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Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]
Wednesday 17 July 2019

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)


Commons Chamber
Wales Office
Brandon Lewis Portrait The Minister without Portfolio (Brandon Lewis) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to present the Bill, the purpose of which is simple: it will remove the criminal penalty for not responding to new census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that these questions will be voluntary. The Office for National Statistics recommended that these questions only be asked of those aged 16 and over and, importantly, that they be voluntary. The Bill enables that by following the same method used to make the question on religion voluntary in the Census (Amendment) Act 2000, which is by removing the criminal penalty for not responding to census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Following consultations with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, we have extended the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Bill does not require either question to be asked in the 2021 census, but it does extend the voluntary nature of the questions should Northern Ireland decide to include either question in the 2021 census.

The 22nd national census is due to be carried out in March 2021, and that will be provided for by secondary legislation in the normal way. This Bill is distinct from that secondary legislation. It simply ensures that, in delivering on the White Paper’s proposals, the ONS can include these new questions on a voluntary basis. I want to make a couple of brief points on how that voluntary nature is guaranteed.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:36 p.m.

I support the thrust of what the Bill is designed to achieve. However, many of my constituents are concerned that the Bill does not seek to achieve more wide-ranging change by allowing both Jains and Zoroastrians—both internationally recognised religions—to be properly recognised in the forthcoming census, which would end the historical under-reporting of the number of people who subscribe to those religions in the UK.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:39 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, but I would just say that everybody who wishes to identify, for example, as Jain in the census will be able to do so. They will be able to use the write-in option and a new search-as-you-type facility. The Jain populations are concentrated in a small number of local authorities, which we know, and the ONS has committed to work with local groups and organisations to ensure that anyone who wishes to identify as Jain knows how to do so.

First, the ONS has committed to ensure that the voluntary nature of the questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are made clear in its design for the census forms in England and Wales—both on the front pages of the forms, and alongside the questions themselves.

Secondly, respondents will be provided with a unique access code to the online census, and anyone aged 16 years and over will be able to request a code, or paper form if answering offline, who wishes to respond privately. This will enable people to answer the census, including these two questions, without having to tell the person completing the household form that they have done so. Any individual answers will override any submitted on the household form. That is vital to protect people’s privacy.

Thirdly, census confidentiality remains of the utmost importance. All personal data collected by the census will be stored confidentially and not released for 100 years. This Bill delivers on the White Paper’s proposals to include new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 census, and on a voluntary basis. I urge all Members to join me in supporting this simple and worthwhile legislation, and I commend this Bill to the House.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:41 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his introduction, and I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for his willingness, once again, to work with me and our side openly on this important legislation, which is greatly appreciated. I have to note, when I look across the Atlantic and see the difficulties the racist President Trump is having about his citizenship question in the United States census, that the Minister here has surely shown how to get a census Bill through the House by working, as they say in the United States, across the aisle.

The aim of this Bill is to provide for voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be asked in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland censuses. Crucially, this Bill renders questions concerning gender identity and sexual orientation voluntary, as the right hon. Gentleman has outlined. I think we can all agree that it would be totally inappropriate to compel someone to answer a deeply personal question about their sexuality or gender identity in the census. However, at the same time, these are vital questions that reflect better the modern UK and how we address the needs of a long discriminated against section of society.

Labour supports this Bill on the basis that any census must be LGBT+ inclusive. Recognising gender identity and sexual orientation as core aspects of personal identity in official statistics is a step forward in the fight for LGBT+ equality. It gives individuals the opportunity to identify themselves however they choose in this important civic event. Indeed, the Opposition support this change as a point of principle. This tick box clearly demonstrates that, as a society, we value LGBT+ inclusivity. As a party, we have always fought for minority rights. Progressive equality legislation is part of Labour’s history. Labour brought in the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010, and we introduced the minimum wage and Sure Start. We support this Bill in the spirit of inclusivity and equality, strengthening a proud history within Labour of fighting for minority rights.

This change is not only symbolically important, but practically necessary. Gathering the required data to properly understand and support the LGBT+ community is vital. Information derived from the census helps us to inform policy, plan services and distribute resources effectively to local government and health authorities, and enable these resources to be directed where they are needed.

Of paramount importance is the acquisition of accurate data to address inequalities facing minority groups. Accurate data about the size and characteristics of the LGBT+ community are currently severely lacking. Small-scale surveys struggle to grasp the whole picture, producing significantly varied estimates of the size of the LGBT population. Without an accurate picture of the size or nature of any minority community in society, how can we provide the necessary targeted support and services they need?

