Motion to Consider
The Motion was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I declare an interest as a member of the Society of Genealogists. In fact, last night I looked at the 1891 census online, which illustrates that a population census has been taken across the UK every 10 years since 1801, with the sole exception of 1941.
Subject to the approval of the House, this draft Order in Council provides for the 22nd census of England and Wales to take place on Sunday 21 March 2021. The draft order was laid before both Houses on 2 March 2020, under the provisions of the Census Act 1920. It prescribes 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 those census returns.
Under the terms of the Census Act 1920, delivery of the census in England and Wales is the statutory responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority and its executive arm, the Office for National Statistics. The draft order gives effect to the independent recommendations of the Office for National Statistics set out in the December 2018 White Paper, Help Shape Our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales.
The ONS’s recommendations for the 2021 census have been informed by an extensive programme of consultation, research and engagement. Comparability of data between censuses is important, so the majority of questions will remain the same as in 2011. New questions or response options are included only after research and consultation that provide compelling evidence for their inclusion. For 2021 there will be new questions on past service in the Armed Forces and new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for those aged 16 and over.
The Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Act 2019 enables two of the new questions, those on sexual orientation and gender identity, to be asked on a voluntary basis. As confirmed during the debates on that Act, the census questionnaires will clearly indicate which questions are voluntary, and the form of those questionnaires—both the online and paper versions—will be prescribed by law in the census regulations that will be made following this order. I express my thanks to noble Lords for their support for the Act during the debates in this House, and particularly to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for steering the legislation through the House.
This draft order is subject to a composite procedure. Under the terms of the Census Act 1920 the order is principally subject to the draft negative procedure, but some questions—those printed in italics in the draft order—may be included in the census only if they are approved by affirmative resolutions of both Houses. Unusually, questions subject to the affirmative procedure may also be amended by Parliament, if agreed to by both Houses. I express my thanks to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, whose 9th Report of this Session set out clearly the special procedure for this statutory instrument.
Noble Lords will be aware that this draft order was debated last week in the House of Commons, and that the Motion was approved by that House without amendment. There was considerable focus in the Commons debate on tick-box response options that have not been recommended by the ONS; notably, Cornish national identity and Sikh ethnicity. As my honourable friend the Minister of State, Chloe Smith, was clear to emphasise, it is absolutely no reflection of the ONS’s or the Government’s recognition of or respect for any ethnicity, religion or national identity that it does not have a specific tick-box response option on the census. It is simply not possible to include a tick box on the census for every group that has asked for one: to do this would make the census forms, whether paper or online, long, cumbersome and confusing.
For the ethnicity question alone the ONS received 55 requests for new tick boxes and, as I am sure noble Lords will understand, it is necessary to prioritise what is included in the questionnaire. This the ONS has done through an extensive programme of consultation, research, engagement, testing and assessment. People will be able to record their ethnic group, religion and national identity however they wish in the 2021 census, including as Cornish, using the write-in boxes. An online search-as-you-type functionality will assist people in answering these and other census questions. There will continue to be a specific Sikh response option in the census question on religion. Despite being a voluntary question, the response rate on the religion question is very high—over 92%—and the ONS is confident that religion data from the census will provide high-quality data for public bodies to inform service provision and equalities monitoring.
The 2021 census aims to be the most inclusive ever. For the first time it will be predominantly online, making it easier for people to take part when and how they want. Paper questionnaires will, however, be available for those who need or prefer to complete the census this way. There will be a wide range of help, including a contact centre offering support through various channels and services to assist people with hearing or speaking impediments. There will also be a large-print version of the paper form, language support and translated materials, and information in Braille or British Sign Language for those who may not otherwise be able to complete the census. There will be national and local promotional campaigns to encourage and help people to complete the census. This will include work with community groups, by field staff on the doorstep, and through face-to-face assistance at completion events that will be arranged, where possible, in local settings such as libraries.
To be successful in its aims, the census relies on the willing support and participation of the public, on whose behalf the information is collected. Key to this is trust that people’s personal data will not be disclosed in ways they do not wish it to be, whether deliberately or accidentally. It is made clear to respondents that their data is protected in law, and leaflets to accompany the census form sets this out in more detail.
The ONS is working with the National Cyber Security Centre to ensure that processes and systems for collecting or handling census data are secure, and appropriate measures are in place to prevent unauthorised access. Census security will adhere to, and where possible exceed, the minimum set of cybersecurity standards. The information collected during the census is held by the ONS for 100 years, and by law data can be used only by the ONS for statistical and research purposes. Personal census data cannot be used to make decisions about individuals.
It is clear from useful and informed discussions with noble Lords ahead of today’s debate that there is a great deal of interest not just in the next census but in the future of the census, and in particular the question of whether this will be the last traditional census. The census is the most important source of statistics about the population available to us. It is currently the only data collection that provides accurate and reliable information about populations at a local area level. It provides the underlying information needed to inform a wide range of policy decisions, and it is used extensively to plan services and allocate funds to local areas, but it is only carried out every 10 years. Decision makers need information more frequently, to understand the changing nature of the population. The 2021 census is part of a £900 million programme of work by the ONS to transform the system of population and social statistics, making greater use of data already held by government for administrative purposes. This wider work programme will also inform whether, beyond 2021, the traditional census will remain the most appropriate way of collecting vital population data, or whether census statistics could be replicated in other, quicker ways using administrative data.
