Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Census (England and Wales) Order 2009.
Relevant Documents: 23rd Report, Session 2008-09, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and 29th Report, Session 2008-9, from the Merits Committee.
My Lords, this draft Order in Council gives effect to the proposals of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority for the ONS—the Office for National Statistics—to conduct a census throughout England and Wales in 2011. These proposals were set out in the Government’s White Paper, Helping to Shape Tomorrow, published in December 2008.
The census is the most important source of population statistics, and is the only source of statistics for both small areas and minority population groups. For over 200 years it has provided the underlying information which successive Governments have used to devise policies, take decisions and deliver services.
Billions of pounds of public funding and resources are allocated to local and health authorities each year using census-based information.
Since the 2001 census, a new independent body that reports directly to Parliament, the UK Statistics Authority, has been created. The ONS, the executive office of the authority, will lead on the census in 2011. I can therefore present the census order today confident that its content has been produced not by government but by the ONS, following extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and with rigorous question testing. The independence of the census is essential if we are to build public trust in official statistics.
I will now take you through the detail briefly. Under the Census Act 1920, an Order in Council is necessary to prescribe the date of the census, the people to be counted, the people responsible for making a census return, and the information to be given in the census returns.
The date of the census will be 27 March 2011. Everyone will be recorded at the place where they are usually resident. Household members who are temporarily absent on census night also need to be counted. Some additional information will be collected on household visitors, which is essential if the ONS is to ensure that visitors are properly counted at their usual residence. The person responsible for making a census return is to be the householder or joint householder, but any individual aged 16 or over may make a separate individual return. The information to be given in the census returns is covered by Article 6 of the order and is set out in Schedules 2 and 3. Regulations, to be laid before the House in spring 2010, will set out the detailed content of the census and will contain copies of the various questionnaires.
On the information to be given in the returns, the ONS has carried out extensive consultations with central and local government, including members of all-party parliamentary groups, with community groups, with businesses, with academia, with the third sector and, most importantly, with the general public.
The ONS has also carried out in-depth question testing between 2003 and 2009, building on the valuable experiences and the lessons learnt from previous censuses. This is to ensure that the proposed questions in the 2011 census are justified, both in terms of the need for the information itself and of their acceptability to the public.
Under the terms of the Census Act 1920, some items—those in italics in the draft order—may only be included in the census if they are approved by an affirmative resolution. It is these that we are debating today. Only a few are new to the census, and I will now deal with these specifically.
First, people born outside the UK will be asked about their date of entry into the country and, for those who arrived in the past year, the length of their intended stay. There is an increasing need for more accurate and reliable statistics on migration in general, particularly on short-term migration. The census will therefore provide information on shorter-term migrants and temporary foreign workers, and help to give a better understanding of their needs and their impact on local labour markets and demand for local services.
Secondly, people will be asked to state the country of any passport that they hold. Government departments and the European Union require statistical data on the citizenship of the population. The question asks about passports rather than about citizenship. Asking directly about a person’s citizenship confuses respondents, who may mistake the question for one of national identity. People give much more consistent answers to a question about passports, with the result being easier to use to produce the necessary citizenship-related information.
Thirdly, people will be asked to register another address where they actually spend time. Such information will be particularly useful to local authorities which need to know the number of people who stay within their area and use local services during the week but who have a usual residence elsewhere.
Fourthly, people will record their national identity in addition to their ethnicity. Noble Lords will be aware of the amendment that was voted down in the other place to add a tick-box for “Cornish” in the national identity question.
Fifthly, people will be asked about their main language, allowing central and local government better to target language support and resources to those sections of society unable properly to access public services due to language barriers.
People whose main language is not English will be asked to state their proficiency in speaking English, with an additional, similar question about proficiency in Welsh in Wales. This will give a greater insight into the need for language training and community work to combat any possible discrimination and social disadvantage suffered by people whose language skills could be improved.
All other items requiring affirmative resolution cover topics that were included in the 2001 census, but I shall refer specifically to two where there have been some slight changes to the information to be collected. The question asking people to assess their general health during the past 12 months has now been expanded to a five-point scale ranging from “very good” to “very bad”. This information is for the planning of health policy and the provision of services, particularly for the elderly. The question on qualifications has a new tick-box to indicate any foreign qualifications held.
Other questions deserve mention either because the proposed wording has been revised since the last census or because particular interest has been shown by noble Lords. Following the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the traditional census question on marital status has been expanded to include response categories for civil partnership status.
Noble Lords may be aware of lobbying campaigns by Kashmiri, Sikh and Cornish groups, for example, on the ethnicity question. It has not been possible to include a tick-box for every ethnic group category requested. Each request was compared against a detailed set of prioritisation measures before the final recommendation was made. This identified strongest need for additional response categories for “Gypsy and Irish Traveller” and “Arab”, which have therefore been included for the 2011 census.
People can record their ethnicity in whichever way they choose by writing this in the write-in spaces provided. All such responses will be counted. In the case of Sikhs, there is the additional option of ticking the specific “Sikh” box in the religion question. The Government are satisfied that the census is compliant with national legislation on race relations and any international conventions on the protection of national minorities.
