HL Deb 22 April 1980 vol 408 cc729-56

6.59 p.m.

Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE rose to move, That:

items 5, 6, 8, 10, 11(1)(d) to (j), 11(2), 12(a)(vii), 15 and 16 of Part I of Schedule 2, items 5, 6, 8, 10, 11(1)(d) to (j), 11(2) 12(a)(vii), 15, 17, 18 and 19 of Schedule 3, and items 2 and 3 of Schedule 4, to the draft order laid before the House on 20th March, be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Order in Council for which I am seeking your Lordships' approval has been drafted to provide for a full census of England, Scotland and Wales to be taken next year. (Northern Ireland is the subject of separate legislation so far as censuses are concerned). The present draft order is the outcome of the Government's review of our predecessors' proposals for the census which they published in their White Paper The 1981 Census of Population (Cmnd. 7146, July 1978).

The draft order is laid before the House in accordance with the Census Act 1920. It prescribes the date of the census, the persons to whom and in respect of whom census returns are to be made, and the particulars to be stated in the returns. I must emphasise that the questions on the form will be set out so that they are straight forward to answer; they will not be formulated in the style of the Census Order. OPCS Monitor CEN 80/1 which is available in the Printed Paper Office illustrates how the questions could look on the form.

The Act lays down a rather unusual procedure. Although the order as a whole has to lie before the House for 40 days and is subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, some of the items in the lists of particulars require approval by Affirmative Resolution. In accordance with the Act, regulations governing the conduct of the census will subsequently be made and laid before Parliament; those regulations will include facsimiles of the forms to be completed in the census and so it is at that stage that approval of the precise formulation of the questions will be sought.

The date given for the census in this draft order is 5th April 1981. That is a Sunday, following the precedents of previous censuses. We have had a regular census every 10 years since 1801 (apart from 1941 when we were at war). The 5th April is a date which is clear of holidays and local elections and which is within British Summer Time, giving an extra hour of evening daylight for those taking the census. Our census has customarily been taken in the spring, and conveniently, 5th April falls within the period which the European Community has adopted in its Directive requiring Member States to conduct general population censuses in 1981.

Your Lordships may ask why we need a census at all at this time. Only a complete census can provide basic information about the number and distribution of the population to help in deciding where new schools, roads, hospitals and other social services are needed, and to enable Government, local authorities and other organisations to decide how to direct their spending of public money. For example, it is used in the allocation of well over £15 billion each year by way of rate support grants to local authorities and grants to health authorities. Census information is needed not only by central and local government and health authorities, but also by the public services and by industry and commerce. Many important decisions affecting the lives of everyone in the country and involving billions of pounds of expenditure each year hinge upon the decennial census.

Your Lordships may also ask why sample surveys could not replace the census. Although such surveys can give us satisfactory estimates for some purposes, we still need reliable basic information; and we need it particularly for local areas and for small groups in the population—for these only a full count will suffice. For the same reason a voluntary census will not do; the best response rates in voluntary census tests have been around 70 or 80 per cent. and this would not provide sufficiently reliable results. Moreover, where a substantial proportion of the population do not reply, we cannot be sure that the returns we do get ate truly representative of the total.

I come now to the content of the census. Your Lordships will find the particulars to be stated in the returns listed in Schedule 2 for England and Wales and Schedule 3 for Scotland. They have been set out in detail to show the nature of the information that will he required of every person; but the lists represent the shortest and simplest census since 1931. This is the result of a reduction which the Government have made in the list of questions proposed by our predecessors in their White Paper of July 1978. All the topics to which particulars relate have been covered in previous censuses. They include basic demographic topics; immigration and internal migration; higher qualifications; employment and travel to work; housing, and the Welsh and Gaelic languages. The list includes country of birth as in all previous censuses.

It is not proposed to include questions on race or ethnic origin, or on nationality or year of entry to the United Kingdom. The previous Government proposed to include a question on race or ethnic origin, but were awaiting the findings from tests to see whether the questions commanded public acceptance and would give reliable results. In addition to the tests, the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has consulted and received the views of very many bodies representing ethnic minorities. We have taken note of the discussion on an ethnic question in the national Press and elsewhere, and of the many letters received from individuals.

The series of tests of possible types of ethnic question culminated in a major test census in Haringey a year ago. The test aroused a great deal of controversy and only 54 per cent. of the households returned their forms, as against the 70 per cent. response that was expected. Of the ethnic minority households that returned completed forms, many did not correctly answer, or answer at all, the question on ethnic origin or the alternative question on parents' countries of birth, and the questions on nationality and year of entry were also poorly answered. Clearly none of these questions would be viable in the census itself and there is a real risk that, if an ethnic question were included in the census, the whole operation could be put in jeopardy. The public debate and consultations revealed a wide spectrum of views, particularly among the ethnic minority groups themselves, about the inclusion of questions on ethnic origin and there was concern among some of them about the use that might be made of the information; among those who favoured a census question on ethnic origin there was no concensus about the form such a question should take.

