HL Deb 25 April 1991 vol 528 cc374-6

3.25 p.m.

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many households did not receive a census form by Sunday, 21st April, for the current census.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, field managers reported that all households located by enumerators received a census form by census day. However, the operation involved the delivery of some 25 million forms. The census offices therefore made arrangements for local and national contact points to be advertised in public places and the press, in case anyone had not received a form by 21st April. Some 7,000 calls had been received by 23rd April from people who had not received a form. Enumerators have since delivered forms to people who phone in. Census enumerators are doing a vital job for their local arms as well as for the country as a whole. I feel sure that the House will agree that they deserve our thanks and support in completing their task.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, although I fear that that is not the final position. Does the noble Baroness accept that on a local phone-in programme on a London broadcasting station on Sunday, people were phoning in one after the other complaining that they had not received a census form? An officer from the department responsible for the census was brought on to the programme. He gave out a hotline telephone number for the public to use. That number was found to be out of order for the whole of Sunday morning and most of Sunday afternoon. After that it was totally jammed and useless.

Will the Minister accept that since then I have met a number of people who received census forms but who still have them because nobody has been to collect them? I have been trying since last Wednesday week to obtain a form and I still have not obtained one. Therefore, this may be the tip of the iceberg. What credibility can be attached to the results of the census in view of this botched exercise?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I said that 25 million forms were issued. I believe that the 7,000 calls received represents less than a tip of an iceberg. The census help lines received some 116,000 inquiries. Some of those dealt with questions on forms and with people who did not wish to complete the forms. As the noble Lord will know, any person refusing to complete the form is liable to be prosecuted and fined. As regards collection of the completed forms, enumerators made a start on Monday of this week. Across the country they have been given until today in order to complete their collection rounds. In some areas, such as London, where experience shows that it is often difficult to find people at home, the timetable allows enumerators until the end of this weekend and it will continue into next week if necessary. As a last resort, people will be supplied with pre-paid envelopes in which to post their forms.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. Does she agree that it is important for the public to know what should happen if their forms have not been collected? Is she aware that I have no complaint, because mine has been collected and the census officer took me through the form point by point as I am a pensioner and would not be able fully to understand the form? However, as the noble Baroness said, I know that many forms have not yet been collected. Will she make quite certain that wide publicity is given to what should be done by those people whose forms have not been collected? Obviously, the effect of this census is dependent on the highest possible proportion of people replying to it.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, had a good experience in his case. I reaffirm that the collection process is continuing. If an enumerator is unable to make direct personal contact with a householder, in the last resort he will put a stamped addressed envelope through the door for people to post. People should wait for the enumerator to arrive and, failing that, for the stamped addressed envelope to arrive.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give some advice to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, who has not received his form? He has not returned it because he did not receive it. Will he be prosecuted?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can do better than that. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, a census form.

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