That is a debate for the future. In 2023, the National Statistician will make a recommendation on the future of the whole system of population and social statistics, including the census, based on the progress of this programme. I am sure that the House will take a great interest in that when the time comes.
The draft order before us today is concerned with the census in England and Wales. Noble Lords will be aware that the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly have approved census orders for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. Together, these three statutory instruments allow a census to take place across the UK at the same time next March. This draft order is the first of two statutory instruments needed for the census to take place. Subject to the approval of the Order in Council, the Government will bring forward census regulations for England. These will set out the final questions and govern much of the operation of the census. Separate regulations for the census in Wales will be laid before the Welsh Parliament by the Welsh Government. The regulations will describe the content and functionality of the online forms for this first predominantly online census and will also contain copies of the corresponding paper questionnaires.
The census is unique in the insights it provides into our nation and the data it provides to support policy-making. The proposals for the 2021 census set out in this draft order will provide the data needed to inform policy and planning decisions across our national and local public services and enable national and local government, community groups, charities and businesses to better serve communities and individuals across the country. I beg to move.
My Lords, in the time available I will limit my contribution to two areas. First, it is right that we move the census online. However, as the Minister recognised, a digital-first census will undoubtedly raise questions about data security. I thank the noble Lord for outlining the Government’s plans, but will Parliament receive a report on the work the Government are doing to ensure that an individual’s details remain confidential and secure? In promoting the digital-first census, how will the Government build trust in data security to ensure that the 75% online return target is reached? The digital-first approach should allow a more effective system for counting and surveying Britain’s population. However, it is estimated that 10% of the UK’s adult population is digitally excluded. What lessons have been learned from the rehearsal areas on how best to engage the digitally excluded and, therefore, what are the plans to reach out to these communities to ensure that they are included in the census?
Secondly, it is disappointing to many thousands of Sikhs that the Government have decided not to include a Sikh tick box in the ethnic group question. There is a clear demand for this from a large section of the Sikh community. It is ethnic, not faith, data that public bodies use to make decisions about the provision of public services, so accurate data on the make-up of our communities is vital.
The Scottish Parliament seems to have gone some way to address this issue. Last week, it agreed to include a prompt for Sikhs and Jewish people next to the “Other ethnic group” tick box. Will the Government look at this decision, which the Scottish Parliament has made possible, and bring the census order for England and Wales in line with that of Scotland?
My Lords, the current crisis is demonstrating the importance of having accurate information about our population and their needs in relation to the provision of health, education, housing and many other areas. It is hugely important; there are many issues about the future of the census in general, as well as the specific issues contained in these orders, that many of us would have liked to raise if we had not been constrained by a two-minute time limit.
It is very welcome that the 2021 census will be conducted mostly online. This should reduce costs considerably and weaken the arguments of those who think that finding out the facts about our population is too expensive. We could also gain more information, at a lower cost, if we were to combine what we learn from the census with what we obtain compiling electoral registers. We could then have a more complete idea of how many people eligible to vote live where, and constituency boundaries could be drawn based on more accurate information—especially if those boundary reviews were held every 10 years as opposed to every five years, as is presently legislated for. Perhaps the Minister will pass on this suggestion.
I welcome the fact that new voluntary questions about gender identity and sexual orientation will show officially the welcome scale of diversity that exists in our society. This will help to allow distinctive needs to be provided for.
Charities—and, more importantly, government agencies—will be better able to address the needs of veterans, now to be identified in the census, far too many of whom have difficulty in finding suitable housing after serving in our Armed Forces.
However, some issues of ethnic identity still require more consideration. The strong case for allowing Sikh identity to be properly indicated as an ethnicity is not something that I can address in two minutes. I would also have argued for Cornish ethnicity to be recognised in the same way.
My Lords, I want to say a few words on the identification of the number of Welsh speakers resident in England on census day.
I add my voice to those emphasising the importance of maintaining the integrity of the census continuum to enable future generations to assess how patterns have changed over recent decades. We should not delete or modify a continuum unless there is a very good reason.
Powers to deal with the census in Wales have been partly devolved, which I welcome, within the same constraints of continuity. However, aspects of the census in England have a direct relevance to the powers exercised by the Welsh Government. One of these relates to identifying the number of Welsh speakers. This is needed by the Welsh Government to assess the effectiveness of their educational policy and to plan their future cultural policies. The Welsh Government have a target of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, compared with just over 500,000 Welsh speakers in Wales in 2011 but a higher figure of almost 900,000 in the ONS annual population survey last year.
Much of the targeted increase will be attained through our educational process, but to evaluate the ongoing benefit of securing the language, we must be able to assess the retention of the language after leaving school. Tens of thousands of young Welsh people migrate from Wales to England each year. Many return to Wales later, as was my own personal experience. To evaluate our education policy, we need to know how many Welsh speakers there are in England. It is thought to be around 100,000 but we need accurate information.
This issue was raised by Hywel Williams MP in the Commons debate last week; the Minister undertook to consider the matter. Today, I add my voice in support of this. For the UK to be meaningful for its citizens, it has to operate on not just agenda priorities as seen in London; in that context, I express Celtic solidarity by supporting a Cornish tick box, and I support one for Sikhs.
A fuller assessment of the number of Welsh speakers offers an opportunity for the UK Government to respond to reasonable requests emanating from Wales. I hope that the Minister can give a positive response today.
