HC Deb 07 February 1972 vol 830 cc967-8
20. Mr. Robert Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will arrange to state on every statistical inquiry whether or not its completion is obligatory.

Mr. Ridley

When inquiries are made under statutory powers, it is an invariable practice for forms to refer to the relevant legislation, usually the Statistics of Trade Act, 1947. As to other inquiries I am considering whether this information could be given more clearly.

Mr. Taylor

Is my hon. Friend aware of the extreme urgency of this matter? The Census of Distribution for 1971 form, which is now being sent to all retail establishments with a turnover in excess of £200 per week—which is a fairly modest sum—asks for a tremendous amount of information, in particular the space immediately behind counters used by shop assistants. Much of the information requested seems to be totally irrelevant. The Bolton Report suggests that the completion of such forms is an unnecessary imposition on small businesses. Will my hon. Friend take action as soon as possible?

Mr. Ridley

We are reviewing this particular recommendation of the Bolton Committee. Forms which are not statutorily required to be completed do not carry any suggestion that that is the case.

Mr. Emery

Regarding the completion of forms, would my hon. Friend consider raising the cut-off level for smaller concerns? Parliament has never wanted the promotion of statistics to be an imposition on small businesses. There are a number of examples where that is the case. An investigation into the level of cut-off would be very much appreciated by small businesses.

Mr. Ridley

What we are doing, and have done with considerable success already, is to develop sampling techniques whereby a lot of information can be discovered by consulting only 10 per cent. of the persons concerned.