We are talking about a community that is in particular need of support: LGBT+ people have worse mental and physical health outcomes on average than the rest of the population. In particular, suicide rates for gay and bisexual youth are significantly higher than for their heterosexual counterparts. It is not just the youth who are suffering; older LGBT people suffer disproportionately from social isolation and a lack of social support networks. It is only through accurate data about minority populations that agencies can begin to properly address the inequalities faced by LGBT people. The census has the advantage of being a whole-population count and can therefore build a representative and accurate picture of the whole country.

Privacy is always a matter of concern when discussing these topics. I commend the work that has been done by the Parliamentary Secretary, his officials and the ONS to consider people’s privacy when a family member is completing the census form. Any member of a household will be able to request their own individual census form if there is information they do not wish to disclose to the householder, such as gender identity, sexual orientation or a change of religion. These are clearly issues that we must be aware of and sensitive to when carrying out a census.

Labour has a proud record of championing the fight for LGBT equality. We abolished section 28, equalised the age of consent and created civil partnerships, and it was with Labour votes that equal marriage became law. The Opposition are committed to taking radical steps to improve inclusivity in our society. The inclusion of a gender identity box in the census is an important step in this direction, but there is still a long way to go, particularly in the area of LGBT inclusivity. We are still not free from bigotry as a society. Issues such as lack of education, unequal access to public services and levels of LGBT hate crime and mental health remain barriers to full equality.

By way of illustration, recently in my own county, Bob Fousert, the chair of the police and crime scrutiny panel, attacked our deputy chief constable, Julie Cooke, for wearing a rainbow lanyard in support of LGBT rights. He said it was a political statement. Well, if standing up against hate crime is a political statement, then yes, it was a political statement. His appalling comments were condemned, including by David Keane, the police and crime commissioner. I wrote to Deputy Chief Constable Cooke, who leads nationally for the police on LGBT issues, to offer my support. Mr Fousert had to resign as chair—and good riddance. I recount this story because, in the same week that those comments were made, there was a well publicised attack on a lesbian couple on a bus in London and a vicious homophobic attack in Liverpool. We may have made progress in the last couple of decades, but we are not there yet.

The Opposition have been calling for a particular focus in this census on homeless LGBT+ communities. The position of LGBT+ homeless people warrants particular attention in this discussion, not least given the shocking statistic that up to 24% of the youth homeless population are from the LGBT+ community. Clearly, we are far from solving the issue of LGBT+ discrimination. Young homeless people continue to be one of the most disenfranchised and marginalised groups in society, but young LGBT people are particularly isolated. The Albert Kennedy Trust reports that LGBT homeless youth are highly likely to have experienced familial rejection, abuse and violence, leading to their state of homelessness. In many cases, homophobia is the reason why they became homeless. LGBT+ homeless people are regularly at the receiving end of shocking levels discrimination and abuse.

Homelessness in any form makes people more vulnerable to other risks, such as mental health problems. The unprecedented rise in homelessness under the current Government is a national disgrace, yet more and more people continue to be forced on to the streets by the Government’s policies—from welfare cuts to a lack of investment in social housing. Homelessness charities have reported a rise in homelessness of up to 169% since 2010. The Government hold a direct responsibility for the perpetuation of this national crisis. It is time the Government looked to the root causes of rising homelessness, and invested in more affordable homes and stronger rights for renters.

What is more shocking is the direct ramifications that austerity cuts have had for the LGBT+ voluntary and charity sector, given that public funding provides such a large proportion of overall income. This in turn further isolates LGBT homeless people. Not only do the Government need to support specialist LGBT services to allow greater access to more safe, accessible and affordable accommodation, but, above all, to fight for wider recognition of the issues that LGBT homeless people face.

Labour has pledged to tackle the bullying of LGBT young people by ensuring that all teachers receive initial and continuous training on LGBT issues experienced by students and how to address them. Furthermore, we fully support changes to the new guidance for relationships and sex education to ensure they are LGBT inclusive. Therefore, we believe that this census must make a particular effort to give LGBT homeless people the opportunity to contribute to this important civic exercise. Their inclusion will enable us to build an accurate picture of the number of people from the LGBT community living without a permanent address. It is only through an awareness of the scale of the issue that support and aid can be effectively targeted towards the most vulnerable communities.