My Lords, I shall raise the refusal by the ONS to include a tick-box in the census for those who identify as Cornish. The ONS seems to see this as a localised issue, ignoring the many thousands of Cornish men and women living across the UK who want to register their nationality as Cornish. I do not have the advantage of being Cornish myself, but I am aware of the strong campaign to have a Cornish tick-box on the census. Until the start of the pandemic, I used to spend a month a year as a visitor to Cornwall and stayed in visitor accommodation.
The Cornish were recognised as a national minority in 2014, and the Government pledged that they would be afforded the same status under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as other UK Celtic peoples: the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. The inclusion of a tick-box for the Cornish on the census would achieve that.
What discussions have the Government had recently with the group leaders of Cornwall Council about the refusal of the ONS to include a Cornish tick-box? The ONS has said that there will be a write-in option to identify oneself as Cornish and that there will be a campaign to raise awareness of that. What steps will the Government take to ensure that any such campaign is national and not just focused on Cornwall, given that the Cornish diaspora is spread across the UK? It would not be perfect solution, but it would be a step in the right direction towards delivering a census that could build a better, detailed snapshot of our society and help us to plan for the future delivery of services and for economic revival after Covid-19 has been defeated.
My Lords, I am a great fan of the decennial censuses and have made use of many of them over the years. The censuses provided much crucial information to assist administrators and policymakers at national and local level for more than two centuries. In addition, they are invaluable tools for historians in providing a picture of communities and societies at a moment in time. When, after 100 years, the details of the participating individuals are revealed, they become essential sources of information for those tracing their family tree, which is a burgeoning interest.
The Office for National Statistics planned the 2021 census with great diligence and in doing so consulted widely, adding new questions and querying established ones. Others have raised questions on ethnicity, gender status and sexual orientation, so I shall not develop that.
With modern means of collecting information and the ability of IT to tap into wider sources worldwide, what was appropriate in years gone by is not so today. I recognise that and that changes have to be made, but there is value in having one major respected piece of work providing a picture of society every 10 years. That is very useful. Finally, may I press the Minister on the rumours that the 2021 census will be the last? Is that the case or is the jury out? Let us never forget that a continuum is essential.
My Lords, I first came into statistical life at the time of the 1970 census, when we had the job of devising a definition of a one-parent family. I realise that this is probably a bit of a surprise question but, first, I would be very pleased if the Minister could write letting me know whether that definition has evolved and what it now is. Secondly, I would like to make it clear that I, too, hope that this will not be the last census. It does not cost that much and has provided a great historical snapshot of Britain through the ages.
I have one or two questions. First, is there any aim to hit people who are not online? A number of people in the community, particularly senior citizens, are not online and will not be able to fill in the census. Will they be able to register in advance? If not, and secondly, what will the follow-up be? Presumably the online responses will all go to one centre. Will there then be local follow-ups of people who have not completed it, and will this be done by addresses? I assume that it will be.
My next question is about past service in the Armed Forces. Having been in the Territorial Army almost 60 years ago, I wonder how far back this will go. Will it contain data about the Territorial Army and national service? I cannot understand why past service in the Armed Forces has gone into the thing.
Finally, on the voluntary questions, I point out the lesson that we should learn from Boaty McBoatface. There may well be people who decide that there are jokes to be made out of nationality or religion. Are any steps being taken to eliminate obvious false answers?
My Lords, the Census Act 1920 provided a framework for a census of questions on stated subjects, with an obligation to answer, subject to a penalty. It provided for the authority for a particular census to be an Order in Council, of which this is one, with supporting regulations, including a census form.
More recently, as has been mentioned, that Act was amended by statutes which provided for optional questions by providing for questions where failure to answer would not be subject to a penalty. This draft order provides for an obligation to answer three such questions, but that obligation is unenforceable. The draft regulations and the form will translate into clear language that answering these questions is optional. The correct result is reached by a circuitous route.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and I have been engaged throughout this process in trying to ensure that there is no compulsion to answer questions and that the arrangements to avoid compulsion to answer personal and private questions are secured in the legislation. The Government shared that objective, and there was a time when the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, put the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and me together more or less to sort out what we wanted and to see whether we could achieve the best result.
On close analysis, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has said, this order taken on its own, by a combination of Articles 6(1) and 6(4), does not in fact achieve that objective. The reason that it fails to do so seems, on investigation, to be that there has been a direct lift of the orders approved for the 2001 and 2011 censuses. However, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, I am satisfied that the statute, the draft regulations and the census form itself will mean that in law the voluntary nature of the questions and answers to the questions about personal matters is established, and those completing the form can confidently decline to answer those personal questions without fear of any penalty or proceedings.
To add a footnote, if there is a census in 2031, will those responsible please make sure that the Order in Council does not have the slight problem raised by this one? I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, will be here to answer for everybody.
My Lords, what I am missing in this debate, and in the ministerial introduction, is contingency planning. It is as if the world will continue as before, and there are relevant questions about whether there will be a census in 2031. My question is: will a census be carried out properly in 2021? We see today’s announcement of another four months of furloughing. How on earth will electoral registration be carried out in the current cycle—the annual cycle that we still require—starting with house visits in October, at the turn of the year and onwards? It seems to me that that contingency planning needs to be there.