Although the Government draw the clear conclusion that the census is not the right means of obtaining proper information about ethnic origin, the need for information remains, and we shall have to rely for it on other methods such as sample surveys. Your Lordships may refer to OPCS Monitor CEN 80/3, copies of which are available in the Printed Paper Office, for more detail of the reasons why we have decided not to proceed with the proposal to include a direct question on race or ethnic origin and a list of the organisations which submitted views or were represented at consultative meetings on this subject.

There are three other topics among those proposed in the last Government's White Paper, where we have decided that the value of the statistics is insufficient justification for the inclusion of the questions in the census. They are: weekly hours usually worked; school level qualifications; and the number of cars and vans available for the use of the household.

I come now to the information which can be collected only if your Lordships assent to the Motion on the Order Paper. These are the items in italics in Schedules 2, 3 and 4. Item 5 in Schedules 2 and 3 is the relationship of each household member to the head of household or other reference person. This information is needed so that statistics of the composition of households in terms of families can be produced; these statistics are required particularly for local social services and in calculating rate support grant. In communal establishments such as hotels and hospitals, the person's position in the establishment will be recorded so that guests and patients, for example, can be counted separately from staff.

Item 6 in both schedules distinguishes between persons present on census night and the absent household members. For some purposes statistics of the people actually present in an area on census night are needed; many other statistics, including figures used in the allocation of rate support grant, are based on the population usually resident in the area.

Item 8 in both Schedules is the person's usual address one year before census day; this provides detailed information on population movements within the country, for which the census is the only source.

For local authorities, information on the number and characteristics of migrants is essential for their policies on housing, employment, the elderly and the ethnic minorities. The statistics are used in preparing local population estimates used for rate support grant and for resource allocation in the Health Service and local population projections. Some local authorities have pressed for a question asking for the address five years ago, but we have concluded that the expense and trouble to the public of two questions on population movement cannot be justified, and that there is more merit in a question on address one year ago.

Item 10, the academic, professional and vocational qualifications obtained after the age of 18, measures the nation's stock of qualified people. The census will show how this highly qualified manpower is deployed, and here again it is the only source. The information will provide a basis for studies of future demand and supply of qualified manpower; these studies in turn will influence decisions about the future provision of higher education and help students make better-informed decisions about their lives.

Item 11 in both schedules will show how people were occupied in the week before the census; your Lordships will see that some of the details are in italics and others are not. This is because the Act allows for the inclusion of particulars relating to occupation and employment without a motion of approval; the italicised items relate to the activity or circumstances of people not in employment. The object is to find out how many people are potentially available for work and how many are not—because, for example, they are students, retired or permanently disabled. Information about the working population is not available from any other source in the comprehensive way that the census provides.

In item 12, the main method of travel to work is printed in italics. Census information on journey to work is used extensively in highway planning and by the transport services; it is also used in planning the provision of new jobs and houses and is an important input to local authorities' structure plans. In Schedule 2, item 15 relates to the tenure of the household's accommodation. It will show national and local trends in the private sector and thus throw light on the effects of legislation. Statistics of households occupying council housing will help in developing local housing policies.

Item 16 is about the availability of baths and showers and of water closets; the statistics will indicate where inadequate housing is concentrated and so identify areas for improvement and special action; the information is also needed for rate support grant and housing investment programmes. In Schedule 3, item 15 is included in order to identify households which share their accommodation with other households.

Item 17 in the same schedule seeks information on the level or storey at which the household's accommodation is situated in the building and on the means of access; the information obtained will be used mainly to consider housing problems in relation to the young and the aged. The last two items (18 and 19) in Schedule 3 correspond to those on tenure and amenities in Schedule 2. In Schedule 4, which relates to communal establishments, we require to know the nature of the premises in order to distinguish between different types of establishment in the census statistics; and in the case of hotels and boarding houses we are seeking data on the number of rooms in order to provide statistics on size of establishment distinguishing especially between the larger hotels on the one hand and the small boarding houses which tend to move into and out of the private housing market. I ask your Lordships to agree that all the information I have described should form part of the census.

The House may wish me to explain briefly who are to make the returns. First, in private households we are continuing the practice of requiring the head of household to make a return for the whole household, but we recognise that this term seems rather dated to many families where husband and wife are regarded as joint heads of the household, so we have made provision for that; and for households where several unrelated people are sharing the accommodation on equal terms and none is head we have placed the responsibility on all the adult members jointly. For the sake of privacy, we make provision, as in previous censuses, for members of households to have their own census form if they do not want to disclose their personal information to the person filling in the household form; we shall also arrange for households to be able to return their form under sealed cover if they do not wish the census enumerator to see their answers. In communal establishments, we require a return from every individual, whether a member of the staff or a guest, patient, or inmate; but we have made provision for those cases in which the person may be too incapacitated to make his or her own return.

