Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 22 Jun 1993

Vol. 432 No. 6

Private Members' Business. - Statistics Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purposes of the Bill are to implement the new institutional structure of the CSO, including putting both the CSO and the National Statistics Board on a statutory basis; to give the office new co-ordination powers in relation to the statistics of public authorities; to provide for the voluntary and compulsory collection of data; to reinforce the confidentiality provisions while allowing access to non-identifiable data for research purposes; to allow public access to census of population records after 100 years, and to increase the existing penalties to more realistic levels.

I am confident that this Bill will provide the appropriate legislative basis for the collection and compilation of official statistics. The Bill will, when enacted, increase the effectiveness of the CSO in providing for statistical information needs. This will be of considerable benefit to the Government, the EC, researchers, economists, to the industrial, agricultural and service sectors of the economy, to statistical users generally, and to the public at large.

I am sure we all appreciate the important role that statistics play in the democratic process. Our society is becoming increasingly complex, both from the social and from the economic perspectives. In the information age in which we live, it is more important than ever that the Government, the EC, the Oireachtas, businesses, trade unions and other representative bodies, researchers, the media and the public at large have access to accurate, comprehensive and timely data. This information is crucial in particular for policy makers at all levels to enable them to discharge their functions.

The main source of official statistics in this country is the Central Statistics Office, or CSO, which was established in 1949 as a separate office under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. It currently operates under the provisions of the Statistics Acts, 1926 and 1946.

When the public think of the CSO, they usually associate it with the census of population, the consumer price index or the live register. However, the office produces a much wider range of statistics on most aspects of economic and social life, including agriculture, transport, industry, building and construction, the public sector, trade, tourism, health and social conditions. The information is regularly disseminated in releases and publications, and increasingly in electronic form, such as on diskettes, magnetic tapes and Minitel.

There have been changes over the years in the methods of processing statistics. The CSO was one of the first users of computers in this country, having been involved with information technology for over 30 years. The use of this technology has increased considerably, particularly in 1986 when the CSO's extensive on-line computer network was developed. All of the office's surveys are now processed with the aid of computers. This has resulted in savings and improvements in the processing, tabulation and dissemination of statistics. The office will, as a central objective, continue to keep abreast of the latest developments in information technology.

Since 1973, the CSO has been part of the EC statistical system and is required to compile statistics to the same standard, timeliness and detail as other member states. Increased EC integration, following from the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, are resulting in further expansions in Community statistical requirements.

I will now refer briefly to the important provisions in the Bill. Section 12 provides for the appointment of the director general by the President on the nomination of the Taoiseach. The purpose of this is to reinforce the statistical independence and objectivity of the post. This independence is a standard provision internationally, and is in line with the 1985 Government White Paper which stated that:

The full independence and objectivity of the office in the compilation and publication of statistics will be maintained, made more explicit and further protected by statute.

This legislation will establish the National Statistics Board on a statutory basis in accordance with the provisions of section 18. There will be eight members in all: five members of proven ability and experience in relevant fields, one of whom shall chair the board; an assistant secretary or higher grade from each of the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance, and the director general who shall be a member ex officio.

The National Statistics Board was, in fact, established on an interim non-statutory basis in 1986 with the primary function of guiding the strategic direction of the office. The functions set out in the Bill have, indeed, already been fulfilled by the board since its inception.

The CSO will, together with the board, maintain close and regular contact with the users and suppliers of statistics. The office already keeps in close contact with the principal users of statistics, such as Government Departments, the EC, research bodies and economists. It is also in direct contact with the large number of business firms that provide data on a regular basis. There were also intensive consultations with the main statistical users and data providers for the preparation of the National Statistics Board's strategic plans, involving correspondence with over 200 undertakings and individuals, as well as seminars and specialist liaison groups.

The board has produced two five-year strategic plans. The first covered the period 1988-92 and has been successfully completed. The second relates to the period 1993-97, which was recently accepted by the Government and will be published shortly. It is designed to meet statistical priorities for the next five years, and was prepared after very detailed consultation with the principal users and suppliers of statistics.

The Bill, in setting out the functions of the CSO, includes provisions relating to the co-ordination of statistics vis-á-vis public authorities. This co-ordination role is a particularly important aspect of the Bill, and was one of the principal features of the Government White Paper.

With increasing computerisation, many public authorities now have comprehensive data bases which are potentially rich sources of statistical information. In addition, the use of such sources for statistical purposes would avoid duplicating requests for the same data and the high cost of direct statistical inquiries. It is one of the principal objectives of this Bill that such sources are fully utilised.

The CSO already extensively uses data from administrative sources. This occurs, for example, in the case of national accounts, external trade, registered unemployment — the live register, motor registrations, planning permissions and in the use of birth, death and marriage registrations for compiling vital statistics. It is quite clear, however, that much more can be achieved in this area.

The CSO will have the authority to assess the statistical potential of administrative records and to ensure that this potential is realised in collaboration with the responsible authorities. This is a priority objective of all national statistical services and is in line with the Government policy of reducing the data demands on businesses.

The co-operation provisions of the Bill will have the effect of strengthening the existing links between the office and other public authorities. In giving the director general the statutory authority for assessing and developing the statistical potential of administrative records, the Bill explicitly recognises that this authority relates only to developments that are appropriate and practicable, and that public authorities shall comply only in so far as resources permit. The section also places an onus on public authorities to consult the director general when they propose to conduct a statistical survey or to introduce, revise or expand an administrative data base. This is important because the statistical dimension must be taken into account at the design stage of any new or revised computerised administrative system.

