New parliamentary forum for statistics launched

A new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics was launched at the House of Lords on November 3.

Backed by the Royal Statistical Society and Straight Statistics, the APPG will be a parliamentary forum for the discussion of statistical issues. Lord Lipsey, Chairman of Straight Statistics, was elected Chair of the APPG, Andrew Tyrie MP Vice-Chairman, Lord Newby Secretary and Tony Wright MP Treasurer.
Sir Michael Scholar, Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, made several interesting points in an address to the inaugural meeting. It is plain that his mind is still set on reducing or, ideally, eliminating the period of pre-release access to statistics enjoyed by ministers, advisers, senior civil servants and journalists.
“I would like the period to be shorter” he said. “If there is a lengthy period when they are available before publication, it is hard to prevent them being interfered with.” At present, England and Northern Ireland allow those on the re-release access lists to see new statistical releases 24 hours before they are formally published.
In Scotland and Wales, the period is much longer. “They think four or five days is perfectly satisfactory” Sir Michael said. “They don’t see the point of reducing it. In my view, this is peculiarly unsatisfactory.”
                     Sir Michael Scholar: favours no pre-release access to statistics
The current arrangements came into force at the end of 2008, when the UKSA promised a review about the impact of the arrangements a year after their introduction. Sir Michael said he was looking to make further recommendations early in the New Year.
The odds are strongly that the UKSA will recommend a reduction to one hour, three hours, or possibly – Sir Michael’s preference – no pre-release access at all. John McFaul MP, Chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, said at the meeting that one hour was not feasible, no pre-release at all “pie in the sky” and that his committee favoured three hours.
Sir Michael also said he would like the UKSA to play a larger part in deciding what statistics should be collected, a decision that at present lies in the hands of ministers. The legislation that set up the UKSA did not change the existing “power structure”, he said, and he planned to try to influence opinion ahead of the election so that any new incoming administration would give UKSA a bigger voice in such decisions.
He also called for much greater efforts from Government to keep the address register up to date after the 2011 Census. “We could make it much more cost-effective by getting government to agree to keep the address register up to date” he said. “The ONS will put a lot of effort into creating an address register that will immediately start going out of date. It wouldn’t be impossible to keep it up to date.”