When the census forms have been completed and collected, we intend to carry out voluntary sample surveys to check the accuracy of the information. To assess the quality of the answers given on the forms, a small sample of households will be interviewed to see how well they have understood and answered the questions. Checks on the completeness of coverage will also be made and these, too, may involve re-visiting a small number of households.

In England and Wales there will be no other sample surveys using, as the sampling frame, names and addresses from the census. Two post-census surveys will be undertaken in Scotland. One will cover vacant houses. There is now an excess of houses over households in Scotland and it is most desirable at both national and local levels to know why houses are empty so that efficient use of the existing housing stock can be encouraged. There will also be a voluntary survey of teachers not employed in teaching. Estimates of the numbers of such teachers who may in future seek teaching appointments are needed for the effective planning of intake to colleges and of the size and shape of the teacher-training system. The census affords the best opportunity for these surveys to be carried out and both will be undertaken on a 10 per cent. sample basis.

I have referred already to special arrangements for the confidential return of the completed forms. I wish to assure the House that the Government attach the utmost importance to the confidentiality of everybody's information given in the census and intend to see that the Census Offices' well-established record in this respect is maintained. The Census Act itself provides legal penalties for unlawful disclosure by census officials, whether on the staff of the Census Offices or members of the temporary field force of some 130,000 recruited to conduct the census locally; clear and strict instruction on confidentiality will be given to all members of the census organisation. Close attention will be paid to the physical security of the forms and the information they contain when in transit, during processing and in storage. The forms themselves will be kept locked away for 100 years, when they will be opened to public inspection at the Public Record Office. Names and addresses from the forms will not be fed into the computer that will process the census data, and the computer system will have built-in safeguards preventing unauthorised access.

My Lords, that brings me to the programme for producing the results from the census. We recognise the importance of speed; the later the results come out the less useful they are. So processing procedures will be simplified and automated as far as practicable. Where the information is expensive to process and statistically satisfactory results can be achieved from a sample of the answers, then only a sample will be processed. A preliminary report giving the population of each district will be published within a few weeks of census day. Tables for districts are scheduled to start appearing early in 1982 and national tables from about mid-1982. We plan to have all the main results available by the summer of 1984. The tables will appear in a set of reports to be laid before Parliament; and there will be an abbreviated set of statistics for smaller areas and special tabulations at users' requests that will be paid for by the users. We hope to issue summaries and explanatory guides to make the results available to a wider public.

Finally, your Lordships will rightly wish to know how much this census will cost. For Great Britain, the cost is now put at £44 million at 1979 survey prices. This represents a saving of some 17½ per cent. on the cost of the proposals given in the previous Administration's White Paper. The cost works out at 81p per head of the population, or about 8p each year if spread over the decade. But this expenditure is a necessity if we are to have the basic information for determining the spending of over £15 billion annually in the form of Rate Support Grant and allocations to health authorities—and if we are to make all the other decisions that hinge upon the census. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That items 5, 6, 8, 10, 11(1)(d) to (j), 11(2), 12(a)(vii), 15 and 16 of Part I of Schedule 2, items 5, 6, 8, 10, 11(1)(d) to (j), 11(2), 12(a)(vii), 15, 17, 18 and 19 of Schedule 3, and items 2 and 3 of Schedule 4 to the draft order laid before the House on 20th March, be approved.—(Lord Cullen of Ashbourne.)

7.20 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, for the careful and detailed explanation he gave of the draft order that is before us tonight. It certainly appears to be a pretty exhaustive questionnaire, and I should think quite exhausting to fill in, although I understand that it is shorter than the last census. The noble Lord said that to assess the quality of the answers given a small sample of households would be interviewed to see how well it had been understood. It would surely be better to undertake this first before the forms are printed, otherwise it may well be that there is something which comes up throughout, because casting questions, however expert you are, can be quite a tricky job. One often notices things which could be put better and more simply. I do not expect an answer now, but I should like an assurance from the noble Lord that he will take this up with his right honourable friend. It does not seem to me to be a major point, but useful and more economical.

I saw that the main means of transport to work was included in the census, but I am puzzled that the number of cars and vans available to a household is omitted. The Government say that the statements on the reasons will be issued separately, but the only explanation so far is that the value is insufficient to justify inclusion in the census. I should have thought that this would give an invaluable piece of economic and social information, especially since we have a great deal of traffic congestion and also since the whole of our road programme, where we are going to build garages, parking spaces, how we assess social data as well, are very much tied up with this question.

Since recording my own puzzlement I have received a letter—as indeed, I think a number of other noble Lords have—from the Association of County Councils expressing in strong terms their concern at this omission. The association believes that the census is the only complete, consistent, and reliable source of small area statistics on car availability. Without this, it is difficult to understand and follow the trends of dependence of people on private transport at local level. This was included in the 1978 White Paper put out by the last Government in paragraph 29, where it says: The answers to this question indicate the areas where people are most dependent on public transport, and the areas where private transport makes the most demand on road space". Since this draft order has started in this House rather than in the other place, I would ask the noble Lord whether he would raise this again with his right honourable friend and colleagues, so that this question can be reinstated before the order is laid before another place. I know there is quite a lot of strong feeling here, and I do not think we want to throw the order out in this House, but it is something of considerable importance.