I am an optimist on all matters, but contingency planning requires an element of pessimism about what can go wrong. It is a shame that blockchain technology has not already been incorporated at this stage; indeed, it is in my view a shame that we do not already have an identity card which would make contact tracing in the current crisis significantly easier and more far-reaching. If electoral registration drops dramatically this year, how will we manage to go into a census that people choose not to respond to electronically? How will those face-to-face visits be managed if we are still in the crisis—or indeed the aftermath of the crisis—that Covid-19 has created?
My Lords, as the Minister has said, this census is intended to be the most inclusive ever. Question 18 asks:
“What is your main language?”
But people underreport their use of languages other than English, because the question of their main language is interpreted differently—as the language they know best, the one they use most frequently, or the one they feel most attached to emotionally. Feedback to the ONS described the question as confusing and unfit for purpose. One example of how the question can yield inaccurate data is that, in the last census, in the Manchester ward of Ardwick, while 2.2% of residents declared Urdu to be their main language, over 13% of schoolchildren in the same ward were registered as having Urdu as their first language.
Why does this matter, and what is the solution? It matters because, if linguistic diversity in the UK is underestimated or distorted, efficient and targeted use of multilingual resources in health, education and justice is undermined. Getting it right can also save costs. Interpreters and translated information, although vital, will not be enough unless the data collection itself is realistic. All that this requires is one small amendment to the question itself so that it simply asks, “What are your main languages?”
The ONS is worried about the cost of processing more complex data, but the census must produce full and accurate data for the benefit of all our citizens, not just some of us. Will the Minister agree to speak urgently with government colleagues and with the ONS to secure this minor change to Question 18, which would make a major improvement to the quality and usefulness of the data?
My Lords, as the Minister who took the Census Act through your Lordships’ House last year—I am grateful to the Minister today for his kind words—I have a paternal interest in this order, which I hope will secure the same broad support that the Act received last year.
I have a number of issues for my noble friend. He suggested—and other noble Lords have referred to this—that this could be the last census of its type, as other, more timely sources of information become available. As he said, it is too soon to say whether this is indeed the last census, but can he say what is happening in other countries that like us have relied on censuses such as this and which, I understand, may be moving away from them?
Secondly, I understand that, before the census next March, there were—or are—to be some trials. Can the Minister say how those trials went, if they took place, and what lessons have been learned from them, particularly in respect of the new voluntary questions?
Thirdly, we all hope that, by next March, we will have put this pandemic behind us, but we do not know whether there will be a second wave, or whether social distancing will have been entirely phased out. While most people will complete the census online, there was concern during the passage of the Bill about, for example, the homeless and rough sleepers; forms were to be made available in shelters and night centres. What contingency arrangements are there in case, by any chance, life has not returned to normal? Has the pandemic in any way impeded the arrangements in the run-up to the census? Are there any circumstances in which it would be necessary to postpone the census, as has happened this year in other countries?
Finally, there was a loose end in our discussions last year, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was concerned that, while we had abolished the penalty for not answering questions, we had not abolished the underlying offence. I was delighted to hear from both noble and learned Lords that white smoke has now emerged and that that loose end has now been tied up.
My Lords, I have just two questions for the Minister. They are in the context that our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities are acknowledged, not least by the Government, to be the most disadvantaged in educational, health, socioeconomic and accommodation outcomes. To address the problems of minority-ethnic groups, it goes without saying—but I am going to say it—that we first need accurate and meaningful data.
I declare my interest as a holder of various unremunerated posts in service of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. In the order, the success of our efforts to include the Roma people is demonstrated, and I thank the census team for that. However, the order still runs Gypsies and Irish Travellers into one category. There are significant differences between these two communities in terms of all the outcomes I have referred to, so can the Minister tell me that the two categories will be split as soon as practicable, as reason and fact demand?
Secondly, what are the arrangements to visit Gypsy and Traveller sites? Public service representatives have often neglected to call at sites even when their help has been urgently needed, and I seek reassurance that census workers will speak with the travelling communities to arrange productive visits and allay any anxiety so as to obtain the data we need.
My Lords, the proposed 2021 census will probably be the most important for a generation. It will begin to show the devastating effects of Covid-19 on our communities and individuals. It is imperative that the largest number of our citizens are included. For the first time, questions will be asked about gender identity and sexual orientation—and they will be voluntary, which is to be welcomed. The long-overdue information will allow the Government to inform policy, plan for a clear picture of LGBT rights and communities, and target resources to them.
In the other place last week, many speeches were made about inclusivity and the Sikh communities. Sikhs have been recognised as an ethnic group for over 40 years, since this House made that ruling in 1983. The case and the law have been overwhelmingly made; Sikhs should have a tick box under the ethnic identity question. The same argument applies to Cornish people. In the 2011 census, 83,966 people in Britain ticked the “other” box and wrote “Cornish” on the form. In Cornwall, that figure was 73,320—that is 14% of the population. Those citizens will not go away. The Minister must act if, as the phrase goes, we are all in this together.
Finally, the guidance says that the census will be predominantly online and will be the most inclusive ever. It is vital that paper copies are made for the enormous number of people who are not on the internet and do not have online facilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said that could be 10% of the population. If the Prime Minister can write to every household and basically tell them to stay in, surely the same option can be given for the census form.
My Lords, an ill-conceived campaign to confine Sikh teachings open to all to a single ethnicity is being led by an extremist fringe group, the Sikh Federation, which rejects key Sikh teachings. Its un-Sikh-like argument is that being recorded under ethnicity will get us more resources than other religions. It also plays on the hurt felt by many of us over the 1984 genocide of Sikhs, saying that reducing the religion to an ethnic group will help us to get a Sikh state in India.
