Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - National Statistics.

John Bruton

Ceist:

2 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the statistics which the Central Statistics Office is required to prepare to comply with EC rules; and if this compliance has diverted resources from other areas of statistics collection of greater domestic relevance.

John Bruton

Ceist:

3 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach when the latest household budget survey was published by the Central Statistics Office.

John Bruton

Ceist:

4 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach when national accounts data for 1992 will be published; and if equivalent data has already been published for other EC countries.

John Bruton

Ceist:

5 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will publish monthly, as distinct from quarterly, inflation statistics in line with the practice in other EC countries.

John Bruton

Ceist:

7 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if the Central Statistics Office now has statutory co-ordinating authority for the publication of all statistics; and the record of each Government department in complying with CSO directives in this regard.

John Bruton

Ceist:

8 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will publish the report of a seminar on the adequacy of Irish statistics conducted by the Central Statistics Office on 17 June 1992.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 together.

I wish to object to this procedure. Each of these questions is separate and stands on its own right. They are questions posed in order to elicit information, each one of them relating to a different category of statistics. It is quite unfair and unreasonable that they should be taken together.

That is quite a normal procedure in this House, going back over very many years.

I wish to register my strong objection to its use on this occasion by the Minister of State in order to force me to ask multiple questions when I want to ask separate questions.

Please, Deputy, allow the Minister to reply.

The Deputy will receive all the information he desires. The reason the questions are being taken together is that they must be considered in the context of overall resources spent on producing statistics here and the strategy to be followed in spending those resources.

As the Deputy may be aware, strategy for statistics has, following on the 1985 Government White PaperA New Institutional Structure for the Central Statistics Office, been decided on by Government on the advice of the National Statistics Board. The board first recommended a five year stretegy for statistics in 1988. The Government accepted the board's advice and the strategy implemented was monitored by the board in annual reports.

The National Statistics Board has just recently completed work on a five-year strategy for statistics for the years 1993 to 1997. Before putting the board's advice and recommendations to Government I propose to offer the Opposition Parties in the Oireachtas the opportunity of making an input into that strategy for statistics.

I will, therefore, forward to the Leaders of the Opposition Parties a copy of the National Statistics Board's documentStrategy for Statistics 1993 — 1997 and ask that they forward any views they wish to offer within three weeks. I, for my part, undertake to take account of any views offered in finalising proposals for Government.

I am circulating detailed answers to the specific questions raised by Deputy John Bruton in the form of a statement. I would be happy to arrange that Deputy John Bruton and the Leaders of the other parties in the House receive any other background information they require in formulating their views on strategy for statistics.

Why are the questions not being answered?

If the Deputy wants me to answer them fully I will read the statement.

It is a very long statement. Is this what the House wants?

Yes, I asked for the questions to be answered.

We will be dealing with Priority Questions at the appropriate time.

It is not the responsibility of the Opposition if Ministers replies are unduly prolix.

If you ask a long question, you get a long answer.

Smart talk again.

(Interruptions.)

The information contained in tabular statements is readily available and if Members of this House are dissatisfied with the Taoiseach's or Minister's replies they have many remedies.

What is it?

These questions have not been answered.

Raise it in the House and I will facilitate it.

I was trying to be helpful to the Opposition. The statement reads as follows:

1. EC Statistical Requirements.

There is a considerable overlap between national and EC statistical priorities. Legal and other obligations under EC Directives, Regulations and special agreements limit the scope for redeploying existing CSO resources to statistics that might be of particular national relevance. The balance between competing demands is kept under continual review by the National Statistics Board which guides the strategic direction of the CSO.

The obligation to meet EC statistical requirement has improved the Irish statistical system since the country joined the Community in 1973. Examples of statistics that might otherwise have been developed at a different pace are:

—Annual Labour Force Survey,

—Annual Census of Industrial Enterprises,

—Monthly Industrial Production Inquiry,

—Monthly Industrial Turnover Index,

—Annual Road Freight Survey,

—Labour Cost Surveys (every four years).