I shall refer briefly and specifically to the proposed question on religion. A number of noble Lords have made representations to the House during previous debates and directly to the ONS on the proposed question. In particular, concerns have been expressed that the question on religion is leading and overstates the extent of religion within the country. The proposed question measures an affiliation with a religion and not belief or practice. It provides information which can be used together with responses to the ethnicity question to monitor equality and discrimination by identifying minority ethnic subgroups that may otherwise be missed, particularly those originating from the Indian subcontinent, in terms of their religion.
As a result of concerns expressed, the ONS tested alternative questions on religion. The testing concluded that no single question on religion can be worded in such a way as to capture suitably information on religious belief or practice and to justify losing comparability with the 2001 census. There is a strong user requirement for comparability with the data from the 2001 census. The proposed question on religion therefore remains unchanged, and remains the only question in the census for which a response is voluntary.
There is a new question asking for the number of rooms designed for use as bedrooms. This will measure overcrowding and assist in the planning of housing investment and the addressing of social and economic need. There is also a new question asking about the type of fuel used for central heating, to provide data on basic housing standards and fuel poverty and deprivation.
Despite some strong user demand for an income question, testing by ONS revealed that including a question on one’s income leads to a significant drop in response rates. There were also concerns over the quality and accuracy of the income data collected as part of the test.
There was a strong requirement for information on sexual identity in order to monitor equality. After investigation, the ONS recommends that a compulsory census is not a suitable means to collect information on sexual identity, again because of the quality of the resulting data, and including the question is likely to reduce the overall response to the census. Although the ONS does not recommend that a question on income or sexual identity be asked on the census, it recognises the user demand for this information and is taking steps to provide some data through other sources.
I shall say a few words about security and confidentiality. The ONS has an excellent track record when it comes to security. Additional measures are being instigated and all internal and external threats that could affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of census information are being carefully managed. The information will be protected by strong physical and electronic data security arrangements.
Census information will be used only for statistical purposes, and ONS will not release any personal-level information. Noble Lords will know that it is a criminal offence to unlawfully pass on personal census data. Census information is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act.
The Government’s policy is that data from questionnaires should be kept secure and closed to the public for the next 100 years, with the paper questionnaires being destroyed in a controlled and secure manner. The resulting electronic data will be registered under the Data Protection Act 1998, and the arrangements for handling the information during processing are to be the subject of an independent security review.
I turn to the cost of the census. The 2011 census in England and Wales is expected to cost around £480 million over the 10-year period. In its report on the 2001 census, the Treasury Select Committee recommended that any future census should be justified in cost-benefit terms. The ONS business plan to the Treasury for the 2011 census clearly demonstrated the unique value of the census and that the benefits of having the information far outweigh the costs of its collection. The identified cost benefits exceed £700 million, compared to a cost of £480 million.
More than £1 trillion is allocated to local authorities and to NHS primary care trusts in the 10 years between each census, on the basis of census information. The census cost equates to just 87p a year per person, which we believe demonstrates excellent value for money. The per capita costs in the UK are less than those for many other European countries that carry out similar censuses, and considerably less than the costs in America.
In summary, this census will meet crucial requirements for the statistical information that Governments and others cannot do without. The burden on respondents will be kept to a minimum and the questions have been fully tested and found acceptable and compatible with both UK and EU legislation. I am confident that we have the right census package for helping to shape tomorrow. I therefore commend the draft order to the Grand Committee. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for that thorough presentation of the detail of the order before us. I can keep my remarks brief in response as many of the issues were covered this week, as I am sure the Minister is aware, in the debate on this issue that took place in the First Delegated Legislation Committee in another place. That debate raised a number of the issues which we would otherwise have wanted to explore today, but I do not wish to detain the Grand Committee too much.
A number of questions were asked by my honourable friend Nick Hurd in the First Delegated Legislation Committee, but I wish to take this last opportunity to scrutinise the order and to elicit responses from the Minister, if possible, to his fair and reasonable questions. I should like to go over again the questions on which we seek clarification.
The first question relates to costs, to which the Minister has just referred. The costs of the census in 2001 were £214 million; it is projected that the costs will rise to £482 million in 2011. Clearly this increase in costs represents a significant increase over the rate of inflation. As not many more homes will be covered, and given that the public finances are in a state of distress, would it not be appropriate to revisit that figure to see whether it can be reduced? However, before pursuing that line, can the Minister respond to the specific question of whether the increase in costs can be explained?
The second question asked by my honourable friend Nick Hurd in the Committee in another place concerned the assumptions used in awarding the contract to the American company Lockheed Martin. What assumptions were made about the response rate for the 2011 census? Some data show that the census response rate in 1991 was 96 per cent and that in 2001 it had fallen to 93.9 per cent. An essential critique of the order before us is that, by lengthening the form and increasing the number of questions and their potential complexity, the level of response might be lower, and presumably when the contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin an assumption was made. Could that assumption be put on record?