An important part of the Bill relates to the protection of information. The Bill defines the term "Officer of Statistics" to include, inter alia, all staff of the CSO. Each such officer will have to sign a formal declaration binding him or her to the confidentiality obligations in this legislation. The statutory guarantee in the Bill that all data obtained by the CSO will be used solely for statistical purposes and be treated as strictly confidential is essential to ensure high response rates and the provision of accurate details. This is standard practice internationally, and the existing national statistical legislation is also very strict in this regard.

An important change to existing legislation is provided for in section 34. This will allow the CSO to provide "public use data tapes" containing completely non-identifiable individual data to persons outside the CSO for the purposes of statistical analysis. This is not possible under the 1926 Act which provides that individual data, even if non-identifiable, cannot be divulged. This is a standard practice in many countries, and it has frequently been requested by Irish research workers. Research workers understandably wish to work independently on the raw data. This will now be permissible provided that the units to which the data relate cannot be identified.

Another major change to existing legislation is provided for in section 35. This will allow public access to the forms completed in the censuses of population since 1926, but only 100 years after the date of the relevant census. These forms will be valuable for genealogical and social research. Public access to census of population records after a lengthy period is the practice in a number of countries; in the UK, for example, the 100-year rule also applies. The lengthy period is required to protect the confidentiality of particulars provided by people while they are still living, and to ensure the continued very high response by the public to censuses of population in this country.

In conclusion, the purpose of the Bill is to implement the provisions of the Government White Paper A New Institutional Structure for the Central Statistics Office, which was published in 1985, and to update the legislative basis for the collection and compilation of official statistics. I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome this Bill which is the result of a White Paper published by the Government in the mid-eighties to which the Minister referred this evening. Statistics and the compilation of information based on statistics have been part of all our lives and, indeed, the lives of people for many generations in various forms. The census of population is carried out every ten years, statistics on agriculture are carried out annually and external trade statistics and statistics on births, marriages and deaths are carried out on a regular basis. I suppose one of the most famous statistical compilations was the original census ordered by King Herod at the dawn of Christianity. Obviously, that census and those whom it did not record had a major bearing on all our lives since then.

On examining the shelves in my office before coming into the House, I was blinded by a myriad of statistics which I doubt the Members of this House have either the time or the ability to examine. I doubt also if many Members of this or any previous Dáil know where the Central Statistics Office is located or have set foot inside that building. I assume that one of the driving forces behind the publication of the White Paper in 1985 was the unique and individual insight into statistics of the former Taoiseach and Leader of the Fine Gael Party, the then Deputy Garret FitzGerald. I still supply him with reports from the Central Statistics Office, but very few people are able to decipher or read statistics.

The Minister outlined six areas in which he considers this Bill is important and I agree with all of them. It is important that the Central Statistics Office and the Director General of that office are independent and autonomous in their dealings and that the reports produced are accurate, up to date and, where necessary, confidential. Obviously, anybody with a business initiative or idea must conduct market surveys and projections based on the type, quality and cost of the product which he or she intends to produce. Statistics form an important part of the setting up of any new business. Therefore, facilities should be available for any new business entrepreneur, organisation or authority so that such people know what is happening locally and globally.

I note that the Minister referred to the increased use of electronic forms of information — for example, the use of diskettes, magnetic tapes and Minitel. An important aspect of the work of this House relates to the availability of relevant statistics for legislators, who often pass the laws of the land with inadequate facilities and inadequate access to important information compiled by the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise, retailers, major business organisations and so on. A report for the information of the Joint Services Committee refers to the inadequacy of facilities in the Library research area. Deputies, particularly those in Opposition who do not have the assistance of civil servants, should at least have at their disposal qualitative and up to date information in either electronic or properly researched form, because many contributions in this House deal with important matters without the use of relevant statistics. We are all aware of the type of speeches and arguments that can be made depending on the quality of the statistics available. The old expression "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics" tells its own story; one can colour one's argument depending on one's bias and judgement based on available statistics.

The Minister referred to the co-operation aspect in regard to statistics. He stated that public authorities will only comply in so far as resources permit. Most public authorities, particularly local authorities, have had computer systems installed in the past number of years and a myriad of information is available on electronic tapes in such offices. However, local authority and health board auditors deal with large amounts of money with inadequate resources in their offices to compile accurate relevant statistics that would be useful in the projection of future work for public authorities or in the compilation of a proper audit and judgment of their performance, based on moneys allocated to them.

In regard to the question of confidentiality, I note from the reports on trade statistics, which are published on a regular basis, that it is necessary in certain cases to take steps to ensure that the business of traders is not disclosed by publication of full data under the appropriate commodity item or partner country. With the competitive forces that exist in business today a business could be wiped out by competitors overnight if too detailed information were made available. I would like an assurance from the Minister that when this Bill is passed into law, the Director General appointed and the Central Statistics Board set up, information that is supposed to be confidential will be absolutely confidential. In the modern world, with all sorts of devices for acquiring so-called secret information, one wonders if anything is confidential anymore. There are cases of deliberately leaked documents and information and of deliberately leaked statistics. We have had allegations of people sworn to secrecy on very confidential matters dropping hints or items of information that are picked up, misconstrued or used in a particular form. It is critical where information is supposed to be confidential that it be confidential, particularly in business, and that there be an absolute guarantee of that.

In regard to the social aspects of the information contained in the statistics provided through the census of population, 100 years is probably sufficient time after which the relevant census can be open to the public. I note, for instance, that one third of the Australian population is directly descended from Irish immigrants and Irish deportees and there is a phenomenal interest in genealogy in the context of tourism. Whether or not it stems from a desire to find one's roots, to know where one's ancestors came from and to know who they were, it is fundamentally important to many families that they have this information at their disposal. However, there are instances where the acquiring of information like this, even after 100 years, can cause social divisions and splits. I have in mind instances, for instance, like the famous Maamtrasna murders, which occurred during the last century, which were raised in the House of Commons by Parnell and which had a major bearing on the breaking of the English power base here. Even to this day there would be a certain amount of anxiety that acquaintances of individuals associated with this type of happening could be identified. History does repeat itself and taunts and socially inflammatory remarks can be made. I agree with the limitation of 100 years, but there could be difficulties in particular instances.