The only other point I have to raise is the controversy on the ethnic or racial questions. In the 1971 census there was a question which asked about not only the country of origin but the country of origin of parents. The 1978 White Paper on the 1981 census in paragraph 24 states: There is a need for authoritative and reliable information about main ethnic minorities. This would deal with family structure, housing, education, employment and unemployment of ethnic minorities compared with conditions in the population as a whole". The noble Lord, Lord Cullen, explained why this question is now left out. He was quite right when he said that the last Government wanted to see the effect of the questions and the public response to them, so there was a test done in Haringey.

I am well aware, and appreciate very keenly, that many individuals and organisations which have distinguished themselves in the field of race relations feel strongly that a question of this sort should be included in order to be able to monitor numbers and pinpoint those people who are greatly disadvantaged because of their race. These numbers include Members of Parliament and such organisations as the Commission for Racial Equality and the Runnymede Trust.

But, as the noble Lord pointed out, the Haringey test carried out in 1978 indicated that those on the receiving end of these questions greatly resented them. The questions, frankly, were rather complicated. They were not sufficiently sensitive, and there had not been enough groundwork done before they were put out. Nevertheless, even if the question casting had been impeccable, I believe unfortunately that the present climate of fear, suspicion and insecurity rules out the inclusion of such a question now. Even if it were to be included, it would probably not be answered, or deliberately incorrectly answered.

This leads us into the penalty area where the maximum fine is a penalty of £50 and an alternative of six months' imprisonment if this is not paid. So we could get ourselves into a nasty situation. I do not think it is any good pretending that the word,"ethnic", is the problem. In any case by many people it is generally understood as a description of clothes or of music. But the word cloaks what it really means—black; and people whose children were born here, or who were born here themselves, want to be considered British. By putting down, or ticking correctly, the ethnic group to which they originally belong, or their parents belonged, they believe this diminishes their standing and security in this community. A greater security, a real sense of belonging, and destroying the fear—and there is still a great fear of repatriation—are the necessary conditions for people to have if these facts are to be given readily and proudly.

When one sees such comments as in the National Front newspaper Spearhead, which said, … the 1981 Census MUST ask the vital question 'What is your ethnic origin?'. Only then can we get an idea of the true size of the coloured population … Our repatriation policy demands we have accurate figures of the number of people who, sooner or later, are going home", one can understand that, although this is not the intention—it certainly was never my Government's intention, and I hope it is not the present Government's intention—nevertheless people are frightened of this.

I must say that the recent immigration rules which have been moved and put into operation by the present Government have had a devastating effect in this area. Without these questions put in—and I support the Government in their omission—there is an enormous amount of data available. We know about housing disadvantage. Local authorities can keep housing records, and it can certainly be done again in a sensible and acceptable way. Camden, Wandsworth, and the GLC do so. But they have explained carefully what they are doing before they approach the people. We know that unemployment is much higher among the black population—in particular, among the younger people—and we have seen what has happened in Bristol.

I believe that the key is discrimination, and census statistics can have only a limited value until discrimination disappears far more rapidly than at present. It is race relations, not immigration, which should be the name of the game, and until affirmative action is taken on this matter, so that black and other coloured people really feel at home here, it will he hard to ask them questions of this kind without arousing the kind of resentment, fear, and anger which is aroused at the moment.

A great deal can be done in local areas where conditions vary enormously without having these questions in the census. The Government have said, in OPCS 80/3, that the census is not the only means of obtaining relevant statistics, and they propose within the limits of available resources to explore means of obtaining statistics relevant to the social and economic needs of the ethnic minorities through surveys of this kind". The noble Lord has told us that the cost of the census will be £40 million at 1979 prices, and that this represents a reduction of 17½ percent. compared with the last census. I have a figure of £45 million, and a reduction representing 16 per cent., but I accept that the noble Lord's figures are probably more up to date than mine. I hope that the Government will treat this saving as a priority fund on which a claim can be made, and will put the money towards setting up surveys by voluntary bodies, seeking out and analysing the gaps in the existing central and local government services, and doing whatever can be done to reduce prejudice and improve race relations in this country.

Finally, I hope that the findings of the census will be processed rapidly, using our most sophisticated technology, so that the information which is gathered will he put to productive use as soon as possible. Information gathering appears to be one of our growth industries, but unless the information is put to good use, it is really a waste of time and money.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, it ought not to be overlooked that a census, by definition, is a prying by the Government into the personal affairs of the citizens, and is carried out by asking questions about their private lives and by forcing the citizens to answer those questions—and to answer them accurately—upon pain of a fine, or imprisonment if the fine is not paid. That is not in itself an argument against holding a census, but I hope the noble Lord will agree that it is a very strong argument for confining a census only to such questions as are absolutely essential in order to obtain information that is in the interests of good government.