During the previous census there were seven times more calls than expected to the helpline which had been set up to assist people in completing the form—2.6 million in total. Given that the new census form is longer and more complex, what assumption has been made about the number of calls that might be made to the call centre, and what steps are to be taken to ensure that the extraordinary delays which people experienced previously are not experienced this time round?
This will be effectively the first census carried out during the broadband era, if one might loosely describe it as such, and a lot of people will use computers to submit their response. There was e-mail help and technical support in 2001 but that system, too, was inundated. Can the Minister say what the response is likely to be in 2011 and what provisions have been made to ensure that people receive the help that they need with the forms to ensure as high a completion rate as possible?
The next question relates to the overall costs of those two factors, and this was one of the assumptions to which I should be very interested to hear the answer. What assumption is being made about the number of respondents who will complete the form online? That is an interesting point because my intuitive judgment is that the figure will be significantly higher than was the case in 2001. If that is so, again, intuitively one would expect that if more people complete the form online, there will be a need for fewer enumerators to knock on doors and fewer pieces of paper to be printed and processed, and that should surely reduce and not lead to a doubling of the costs.
Fourthly, my honourable friend Nick Hurd asked whether the Minister could publish the response rates to the 2009 rehearsals which the ONS and the Government conducted in a number of areas. This would place important findings in the public domain and would, had they been available, have informed the debate and perhaps allayed some unnecessary fears. Some have suggested that if the Government had found the response rates and the responses during the 2009 rehearsals helpful to their case, they might have deployed information received from them in support of these orders. Therefore, the fact that no information has been made available to the House on those rehearsals raises some concerns about confidence.
Fifthly, can the Minister tell the Committee roughly what proportion of responses will be extrapolated from fields that have been left blank? I understand that statistically what happens is as follows: if all 36 questions on the form have not been responded to—if, for example, five have not been answered—the enumerator extrapolates or guesses what the response would have been. Clearly, given that the Government are placing a great deal of store on the accuracy of data, if a significant amount of the data is the result of guesswork, that will raise a serious concern. Will we be guessing 20, 30 or 40 per cent of the answers? If, for example, as we were told, more than £1 trillion of taxpayers’ money is to be directed by these data to health and local authority spend alone over the next 10 years, can we be confident that the data informing these choices are correct? Is it possible that the cost arising from misdirecting and misallocating funds could be much higher than the cost of the exercise itself?
Does the Minister agree with some of the expert opinions that have been expressed about the complexity of the data? Is she aware of the remarks of Professor Rees, a leading UK statistician, to the Public Accounts Committee on 19 November, when he said that as you expand the number of questions there must be a deterrent effect on response? Has she noted those comments? Could she respond to them?
Is the Minister aware of remarks that were made by Sir John Kingman, who was chairman of the Statistics Commission when the 2001 census was undertaken? He wrote to my honourable friend Nick Hurd on 28 October 2009, saying, in commenting on the nature of the census preparations for 2011:
“It all happens with the best of intentions. The ONS consults government departments, local authorities and a variety of public and private organisations hungry for information on all sorts of matters. The result however is that the unfortunate citizen is presented with an array of questions which few will have the time or inclination to take seriously. Some will put in frivolous answers”—
we have the famous example of the Jedi faith, apparently the fourth largest religious group in the United Kingdom, which came out of the 2001 census—
“while others will just put the form behind the clock on the mantelpiece”,
and forget it. He continues:
“Yet the statisticians take the results seriously, and provide the interested organisations with statistics with little indication of the inevitable margin of error. In 2001 the National Statistician even announced an exact figure for the total population, a figure which later proved to be greatly in error. You will recall the problems with the population count in London and Manchester. If the Census cannot accurately count the population, how reliable can it be on matters such as number of bedrooms?”.
In the previous census, 38 people were prosecuted for non-completion of forms, but 7 per cent of the households that the forms went to did not respond. What assumptions has the Minister made about the number of people who are likely to be prosecuted this time around, especially as the powers that were referred to are rather draconian? The ONS has asserted, and this was cited by my honourable friend Nick Hurd, that it will be,
“employing appropriately trained specialist field staff, dedicated solely to following-up cases of reported non-compliance and conducting the necessary formal Interviews Under Caution”.
That is pretty heavy stuff, as is a £1,000 fine. It would be useful to know what assumptions have been made.
What steps have been taken to stop citizens falling victim to phishing attacks? Apparently this is an IT term, although I was not familiar with it. It relates to these spam e-mails that we receive purporting to be from a bank, a building society or the Inland Revenue service. What has the ONS done to avoid such attacks from fraudsters?
How many census enumerators will be hired for the 2011 census? How many of them will be trained in the issue of cautions under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in order to chase non-compliance? As was stated earlier, they are going to have the power to formally interview under caution. If those data are to be used afterwards in a court of law, they would need to follow precise guidelines. If the person is being questioned under caution, would they not also have the right to some legal representation? They may be vulnerable people who would be intimidated not only by the form and its length but by overzealous enumerators coming down to ask why they had not responded.
I turn finally to overcrowding and bedrooms, which has excited great interest. I have even heard suggestions from student groups that census parties will be held on 27 March, where tens, if not hundreds, of people will be invited round to certain houses with one or two bedrooms and will all be listed, complete with their names and dates of birth, as being at that address at that time. That seems to us a step too far—a level of meddling way beyond what is necessary.