EC requirements are, however, often more detailed (e.g. in terms of information to be collected and sectors to be distinguished) than would normally be required for national purposes.

The EC contributes partially to the cost of compiling statistics for Community purposes. The amount expected in 1993 is approximately £2.5 million; the gross 1993 CSO Estimate is £14.76 million. EC contributions mainly relate to start-up and development costs although an annual contribution is made towards the cost of the annual Labour Force Survey.

2. Household Budget Survey.

The most recent large-scale Household Budget Survey was conducted in 1987. A summary release giving the main national results was issued in August 1989, and the two volumes of the detailed report were published in December 1989 and June 1990. The next Household Budget Survey is scheduled for 1994. This will continue the established seven-year cycle for undertaking these surveys and related Consumer Price Index weighting updatings, namely:

HBS

CPI

1987

November 1989

1980

November 1982

1973

November 1975

1965-66

November 1968

Small-scale urban Household Budget Surveys were undertaken in each of the years 1974-1979. A small-scale survey was again undertaken on a national basis (i.e. covering both urban and rural households) in 1981 but was discontinued in 1982 as a result of Government economy measures.

3. National Accounts Publication Schedule.

The National Accounts for 1992 will be published in June (i.e. within six months of the year-end). Based on the information to hand only two other EC Member States (i.e. Germany and France) appear to have already published first estimates for 1992.

Publication dates of the National Accounts results over the past ten years were as follows:

Reference year

Publication date

Delay in months

1982

August, 1984

20

1983*

August, 1985

20

1984*

August, 1985

8

1985

July, 1986

7

1986

August, 1987*

8

1987

August, 1988

8

1988

September, 1989

9

1989

October, 1990

10

1990

November, 1991

11

1991

July, 1992

7

1992

June, 1993

6

(Expected)

*Results were first published in the Department of Finance'sReview and Outlook. Printing difficulties delayed the publication of the National Income and Expenditure report to the following December.

The current Irish publication schedule compares favourably with the position in the three other EC Member States who do not compile quarterly National Accounts. These are Belgium (seven months), Greece (ten months) and Luxembourg (nine months). New EC demands and staff losses contributed to the deterioration in publication dates in the late 1980's.

Eight EC Member States (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK) compile quarterly accounts. These countries can use the quarterly results to derive initial quick estimates of annual trends in the principal macro economic aggregates.

The National Statistics Board has set the objective that the CSO should publish the annual National Accounts results in the month of April following the reference year. This is considered the best time schedule that can be achieved using the methods and data systems required to compile annual accounts. It is hoped to achieve this objective gradually over the next few years.

4. Seminar on National Accounts on 17th June, 1992.

The CSO seminar on 17 June 1992 related to the National Accounts. It is not proposed to publish a formal report on the seminar but a copy of the papers which were presented is being placed in the Dáil Library.

This was one of three seminars organised as part of the consultative process undertaken to assist the National Statistics Board establish priorities for their plan for official statistics covering the period 1993 to 1997. The other two seminars related to Demographic Statistics and Labour Market Statistics, respectively.

Invitations to the Seminar were issued to over 200 individuals representing Government Departments, Local Authorities, semi-State bodies, research organisations, the finance and banking sector, economic consultants, representative bodies, the national press and political parties.

The Seminar was well attended and consisted of a series of brief presentations highlighting the main issues of importance to users followed by open discussion. Participants at the Seminar were strongly of the view that the overwhelming priority was to improve the timing and quality of the existing annual National Accounts. A full set of Quarterly Accounts was considered to be a lower order priority which should be developed only after the annual Accounts were compiled according to the required standards. In the meantime, however, participants proposed that CSO should extend the range of the monthly and quarterly indicators and undertake new inquiries to fill remaining gaps such as data on stock changes which currently make it difficult to comprehensively analyse short term economic growth. The development of Regional Accounts was acknowledged to be a very low priority.

5. Consumer Price Index (CPI)

The introduction of a monthly Consumer Price Index is not considered a national statistical priority. A monthly index was proposed by a number of respondents to the general canvass of statistical users conducted by the National Statistics Board for the preparation of its "1993-1997 Strategy for Statistics". However, the Board does not consider this to be a national priority within the resources available for statistics.