It is no part of the function of a census to provide fascinating, interesting material upon which statisticians can work happily for years to come. Since I mention the matter of years to come, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether it is not a fact that in previous censuses the statistical material has taken many years to work out. Indeed, it was said at the time of the 1971 census that that census was taking place when the material from the previous census had still not been completely analysed. Perhaps the noble Lord can assist us by giving the information as to when the 1971 material was finally completely processed and analysed.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord say that a year or two after this census a sample will have been processed. If a sample can be processed, and can be of use, it leads one to query whether perhaps a sample is not all that needs to be taken in the first place. I was encouraged to hear from the noble Lord that the material of this census might be analysed within a period of two to three years. I am sure the Government recognise that any longer delay means that the information is so out of date as to be quite worthless.

As I have said, it is no part of the function of a census to provide interesting material for statisticians, nor indeed to provide material for academics to write the most fascinating theses. Neither is it for civil servants to prepare memoranda upon which their departments will not take any action in any event because of the restraints upon public expenditure. If I may respectfully say so to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, it is surely no part of a census to provide information for industry or commerce. I note that the noble Lord said that the information provided by this census would be of the very greatest help to industry and commerce. If that happens incidentally, so be it, but it is not part, and should not be part, of the object of a census. If industry and commerce, and academic institutions, want to obtain information that will assist them in carrying out their various functions they must find a way of doing so without this form of investigation into the affairs of the citizens of this country.

If the noble Lord agrees—as I am sure he does—that therefore the census must be limited to absolutely essential information, I am sure that he will agree, too, that there are perhaps four limitations upon the questions that should be asked. First, there must be questions that do not cause grave offence or grave embarrassment to the population, and it is upon that basis that I welcome the Government's decision not to proceed with questions about ethnic or racial origin. I quite understand that there is a case for obtaining this information; and it may be important information. As the noble Lord said, it will have to be obtained by other means. It might be that it could be obtained at the same time as the census, on a supplementary form, which is not subject to the penalties attached to the census form, and the compilation of which would be entirely voluntary. If the information is asked for on a purely voluntary basis, I can certainly see no harm in the questions being raised in that way, and the information might then be of assistance. I think that the Haringey experiment proved conclusively that it would be quite wrong for the Government to embark upon including questions in the census itself.

Secondly, as a limitation upon the questions, they must surely be questions to which it is likely that the answers will be accurate and reliable. I mention that because there is a whole series of questions in paragraph 11 of Part I of Schedule 2 about full-time and part-time employment. We all know that there are very large numbers of people in the community who at the moment are engaged in moonlighting, in occupations which, for one reason or another, they are certainly not going to disclose to the taxman, and which I suspect they are not going to disclose on a census form, however politely the questions are asked. Perhaps the noble Lord can indicate whether the Government recognise that the answers to the questions in paragraph 11 will therefore have to be treated with a certain degree of suspicion, in the light of what we all know.

Thirdly, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that questions ought not to go into quite unnecessary detail. I should like to ask the noble Lord, in relation to paragraph 12 of the schedule, why is it necessary to ask for the name of the employer. I can understand that the employer's business has to be stated, and his address may have to be stated, but what his name has to do with it I do not know. I know that this question was asked in the corresponding debate 10 or 11 years ago in your Lordships' House. I do not think that an answer was given on that occasion, but on this occasion I have mentioned this point to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, in advance, and I am sure that we shall be more fortunate than were those of your Lordships who were here that considerable time ago.

Fourthly, it is surely only sensible that questions should not be asked where the answers are available from other sources in any event without difficulty. In paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 a series of questions is asked about professional qualifications, for example. I suppose that there is some point in asking how may people have been called to the Bar, for instance, though I am bound to say that a telephone call to the Bar Council would provide the answer much more quickly and simply. I suspect that there is much information in that question which could be obtained from other sources without going through the complication of the census form.

Having made those comments on the various questions that are proposed, I think it would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on the fact that they are asking fewer questions than were contemplated in the previous proposals. This is a tendency which is to be welcomed and very much to be encouraged. I hope that the Government will use their best endeavours to make the form as simple as possible to answer. I hope that they will use their best endeavours to explain to the general public the need for the questions and the answers which are included in the census. I hope that they will also explain to the general public, as the noble Lord explained to us today, the very great care which is taken to safeguard the confidentiality of the replies.

I think your Lordships will agree that there is no alternative but to agree to this Motion before your Lordships' House today, and we on these Benches would certainly wish to do so. We will do so without having any very great confidence that in agreeing with this Motion we are taking any vast step forward in the direction of good government.

7.42 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, raised a good point when she referred to the omission from the proposed census of certain information about the availability of private cars in particular local areas. I know that the Association of County Councils—I have heard from them—feel very unhappy about this omission from the proposed census. They found the information under this heading in the previous censuses very valuable indeed over such things as the need for public rural transport and new roads and parking places, and social facilities.

