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Census

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2009 in Council providing for a census to be taken in England and Wales on Sunday 27 March 2011 has, today, been laid before Parliament. This order specifies the persons by whom, and with respect to whom, returns are to be made and the topics on which questions are to be asked, and gives effect to the United Kingdom Statistics Authority's proposals which were set out in the Government's White Paper, Helping to Shape Tomorrow, in December 2008.

The census is the most important source of demographic and social statistics available in the UK today. It provides the underlying information needed to inform a wide range of policy debates and is used extensively to plan services and allocate funds to local areas.

The design for the new census, as set out in the White Paper, builds upon the experience gained by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) from previous censuses and, in particular, from the lessons learned from the 2001 census. The design takes account of the several formal recommendations from the Treasury Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the former Statistics Commission. It also reflects the concerns more recently expressed by the Treasury Sub-Committee and others about the quality of national and local population statistics generally.

Consequently, a number of major changes are proposed in the design for 2011 compared with previous censuses:

Census forms will be delivered to households by post in the majority of cases;

there will be the facility to return the completed information online;

a central address register is being developed to facilitate improved form delivery and field management;

tighter control of the field operation and the targeting of non-response follow-up will be facilitated by closer monitoring of the delivery of forms and receipt of returns through a questionnaire tracking system; and

the recruitment, training and payment of field staff will be outsourced to specialist service providers.

The topics proposed for the 2011 census are set out in the draft order, and cover those issues where information is most needed by the major users of census information. The questions have been devised to produce reliable and accurate data. ONS has carried out extensive consultations and testing over a number of years to ensure that the questions are justified, both in terms of the need for the information and public acceptability.

New questions are proposed on: national identity; citizenship; second residences; language; civil partnership status; date of entry into the UK and length of intended stay (for non-UK born); type of central heating; and number of bedrooms.

Copies of the 2011 census questionnaire will be included as part of the Census Regulations to be made early in 2010 following the Census Order.

Following devolution, separate legislative arrangements will be made in Scotland and Northern Ireland for the censuses there. However, the census date proposed is common throughout the UK in order to maximise comparability, to minimise costs, and reduce public confusion.