Will the Minister give us a specific example of where knowing the sex, date of birth and name of the person who was staying in a property overnight on 27 to 28 March would be used to inform an aspect of government policy? In other words, when would it be useful to ask that question? When, without an answer to it, would the Government not be able to know X or Y? I am sure that it is a fairly easy question and that the Minister will be able to give many examples, but it represents a level of infringement of privacy that many people of a liberal disposition would find very uncomfortable.
I am grateful to the Committee for bearing with me while I have put these questions again. I hope that the Minister can offer reassurance.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving us a clear exposition of the importance of the census as an indicator of factual information that is utterly vital to determining, among other things, the distribution of public expenditure. I also suggest that this is quite an important debate, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, it is the last public opportunity for consideration of these issues before the process goes into its concluding stages. He raised many points which I shall largely take as put so that the Minister can focus on them, but I have a number of questions and points of my own.
The consultation to which the Minister referred has been extensive, which is entirely appropriate, and I am glad that it has been conducted in the way that it has. It would be of interest to know whether the stakeholders to whom she referred, particularly the institutional stakeholders, had any comments to make about the costs. I was slightly surprised to read in the Explanatory Notes that no impact assessment had been produced for the order since no impact on the private or voluntary sector was foreseen. I am surprised not least because of the responsibility of those in communal establishments for providing information or for ensuring that information is provided. That includes hospitals, care homes and prisons—although they are not private institutions. There are cost implications for those complying with it. I accept that, for individuals, half an hour would probably be a sufficient allocation of time to reply even to the enlarged questionnaire.
The second broad policy question which I would like to raise—I am not aware that it has been raised in earlier debates—concerns the frequency with which the census is held in this country. There has been a 10-year census for a long time, I think, since it was introduced in 1801. However, I have noticed that a substantial number of countries, including Australia, Canada, Eire and New Zealand, conduct a census every five years. I do not know what extra cost that involves, or indeed whether some of the costs in the 10-year census might be obviated by having one more frequently, but it is fair to say that we are living in a very rapidly changing society. To some extent, that is reflected in the enlargement of the questionnaire to four pages from three—a 25 per cent increase—in the 10-year census. If we are making judgments about the statistics which it will yield, perhaps we should think about whether a census ought to be conducted within a shorter timeframe in future, so that the responses of Government to many of the issues to which the Minister referred could be more immediate and less “after the event”.
The cost, which has been extensively referred to, is not inconsiderable. The Minister referred to the cost benefit, but £482 million is a very substantial sum. I would be grateful if the Minister would say a little more about the extent to which competition has been, and can yet be, involved in conducting the necessary preparations for this census. The competitiveness of contractual offers should be borne in mind, as well as the robustness of the testing of the possible conduct of the individual parts of the exercise. The census has produced a highly valued series of statistics historically, and this country has a good record on that which is generally recognised. It would not be proper to imply that I am seeking in some way to cut corners. Nevertheless, with very substantial contracts of this kind, it would be helpful to know about the process—who conducted it and how it was scrutinised—not necessarily because changes will be made on this occasion, but perhaps if they have been made in the process which has run in the 10 years since the last census.
As far as the range of questions is concerned, I have no great problem with the enlargement of the number of questions in principle because, as I have said, there have been considerable changes in the mobility of our society, in the ownership of second homes, and in the movements into and out of this country. The only question about that latter point is whether the personal information being sought in respect of visitors is really required or whether it is unduly intrusive. I have no doubt that the Minister will have a view about that.
Many of the questions seem a little arbitrary, but no doubt they were thrown up by the consultations. For example, it is interesting that a question about the ownership of cars is there but not one about the ownership of IT equipment, which has expanded rapidly in the past 10 years and has become a principal mode of communication. How has this come about? How were these decisions taken? I am sure that there is a natural and proper reluctance to enlarge the questions, partly because the bigger they are the less incentive there is to make a complete return, or indeed to make a return at all.
There are some other new questions—for example, in respect of ethnicity. There is the category of “Arab” but no category of “Arab/White” or any kind of mixture. That, again, seems slightly arbitrary. Furthermore, as this country becomes more and more ethnically integrated, it raises a question about what it is proper to declare. I have a son-in-law who is half Bengali and half Irish; he lives in this country and will be expected to respond to the census. I am not entirely sure how he should answer these questions. When it comes to the point, although they are a little young to do it this time around, I wonder what my grandchildren will feel is an appropriate answer. These questions seem to be becoming a little sensitive. Although I understand the motivation to take account of the cultural backgrounds and interests of those sectors, we should reflect on this issue from now on because the younger generation is considerably more mixed ethnically than my generation and the one that followed it.
The question about a person’s workplace address is open to subjective questioning. Individuals will have to assess what is their central workplace. Some people do a number of different jobs; some people may never attend the headquarters of the business to which they are attached; some people, such as contracted plumbers, move around all the time; others, of course, can conduct a great deal of their work from home but also work elsewhere. I am not sure how revelatory that question is or could be.