Furthermore, there is a particular danger that all homeless people, whether rough sleepers, sofa surfers or, especially, LGBT+ people, could be undercounted. There must be a particular effort by the ONS to ensure that those communities are reached on the day of the census. There are dangerous consequences of an undercount, which would play into the hands of those who would prefer to ignore the LGBT+ community and reverse progress towards equality.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:50 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making an extremely good speech, which I strongly support. Will he join me in encouraging the ONS to look again at the representation of Jainism and Zoroastrianism in the religion section of the 2021 census? Notwithstanding the slight movement in progress alluded to by the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), in relation to the provision of a drop-down box, there is a genuine concern among the leaders of both faith communities that there will continue to be a significant under-reporting of the number of Jains and Zoroastrians living and adhering to their faith in the UK.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend has been pushing this issue with perseverance and resilience. Representations have been made to the Minister by those and other religions and ethnic groups. It may well be that this issue is considered in Committee or on Report, or, if it is not included in the scope of the Bill, then later on when we come to the census. I look forward to reading any proposals my hon. Friend brings forward.

Returning to the homeless count, I am grateful to the Minister for assurances that the ONS will work with organisations representing LGBT people and charities, to locate hard-to-reach communities and ensure they are given the opportunity to complete the census. I understand that the ONS is organising both national and local campaigns to highlight that everyone in England and Wales should complete the census. Community engagement programmes will allow field teams to specifically target hard-to-reach communities and help minority groups with census completion.

Working with stakeholders throughout this process is vital, particularly when it comes to drafting specific questions for the census. The drafting of the questions and the accompanying guidance must be subject to extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from across the LGBT community and women’s groups. I understand that my noble Friend Baroness Hayter made that important point via an amendment in the other place.

We are pleased to support the Bill, which is a step forward in the fight for LGBT+ recognition, and to ensure that the mirror we hold up to ourselves in the form of the census portrays an accurate reflection of all parts of our nation. It is vital that thorough consultation follows the passage of the Bill to ensure that these words are carried forward into action. Given the richness and range of data provided by a survey of this size, the 2021 census provides us with an exciting opportunity to gather accurate data about minority communities, and to plan services and distribute resources accordingly.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:58 p.m.

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I welcome the introduction of the Bill to ensure that the census is up to date and accurately reflects the country as we go to seek its views.

There was another census that took place about 2,000 years ago, possibly the most famous and most significant census ever undertaken. It was a census where people returned to their homeland, to the place they were from, to register. There was a recently married couple at this time who left the town of Nazareth and undertook an arduous journey of about 100 miles on foot—maybe with a donkey, but probably on foot—to their home town of Bethlehem to register that this was the place that they belonged to, that this was their homeland. The journey was particularly gruelling because the wife was heavily pregnant. As is well known to us all now, when they got to Bethlehem the woman gave birth to a son, the most famous human to have ever lived and the founder of the Christian faith. I am sure Sir Cliff Richard is eternally grateful that they made it to Bethlehem, because “O Little Town of Nazareth” does not have quite the same ring to it and he would probably have been one Christmas No. 1 short.

Why did they make that journey? Because they had a strong connection with a place and its people. They wanted to demonstrate that this was the place that was bound up in their identity. This was the place that they were from; this was their homeland. That desire to identify with a place and its people remains as strong in many people today as it did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I would argue that in recent times there is a growing sense, with a more mobile population and globalisation impacting on communities, that the desire to have a strong connection and identity with a place is stronger today than it has been. Today, thankfully, we do not need to travel to our homelands to be able to identify where we are from. Modern census methods allow us to do that by way of a simple tick—well, that is true of almost everyone, as I will come on to explain.

The right to demonstrate which of the national identities within the UK we choose to identify with is not currently protected by legislation. Currently, it is down to the ONS to recommend to the Minister which national identities should be included in any census. I find it quite astonishing that it was only in the most recent 2011 census that the Welsh were given the opportunity to identify their national identity by way of a tick-box, and only in 2001 that the Scottish were given a tick-box. I find it incredible that those developments took place so recently. There is nothing that currently protects that status, and it could be removed in subsequent censuses by a recommendation from the ONS. I am sure many Members of this House would find that completely unacceptable.

