HC Deb 09 April 1981 vol 2 cc333-4W
Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take steps to reassure the many people who, in the knowledge that inspired and uninspired leaks have been occurring for many years past even where those concerned have been signatories to the Official Secrets Act, are having grave doubts about completing the census form in case the information is leaked to unauthorised persons; if he will list in the Official Report the penalties for people refusing to fill in census forms; and whether any provision exists for exemption from penalty persons who are unable to accept the assurances of confidentiality as now offered.

Sir George Young

I have every confidence in the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which has an outstanding record in safeguarding census confidentiality. The census office has taken firm measures to ensure that the field staff and the processing staff are aware of the rules safeguarding the confidentiality of the information. They have been reminded of the penalty for unlawful disclosure, which can be two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

An independent study team has examined the arrangements for processing the census and has reported that the census operation has been planned with care, that particular emphasis has been placed on confidentiality, that standards of physical security have been set at a high level, and that the OPCS staff have an understanding of the problem and an attitude towards the issues of public confidence and data confidentiality which promises that a high standard of vigilance will be maintained.

A person who is responsible for making a census return and refuses to do so is liable on conviction to a fine of up to £50. There are no exemptions from completing the form; for example, for people claiming to have a conscientious objection.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many questions and supporting questions were contained in the census form; and why details of second marriages were called for.

Sir George Young

The form contains five questions in respect of each household and 16 in respect of each person; a total of 21 questions in England, with one extra question in Wales.

The category "remarried", together with answers to other questions, will give information about an increasingly important aspect of family structure and family formation—for example, the numbers of dependent children living in different types of family.

Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the cost of conducting the 1981 census; and by what date the information collected will be available to the public.

Sir George Young

The cost in England and Wales will be about £50 million at November 1980 prices spread over the years 1977–78 to 1985–86. I am expecting that a preliminary report giving the population of each district will be published in June 1981; that detailed results for the first of the individual districts will be available before the end of 1981; and that tables for the country as a whole will appear from about mid-1982, with all the main results being available by the summer of 1984.

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