I note that the Taoiseach of the day has an influence on this Bill. It would be upon his recommendation to the President that the Director General will be appointed and with his imprimatur that people of relevant experience and ability are also to be appointed. The Minister might tell us why a five year stint for the Director General was decided upon. He might also indicate, if possible, the extent of the remuneration. I would like to think in recommending an appointee to the President that ability, experience and gender representation will be taken into account.

I note that the Statistics Board has produced two five year strategic plans and that the first of these has been successfully completed. The lessons to be learned from that period should be taken into account by a new board in the 1993-97 report.

The Minister referred to the Central Statistics Office being allowed to provide public use data tapes which would contain completely non-indentiable individual data. The system under which that operates must be absolutely true to this sentiment. That sort of information must be absolutely non-identifiable. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that.

Between-the-lines reading of the statistics gives an up to date position of the social and economic position of our country at any time. In the past few years, for instance Telecom Éireann have sent out vast amounts of documentation to subscribers in order to complie information. The use of that kind of information given by identified individuals has resulted in many cases in those individuals receiving follow-up documentation from other sources. In the light of this, public use of data tapes would need to be very carefully monitored. They must be absolutely non-identifiable, because a huge majority of the population do not want to see this type of literature coming through their letterboxes, literature based on statistical evidence of their age grouping, their economic position, their job or the location in which they live. While the compilation of the statistics is extremely important, it must be absolutely certain that people are unidentifiable.

I looked at the Census of 1986, volume 5, which referred to the Irish language. This booklet, produced by the Central Statistics Office, contains an absolute mine of information about every county in the country in the context of a very important aspect of our heritage — our language and our ability to promote our native language and culture. Yet very few Deputies, who receive so much information, have actually read this. Much of the information produced in volumes like this lies wasting on shelves all over the country.

The wealth and range of statistics in trade statistics reports is mind-boggling. Yet such reports are of fundamental importance to business transactions as well as local authority and public authority projections for business and work. The enactment of laws in this House is fundamental to those offices and businesses. It is regrettable that the legislators who pass Bills into law do not have ready access through this House to the wealth of information contained in those documents. I note that the report to the Joint Services Committee recommends specialised research units so that Deputies and parties in the House who wish to make meaningful, well thought out and researched contributions may have access to such reports.

I welcome the Statistics Bill, 1993. It brings to fruition a recommendation of the 1985 Government White Paper which stated that the full independence and objectivity of the office in the compilation and publication of statistics will be maintained, made more explicit and further protected by statute. I hope that when the Bill is enacted and the Taoiseach's recommendations regarding appointments are submitted to the President, that they will be in respect of people of relevance, ability, experience and stature and that people will not simply be appointed because they might have allegiance to a party philosophy. Following the formal establishment of the board and the appointment of the Director General, I hope we will be in a position to review the progress of the CSO after some time and that if further resources are necessary and if the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance consider that to be the case, such resources will be made available to the Central Statistics Office.

I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House. I hope it becomes effective legislation as it is fundamental to the development of all aspects of this country — political, human, social, economic, agricultural and so on.

I welcome this Bill. It contains a useful set of provisions for the CSO and puts it on a proper statutory and independent basis, which is important for its credibility. The CSO is highly regarded by all those who from time to time use its services and read its data. However, I have some suggestions to make in regard to some aspects of its work.

Of all the figures produced on a regular basis by the Central Statistics Office — this is true also of other countries — the most important are the balance of payments figures because they are fundamental to the economic position of the country. It is important that they be accurate and that they be issued as promptly as possible. Unfortunately, in recent years the CSO had to revise, quite drastically, its balance of payments figures. I understand this had to be done on two occasions. It discovered what came to be known colloquially some years ago as "black holes" in the economy and in its previous methodology it had not been able to pick up the "black holes". I am not certain if it has been able to discover where they were, but it has, hopefully, determined the results of those "black holes".

One of the consequences was that the positive balance of payments which we were showing for a number of years was overstated. That is a serious matter. The balance of payments is made up of a number of factors of which the balance of trade is one, perhaps the most important single factor. However, it is well known that our trade figures are distorted. I am not saying they are false in any way or that they are reported wrongly by the CSO, but they are distorted because of the fairly widespread lawful use by multi-national companies in particular, of transfer pricing in this country. The result is that our exports are overstated and the reality, in economic terms, is somewhat less. We can only discover that on the balance of payments figures and, therefore, they are more important than the trade figures.

It is essential that the balance of payments figures are correct, or as near correct as possible, and it is also essential that they are produced rapidly. I have noted the balance of payments figures are issued a long time after the balance of trade figures here, although in other countries both sets of figures are usually produced simultaneously or within a short period of time of each other. Because the trade figures distort the position, and generally distort it positively, it is important that, if possible, the balance of payments figures are produced monthly rather than quarterly or half-yearly, as tends to be the practice at present. If such figures, whether they relate to trade or payments, are slow to be produced, their value is diminished by this delay because they go out of date more quickly.