Let me say that I have a great deal of respect for the officers and staff of the ONS, who provide a very important service to our nation. I do not believe, however, that it should be down to the ONS, using statistics and data, to decide which national identities should and should not be included in any given census every 10 years. The right to demonstrate one’s UK national identity should not be a matter of data or statistics. I believe it should be a right established in legislation. That right should also be a matter of equality across the whole UK. No one national identity should be considered more important or be recognised more than any other. All the national identities in the UK should be given equal status and equality of opportunity to be recognised as such within any census. We could never countenance one UK nationality being given less status in a census.

I, along with a number of my colleagues, will be looking to add a clause to the Bill to establish in legislation the right for all UK national identities to be treated equally in all future censuses. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) is well aware of this issue. I want to put on record my thanks to him, and to the Minister he is currently filling in for, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), for their positive and constructive engagement on this issue.

The Minister is aware that there is a particular matter in this regard that I want to address. As matters currently stand, there is one UK national identity that is not being given equal status in the census. In 2014, the Cornish were recognised by the Council of Europe under the framework convention for national minorities. That status was not just accepted but enthusiastically embraced by the UK Government, who declared that this would now gave the Cornish equality of status with the other Celtic nations within the UK, the Scottish, the Irish and the Welsh. The ONS, however, does not recognise that status. It is treating the Cornish as a minor local difficulty restricted purely to Cornwall. We are being told that we can have a write-in option for our Cornishness and that there will be an advertising campaign in Cornwall to make people aware of it, but that misses the point that there are many thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of proud Cornish men and women across the UK who would like to identify as Cornish, if they were given the same opportunity to do so as the other Celtic parts of the UK.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD) - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 2:59 p.m.

I am listening with increasing fascination to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. To take forward his point about the Cornish, which I totally accept, is there not a parallel case to be made for the Gaelic-speaking highlander in Scotland, who does not regard himself as a lowlander and, in fact, views them with considerable suspicion?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3 p.m.

I will come on to why I believe that, at this time, the Cornish have a unique claim on the matter. In future, this may apply to other peoples, but I suspect that it does not at this time.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard

I will, gladly.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3 p.m.

I thought I had better get in before my hon. Friend moves on. I did not come to the Chamber today expecting to hear the Christmas story in the middle of July, but as we have inadvertently touched on religion, I want to say that I have 3,500 Sikhs living in my constituency. The idea that they would have some sort of write-in box to identify their ethnicity is not appropriate either. It is not too much to ask for Sikhs to have a box specifically to identify their ethnicity on the census.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard

I would say the same thing in reply to my hon. Friend: I believe that the Cornish have a unique claim in this regard, because it is the only UK national identity affected that is formally recognised by the Council of Europe under the framework convention for the protection of national minorities, which has been fully accepted and endorsed by the UK Government. I therefore think that there is a unique case for Cornish that perhaps does not apply to other ethnic identities. I say that in no way to belittle or denigrate other national identities, but—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and various hon. Members who have intervened on him over the last few minutes have very genuine concerns, but we must stick to the purpose of the Bill, which is about sexual orientation and gender identity. I have allowed some illustrative points about religious belief, ethnicity, geographical attachment and so on, because I have a lot of sympathy, but we must stick to the purpose of the Bill.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard

I am grateful for that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am raising this because I think that the Bill is an opportunity to address an issue that otherwise may be missed, but I take your point and will seek to wind up my comments quickly.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:02 p.m.

Back Benchers should stick together and, therefore, I strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s desire to amend the Bill to enable a longer debate about Cornish identity being included in the 2021 census. If I am sympathetic to him, will he be sympathetic to me and help me to find a way to amend the Bill to ensure that Jains and Zoroastrians, who are recognised as world religions by the United Nations—not merely by the Council of Europe, which he prays in aid—also have their concerns properly recognised?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I return to the fact that I think that the Cornish case is unique, in that within the UK, it is the only national minority identity that is not being included as a tick-box on the census.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con) - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:03 p.m.

I am conscious of your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, but is this Bill not really about equality of treatment for people? My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the Council of Europe framework convention. The UK Government have been criticised by the Council of Europe for failing to live up to their legal obligations on Cornwall, as undertaken when we signed that convention.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and Cornish colleague for making the point very well that the Government made this commitment in 2014. They have been criticised by the Council of Europe for not living up to that commitment and obligation under the framework convention. This is a very simple and straightforward way for the Government to go some way to rectifying that and fulfilling their commitments.