The Sikh Federation bases its arguments on a misunderstanding of the Mandla case in the early 1980s, in which I was an expert witness. The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.
The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.
My Lords, I pay particular tribute to all those involved with this census. I am pleased that veterans are to be included in a new question, and I hope that that is clarified to include national service. But the biggest change is the move to online. Perhaps 85% of the nation is online, but we have to remember that millions of people have come to this country from foreign countries in the last 10 years, many of whom, particularly in the older generation, do not speak English, or English is not their main language. Great care will need to be taken to ensure that there is a paper back-up for those who are not able to cope with the online form.
Secondly, in the context of our experience of the virus, I am particularly interested in the problems for communal establishments, especially our prisons and our care homes. If the department of health appears to have overlooked care homes at the early stages of this crisis, heaven alone knows what will happen with them in normal circumstances. I know a little about the prison world. Bedford prison is heavily overcrowded. The census cannot be done online in a place like that.
On ethnicity, I lived in India for a couple of years of my life and know the Sikh community well. I do not understand why they are not included under ethnicity; certainly their cause is far greater than that of the Roma, who are now included in that category.
Finally, I make a plea: this should not be the last census. We should listen to the queries raised by the noble Lords, Lord Mann and Lord Young.
My Lords, in the 1980s, when I was in the House of Commons, I served on the Home Affairs Select Committee, which did an investigation of the merits or demerits of including an ethnic question in the population census. At that time, there was quite a lot of objection from various groups to having such a question, but we took evidence abroad from a lot of people and came to the conclusion that it was desirable. Why? Because we felt that we needed to measure the disadvantage suffered by any minority and the discrimination against that minority. The best way to do that was to have a benchmark, so that every 10 years we could measure whether the policies to tackle disadvantage and discrimination were effective or not. Without that, we would not know whether the policies were working. That was the argument and it was accepted, and we have had ethnicity questions in our population census since, I think, 1991.
It is therefore a little puzzling as to why there should be such an argument about including an ethnicity question to cover Sikhs. I think it is right to do that, based on the same arguments that we used in the Select Committee all those years ago. I welcome that we will have questions on gender identity, LGBT and the Armed Forces.
I am a bit concerned that there is now talk of this being the last census. Unless we have a wonderful, effective way of covering the same information, which enables us to continue the stream of information from one census to the new system, I very much regret what we would lose by doing that. We ought to think very carefully before we lose the population census.
Lastly, there are questions on health. I appreciate the difficulty of this, but could we adapt those questions to take account of the pandemic that is now sweeping the country? We might learn more about how it happened if we include something on it in the population census.
My Lords, this census form is extensive and will provide valuable information for formulating social policies in the future. However, this extensive list poses a problem: there are a great number of questions, with a range of options, and some people will find the form very difficult to fill in. Therefore, I was very glad to learn from the Minister at the beginning of this debate that the Government intend to have a contact centre. I know that the internet will offer a great deal of help with the usual list of frequently asked questions, but my experience of FAQ lists is that they do not answer the questions that you actually want to ask.
That contact centre will be a vital ingredient in making the next census a success. It will need to be well staffed and the staff will need to be well trained. Linked to this is the fact that those who do not have English as their first language will probably need special help. I hope that it will be possible for people not only to get help answering the questions via telephone but to do so in a number of different languages. That centre will need to be well staffed with people who are well trained, with a range of languages available.
I will briefly cover two points. First, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. From the point of view of the Welsh Government and their educational programme, it is vital to know the number of Welsh speakers in England. Secondly, I also strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Singh. Like him, I believe that Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing this order and for his characteristic clarity of exposition in doing so. Like others, I very much agree about the importance of the census and I hope that we will continue with a census for many years into the future.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that we should consider flexing this present census to ask relevant questions in the light of the virus; these could include questions on health, transport and other matters. If we are not able to do that, we may want to do so in the future.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about welcoming Roma as a distinct ethnic characteristic—that is very welcome. I also underline, as she did, the importance of census workers travelling to sites to ensure that people are able to fill in the forms at the relevant time. On that point, could I ask, as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham did, for some reassurance about census day next year, given the challenges that we face?
I lend support on the inclusion of an ethnic characteristic for Sikhism. That is a case well made out. I heard what the Minister said about the complexity of adding more groups to the form, but there is an unanswerable case on this, as there is in relation to Cornish ethnicity. I had the great privilege, as Minister, of visiting the nascent Cornish archive in Redruth to announce support for the language and of hearing just what strong support there is in Cornwall for this tick box. Indeed, it has had almost unanimous support from councillors on the county council as well as from all the main party groups.
Jains and Zoroastrians should also be added to the census questions. I would also welcome some reassurance on online provision and the difficulties that we may have post virus in ensuring that it works well.
My Lords, I want to emphasise the need for security around the database. The census is useful and is a fascinating tool for historical research. However, many of the questions, primarily numbers 31 to 42, have implications for people’s tax position. The Government rightly declare that this data will not be used other than for census and population analysis purposes, but it may affect how people answer.
The danger is that a future Government may have a very different attitude to what they think they should know about their citizens and how they might use this information. They will say that it is for more efficient government, a usual form of words being that it is for anti-fraud purposes.