One has only to consider the last 12 months to realise the international volatility within which we are trading and the necessity to have up-to-date figures. It is not easy to achieve this and it will be more difficult to do so from this year onwards, for two reasons. First, exchange controls have been abolished and, second, we are now in the Single Market and do not have the same type of customs statistics in intra-Community trade as we did in the past. I do not envy the CSO its difficulty in adjusting to those factors, but I am sure it will overcome this. It now has available to it many forms of technology which would not have been available in the past. That will enable it to pick up such matters more rapidly. It has been a serious matter for this country that the balance of payments figures had to be revised in a major way in recent years. It may affect the credibility of our statistics generally that such a revision was necessary. In my view — and I have been Minister for Industry and Comerce over long periods — the balance of payments figures are vital, especially as we cannot rely on the trade figures for reflecting economic reality. Sadly, they do not; they overstate the positive position here.

One of the other major set of figures which the CSO produces regularly is the consumer price index. Over the years I have had much involvement with the CPI as Minister for Industry and Commerce when, unfortunately, inflation was running at a very high level and there was tremendous pressure in regard to prices. Our CPI reflects actual expenditure and I am not aware if internationally it is a statistical norm that actual expenditure should be reflected. However, as an amateur, I would consider there are some drawbacks, where actual expenditure may not give a proper picture.

One of the consequences of having to reflect actual expenditure in compiling the CPI is the fact that the weighting given to intoxicating liquor is, I think, 10.5 per cent in any given survey. That is the proportion of disposable income that is expended on that item in Ireland. If one accepts also that more than 50 per cent of our people do not drink intoxicating liquor, one gets a somewhat distorted view and I am unclear as to how one should weigh this. An exaggerated view of inflation is given if one fully reflects the expenditure on intoxicating liquor because less than half the population spend any money on it, and it is not an essential item. Other countries withdraw certain elements of expenditure from their CPI. Whether that can be done legitimately or otherwise I do not know but, for example, the British withdrew mortgage interest repayments for a period and ran two parallel CPIs.

Many years ago the former Minister for Finance, Ritchie Ryan, ran a tax exclusive index which I believe is still in existence but to which not many people pay attention now. I am not sure whether it was of much value but I would like the Minister of State in his reply to address the question of whether it is valid to confine the index purely to the weighting of actual expenditure or whether one could and should take into account its weighting within the population to obtain a more accurate reading. Unfortunately, one of the items which is almost guaranteed to increase by a noticeable amount each year is the price of intoxicating liquor. Indeed, the Minister for Finance has complained about this in recent weeks and months, and rightly so. I complained about it also, not necessarily because more profit was being generated but because of the effect it had on the CPI. Of course, that was at a time when inflation was running much higher than the two to three per cent at which it has been running in recent years. There is an increase almost every year. Those increases are unjustifiable and they put an inflationary element into our economy which is reflected in unnecessary wage increases. Some element, however small, of those wage increases would not take place if this overstatement of inflation did not persistently exist for that reason.

Another of the periodic figures produced by the CSO on a monthly basis is the live register, as it is called. I rather think that as time goes by the register becomes less live than it used to be because the live element of it is supposed to reflect people who are available for and willing to work. What proportion of the 300,000 people unemployed come into that category is a matter for some debate. One of the difficulties is that frequently we are not comparing like with like because the definitions change almost annually. Would it be possible to give some kind of comparable figures for ten, 15 or 20 years ago that would be genuinely comparable rather than simply reflecting the various changes that are made, as I said, on an almost annual basis which really renders comparison impossible?

The census of population every five years is probably the aspect of the CSO's work that is most noticeable and it is carried out with great efficiency given that it is a complex and difficult task. One aspect that always amazes me is that they can produce the overall totals and the totals per county and county borough within a matter of months but an aspect of the count which is often of vital importance to Members of this House is the count for what are called district electoral divisions. District electoral divisions are rather remote now and almost academic in nature. They have no other bearing apparently other than for electoral purposes. However, it takes the Central Statistics Office two years or more to produce the figures for district electoral divisions, even though they are only a breakdown of the figures for a county. Since all this information is on computer anyway and the computer will give the information required almost instantaneously, I cannot understand why the figures for district electoral divisions are not available within a week or two of the general figures being available.

There is a suspicion on the part of many Members of this House that that information is deliberately withheld by the CSO at the request of the Government of the day. I say this having been a member of the Government for more than a year and a half after the census was taken. I simply do not know what the explanation is for not producing those figures. It would be a different matter if producing those figures required some further study or refinement but it does not. It only requires the breaking down of a global figure and since the global figure was arrived at by a building up process the computer can give the result in a matter of hours. I would like to know why the delay in this regard can be as long as two years. Indeed, we could and should make more use of the data in the census of population. I fully agree with the proposal that individual personal data should not be made available. Some people feel that 100 years is too long but it is probably not when one considers that some people can live a very long time and certainly their children would frequently be alive 100 years after a particular census, and difficult problems could arise in this regard. While I accept the figure of 100 years, the Minister should make some provision in section 35 on Committee Stage for those records to be made available at least to serious and genuine scholars at an earlier stage with the caveat that they would not abuse them or use personal data from them directly.

It is an anomaly that from the twenties onwards the 1911 census returns have, apparently, been available to everybody but under this Act the 1926 census will not be available until 2026. That is too long. It will mean that people will be required to work off the 1911 census in 2025, almost 114 years later. That data should be made available to scholars for the purposes of genuine scholarship. It is far too long a period to deprive them of this information and it will cause problems for scholarship here if this practice continues.

Another section to which I would like to make particular reference is section 17, regarding the appointment of temporary staff. Every time the CSO appoints temporary staff, as it does for a census of population which takes place every five years, or an agricultural census which takes place every year, for labour force surveys and so on, allegations are made, particularly in rural areas, of obscure favouritism and disfavour being shown, and they are generally attributed to political reasons. I do not know whether that is true but it should be made clear in section 17 that appointments are made by the director general entirely on his own initiative and that the words "with the consent of the Minister for Finance and under such terms and conditions of service as he may determine" relate only to conditions of service, remuneration and so on and the Minister for Finance does not consent to the persons being appointed. I hope that is the case and perhaps section 17 would be re-worded to make that clear because it is a cause of agitation, particularly in rural areas.