By saying that the matter of Cornish identity is primarily a geographical issue that is restricted to Cornwall, and that there will be an awareness campaign in Cornwall, we are effectively treating the Cornish around the country in the same way as Mary and Joseph were treated 2,000 years ago. We are saying, “In order to identify yourself as Cornish, you really should live in Cornwall and return to your homeland.” That is completely unacceptable, and it is definitely not equality of recognition for the Cornish, as the Government promised and made a clear commitment to in 2014.

Any argument that to extend this opportunity to the Cornish would open the floodgates for other minority groups who are also seeking some sort of recognition is, I believe, misdirected. The Cornish people’s claim to national minority status in the UK is unique. We are the only group who have been given this status by the Council of Europe, which the UK Government have accepted and endorsed. I believe that the unique claim for the Cornish means that we should be given equality with the rest of the UK.

Do people today still desire to identify themselves with their homeland? If so, should they be given equal opportunities in the forthcoming census to do so? Should that right be enshrined in legislation? I believe that the answer to all three questions is very much yes, and I trust that we can use the Bill to establish the right of national identity within the UK in law.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:06 p.m.

I have been inspired to speak in the debate by the contribution of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I agree with him about two things. The first is his strong support for the Bill; as I indicated in my two interventions on the Front-Bench spokesmen, I think they are right to bring in and strongly support the Bill. I also echo the praise from the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay for the tremendous job of work that the Office for National Statistics and all its staff do. However, I share his frustration that, with one or two questions that have faced the ONS in preparing for the 2021 census, its temptation has been to see them as a little local difficulty and perhaps not to take them as seriously as it might. I recognise that concern.

At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman retold the Christmas story in his own unique way—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:08 p.m.

Order. I have made it very clear that this is a very narrow Bill. I have allowed considerable leeway, and I have allowed the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) to make three very long interventions—[Interruption.] Oh, was it only two? I have allowed him to make two very long interventions, because I thought that he was not going to make a speech. Now he is making a speech on a subject that I have said is not within the scope of the Bill. I hope that he will not seek to go further down that line. The Bill is about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:08 p.m.

For the record, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was not querying the number of interventions that you were gently chastising me for, but merely the accusation that they were long. I thought that they were entirely appropriate points to make.

Finally, I hope to follow the inspiration of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay in looking for an opportunity, perhaps on Report or in Committee, to explore the under-representation of Jains and Zoroastrians in the census.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:09 p.m.

It is probably worth noting that much of the debate on this Bill has not been about its content, which concerns inclusivity for LGBTQ people in the census. That is a good sign that the issue is not controversial and that common sense has been used and a consensus has been reached across the House. I hope that the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) have the opportunity in Committee to pursue the issues that they have raised during this debate.

I am proud of the steps that the House has taken to strengthen LGBTQ equality, including the amendment tabled to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill last week by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) to extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland. I am proud of the record of the last Labour Government, who were at the forefront of advancing progress for LGBTQ people with the equalisation of the age of consent, the repeal of section 28, the introduction of equalities legislation covering things such as access to goods and services, and the introduction of civil partnerships.

We cannot pretend, however, that LGBTQ people do not face disproportionate discrimination and prejudice in their day-to-day lives, including in schools, in employment and in access to goods and services. The number of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, including stalking, harassment and violent assault, has more than doubled in England and Wales over the past five years. LGBTQ people have worse health outcomes and are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than are the population as a whole. That is particularly true of the trans community, with roughly half of trans people in Britain having attempted suicide at least once. It is vital that the Government match their commitment to visibility for LGBTQ people in the census with a commitment properly to fund our public services, which provide essential support to marginalised groups across the country. The addition to the next census of the new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity is a welcome step, and it represents a significant victory for the LGBTQ community.

When it comes to statistics, the LGBTQ community are a hidden population. In the absence of comprehensive national population data for these groups, charities such as Stonewall are forced to rely on little more than estimates. Those estimates are frequently derived from smaller-scale surveys, and as a result, they vary widely. The data collected under the census will be vital to local authorities and other services in providing accurate estimates of the overall size of the LGBTQ community and providing geographical concentrations, which will be crucial for service planning. At a national level, it will have a significant impact on policy development, equipping regulators and Government bodies with accurate data to develop programmes of work that have a positive impact on LGBTQ people.