The principal questions that I have in mind are, admittedly, of a general and broad nature. However, they raise issues about how the census is compiled. The Minister has helpfully indicated broad categories of people who were consulted, but some of the issues about national identity and whether you speak English very well, well, not very well or badly are entirely subjective. Some people who have spoken nothing but English all their lives might be regarded by others as speaking English very badly, but not necessarily by themselves.
Although I can see the point, the answers to these questions will not necessarily be entirely convincing. There has to be a certain awareness of the breadth of the questions and a certain amount of self perception is required to answer them in statistically reliable ways. I thank the Minister for her introductory remarks.
I am sorry I was not here to listen to the first few paragraphs of the opening remarks of the noble Baroness. I was very interested in the remarks I did hear and the speeches of both noble Lords opposite. I suppose I should be proud to be the only representative of the Back-Benchers in the House of Lords to attend this erudite debate.
I do not have too much to say. but I wish to raise the issue of confidentiality and the Freedom of Information Act. The noble Baroness assured us that the security could not be breached, which one has to accept. However, I remember that during the problems—if I can call them that—in the House of Commons over expenses, the Members of the House were assured that they were covered by privilege. However, it turned out that they were not covered by privilege; the information they were given about the security of the details, which they had given in confidence and expected would not be revealed to the general public, proved to be completely and utterly wrong and has caused certain problems. I hope the noble Baroness can reinforce the assurance she has given this afternoon that the information is definitely confidential and cannot be released to anyone.
My second point is on ethnicity.
Before the noble Lord moves on, is he interested in finding out a little more about Lockheed Martin, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and, in particular, what constraints there are on the information to which Lockheed Martin will have access? What will restrain it from losing, copying or otherwise mishandling the census data, bearing in mind that some may consider it is bound by the Patriot Act in the United States?
That is a very good intervention and very helpful. We need such assurances because so much information now is put on disks or whatever other storage capacity is available, such as memory sticks. Bearing in mind that some very important information regarding people’s taxation has been lost, we are entitled to know what security is available and whether a private firm is as secure as I hope our own departments are. We need those important assurances.
I will move on to ethnicity. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, raised this, and it was right and proper that he did. We are becoming obsessed with two things: ethnicity and sex, which I will come to in a moment.
The drive in this country should be for unity; instead of multiculturalism, we want integration. We want people to be happy that they are in Britain. We want people to feel British, and to feel that they belong here, rather than anywhere else. They should feel that they are a part of us, no matter what their colour, creed, religion, or anything else. I feel strongly that the motivation of Government, and indeed of Parliament, should be towards integration. I am not at all sure that asking people to define their ethnicity does that.
My wife and I had a recent experience with our local authority in Reading—not about the census, but about the electoral registration form. We decided to test the market, so to speak, to see what would happen. I put my nationality down on the form as Welsh, and my wife said she wanted me to put hers down as English. Lo and behold, when the register was proclaimed and I got the form for next year, there it was. My nationality—Welsh—was fine. I could be Welsh, but my wife could not be English. That was very worrying. The local authority would not accept “English”, so it put “England”. This, of course, was a ridiculous answer to the question of nationality, because there is no such nationality as England. For three years, I have been trying to get the local authority in Reading to accept English as a nationality. I still have not succeeded—they keep blaming it on a computer. I do not know whether English is to be accepted as a nationality by all authorities now, bearing in mind that it is on the census as such, and I would be interested if the Minister could comment on that. Perhaps it is a little unfair to ask her to do so, but nevertheless if she could I would be most obliged. My wife is very offended, and I am sure there are many other people who are offended that they cannot be English. As a Welshman, I am standing up this afternoon for the English.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for allowing me to intrude again. It is just conceivable that there are people, and I would certainly count myself one, who regard themselves as glad to be Scottish, British, and European. I do not expect the noble Lord to be enthusiastic about that proposition, but it might be of interest to have such a multiple identity disclosed in the census returns.
I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, that he is okay. The electoral registration officer will accept that he is Scottish. The trouble is that they will not accept that my wife is English, and she does not like it. There are a lot of other people around of the same opinion.
As for being European, I consider myself to be part of the continent of Europe—we are, after all, on the same continental shelf, which I am very happy about. However, I do not want be governed by an organisation called the European Union, which is completely undemocratic—I shall not go into its problems—and I am quite happy to be Welsh, British and European all at the same time. We should move towards an integrated community, not a split one.
I am glad that the question on income has been dropped. It is clear that there was a lot of discussion. I think that the Government perhaps favoured our being forced to answer questions on it, which would have been very difficult. A lot of income comes from the black economy. You cannot really expect people to put, “This is my income from work but then, on the other hand, I do some other jobs on the side and this is how much I earn”. I am not sure, therefore, that one would get an accurate view of people’s incomes. People have all sorts of income, some of which they forget or do not want to put on a tax return. They will not fill in a census which, although they are told it is confidential, may lead to the taxman getting hold of some income that they have not declared to him. I am glad also that the question on sexual proclivities has been dropped, because there are so many of them. It would require a very long list of questions to get a true answer.