The appointment of people in rural areas to do this work is particularly sensitive because very often the person appointed knows everyone he goes to see. It is very important that the right person be appointed because it is very difficult for some people to give information of a personal nature to people whom they know well.

In general, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. It is not an urgent Bill and it is strange that it is introduced at this hour of the night, at this time of the year, but I suppose it is better now than never. It is founded on the recommendations of a Government White Paper of 1985 which was largely inspired by former Deputy Garret FitzGerald. I can think of nobody more appropriate than he to have produced that White Paper and to see this legislation through because he is the only man in Ireland whom I know who, when he is drowning in statistics, suffers from some kind of intellectural orgasm.

I suspect whoever scheduled this Bill for this time believed they would find something for party leaders to do at 10.30 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

We could get nobody else to do it.

I wish to make a few general points on the Bill. It is obvious that full and adequate statistics are the virtual oxygen of economic and social planning. Without the detailed statistics provided by CSO economic and social planning would be a shot in the dark and would be very inaccurate. If we do not know how many children there are in each area we will not be able to plan third level education ten or 15 years down the road and, if we cannot identify population shifts from one part of the country to another, we will not be able to plan for roads, houses or other requirements. We need an accurate picture of the number of persons out of work so that we can identify the scale of the unemployment problem and, hopefully, take appropriate remedial measures. In the economic area in particular we need the fullest possible range of statistics if we are to compete with other countries in terms of wage costs, productivity levels, exports, imports and so on.

The information produced by the CSO is of use only to economists and planners; the annual statistical abstract produced by the CSO provides an astonishing range of information on virtually every aspect of life, ranging from the number of in-calf heifers to the rate of inflation, from the number of people on the live register to the wettest day of the year in Belmullet and from the number of firms going out of business to the number of people found illegally on licensed premises during closing hours. For anyone who might be interested, the figure for 1990 was 9.946.

Serious flaws were found in a number of areas in regard to the quality of statistics produced by the CSO in the past. In February last the CSO disclosed major inaccuracies which had overstated the strength of the economy and seriously understated the level of funds repatriated by multinationals. At the time, virtually every party stated it did not regard that as a serious matter, but it seemed extraordinary that the figures which for years we were told were fundamental to the health of the economy and which showed a surplus in our trade statistics were suddenly declared to have been in deficit. The argument that that had no bearing on the nature or strength of our economy was probably overstating the case in trying to allay fears about what precisely was the state of the economy. It indicates to some extent at least the reasons that despite apparent growth and healthy statistics in terms of exports and imports we were not creating the jobs which the figures indicate might have been provided in the circumstances.

Significant changes in the way in which the live register figures are published by the CSO have had the effect of artificially reducing the real level of unemployment. I put down a parliamentary question in October 1992 in which I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, to indicate the numbers on the live register for September 1992 and to give the figures using the same method of compilation and categorisation used up to March 1990. The reply was that the number of persons on the live register on 25 September was 287,099, but that figure did not include 5,200 persons who were removed from the register in May 1992 following a statistical review of the coverage of the series, or 14,000 persons on pre-retirement allowance and pre-retirement credits. The total of all three figures is 306,939. As far as the public and the media were aware, the number on the live register was 287,099 but the real statistic of people out of work was 306,939.

The Minister argued that a change was made in the method of compiling statistics in order to comply with changes made in other EC countries, to ensure compatibility between the bases used. However, the reality as far as the public is aware and in terms of planning to deal with unemployment, is that the live register figures no longer accurately represent the number of people out of work, and that is a serious matter. In allowing the Minister to comply with his obligations and to ensure compatibility with statistics in the European Community, for the sake of accuracy when the live register figures are published the real figures should also be published, including the numbers on pre-retirement and those receiving unemployment assistance as smallholders and so on.

The provisions in the Bill seek to ensure the confidentiality of information supplied to the CSO and they are particularly important. People provide information on census forms and commercial enterprises supply information about their business activities. They have to be confident that the information will remain absolutely confidential. However, a 100 year restriction to be applied to access to completed census forms is excessive. Deputy O'Malley felt there may be a good reason for it, but it seems rather excessive, particularly in view of the value of these forms for social and historical research and when one considers the general 50 year restriction that applies to sensitive Cabinet papers. If there is a 50 year restriction on sensitive Cabinet papers surely a similar limit might be more appropriate to census forms.

Section 12 provides for the appointment of the director general by the President on the nomination of the Taoiseach. The Minister said that the purpose of this provision is to reinforce the statistical independence and objectivity of the post. I support the need for the independence of that post and the need to ensure that the public perceive it to be absolutely independent. However, I fail to see how making it a condition that the President should approve an appointment on the nomination of the Taoiseach is necessary. What would happen if the President declined to approve the nomination of the Taoiseach? If that is not likely to arise, what is the point in the provision? I do not think the President would create a constitutional crisis by refusing a nomination. This is using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Other ways could be found to guarantee the independence of the director general. There are many procedures for the appointment of civil servants, appointments to various boards and to the planning appeal tribunal, which seek to guarantee the independence of the people concerned. This provision is nonsensical. If the appointment was to be by the President on the nomination of the Council of State or something like that, that would be fine but to have it on the nomination of the Taoiseach seems to undermine the intention and to be reaching too high to achieve what could be achieved in another way.

