Mr. John M. Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if the information given in confidence at the times of the 1901–1991 decennial 55W censuses of population will be exempt from sections 14a and 14b of the Open Government Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. 
§ Mr. Straw
The Code of Practice on Access to Government Information is non-statutory and cannot override statutory prohibitions on disclosure. Confidentiality of the information in decennial census returns prior to 1920 is governed by the Public Records Act 1958. Confidentiality of returns since 1920 are governed by the Census Act 1920, as amended by the Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991.
Mr. John M. Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations his Department has received from hon. Members since 1993 on section 9.21 of the Open Government White Paper; if he will publish the text of the explicit non-statutory assurances of 100-year closure given by the Registrar General on the forms for the 1901–1991 censuses; and if he will make a statement about section 9.21. 
§ Mr. Straw
Paragraph 9.21 of the 1993 White Paper "Open Government" concerns the review of closure periods for records which are not released after 30 years and lists the decennial census of population as among the records to be closed for 100 years.
The 1997 White Paper "Your Right to Know", which set out the Government's plans for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, proposed that the criteria used in deciding whether records should be withheld for longer than 30 years should be aligned with the proposed harm and public interest tests governing access to current records. The position of decennial census returns is not expected to change under an FOI Act.
Since 1 August, when Ministerial responsibility for FOI transferred to the Home Office, I have not received representations on this matter from any other hon. Members. I believe that the Cabinet Office (Office of Public Service) had previously received three representations, including one from the hon. Member himself.
Confidentiality assurances were given on all of the 1901–1991 census forms. Explicit references to the 100 year rule appeared on the 1981 and 1991 census forms. The text of the confidentiality assurances for 1901–1991 were as follows:
1901The Return is required for carrying out the provisions of the Census Act. The contents of the Schedules will be treated as confidential; they will be published in General Abstract only, and strict care will be taken that the Returns are not used for the gratification of curiosity, or for other purposes than those of the Census".
1911The contents of the Schedule will be treated as strictly confidential".The following also appeared on the reverse of the Schedule:The contents of the Schedule will be treated as confidential. Strict care will be taken that no information is disclosed with regard to individual persons. The returns are not to be used for proof of age, as in connection with Old Age Pensions, or for any other purpose than the preparation of Statistical Tables".
193156WNo returns survive.
1941No Census taken.
1951The contents of the schedule are strictly confidential".The following also appeared on the reverse of the schedule:STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL
1961The contents of the schedule are strictly confidential".The following also appeared on a separate sheet headed NOTES and EXAMPLES:CONFIDENTIALITY—No information about any individual person, family or dwelling, will be given to anyone not employed on the Census".
1971The information you give on the form will be treated as CONFIDENTIAL and used only for compiling statistics. No information about named individuals will be passed to any other Government Department or any other authority or person. If anyone in the census organisation improperly discloses information you provide, he will be liable to prosecution. Similarly you must not disclose information which anyone (for example, a visitor or boarder) gives you to enable you to complete the form".
1981Your replies will be treated in STRICT CONFIDENCE. They will be used to produce statistics but your name and address will not be fed into the census computer. After the census, the forms will be locked away for 100 years before they are passed to the Public Record Office".
1991Your answers will be treated in strict confidence and used only to produce statistics. Names and addresses will not be put into the computer; only the postcode will be entered. The forms will be kept securely within my office and treated as confidential for 100 years.Anyone using or disclosing Census information improperly will be liable to prosecution. For example, it would be improper for you to pass on to someone else information which you has been given in confidence by a visitor to enable you to complete the Census form".