I do not go quite as far as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in saying that only what is absolutely essential should be contained in the census. I think it could go a little wider than that. If it were a convenient way of collecting information, and if the information was of a kind that no citizen would object to the public authorities having, but, on the contrary, it would be more helpful, then I think it could go a little wider than what is absolutely essential. I agree with him on the other conditions that he made. If the census is not going to provide this information, local authorities feel, I think, that local surveys might become necessary for them which, in their opinion, would cost a great deal more.

In the White Paper of July 1978 no hint was given at that stage of the omission of this item. It was only on 20th March last, I think, that a statement was made that this item would be omitted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned, it was said that the value of the statistics was insufficient to justify the inclusion.

In the case of three other omissions special statements were made by the Government as to the reasons, but not in this case. No consultation, therefore, has taken place with the local authorities and they feel concerned and somewhat hurt at the omission of consultation. My noble friend the Minister who is going to reply may say that the order cannot be amended at this stage. I hope that, if that is so, he will ask his colleagues to consult with the local authorities on the consequentials of this omission and, if he feels they have a good case, that either by a supplementary order or an amended order in another place, or in some other way, a means will be found of restoring this information to a place in the census; or at any rate consultation with the authorities concerned will take place before it is too late.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, it is very rarely indeed that I disagree with a single word said by my noble friend Lord Wigoder. On this occasion I do not so much wish to disagree with him but rather to put a different emphasis on what he has said. I think perhaps because he has never been in the ranks of the despised academics attempting to do research, he is not fully familiar with the material provided by the census for really necessary study. If social policy is not based on accurate information, then it is based on inaccurate information, and we have suffered over and over again in this country from social legislation based on inaccurate information. So I think we can agree that the census should include what is necessary but with a rather different interpretation as to what is meant by "what is necessary".

The other point on which I should like to take a slightly different position is over the question of ethnic minorities. Along with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Runnymede Trust, with which I am associated, I regret it has not been found possible to collect this information. I regret it for the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, although she was taking an opposite line. I regret it because the enemy is discrimination and discrimination in this country rests today not so much—except in very small areas—on hostility as on complacency.

Only the other day I was discussing the equal opportunities policy in relation to race with a very large public enterprise, and I was told that they did not discriminate; they have equal opportunity; they have a completely fair policy. I said: "How do you know?" They said: "We have no complaints". That is evidence of absolutely nothing. That organisation could not tell us how many coloured people they had in different levels in the organisation, and the trouble today is that coloured people are not getting promotion into higher level jobs. Unless we know this, the complacency will continue. Complacency is a besetting sin in this country. We love to believe that everything we are doing is going on beautifully. This is one of the reasons why we are in the mess we are. Unless we have information to show how badly we are doing in anti-discrimination policy, how little we have done in this country in order to see that people from ethnic minorities do get into the jobs they are capable of holding—unless we have that data—the complacency will continue.

I believe I am right in saying that there is only one coloured person on all the boards of directors in this country. That is the kind of statistic which brings home to people the extent of discrimination at the present time. If we said that there are very few people in these positions we believe, it has far less effect than being able to pin-point the fact that there is only one in all the companies in this country. I believe he is a Brahamian in the Cavalry Club, but I would not be too certain of that. Being only one, I suppose, he is quite easy to identify. So the need for accurate information in this field is paramount if we are sincere about antidiscrimination policy. If the die is cast and it is impossible to have this in the census, may I, agreeing at last with my noble friend, say that every effort should be made to get this information on a voluntary basis or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, funds should be made available to carry out accurate studies and get accurate information in the areas in which it matters.

I can see an argument that in this country ethnic minorities are very unevenly distributed and there are vast areas where there are no coloured people, no blacks—because this is what we are talking about. Perhaps, as the noble Baroness said, it is unnecessary to have the question throughout the country, but I must reaffirm that in those areas where there is a problem of discrimination—and that, let us face it, is in every area where there is a concentration of blacks, because wherever there is a concentration of blacks there is discrimination—all we do not know is the extent of it. There we need to have local studies carried out. May it not be possible for the money saved to be devoted to investigations in those areas?

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend, who has explained this order so lucidly. Listening to remarks by people who state that a census is an infringement on liberty makes me think they are totally unaware of the great importance that is attached to it. It is the one time in a decade when, over a wide range of issues, reliable information can be obtained. Decisions can be taken on a foundation of near truth. Here I can see that I am in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who I hope will challenge me in light of further remarks.

My Lords, there is nothing new about a decennial census. There have been censuses taken in this country since 1801. Until 1841 it was virtually a count of heads, although very useful statistics were taken; but in that year and subsequently there was a house-to-house record of inhabitants. I do not think it was taken lightly by the people living at that time. It was explained to them, and from what I read I think it was successful. Since then, more details have been called for and the format has changed, but the basis is still there.