It has taken eight years for this Bill to be introduced following the publication of the White Paper in 1985. It is better late than never. Apart from the reservations I expressed I support the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I welcome the Bill to implement the provisions of the 1985 White Paper. The State must have the best possible statistics so that the Government can make informed and important policies. Statistics were gathered even before the foundation of the State. The Census of Population, with the register of births, marriages and deaths are now an invaluable source of local history. In the past few years there has been an increased interest in tracing ancestors. Local historical centres and genealogical research centres have been established to assist Irish people and overseas visitors. Old records are an invaluable source of history describing social and economic lifestyles of previous generations. Their continued preservation and collection is to be applauded. Old records describe in detail people's literary capabilities and their knowledge of the English language. In many instances only Irish was spoken in the household.

Statistics in Government Departments are the building blocks to ensure that effective policies can be implemented. A review of parliamentary questions will illustrate how essential it is for Government Departments to have accurate information to ensure the proper co-ordination and dissemination of statistics. A range of statistics cover Government and local government activities. It is only right to have a central authority with responsibility to co-ordinate the flow of information. The staff employed in this work must be adequately resourced. They are involved in highly specialised work requiring high academic standards. The most modern computerised information systems must be made available to ensure the best possible service.

The Bill provides that the number of staff to be employed shall be determined from time to time by the Taoiseach with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance and that they shall be civil servants. It also provides that temporary staff may be appointed to established posts declared to be excluded positions for the purposes of the Civil Service Commission Act, 1956. The staff of the Central Statistics Office must have a wide range of skills. If the director of the CSO feels that the appropriate range of skills are not avialable to him, this should be remedied.

As the 1985 report pointed out there are serious difficulties in the recruitment, training and retention of processing staff. The report states that as all recruitment of systems analysts has to be from the Civil Service panels, it takes about two years for the CSO to fully train a new analyst. Many return to their original Departments or leave the service after a further two years. Consequently, there are serious difficulties in retaining sufficient numbers of trained and experienced staff. The CSO is prohibited from recruiting graduates who possess some of the required skills, such as graduates in computer science, into these grades. The report states that greater flexibility in these areas is vital.

If the director feels that these problems still exist his office should be properly resourced to overcome them. Statistics are far too important to be relegated to a second league service. Statistics should be accurate, informative and reliable. I question the dissemination of statistics about the number of tourists who come to Ireland each year. It is part of Government policy to develop tourism. In the past few years we have been informed that targets have been reached and that increased numbers have come from various countries. I question the reliability of those figures but I do not question that tourist figures have increased.

We are also told how much tourism is worth to the country and statistics have been produced as to the average amount spent by visitors from Europe and the US. How is it possible to establish these facts with any degree of accuracy? How does one distinguish a businessman who goes abroad and returns with a plane full of tourists, from the tourists? Reliability of information is essential so that the people who use the information can take appropriate action in developing their businesses.

If the information published is not accurate, corrective steps taken by people who provide tourism services, hoteliers, craft manufacturers, holiday or car hire operators may be exaggerated or damaging to them and their employees. Tourism is an ever-increasing element of external receipts, bearing in mind the number of people employed directly and indirectly in the industry. Every effort should be made to accurately collect statistics which can be relied on so that the tourism industry can take proper decisions, from an investment point of view, for its further development. I appreciate that the provision of tourism statistics constitutes a very small part of the work of the Central Statistics Office, which covers a whole range of other sectoral interests, such as agriculture, building construction, distribution, public sector services and transport, the labour force, including unemployment, population and other vital statistics on prices, foreign trade, national accounts and balance of payments. It is important that all such information is made available at the earliest possible opportunity, on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.

There are many other aspects of this Bill I have not covered within the general framework of the Central Statistics Office, ranging from the establishment of the National Statistics Board to the nature of information which may be sought from individuals right through to local authorities, indeed to the whole aspect of the confidentiality of information furnished.

I welcome the Bill. I hope the fullest possible resources will be made available, by way of staff and equipment to the Director General to ensure the full and proper conduct of the excellent work we expect from the Central Statistics Office.

I must contribute to this debate given that the Central Statistics Office will be relocated in Cork. The building is near completion, I welcome the personnel who will be transferred to Cork and assure them of a céad míle fáilte. Cork will be very grateful for the economic boom which will follow their arrival.

The Bill is long overdue. This is the age of information and the Central Statistics Office is the primary tool for dealing with quantitative information since the introduction of the micro-processor and the resultant revolution in the scope and extent of data collation. However, the age of information has brought its problems as well as opportunities, for example, one we witnessed in the past vis-á-vis confidentiality. Nonetheless, the Data Protection Act should adequately cover that aspect. All countries must ensure they make the best use of the information available. Nowadays our difficulty is to discern and abstract the core message because, if we do not do that properly, as an industrial nation we shall suffer. As a primary arm of Government there must be proper auditing and review procedures.

The Central Statistics Office has served this country well, its reports — many of international standard — issued on a fairly regular basis. Nonetheless there is always room for improvement. In that respect I emphasise the functional nature of the operations of the Central Statistics Office, particularly in its presentation of information. Certainly there is a feeling that the information has tended to be presented in a somewhat bland manner devoid of what one might describe as lively graphics. I suppose the old cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words could well be applied to some of the reports which emanate from the Central Statistics Office.

There should be greater focus in reports, so that their main elements strike a reader directly. I question the timeliness of some of time reports, certainly in regard to the last census in relation to which statistics concerning many small areas for 1991 are not yet available. They include those on employment, housing and educational attainment, which are all essential to local planning. it is an extraordinary delay and the Minister, the Director General and the National Statistics Board should seriously examine the cause.

