Treasury Committee press notice no. 55

Session 2005-06, 26 July 2006

More radical reform needed to ensure independence for statistics, says Treasury Sub-Committee chairman Michael Fallon

The Treasury Select Committee today called on the Government to extend the scope of its proposed legislation on independence for statistics, or risk missing a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to improve public confidence in official statistics.

Although a welcome step in the right direction, more radical reform was needed in order to make government statistics more demonstrably independent, according to Treasury Sub-Committee chairman, Michael Fallon MP.

The Committee published its report in response to the Government's recent consultation paper, Independence for statistics, which sets out proposals to replace the Office for National Statistics (ONS) with an independent statistics office, to be established as a non-ministerial department and governed by an independent board.

The Committee questions how much impact reform of the ONS alone will have on public confidence in official statistics. The ONS is responsible for just 250 of the 1,450 datasets produced by members of the Government Statistical Service (GSS), and the Government proposes that ministers would remain "wholly responsible" for the production of statistics within their departments. The Committee warns that allowing ministers to retain control over such a significant number of datasets could damage the perceived independence of the statistics system.

On the proposed structure and responsibilities of the new independent statistics office, the Committee calls for a clearer separation between the role of the National Statistician in the executive delivery of statistics and the board's responsibilities for the oversight and scrutiny of the statistical system as a whole. The Committee prefers a fully non-executive board.

The Committee recommends cutting the existing 40 hours pre-release access to non-market-sensitive data for ministers and government officials to just three hours. (Overseas, access is restricted to 30 minutes in the United States, one hour in France and Ireland, and three hours in Australia.) The Committee also calls for pre-release access of one hour for opposition spokespeople for the first time.

On publication of the report, the Sub-Committee Chairman, Michael Fallon said:

"Public confidence in official statistics is the key to reform. Confidence is currently at a worryingly low level, with just 17% of adults in Great Britain believing that official statistics are produced without political interference, and only 14% saying the Government uses official figures honestly."

"The Government mustn't miss this opportunity to ensure that official statistics are not only independent, but seen to be independent. Public confidence is the yardstick by which the success of the proposed legislation will ultimately be measured."

END

Mr Fallon is available for comment on the report on 07973 676 506 (mobile) or 020 7219 6482 (Westminster office).

NOTES:

1. This inquiry was conducted by the Treasury Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee's membership is as follows: Mr Michael Fallon (Chairman), Mr Colin Breed, Jim Cousins, Angela Eagle, Mr David Gauke, Ms Sally Keeble, Mr Andrew Love, Kerry McCarthy, Rt Hon John McFall, Mr George Mudie, Mr Brooks Newmark, John Thurso, Mr Mark Todd, Peter Viggers. The membership of the Main Committee is the same as the Sub-Committee, but the Chairman of the Main Committee is Rt Hon John McFall.

2. 10th Report of the Treasury Committee, Independence for statistics, HC 1111, available via the Committee's website at: www.parliament.uk/treascom.

3. Press Notice No. 55

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