HL Deb 27 September 2000 vol 616 cc767-8

2.36 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked her Majesty's Government:

Whether they approve of the decision of the Office for National Statistics to send out next year's census forms with provision for the Irish and Scots to indicate their ethnic origins but with no provision for the Welsh to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the content of the census in England and Wales and in Scotland is a matter for the respective Parliaments to decide. When the proposal was debated in the Commons and in this House, no Member raised concerns about the proposed form of the ethnicity question. The Office for National Statistics has consulted widely on the 2001 census in Wales, especially in Ceredigion and Gwynedd. It is possible to write in "Welsh" on the census form; if people say they are Welsh, they will be counted as Welsh.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, does he appreciate that this appears to be a form of racial discrimination? Bearing in mind that it is alleged in some quarters that there are now as many Welsh people, and almost as many Welsh speakers, in England as there are in Wales, would it not be wise for the Government to discover the true statistics by means of the census?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the census form is available in Welsh as well as in English. That, too, has been tested in Ceredigion and in Gwynedd. That was the principal demand of those in Wales who sought to express views on the census in Wales, and it has been granted. The question of an additional "Welsh" tick-box was not raised. Its presence would not add significantly to the information gained from the census.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what provisions there are for those who are English to proclaim the fact?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords., the census form provides for "British" to be recorded. That point was discussed when the ethnicity question was debated both in this House and in the House of Commons.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, would the Government bear in mind that the census form does of course allow a person resident in Wales to tick himself off as "British" or "Irish", "Asian or Asian British", "Black or Black British", "Chinese" or a variety of permutations of such ethnic groups. Should the Minister not address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson; namely, that it is discriminatory, if not insulting, to people living in Wales if they are not allowed to describe themselves simply as "Welsh"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not seek at all to dismiss that point of view. If the question is raised in relation to subsequent censuses, it will be considered sympathetically. My point is that the matter was never raised when ethnicity questions were discussed. Noble Lords on both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Front Benches expressed their approval of the questions proposed for the census.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, the noble Lord may rest assured that the Cross Benches did not express their approval. Therefore, I ask the Government to look again at what has become a matter of sensitivity and controversy. I appreciate that nationality and ethnicity are always issues of agreement and disagreement, but surely the nationalities of people within these islands, and the nationality of choice of those who wish to register themselves as Welsh, should be recognised.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Cross Benches did not express their opinions because they did not choose to do so. The matter was debated in this House. There was an opportunity for any Member to express a view and no Cross-Bencher intervened. As to whether this is now a matter of controversy, it is true that the Western Mail has been conducting a campaign in favour of a "Welsh" tick-box. I do not know how much support it has received. Only 1,200 items of correspondence and e-mails have been sent to the Office for National Statistics and not all of those were in favour of the change that the Western Mail seeks to promote.

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