree of openness is key to ensuring the country is being governed with integrity. As we have seen recently with partygate and other infractions in No. 10 and the Conservative party, increasing the expectation placed on Ministers to provide accurate information informed by publicly available statistics has never been more important. I hope the Minister will heed Sir Robert’s thoughtful comments on this during the pre-appointment hearing.
I just want to end my short remarks by reiterating my and the Opposition’s support for the appointment of Sir Robert, and I look forward to his delivering on his agenda.
I should tell the House that I have known Sir Robert Chote as a friend for many years. Not just from that knowledge, but from an appreciation of his career in public service, I think the Government, as the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) said, have made an excellent choice in his nomination.
As we saw during the pandemic, accurate, timely and relevant statistics are of crucial importance to public policy, and the Science and Technology Committee, which I chair, has depended on and drawn on them extensively. We are fortunate in this country to count on institutions such as the Office for National Statistics and the Office for Statistics Regulation, and individual statisticians who are world class. Throughout his distinguished career, especially as chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote has also depended on the availability of good statistics and has shown himself to be a fearless guardian of their independence and rigour. He will make a fine chair of the UK Statistics Authority and will strengthen further the UK’s already strong reputation in this vital field.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I too congratulate Sir Robert Chote on his appointment. There is absolutely no doubt that he is more than eminently qualified to take up the role of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority. He is highly respected, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), as chair of the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council in the last year and of course from his tenure as the chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility for the best part of—indeed, for a full—decade.
I do share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). She raised some very interesting points about diversity, and I share her support for Sir Robert’s commitment to transparency, which is perhaps more vital now than ever before.
Finally, I pay tribute to the out-going chair, Sir David Norgrove, and thank him for his five years at the UK Statistics Authority. I put on record our best wishes to Sir Robert Chote and wish him every success for his time in office.
I am really disappointed that the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) decided to take the time to make this a political issue, which it really is not. We want to welcome Sir Robert Chote to the new job, and thank the former chair, Sir David Norgrove. It is a superb promotion, the Committee found him completely acceptable and I just want to commend the motion.
Question put and agreed to.