However, I am concerned that these intrusive questions should not be put about by other means. While they will not be included in the census, it is clear that there is curiosity among the Government about people’s incomes and how they behave themselves sexually. I would like the Minister to give me the relevant assurances.
My final point echoes one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. Our population since the end of World War II has risen by more than 15 million, much of it taking place in the past five years. Consideration should be given to taking censuses at shorter intervals. It might not be as dear as one would think, because a lot of surveys about various things are being done up and down the country in the interim, and they cost money, too. While we might on the one hand incur additional costs because the census would be conducted at shorter intervals, we could save money on the other because there would be less need for individual surveys on various items. In the hope of one or two assurances from the Minister, I shall sit down.
I thank noble Lords for a robust, vigorous and detailed discussion. That was as it should be because, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, this is an extremely important subject. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I am a little disappointed that more Members of the House were not interested in it, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, the census will influence not millions or billions but trillions of pounds of spending by the public sector during the next 10 to 12 years. So it is big stuff.
I start by saying that I have good news for Lady Stoddart, which is that she will be able to put “English” as her nationality on the census. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give her that news. I ask noble Lords for their patience with my replies because there is quite a bit to get through.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, asked about costs and whether there was a possibility of a reduction in them in the light of the economic climate that we are experiencing. Costs have been drawn very tightly by the ONS and its contractual programme. It has already spent 20 per cent of that sum of £480 million, 50 per cent is further committed to fixed-price contracts and any further reduction would impact on the quality of the census population estimates. I go back to the point, which we have all appreciated, that the quality of these statistics will influence an enormous amount of spending over the next decade. Therefore, the quality has got to be right. We must not skimp or cut corners, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, put it, on quality—it is the main point that we have to keep our eye on.
The short answer is that the main reasons for the increase are the extra £150 million due to inflation, the £25 million due to growth on numbers of people or households, the £25 million for the extra page of questions for each person, the extra £45 million for improvements in field systems and processors—those actually working on the 27th, making sure that the hard-to-reach people are visited and that censuses are delivered and sent back—and the extra £20 million for improved help facilities, publicity, community and local authority liaison, with a variety of other smaller changes and improvements. I hope that answers more fully the noble Lord’s question.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, also asked about the justification for the cost as a general question. The full 2011 census business case has been produced, which will fully justify the census investment. For a subset of the different uses, the benefit has been assessed as exceeding £700 million. This is thought to be a significant underestimate of the total benefits.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, talked about the assumptions that were made about the level of response when awarding the contract to Lockheed Martin. We believe that we will get a 94 per cent overall response, and that was the assumption when awarding that contract.
The noble Lords, Lord Bates, Lord Maclennan and Lord Stoddart, raised the issue of security and the awarding of the contract. The contract for the census was awarded to Lockheed Martin UK as it offered the best value for money in an open-procurement scheme carried out under European Union law and EU procurement directive. The company has a good track record on census work, having supported the 2001 UK census. All persons acting in any capacity for the UK Statistics Authority in the conduct of the census will be covered by the same stringent confidentiality restrictions as are applied to members of the Office for National Statistics themselves. There are severe penalties, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, was saying, for breaches of census confidentiality laws. No Lockheed Martin employees will have access to the data.
I am happy to write to the noble Lord about this, but it is not our belief that the ONS could tender for the sort of work that Lockheed Martin will do. I shall go into that a little more. Lockheed Martin UK is the prime contractor. It has engaged a number of specialist UK and EU subcontractors for the different components of the contract. The main ones are Polestar for the printing—so the ONS would not necessarily be appropriate there—UK Data Capture for the scanning and the data processing, Cable and Wireless for the communications and the data centre, bss for the contact centre, Logica and Steria. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s question.
The ONS has put in place additional contractual and operational arrangements in this contract to ensure that the US authorities could not gain access to census data through, for instance, the Patriot Act. These arrangements include that all data processing will be carried out in the UK, no data will leave or be held at any point outside the UK, all data are the property of the ONS and only UK/EU-owned companies will have access to the personal census data. The only people to have full access to the full census data set in the operational data centre will be the ONS staff.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, asked about response rates for the recent census rehearsal. The responses are still coming in so the number is increasing, but at the moment they are at around 35 per cent. This is lower than hoped, although we have to remember that this, unlike the census, was a voluntary exercise. The ONS anticipated a much lower response than we will get in 2011, because a compulsory response will be much higher. After a promising start with response rates ahead of expectations, returns are now levelling off and lag behind expected levels. But the rehearsal is voluntary, and known hard-to-reach areas were selected for the rehearsal, which also tips the result. The exercise was not spread across, as it were; those areas were selected for the rehearsal as being hard to reach.
Follow-up activities have concluded with census collectors calling on households that have not responded in order to obtain a response, and this follow-up has increased the response rate considerably. A number of measures have been taken to rehearse the actions that we will take in 2011 to increase response rates, and research is now under way to discover why response rates are lower than expected.