In terms of statistical data, there should be a rationalisation of the efforts made to render such data available. I am aware, particularly in third-level institutions, that there is a level of excellence in the work proceeding, but there may be a certain amount of duplication between the work undertaken by the Central Statistics Office and third-level institutions. Many universities have now established their own campus companies — some are in receipt of grant aid from the EC and other institutions — allowing them to prepare various reports and to make statistical data available. I know there is a definite feeling within those third-level institutions that there could be much greater liaison between them and the Central Statistics Office. I hope, when the Director General and the National Statistics Board have been established, that this liaison or co-ordination can be established on a firmer footing. The provisions of this Bill provide ample opportunity for this. Obviously it is a desirable objective and constitutes another avenue by which this nation could have meaningful statistical data available from another source.

Revenue gains from sales of the Central Statistics Office material are quite low, yet the cost of providing such material is extraordinarily high. It is incumbent on each of us to examine the marketability of a product, to ask ourselves whether we are improving market forces or looking at links between producers and users. In that respect there is a market waiting to be tapped, perhaps we should focus on something marketable and usable, which would help our economy overall. Such an exercise would be worth while and we would gain much more in terms of revenue by ordering that type of market focus in the future.

We hear regularly of the importance of import substitution, that perishable foods are imported here in enormous quantities. Many statisticians nationwide feel there is an inadequate amount of information available to producers, people in the marketplaces, relating to both these extremely important areas, which can be creators of jobs and wealth both of which could be geared to exports. I am aware also that Córas Tráchtála is making important strides in this area, but the information I obtain from people in the field suggests that much remains to be done.

Obviously the provisions of the Bill are of a very general nature. I welcome the fact that the CSO is to be put on a statutory basis. It will have to make optimum use of the information available and at the same time demonstrate vision and innovation. It will have an opportunity to do this under the Bill. For that reason I welcome it.

I rise to make one point. I do not know if it has already been made in the debate but it relates to the compilation of trade statistics.

Then I will be more brief than I had intended. A few weeks ago I was given permission to raise this aspect on the Adjournment following the announcement of major revisions in our balance of payments figures going back to 1986 by the CSO. In that submission I coupled that matter with the report produced in December 1992 by the NESC entitled Association Between Economic Growth and Employment Growth in Ireland. Both points are relevant because for a long time economists have been puzzled in trying to explain our comparatively healthy growth figures in the absence of the job creation that one could reasonably have expected would spring from reasonably consistent growth figures. The revision of the trade statistics by the CSO helps to partially explain this phenomenon.

For a number of years it has been the mantra of Government Ministers to say, in trying to cope with the extent of the unemployment problem, that the fundamentals of our economy are sound and that one of these days we will get it right in regard to employment. It now turns out that the fundamentals of the economy are not as sound as we thought and the CSO has given us information that bears this out.

In addition, the report of the NESC on the relationship between economic growth and employment growth has serious implications in explaining this phenomenon. Let me quote one sentence: "Huge outflows of profits, dividends and royalities reflect the remarkable structure of Irish industry". The NESC is referring to the role of multinational corporations and the extraordinarily high level of profits repatriated. This relates not merely, as it turns out, to profits repatriated to the country of origin but to enormously inflated charges for research and development, advertising and whatever else one can think of in order to make the maximum use of this country's relatively bening tax regime. The multinational corporations have been experts at this for many years and we blinded ourselves to it. I think it was Professor Anton Murphy of Trinity College who first discovered the extent of the black hole and we now find that the healthy current account we thought we had in terms of a trade surplus and its impact on the balance of payments is not so healthy as we thought. Therefore, the question arises to what extent have we been fooling ourselves about the performance of this economy when such a significant sector can distort the performance of the economy in terms of the apparent boom in exports and so on.

It is not all that long ago when the argument was used in this House, as a reason to persist with the extraordinary policy of defending the Irish pound come what may, that the current account surplus was so healthy and buoyant that we could withstand the speculative pressure on the Irish pound, hold out and win; but it turns out that others had an evaluation of the value of the Irish pound which was different from ours and, ultimately, we lost that fight at considerable cost. Everybody was in favour of taking a stand up to a point; but we arrived at a point where the Minister, in trying to keep his finger in the dyke, was like the little boy who tried to do this with similar spectacular lack of success.

This is a very important aspect of this debate and I do not wish to comment on any other. However, if we are going to plan our industrial strategy, our economy and budgets on the basis of a balance of payments surplus which we do not have in reality it is important that we match our expectations and figures with what the economy is producing in reality as distinct from what we think the position is.

I do not think we have had an opportunity to discuss this revision in the methodology used by the CSO, nor have we had an opportunity to discuss the NESC report, which makes sober reading. The language used is probably as strong as one could expect in terms of deciding that what we have, in their language, is an unambiguous trade deficit. It is a long time since we have seen such language used. The report concludes: "There is a sense in which Ireland's trading balance should be calculated net of this profits repatriation. To do so would show an unambiguous trade deficit for every year between 1976 and 1989". That is a horse of a remarkably different colour.

I was puzzled then and I remain puzzled now as to how the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, in reply to my attempt to start a debate on this matter on the Adjournment, could conclude his carefully crafted reply by saying: "In conclusion, I want to stress that because of the new surveys the balance of payments current account is now much more firmly based than previously". It is marvellous how in the English language one can make a virtue out of necessity. The Minister of State went on to say: "There is a strong surplus in the current account since 1991"— not since 1976 or 1986 —"and though the revisions for earlier periods are sizeable they are now fairly historic and they have insignificant budgetary, GNP and growth rate implications and no impact on our reserves". I presume that the learned gentlemen of the CSO were consulted before the Minister of State put that telling rebuttal together. I could not understand it then and I cannot understand it now. While I accept they are historic, they are bound to have implications for our growth rate, for budgetary policy and, inevitably, for gross national product and output.