Once every 10 years is sometimes too infrequent for proper planning processes, particularly in a fast-changing world. It might be better to gather some of this information by analysis of other data sources—a lot of information is available online—but some of the basic census information will always be useful, particularly for genealogical research, and should continue to be gathered periodically, so we should not just stop the census.
My Lords, both here and in the Commons, there have been some powerful speeches on the inclusion of questions on Cornish identity and Sikh ethnicity, so I need do no more than express my sympathy and support for the cases that have been made. We are moving towards a country of complex and multiple identities, not easily represented by our two-party and first-past-the-post system—but that is an issue for a different debate. I mark in passing that a strong sense of Yorkshire identity is entirely absent from the questionnaire. We face a Conservative Government who resist any recognition of Yorkshire identity in how they approach devolution in Yorkshire, which is to city regions rather than to Yorkshire as a whole, as all our local authorities have stressed.
We are a much more complex society. As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, remarked, our local authorities often know this about languages and ethnic groups in much more detail than do our national Government. That leads me on to the relationship between local and national data. I am struck by how the Government have approached the pandemic by neglecting the skills and resources of our local authorities, going to outside private contractors for testing and other things rather than reinforcing the strengths of our local authorities.
The Minister said in opening that we should make greater use of data already held by government. A great deal of very useful data is held by our local authorities. As we consider the future of the census, we need to take further the question of how we feed in and out of different government agencies the data which they hold separately, and the safeguards that data mining and data analysis need therefore to have.
There is of course the difficult question, which we will come back to later, of why electoral registration is held separately from other forms of establishing where our citizens live and who they are. Every British citizen and long-term resident should be on the electoral register.
I welcome the statement in the Conservative manifesto last year that:
“We will improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government.”
That is a highly desirable idea, although reading Dominic Cummings’s blog over the years and looking at the antics of what one has to call the Warner brothers, Ben and Marc—one of them in No. 10 and the other working for an outside company which has apparently some very privileged relationships with the Government—I think that we clearly need greater transparency as to what exactly is going on within government as we move through the digital transformation.
I thank the Minister for offering me the opportunity to talk to the Office for National Statistics on my own. However, it would be much more valuable to use the real expertise on the digital transformation that there is on all Benches in the House, and invite us for a number of briefings on how the Government plan to expand and improve their use of data, how the future census may or may not fit in with that, and how they will build in the safeguards which we will need. To comment on what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said, the question of data transparency as well of data ownership is an important part of that. I note that in Sweden, for example, the degree of transparency on tax returns is a great deal higher than in Britain, which apparently has a markedly positive effect on not paying some people too much money.
The Minister also talked about the need to maintain the security and secrecy of people’s personal data. That is highly desirable—we certainly need to improve the safeguards on that—but citizens sometimes need to demonstrate to government their entitlement, presence and records. The Windrush scandal, for example, was entirely unnecessary. All those people had, within other agencies of government, records that they had been living in Britain for some time: their tax returns, national insurance records, and in many cases their driving licence. The Home Office did not attempt to look at the metadata to establish whether there were records for those people before it attempted to deport many of them. That is another major issue to which we need to return.
We certainly wish to look at the wider issues here. We were promised last year that the Government would publish a White Paper on their data strategy before the end of 2020. I understand that this has now slipped several months behind schedule because officials have been detached to deal first with the threat of a no-deal Brexit and now with the coronavirus pandemic. This offers opportunities in digital transformation for improving the quality of government policy but also risks individual privacy and liberty. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will do their utmost to carry Parliament and the public with them as they move forward, and that regular briefings for parliamentarians on what is planned and whether a further census should be held in 2031 should be part of building and maintaining public trust?
Beyond this, I simply add that the quality of the data the census provides will depend on how well it manages to record marginal communities and individuals: recent migrants, the homeless, and elderly people living alone. I hope that the Minister will also assure us that the Government will target resources on such groups, who are the least likely to know how to go online or voluntarily and patiently to fill in a long and complicated form on their own.
My Lords, we welcome this draft instrument. It contains lots of positives, as we made clear when we debated the issues before, including the additional questions on military service, which is of course particularly pertinent in this week of commemorating VE Day, although of course before VJ Day. We are also aware of the millions who have served since then.
We are also pleased to see the voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, together with that on Roma people. Indeed, Roma people are now the most disadvantaged in the country, so it is encouraging to see their inclusion as a crucial step forward in data collection and the resource allocation to their community. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to the questions raised by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. However, the addition of that tick box in the ethnicity section brings us to the one contentious issue today: the lack of an equivalent tick box for Sikh people in addition to that in the religious option.
I have read the debate held on this issue in the Commons and listened carefully to the Minister’s introduction today, and two questions remain unanswered. First, why exactly was that recommendation decided on by the ONS, given, as we have heard, the recognition by the House of Lords of Sikhs as an ethnic group back in 1983, the 83,000 writings received in the last census, and the feedback received from over 100 gurdwaras? This is not necessarily to say that the ONS got it wrong and I assume that it had good reasons. However, neither its report nor the White Paper have convinced either the federation or the MPs representing Sikh areas. In her response in the other place, the Minister failed to explain that, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord True, can make a better fist of it today. It is vital for the confidence of the Sikh community in the outcome of the census.