Discussions are commencing at EC level on the compilation of harmonised national indices as required under the Maastricht Treaty in the context of European Monetary Union convergence criteria. A special Working Party has been established by the Statistical Office of the EC (Eurostat) for this purpose. The first meeting is scheduled for June.

6. Co-ordination of Statistics Published by Other Departments

The CSO does not have under the Statistics Acts 1926 and 1946 any statutory co-ordinating authority in relation to the publication of statistics by other Government Departments.

A co-ordinating role was proposed for the CSO in the 1985 White Paper "A New Institutional Structure for the Central Statistics Office" in relation to statistical standards and classification used by other Government Departments. However, it was not envisaged that the Office would be given the authority to direct Departments as to what statistics they should publish.

For the preparation of its "1993-1997 Strategy for Statistics" the National Statistics Board took a wide view of national statistics encompassing data available from other Government Departments. The CSO, on the recommendation of the Board, is now contacting these organisations with a view to discussing:

—the statistics they currently compile, whether published or not;

—the possibilities of disseminating further statistics;

—plans for the redesign of computer systems or extensions to administrative systems that could generate further useful statistics;

—statistical aspects (such as coding, classification or sampling) on which the CSO could provide assistance or guidance.

To date discussions have been initiated with the Departments of Education, Energy, Health and Social Welfare.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I now have three questions. First, do other countries produce household budget surveys more frequently than we do, which is every seven years, in view of the fact that this is the only available information on income distribution affecting those who are not in the tax net? In view of the Government's commitment to social justice one needs to know something about income distribution for that purpose. Second, why have successive Governments not accepted the recommendation in the White Paper that legislation be introduced to give the CSO an overall co-ordinating role in regard to statistics? Would the Minister consider introducing such legislation? Finally, is the Minister of State satisfied with the recommendation that there be no information about regional income distribution, in view of the fact that if there is to be a fair system of local government reform we need to have information on the relative incomes of counties, and of one region as against another, as a basis for distributing funds fairly?

In response to the Deputy's first question, I understand that other countries publish household budget surveys more frequently than is the case here. However, I will check that out and will give the Deputy the information he requires as I am not aware which countries do so at present. On the question of legislation and of giving the CSO a co-ordinating role in relation to statistics, I am looking at that matter and am favourably disposed to putting it forward. Finally, while I accept the point the Deputy makes with regard to the desirability of having regional accounts, it is not a high priority for statistics users so, basically, it has to take its place in the queue.

Would the Minister agree that the absence of relative income statistics on a county basis has acted to the detriment of the midland counties, in particular Counties Laois and Offaly which have traditionally been seen as having higher incomes than what they actually have. They have lost out due to the absence of simple information about relative income statistics. Would the Minister reconsider this in the light of our anxiety to achieve fairness for parts of the country which are not too far from his constituency and mine.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to consult the Opposition parties on the new report on statistics which he is preparing. Would he agree to extend the time limit for submissions from three to five weeks?

The Deputy will appreciate that there are time constraints and that we want to get the strategy document published as quickly as possible but I will try to accommodate him. He suggested that some counties lose out but while we may not have statistics on a county or regional basis, every party has very active advocates in each one of the counties who make sure that their own county does not lose out when largesse is being dispensed, through decentralisation or various other Government policies——

That is not done objectively.

I do not accept that some counties have lost out as a result of not having statistics at that level.

How can you tell when you have not got the statistics?

On Question No. 2, the statistics required for the EC, is it the responsibility of the CSO to furnish these statistics to Europe, and if not, whose responsibility is it? I have heard here, there and elsewhere that this country has been building up a bad reputation for returning statistical information to such a degree that it has been mooted that sanctions such as the withholding of payments will apply if our statistics and the information required are not furnished more promptly.

I am glad the Deputy has brought this to my attention. I certainly would like to talk to him about it. If what he says is the case action will be taken. I am guaranteeing him that.