Another question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, was how many people are expected to respond online. The current assumption is that around 25 per cent are expected to do so. Perhaps I may give noble Lords a few comparisons. Canada achieved 18 per cent in 2006. Scotland offered online completion for its rehearsal in March 2009 and had an 11 per cent internet response rate without any real publicity campaign advertising that the internet was available. However, in the England and Wales rehearsal, only around 9 per cent of returned responses have been made via the internet. Again, there was little publicity about the internet option. ONS is building the system to cope with 6 million returns. If more people try to use the online system at once than the system can cope with, new users will be asked to try again later. This is called “graceful deferral”. However, the answer to the noble Lord’s original question about assumptions is 25 per cent.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, also asked how many of the data are estimated—he rather bated me by using the word “guessed”—as opposed to actual. He may be thinking of a figure that was quoted during a recent Public Accounts Select Committee by Professor Rees. The professor now accepts that the figure was wrong and has requested that a change be made to the Public Accounts Select Committee transcript. Six per cent of people did not return a census questionnaire in 2001. On top of this, 4 per cent of census data were missing from the returned forms and had to be imputed. This means that 10 per cent of the total census data set had to be imputed, not 40 per cent. Therefore, we are saying that the estimate was 10 per cent in the 2001 census, not 40 per cent.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, asked about published response rates from the rehearsal. At present—they are still coming in—the figure is 35 per cent. He also asked about the assumptions made about calls to the helpline and what steps are being taken. Many steps have been taken to reduce the likelihood of a crisis of calls to the contact centre. In addition, there will be a self-help website, reducing the burden, we hope, on the telephone contact centre. So we are hoping to learn from the lesson of 2001.
The noble Lord talked about the complexity of the forms and asked whether that reduced the response rate. He asked why, for example, the questionnaire was so long. Widespread consultation by the ONS shows that there is a demand for far more questions than could possibly be accommodated. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, the number of pages per person has gone up from three to four, but this is due partly to making the layout of the pages clearer. The number of columns has been reduced from three to two, which makes the form easier to complete. The 32-page booklet for households contains forms for six individuals. In 2001, the booklet had forms for five individuals. Therefore, fewer households will need to request further forms from the ONS.
The issue of visitors has also been raised. Visitors had always previously been counted but not in 2001; before 2001, full details were collected. In 2011, only a small set of questions will be included in order to reduce the burden on the public. We are asking the question about visitors to enable an accurate count. We believe there was an undercounting in 2001 because the fact that people were visiting homes other than their own was not taken into account. We have learnt this key lesson from 2001; the question about visitors on the night is important.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to the 2001 census not accurately counting the population and asked how this would be dealt with in 2011. There are more questions about visitors, residents, second addresses and so on, which will enable a better, more accurate measurement, and there will be a much better follow-up to non-response. We are focusing the enumerators on those hard-to-count areas. They will physically go to people in real time and say, “Have you any problems? Are you able to fill in your form? How can we help?” That will, we hope, institute a far better follow-up than in 2001. Local liaison will identify hard-to-count areas and we will increase the hours spent on follow-up to non-responding households. In that way, we will develop an improved register.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to 7 per cent of respondents not completing a form but only a few being prosecuted, and asked what steps we are taking to improve the situation. There will be a dedicated non-compliance staff to strengthen the process. In 2001, it was part of the regular field staff’s responsibility to caution people, but this time there will be a dedicated non-compliance staff and prosecutions will be pursued in cases of persistent refusal to respond.
The noble Lord said that the 2001 e-mail support was inundated and asked how provisions could be made to improve it in 2011. Online help is available and is expected to reduce demand on public help facilities. E-mail queries will not be supported in 2011. I shall write to the noble Lord on that. I am confused by that answer and he may well be too. I shall make sure that he has a written answer.
On the question of what steps ONS has taken to avoid spam e-mails, ONS will never request information from the public via e-mail and we will make this publicly known. I was asked how many enumerators we envisage for 2011; the answer is 35,000. I do not have at hand the numbers who will have the right to caution, but there will be a dedicated team within those enumerators with that right.
Why do we ask the question about the number of bedrooms? It is to provide a more accurate and comparable measure of overcrowding. The two older measures of overcrowding were the space standard and the rooms standard. These can now be expanded to include the bedroom standard. This is explained in the Government paper Tackling overcrowding in England: An action plan, published by CLG in December 2007.
The charity Shelter has urged the Government to use the bedroom standard to measure overcrowding. Overcrowding, as noble Lords will know, is an indicator of housing deprivation. Living in overcrowded conditions is associated with adverse personal and social health effects. Information will be essential for taking forward work on decent homes. There is also a direct link with the allocation of improvement grants for local authorities. The question will help to ensure that resources are directed to the areas of greatest need.
The noble Lord also asked about dealing with frivolous answers—for example, the Jedi issue in 2001. It is a legal requirement to complete a form correctly. However, if a person believes themselves to be a Jedi knight, the ONS must make use of those data. ONS publicity nearer to the census will aim to counter any such campaigns arising by highlighting the benefit to communities of having an accurate census.
I hope that that has answered the noble Lord’s questions. If I have left any out, we will look at Hansard.