Secondly, and vitally, if it is the case that 12% of Sikhs, which represents 50,000 or more people according to ONS modelling, could be missing from these datasets, and given that it is on the basis of the census that it is ethnic rather than religious data on which 40,000 public bodies decide on the allocation of resources and use it to assess their responsibilities under equalities legislation, as touched on by my noble friend Lord Dubs, how will the Government ensure that suitable corrections are made so that this large and vital community gets its fair share of appropriate services and is not discriminated against through the absence of proper data?
How do the Government plan to address the inequalities that we sadly see in Sikh communities while we lack accurate data? Do they recognise that the chronic statistical underreporting of communities such as the Sikh population could allow discrimination to go unnoticed? Indeed, will the Minister comment on the point raised about the Scottish Government’s decision to add a prompt for Sikhs as well as for Jewish people to their own regulation?
We welcome the census because in this time of rapid social change we welcome the availability of up-to-date information. Indeed, as I warned the Minister earlier, I will shortly start campaigning, no doubt along with the noble Lords, Lord Balfe, Lord Naseby, Lord Bourne, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Clark of Windermere, to ensure that we do not lose this vital source of rich, granular data in 2031. For the moment, however, we need all sections of the community to have faith in the census, and the Minister’s answers to the debate today will be important.
My Lords, it is customary to say that we have had a wide-ranging and excellent debate, and of course that is true, particularly on this occasion. It has been a fascinating debate to me personally and I am grateful to many noble Lords, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Clark, and others, including my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, for saying how important the institution of the census is over the long term in enabling an understanding of the familial and social development of communities and of the whole country. Both in the past and now in the present, it is an enormously valuable historical resource. As an historian, I freely acknowledge that. Indeed, I am sure that when the 1921 census comes to be published, one of the interesting things to look at will be the impact on the nation of the Spanish flu epidemic as well as that of the Great War between 1911 and 1921.
I said that in 2023 the National Statistician will publish recommendations based on views about the future of the census in light of the experience of the census that we are about to conduct, and indeed past experience along with other data and relevant material. Your Lordships will have ample opportunity, as will the other place, to consider those recommendations. The Government of the day will give them careful consideration, and I am sure will reflect on the unique nature and value of the census over time. As I said in my opening remarks, that really is a debate for another day, although I believe that all those who read this debate will note the sentiments that have been expressed by many who have spoken.
Questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and others about whether any contingency consideration is being given to the current pandemic that we are dealing with. Census day—21 March 2021, obviously—is still nearly a year away, and currently the Office for National Statistics is working to deliver the census as planned. Like any other part of the Government, the ONS will be guided by the scientific evidence and the evolving advice from medical experts. At the same time, therefore, we are considering the contingencies that may be needed if measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 remain in place or indeed again become necessary in the run-up to census day itself. That is a matter of which those who are involved are aware. The situation, as noble Lords will know, is evolving and we will be guided by medical advice as it emerges.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made important remarks about data more generally, many of which I agreed with. He asked specifically about the national data strategy, the potential involvement of Parliament and parliamentarians in the evolution of that strategy, and the debate generally about the use of data—something that is obviously extraordinarily important to being an effective modern economy and society in the future. The position, as the noble Lord recognised, is that because of the coronavirus pandemic progress has been delayed, but I assure him that it remains the Government’s intention to publish the national data strategy in 2020. I will endeavour to keep him and other noble Lords informed as to progress.
The question of identity has come up in this House and in the other place. I underline the abounding respect and admiration that this Government—and, indeed, I believe the whole nation—have for the Sikh people and the Sikh religion, faith and values. The Sikh community is an embedded and enormously valued part of the British nation. Even today, we have heard conflicting views on whether the ONS has made the right call in respect of the questions in the census. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and others spoke strongly in one direction, while the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, and indeed the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, spoke in the opposite direction.
The ONS has to reach a balance, and the tick-box options set out in the order have been informed by its very extensive programme of research, consultation and engagement, which has gone on for over three years. As I said in my opening statement, more than 55 requests were made for tick boxes under the ethnic group question alone. There is already a Sikh tick box for the religion question, and the ONS concluded that the needs for data on Sikh communities can be met without the addition of a Sikh ethnic tick box.
The 2011 census and subsequent research show that the religion and ethnic group questions capture similar Sikh populations. The number of people using the write-in option, which will exist in this census, to record Sikh as their ethnic group has been referred to. In 2011 the ONS promoted the ability to use that write-in option, and 83,000 people used it to write in their ethnicity as Sikh—but 92% of those also identified their religion as Sikh, and more than 423,000 people in England and Wales identified their religion as Sikh in 2011.
Qualitative research that the ONS commissioned on the acceptability, clarity and quality of the tick boxes showed that the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box without other religions also having an ethnic tick box or tick boxes was viewed as unacceptable, particularly among younger, second-generation participants. The ONS has offered to work with members of the Sikh population to encourage wider participation in the census and to raise awareness of the option of writing in their identity in the ethnic group question. I hope Members of the House will help the ONS in this effort.
A question was asked about the Welsh language; the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others referred to this. I understand the point he made that it is important for the Welsh Government to understand the extent of the Welsh language, not only in Wales but outside Wales. Obviously, the draft census order provides for a question on the Welsh language to be asked in Wales, but anyone in England who wishes to record their main language as Welsh in the 2021 census will be able to do so using, again, the write-in options in the language question. Testing by the ONS convinced it that the inclusion of that question generally might lead to confusion among the larger number of respondents about why they were being asked it. When it comes to conducting the census, I am sure that those in the ONS and working on its behalf will pay heed to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others.