My first point is that I am disappointed that, as in 1971, there was no question asked as to place and country of birth, except that you are required to tick the appropriate box of the relevant country in the United Kingdom or state in which foreign country you were born. Since 1851 the statisticians have seemed to think it purposeful to have this information to explain the movements of population. I must explain here that I personally consult all the time for my genealogical work the censuses for over a hundred years which are open to the public. Without this information it is doubtful whether one could trace people's ancestry with any degree of accuracy at all. This is one occasion on which I do not have to declare an interest, because unless there are miraculous advances in gerontology, I shall not be here when this information is available. I know it is too late to alter anything now, but I should like this point to be considered in time for the 1991 census, not necessarily for the genealogical reason, which could be regarded as frivolous, but from the demographic and historical point of view, which has its significance.

There is little that I wish to comment on the ethnic question because I am not qualified to do so, but I understand that there have been many discussions with all the appropriate authorities. But it does seem a pity that people will not co-operate on something which is required only once in 10 years; and, here, I am absolutely certain that the confidentiality of the records made is adhered to in the excellent custody of the Director of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

The Government's intention on seeking information on ethnic minorities is apparently now to be pursued through the Family Expenditure Survey and the General Household Survey; and I cannot see why, if people will not co-operate in a census, they should do so in a survey, which is voluntary and therefore not so accurate. In any case, one doubts whether these surveys include a sufficient number of immigrants to provide a valid sample, so what sort of a survey is intended? Are the Government aware—and this is important—that they will no longer have reliable information on the immigrant community? The implications of this for policy formulation on immigration are considerable. Having said that, I wish to get away from this matter and to discuss wider issues.

I am afraid I cannot go along with the accolade that it is splendid, that it is the simplest census ever. As I said, it is a unique opportunity to glean vital information. One gathers that in terms of information collected we are falling behind the United States and other European countries, which seems a pity. There are, however, four questions that I should like to ask my noble friend. I have been unable to give him prior notice, so I shall quite understand if he prefers either to write to me or to ask me to put down Questions for Written Answer. The first, which I think he has dealt with—and I followed very carefully what he was saying, but I shall read it, and perhaps what I am going to say now might be irrelevant—concerns access to census data. For instance, in the United States of America there is public use of sample tapes issues. These do not record names and addresses, and there is no danger of confidentiality being broken. If my noble friend says that it is being fed into a computer for a 100 years' time and names and addresses are not recorded, I shall regret that, but I took him to say what I think he did. At the moment, the OPCS have a virtual monopoly of access to data. They provide special tables on request, but it is a slow and costly process which prevents full use of the census. I would think that this could be done privately, and to some advantage, because I believe in social science and what have you, which I think has perhaps not been dealt with fully here.

My second question is very straightforward, and it is to ask whether the OPCS could publish their list of explanatory notes and definitions as soon as possible, and not leave it until their last volume, as they did with the 1971 census. Thirdly, I should like to ask a question concerning transport. This matter has been dealt with by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and my noble friend Lord Amory, but I want to take a different line. They have not included the number of cars and vehicles per household, and have left it to people to state only their mode of transport for going to work. This seems a pity, because it denies operators of public transport the opportunity to plan properly to transport people for leisure and for purposes other than going to work.

As to my other question, 10 years ago the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned the question of the disabled being recorded. Since 1911 they have not been included. This system of including disabled people per household was started in 1851, and that was perfectly satisfactory because in 1851 and 1861 they only asked to record them if they were deaf, dumb or blind. But in 1871 they included the insane. We in this House, I am sure, do not mind a bit about anybody being insane, but those who have relatives who are insane are sensitive about it; and apparently in 1911 they sought to drop the whole question of disability. I think that between now and 1991 the Government and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and other bodies, could consider that one, so that I or Lady Masham, when we come here again in 10 years' time, could have a satisfactory answer.

In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to reiterate the importance of this census for the Government to keep up with national and international trends in providing information. I am delighted with two things in this census. They have kept this business about relation to the head of the household. That is one thing which was very much brought to the fore by the Social Sciences Research Council. I also think it is a very good thing (which was not done before) about members of the household being absent. Then—and this really is a rather contentious issue which I do not really want any discussion on but which I will raise—there is the possibility of the institution of a population register which could keep in touch with an individual from birth to death. Sweden and two EEC countries—namely, Belgium and Denmark—already have such a system. The census survived when society was simpler and slower, but I think we should look at a fuller system when we have a rolling record of population.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address the House very briefly, and this I promise, on one point which may meet with some agreement, having regard to the debate which has occurred so far, and on one point which may be deemed to be highly eccentric but which, nevertheless, I must express because I believe in it very sincerely.

In regard to the question of ethnic origin, I am quite sure that the benevolence shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, as her reason for wanting the question included is a very sincere expression of what she and many others would want to deduce from a question about ethnic origin. Nobody knows better than I of the wonderful work done by the Runnymede Trust and the other organisations dedicated to the improvement of race relations in this country; and they have favoured the answering of that question. But the advantage that might be so achieved is as nothing compared with the disadvan- tage of sowing yet greater suspicion, unfortunately, in regard to a document of this nature when such a question is addressed at this particular time to the black racial minority in this country.

