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Census: Religion

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 1 March 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ask the Office for National Statistics to consider a two-stage question on religion for the 2011 census, similar to the one used in Scotland at the 2001 census, asking, first, in what religion the respondent was brought up and, secondly, whether the respondent regards himself or herself as belonging to any particular religion, and, if so, which one. [HL2104]

The current form of the religion question that is being used for the census test, which is being carried out in five local authority areas in May, is the same as that used in the 2001 census. The wording of the question was decided after a lengthy consultation prior to the 2001 census with a wide range of interested parties and census users, including representatives of all the major faith organisations.

The question collects information on religious affiliation or identification, which is required by many users for monitoring equality. The question does not attempt to collect detailed information about the extent to which people practise their religion or the depth of their belief. This would require the inclusion of additional questions and/or explanations and therefore require the allocation of more space than is currently available on the census questionnaire. Responses to the consultation exercise carried out in 2005 in England and Wales on topics for the 2011 census indicated a strong requirement for information on religious affiliation or identification but not on religious practice or religion brought up in. Indications from the continuing consultation are that the majority of the user community is satisfied with the information collected in the 2001 census.

The Office for National Statistics is currently conducting further consultation focusing specifically on the topics of ethnicity, identity, religion and language, which will help to inform the development of questions. Details of this consultation can be found at www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/cn_155.asp.

It is apparent that demands for information from the census are greater than are likely to be able to be accommodated, and difficult trade-offs will need to be made. The current working assumption is that we will be using the same religion question in the 2011 census in England and Wales as in the 2001 census and the 2007 census test.

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 census will not be made until the programme of consultation and question testing is complete and formal approval is given by Parliament in 2010. A White Paper setting out the Government's proposals including the wording of any questions about ethnicity and identity is scheduled to be published in 2008.