My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns and others raised Cornish identity. Again, the Government recognise the distinct culture and heritage of Cornwall. We understand how important that is to the people of Cornwall, who are rightly proud of their Cornish history. The reality is that everyone who wants to identify as Cornish in the census will be able to do so using the new search-as-you-type facility online or the write-in option. In its consultations informing the contents of the 2021 census, the ONS found that the need for data on Cornish populations is localised and—in the context of the many requests to have questions included in the census—not strong enough to justify the inclusion of a Cornish national identity box nationwide.
I assure noble Lords who have spoken—I myself have had representations from elected representatives in Cornwall—that the ONS is committed to working with Cornish MPs, Cornwall Council and others to meet their data needs through data gathered via the write-in option. It will promote this option in both national and local census campaigns. After this census, the ONS will for the first time produce an analytical report on the population who identify as Cornish and how their health, housing, work and education differ from those of people who do not identify as Cornish. I hope noble Lords will welcome that assurance.
The social condition of various parts of the population is extremely important and relates and translates across to the question asked by many noble Lords about accessibility and support, including for those who are homeless. The ONS will offer a range of support to help people who complete the census, whether online or on paper. As I said at the outset, paper forms will be available in large print. Language support will be provided for those who need it. There will also be an option to complete the questionnaire by telephone. I referred to the fact that additional help to fill in the census online or on paper will be available at community events in community centres, libraries and places of worship. I was grateful for the remarks of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on that.
In addition, the assisted digital service will be provided by the Good Things Foundation to provide support for those who are offline or need additional digital help. We are well aware of the importance of reaching those who are not digitally enabled; they are in fact, paradoxically, among the most important parts of the population which the ONS needs to reach in the census. It is a great responsibility to do that. That is why the ONS aims to recruit up to 40,000 field staff to support this kind of engagement. They will have a particular focus of resources on the known hard-to-count groups and areas. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, that, given the inclusion of the Roma question, there will be a great effort to reach all Traveller people. I will provide her with a written answer on the other question that she asked.
To return to the homeless, those who are homeless are particularly vulnerable and hard to reach. That is obvious. We have seen in the Covid crisis the Government’s efforts to reach that important and much underprivileged part of the population. In preparing for the census, the ONS is working to ensure that all those who are homeless, particularly those who are sleeping rough, have every opportunity to take part. Census forms will be available at day centres and night shelters over a series of days. The ONS is working closely with homelessness charities to ensure that there is help and support for those who are homeless to participate in the census.
As in 2011, special arrangements are being made to make sure that all those living in communal establishments are recorded in the census. My noble friend Lord Balfe referred to some of these, including those living in hospitals, residential care homes, student halls, prison establishments and military camps. This is an important duty laid on the ONS, and I am sure that it will rise to it.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham referred to the voluntary nature of questions on the census. I am grateful for the welcome that has been given again by noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, among them, for the inclusion of questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. These will be voluntary. I am very grateful for the discussions the Government have had with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and for their advice to enable us to better underline the fact that these questions are voluntary.
I note what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said about the 2031 census. I am sure that, in that time, something will be done to improve any deficiencies in the drafting, but I repeat what I said in my opening remarks: the regulations that will come before the House and provide opportunity for further debate will prescribe the census form. They will make it absolutely clear that these questions are voluntary. I am grateful to noble Lords for raising that important point.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, asked a number of questions, some of which I can answer and some of which I will have to respond to in due course. He asked what efforts have been made to test some of the provisions for the census. There has been a census rehearsal. It was held last autumn in four local authority areas: Carlisle, Ceredigion, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. These areas were chosen to reflect urban, rural and mixed areas with their varying internet coverage and places where there are Welsh speakers, students and residents from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. Although participation was obviously voluntary, the rehearsal was a large-scale test of the census operational systems and processes. They included the online questionnaire, the field force function, digital assistance and public contact centre. The rehearsal has provided valuable insight into how the questions have been answered, and how the help and guidance is used. As I said, it covered most of the questions and areas raised in this debate.
The ONS is planning to publish a report on the rehearsal later this summer. It will incorporate the lessons from that and from the other work it has been taking on to test the census questions in its report this summer. The household response in the 2019 rehearsal was similar to that in the 2009 rehearsal, although direct comparisons are not possible because they were held in different areas. The 2011 census went on to reach 94% of the population, so this gives some confidence that the Government and the ONS will be able to reach large numbers of people in the census.
As many noble Lords stressed throughout the debate, starting with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, it is vital, of course, that the information gathered in the census is confidential. I can assure noble Lords that the highest priority is given to that. It is fundamental to trust in the 2021 census. There are strict legal safeguards: unlawful disclosure of confidential census data by the statistics authority and its employees, including the ONS, is a criminal offence with a sanction of up to two years in prison. The same applies to the Registrar-General in Scotland. We are consulting on cybersecurity, and the National Cyber Security Centre is being carefully and continually engaged in the process.
I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. It is essential that everyone is counted in the 2021 census to provide service providers and policymakers with the information they need to help target support and resources where they are most needed, and as efficiently and effectively as possible. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions and I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate.
My Lords, the Virtual Proceedings on this Motion are now complete. The Virtual Proceedings will now adjourn until 2.45 pm for the Motions in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell.
Virtual Proceeding suspended.