So fervently do I believe it that, if the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, will forgive me for differing from him, I would regard it as equally objectionable if the question were being asked at the same time on a voluntary basis. I have tried to think of a procedure by which that could be done and which would be understood, and I fail to satisfy myself with any sensible answer. I believe that anybody who, vocally, at the same time as he handed in a census form, tried to get an answer to that question, even on a voluntary basis, would not be doing any good service to Her Majesty's Government in regard to an attitude to the census form generally, and would have a very suspicious reaction where the citizen himself or herself were concerned.

May I now, equally briefly, turn to a point which may be deemed by my fellow Members of this House to be eccentric? I think that it is objectionable to the whole idea of the freedom of the subject, a tradition which is valued in this country—and I say this apart from any precedents in regard to censuses in the past—for a census to go out in 1980 with a penalty attached if there is a failure to complete that census form, by way of a fine which (this was, I believe, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Cullen), if not paid. entails, by way of the ordinary process of law, a term of imprisonment in default.

I would have said that there might have been a case for including the ethnic origin question if the census had been a question of a voluntary appeal to our citizens to do this in the national interest. We might have had a very successful response in that case and I think the percentage response might have been a good one. I can just about see the justification for saying to a citizen: "If you do not do what it is deemed to be in the national interest to do, and you have not got enough social sense of responsibility, or you have some conscientious objection, you must pay a fine as a penalty for the harm that may be done to these socially essential statistics". But I feel it is absolutely abhorent that somebody otherwise innocent of any sort of crime or any sort of moral misbehaviour as a citizen should, if he has a conscientious objection to filling in that form, find himself liable to a term of imprisonment.

There will be a debate tomorrow in this House which will deal with the way in which our prisons are full, and there will be an appeal to the good sense of the House to do something in regard to remand prisons. I can see not the slightest justification, especially in view of the state of our prison population, to add to that population those who might decide, for one reason or another, that they do not wish to fill in a form which is sent to them asking for details of their private life and employment and so on. That responsible citizens should do it, I believe. That those who feel otherwise should be under the threat of imprisonment is, to me, a negation of the civic rights of our citizens to freedom; and, to me, also at this particular time, it is a dreadful thought that even a small percentage might be added to our present prison population from those who refuse to pay the mandatory fine if they do not complete the census form.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid I took a long time in moving the order. I propose to try to even things out by being very short in winding up. I think we have had an extraordinarily interesting debate, which I had not expected. I shall try to answer such questions as I can and write to noble Lords on other matters. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made an interesting and thoughtful speech and I am sure it will be read with great interest elsewhere. I am pleased that she was agreeing with the Government on the ethnic question. It is a difficult area. We should all like to have all the information; we should all like to have it without fines or imprisonment and so on. But there is no doubt that the Haringey test proved conclusively that we were not going to get the information by that method. Most people have now come round to the view that that was the right thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked one or two questions which he was kind enough to tell me about beforehand. He asked when precisely the 1971 census data finished. Strictly speaking, the answer is that it has not finished, as the OPCS are still meeting demands for customers for their own tables for which they pay. The tables of local district populations were published by April 1973; the last of the series of county reports by the end of 1973 and the last volume of tables and the published series were presented to Parliament at the end of 1978.

The noble Lord also asked why one has to give one's employer's name. I gather that the reason is that it is needed to identify the industry worked in. The name and nature of the employer's business are asked for, but the bulk of coding is clone from the pre-coded list of large employers provided by the Department of Employment. This ensures consistency of coding within the census itself and with the Department of Employment surveys. The uses of these data are spelt out at Item 11, Page 12, of Monitor 80/1 which is available in the Printed Paper Office. An example that might be easier is the case of a Ford canteen worker who might state that he worked in catering but who, for census purposes, works in car manufacturing. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

I was also on several occasions asked about the omission of cars and vans in the census. I am afraid I have not got a satisfactory reply to give. The question was omitted because the Government decided to drop all the less essential questions from the census largely in order to reduce the burden on the public. The question on cars and vans was not essential for the purposes of central Government. Dropping the question also produced a modest saving in public expenditure of £50,000. It is true that, as my noble friend has said, there are local authorities who still want the information; but I am afraid we cannot include everything in the census and we have to draw the line somewhere. I am afraid that is not a very satisfactory reply.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could add to that reply just some little assurance that even at this late stage, as it has not yet gone to the other place, he would get in touch with the local authorities concerned and explain to them the reasons for this submission and let them explain to him the consequences of it.


My Lords, what I should like to do is get in touch with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and tell him exactly what has happened in this debate. I will leave it at that.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he able to tell the House on which department's or authority's advice the Government decided to drop the car and van question?


My Lords, I know that the Department of Transport was quite happy to have this dropped.