In a society where many LGBTQ people struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity, there are challenges involved in ensuring that the data collected by the census is accurate. Given the personal and sensitive nature of the questions, a proportion of respondents will always prefer not to disclose their sexuality, even on a confidential form. We must be cognisant of the risks associated with an under-count of the LGBTQ population, because it could play into the hands of those who would attempt to reverse progress towards equality.

Furthermore, the fact that census responses are often completed by one member of the household represents a real barrier to disclosure for individuals who are not out to their families or those they live with. I understand that the Minister has thought about that and informed my Labour Front-Bench colleagues in recent meetings that he wants to establish a process whereby people in that position can fill in the census separately and privately, overriding the household response. We support that proposal, and I urge the Minister to ensure that such an arrangement is accessible to everyone, given that the privacy concerns will be felt by people of all ages and in a range of settings.

It is crucial that statistical agencies continue to engage with organisations that represent LGBTQ people to ensure that robust solutions are found and communicated. Privacy concerns must be fully addressed, and officials must work with LGBTQ communities to convey the importance of being counted and build trust in the census process—what is counted counts.

The drafting of the questions and the accompanying guidance must also be subjected to extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from across the LGBTQ community and women’s groups. The Minister has informed the Opposition that the ONS is consulting, and we welcome sight of the draft guidance, but if he could provide more information to the House, it would be very much appreciated. As I have made clear, the Opposition welcome the Bill and believe it is an important step towards building a society in which LGBTQ people are truly accepted, included and counted.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Foster) - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:15 p.m.

It is a pleasure to wind up this debate. I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for their support and their kind words; I was almost blushing at times during their speeches. I confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) said when he opened the debate, anyone who wishes to disclose a particularly private matter will be able to apply for a number and make a separate census return that overrides the household census. That information, in a non-anonymised form, will be held for 100 years. I want to make it very clear that that opportunity will be available.

It is clear from the debate that there is strong support for the Bill, and there is widespread recognition of the importance of the census as an event. As you have confirmed, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is designed solely to enable the next censuses in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on a voluntary basis. The Bill does not prescribe that those questions should be asked, or how they should be asked. That is a matter for secondary legislation, which Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise later this year.

On that subject, I recognise the passion with which some Members of the House—especially the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double)—support additions to the census. Those are matters for the census secondary legislation, rather than for this Bill, which is purely about making the questions voluntary rather than compulsory.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:16 p.m.

Leaving aside the question of Cornish identity, does the Minister not think that there is a case to be made for protecting national identity in law, rather than leaving it to the data and statistics of the ONS?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:17 p.m.

In deciding the questions for the census, the Government will be guided by the technical recommendations of the ONS. Of course, the House and Parliament will need to decide on the questions in the census via the orders that will be introduced later this year, but the Government will continue to be guided by the ONS.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:17 p.m.

Will the Minister ensure that the orders to which he has just referred, which would allow the inclusion of questions about national identity and about Jainism and Zoroastrianism, are debated on the Floor of the House? If they are debated upstairs in Committee, the vast majority of Members are likely to be excluded.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 3:19 p.m.

I will come back to the hon. Gentleman after a discussion via the usual channels. We are talking about a hybrid order of a unique nature, some of which will be amendable and some not, but we will certainly make sure that that is discussed. I thank him for the constructive meeting that we had about his concerns relating to his constituency.

When it comes to Cornwall, I can understand why we had a religious story—not least because Cornwall is located next to God’s own county, Devonshire. We will have an opportunity to debate that further in secondary legislation, but the Government are guided by the ONS.

I turn to homelessness, which was one of the main issues raised during the debate. The ONS is working with stakeholders such as Homeless Link, Shelter and St Mungo’s to develop plans to allow those who are experiencing homelessness to take part in the census. That will include work around census day, because not everyone will necessarily be in a particular shelter on the evening of the census. It will also include engagement with those connected with the LGBT sector to make sure that the census is thorough and counts everyone in.

This is a very simple piece of legislation, which does not direct that any questions should be in the 2021 census; it merely sets out that questions on those two subjects should be answered on a voluntary basis. That will ensure that vital information on both issues is captured, but that no one is forced to disclose it if they do not wish to. I therefore urge colleagues to support the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

CENSUS (RETURN PARTICULARS AND REMOVAL OF PENALTIES) BILL [LORDS] (PROGRAMME)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Amanda Milling.)

Question agreed to.