HL Deb 15 November 1979 vol 402 cc1381-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they have so far taken to relieve industry and commerce of the administrative burden and expense involved in the making of statistical and other returns.


My Lords, as a result of decisions taken by the Government, more than a million fewer statistical forms will be sent to firms. I am expecting more savings to be made as a result of further reviews, including that being conducted under the auspices of Sir Derek Rayner.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging reply. May I ask him to confirm what I think is implicit in it, namely, that Her Majesty's Government appreciate the very real burden, particularly on small firms, involved in the compilation of elaborate statistical returns? May I ask him, further, whether he will invite his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture to cease to demand from very small farmers or market gardeners the completion of immense forms demanding, inter alia, the number of hectares under aspidistras?


My Lords, I can certainly say to my noble friend that the small firm aspect of this problem is uppermost in my mind, and that it has priority. I should pay tribute to the previous Administration for starting an interdepartmental review of statistical inquiries which had already laid plans for the saving of some forms required from small firms. So far as farmers are concerned, I really cannot answer, but I shall draw my noble friend's remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.


My Lords, does the noble Viscount not agree that, if a sufficient amount of inaccurate statistical information is collected, the mean of it has a certain probability of being approximately right?


My Lords, I have to say that there is no question that, in cutting down the quantity and sometimes the frequency of statistical forms, one is to a very small degree—and that has been our guiding light, that it is only to a very small degree—affecting the statistical accuracy of the final results as presented ; but if one uses all modern techniques and examines one's sample properly, I am convinced that we can go considerably further. I think I should put this in perspective by saying that the saving of a million forms relates to 4½million forms on the statistical side—not on the administrative side, where there are many more forms—and that, according to the thickness of the paper, if we piled them on top of each other I believe they would be considerably higher than Big Ben.


My Lords, would the noble Viscount agree that the postponement of the verification of statistics is a good way to camouflage the consequent worsening of the situation under the present Government?


My Lords, that is not part of the Government's intention, nor their achievement. The worsening of the situation has, at this stage still, far more to do with the incredible position we inherited than with anything we have done.


My Lords, will my noble friend include small shopkeepers among those particularly deserving of attention, as many are so sorely overloaded by form-filling that in villages all round our country they are even closing down, to the great disadvantage of village life? Secondly, will he remember that it is not just a matter of statistics but of administration forms as well, and that pressure needs to be kept up? It is no good doing it for once and then slackening off, because forms grow even faster than aspidistras.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning retail shops. Of the total number of forms I have mentioned, 150,000 forms have been saved by abandoning plans to hold a retail shops inquiry in 1981. So far as administrative forms are concerned, this is a more difficult problem and must follow a policy as to what the Government administer and what they do not. In this respect, and not included in my total, we have of course already made a small contribution. The Price Commission no longer sends forms; a few came from exchange control; and, while we have been criticised for it, our more effective but narrower regional policy will also involve fewer forms.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, will the noble Viscount bear in mind that a statistical investigation into the utility of statistics could be a cure that was worse than the disease?


My Lords, I think Sir Derek Rayner's sponsored inquiries have already shown their worth.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that, having cut down the form filling requirements, better use will be made of the forms that we do fill in? I filled in my livestock form and, being completely fed up with it, I put down: "one elephant and two giraffes" and nobody took any notice!


Yes, my Lords.

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