I thank the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked why there will be no impact assessment. As no business or voluntary body will be required to undertake any duty that the ONS believes might prove detrimental to their work, delay their normal day-to-day business or place an additional cost upon them other than asking the manager of any commercial establishment to hand out or collect questionnaires to any usual residents and then complete a short questionnaire in respect of their establishment, the ONS believes that the 2011 census impact on the private or voluntary sector will be minimal. The noble Lord talked about it taking half an hour to complete a form; I have seen in my briefing reference to 10 minutes, but we will see. An impact assessment will be published before the census regulations are laid in the spring of 2010, so there will be one before the regulations.
Other countries have a five-yearly census, and the noble Lord highlighted those countries. Given our highly mobile population, particularly considering the money being allocated, why would we not have a five-yearly census? There were proposals for a five-yearly census in 1976, 1986 and 1996, but they were all rejected on cost grounds. The ONS is currently reviewing the option beyond 2011, so there will be a review of how we take it from here, given the issues that the noble Lord raised about the great changes in our society—the electronic changes, the ethnic changes and the way our country looks now compared with how it looked 10 years ago. There will be a review of whether a 10-yearly census is the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked about stakeholders being consulted on costs. Stakeholders were widely consulted on the pros and cons of different options. Population-estimate quality is paramount. This cost and this level of investment are required to provide data of a profoundly excellent quality.
The noble Lord asked about competition for preparations in order to reduce costs. Fifty per cent of the census costs are for outsourced services, all of which have been subject to full competitive tendering. If the noble Lord wants more information on that, I shall be happy to correspond with him.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, took as an example the Arab tick-box and asked why it should not say “Arab/White” or “Arab/Mixed”. He reflected with us on what it will be appropriate for people to tick both now and in the future, given our increasingly mixed community. At present, we say that people should tick the mixed or multiple options. There is always a space to write in, so if people think that none of the options refer to them, they can always use the blank write-in space, and that will have to be used as part of the statistical dissemination.
The noble Lord talked about questions relating to national identity and spoken English—for example, “How good is your English?”—and asked how subjective and not necessarily convincing answers could be measured. It is true that if English were not my first language, I might think that it was better than someone else considered it to be. The main purpose of the national identity question is to encourage participation in the census by allowing respondents to express their identity in a manner that is meaningful to them. English language proficiency has been well tested. A lot of surveys and testing have been carried out by the ONS and have shown that information of sufficient quality has been provided for the respondents. Therefore, it may not be perfect but it is of a sufficient quality.
The noble Lord also asked about the workplace address where people have more than one job, and he quoted the contract plumber who moves around. People should give the workplace address for their main job, or state that they have been based at home in the case of the plumber who moves around. This will be made clear in the instructions within the question.
I was asked how the questions were chosen. The key requirement for the 2011 census is to provide a robust estimate of the population count and a benchmark for key population statistics on a consistent and comparable basis for small areas and small populations. The specific criteria used by the ONS for judging the priority for topics to include in the census are set out. User need is one; others include data needed for small geographies of populations, a lack of alternative sources to the census, and UK comparability—there is a need for UK-wide outputs. Continuity with previous censuses is also very important. A lot of users want continuity; they want to see trends over 10, 20 and 30 years to decide what services they need to provide. Respondent burden and costs are criteria that are taken into account, as are operational requirements, population-based requirements, international recommendations, equality legislation and use for coding and derivations.
I think that I have already dealt with the issue of the Lockheed Martin employees.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was concerned about the confidentiality of the census data. Personal census data are kept confidential at all times and released into the public domain only after 100 years. The ONS takes very seriously the confidentiality of any individual’s information and it has a 200-year track record of maintaining census confidentiality. The information is used only for statistical purposes, and anyone unlawfully disclosing personal census information will, as we have said, be liable to prosecution. The noble Lord referred to the recent troubles in another place. However, the data are even exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under Section 40 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act. Confidentiality is written into primary legislation. All persons acting as agents for the UK Statistics Authority in the conduct of a census will be covered by the same stringent confidentiality restrictions as apply to census officers themselves. There are penalties for breaches.
Completed questionnaires will be posted back or returned securely online. They will be seen only by those census staff responsible for processing data. Data from the census will be held securely and, under the current policy, will be treated as confidential for, as I have said, 100 years. The paper questionnaires will be destroyed in a controlled manner. Some specialist researchers are allowed supervised access to record data under licence, but not until they have signed confidentiality agreements. I hope that that answers the noble Lord.
The noble Lord has said that government data have been lost; that is true. He said that he would need assurances that data will not be lost by the ONS or by contractors. The ONS has a two-year history of protecting personal data. It is an utmost priority for it to continue to ensure security. Any possible threats have been assessed and tested to destruction, but obviously there are still possibilities. We shall just have to keep a very close eye on the situation, and extensive measures have been put in place to address such problems.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked whether data will be stored on discs or memory sticks. All USB ports on computers with access to census data will be disabled.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked whether he could be identified as Scottish, British and European. The national identity question on the census form will allow multiple responses.
I hope that I have covered most of the questions that noble Lords have put. I thank them for an important debate, and I am sure that we will meet again when the regulations appear, should this order go through.
Committee adjourned at 6.37 pm.