I welcome the Bill. I am no expert in this specific area but I should like to hear the Minister's views in regard to it as it is an area which is absolutely pivotal to the economic health of the country, to achieving our job creation targets and to explaining why we have not created the necessary jobs even though, as everyone keeps saying, the fundamentals of our economy are right.

Deputy Kenny referred to the first census having been carried out by Herod at what was to be the dawn of Christianity. I have heard that census described as the first clear sign of the indifference of bureaucracy to the individual citizen, probably a good description of it.

I am glad Deputy Rabbitte has——

——eased the burden on me and that I do not have to repeat what I told him three or four months ago in regard to the balance of payments figures. I agree with the points made by Deputy Kenny about the need to ensure the availability of quality statistics for Members of this House for research purposes. In view of the increasing use of computers in the Central Statistics Office and the possibility of various link-ups, I hope that there will be a direct link between the Central Statistics Office and the Oireachtas Library at some stage in the very near future. As used to be said on, I think, "The Six Million Dollar Man" programme, "we have the technology" and it is only a matter of time before we have this link-up.

I thought the Minister might be referring to the promised £8 billion.

Perhaps the Whips can discuss the possibility of such a link-up in the overall development of the computerisation in Leinster House.

Most Deputies referred to the independence of the Central Statistics Office. This independence is underlined very strongly in the Bill. Deputy De Rossa referred to the unemployment statistics and the changes which occurred in the compilation of those statistics in line with the OECD and the CRC recommendations. It is a measure of the independence of the Central Statistics Office that when the method of compiling the live register figures was changed in 1992 it continued to give relevant information on how the figures had been affected by the changes introduced in May. I make that point to underline the extent to which the Central Statistics Office values its independence. I think all Members of the House, including the Government — this might not suit it at times — recognise that this independent role is the cornerstone of the Central Statistics Office. No Government should be able to interfere with this independence.

Deputy Kenny referred to the confidentiality of statistics. This point has been underlined time and time again. There is no doubt that the Central Statistics Office has kept all statistics confidential. To my knowledge no finger has ever been pointed at the Central Statistics Office about a lack of confidentiality in regard to statistics. Deputy O'Malley referred to a number of things which could happen in the Central Statistics Office. He was speaking hypothetically rather than factually and I know he did not mean to impugn anyone in the CSO. His point that the Central Statistics Office has to be seen to be above any kind of political interference was well made. I think all Deputies would agree that that has been the case.

A number of Deputies referred to the 100 years rule. The importance of the confidentiality of information given in a census of population cannot be over-stressed. It is very important that people who give information in a census know that this information will be kept confidential. Deputy O'Malley said that section 35 might be amended to allow serious and genuine scholars access to census figures after a certain period of time. I think this is covered to some extent by section 33, which provides that people seeking information for serious purposes may have access to it with the written consent of a person, a personal representative or the next of kin of a deceased person. When the Bill was discussed in the Seanad reference was made to the 100 years rule. I think, on balance, that the 100 years rule is about the right to protect the integrity of people and ensure that information is kept confidential.

Deputy Kenny referred to the Taoiseach's appointees, the term of office of the Director General, the remuneration and the level and status of the Director General. It should be pointed out that the Taoiseach will nominate his appointees on the recommendation of NESC; he will not pluck someone out of the air or appoint a person for particular reasons. These people will be appointed on the basis of their expertise and on the recommendation of NESC. No individual nominating body is referred to in the Bill as circumstances may change at some time in the future. It is important that the independence of the organisation is underlined and that the people who are appointed are of the highest calibre.

No specific term of office is set for the Director General. Deputy Kenny referred to a five year term of office. The Taoiseach can designate a term of office at any time. The purpose of the Bill is to enhance the status of the Director General and ensure that he has a high status. This is necessary for his dealings with other Departments. At present the post of Director General is equivalent to assistant secretary level and he will remain at that level in his new role.

A number of points were made on the use of non-identifiable information from statistical analysis. I assure Deputies that it will not be permissible to release identifiable information for any purpose and only non-identifiable information from the statistical analysis will be released.

Deputy Rabbitte quoted what I said on the balance of payments and I will not change one word of that. It was carefully and accurately crafted and, as the Deputy said, now it is largely historic. The revisions were necessary because new information obtained directly from the companies showed unexpected large imports of services — to which the Deputy and Deputy O'Malley referred — information technology and so on. The Central Statistics Office recognised that problems were emerging in the balance of payments on a number of grounds towards the middle to the end of the 1980s. It took steps to ensure that its information would be more accurate. That information affected the current accounts up to 1991 but since then it has become more accurate and we plan on the basis of what is happening now rather than on the historic information. I take the Deputy's point that one must have the most accurate information possible.

A number of Deputies raised the question of time limits. We try to publish the statistics as quickly as possible. However, we are dependent on firms and businesses supplying information. For example, last year the CSO undertook on a statutory basis a number of sample inquiries in the services sector — this was referred to earlier — covering a representative sample of 6,500 enterprises in certain sectors such as retailing. Although only a limited amount of information was sought — of the seven specific questions five related to business and accounts and two of them were more general — the initial response rate was very disappointing. It took three months to get a 50 per cent rate of return and a great deal of manpower and resources had to be deployed to follow up those who did not respond. When something like that happens it causes problems and delays in publishing the information.

As Deputy O'Malley said, the consumer price index reflects the average household expenditure. I found the Deputy's point fascinating, it never struck me before. The patterns are determined by the household budget survey and the Government has agreed that a futher survey will be undertaken next year. The Irish practice in relation to the consumer price index is in line with the international approach and a tax exclusive index is published.

Delays in publishing the census of population were queried. The 1991 preliminary figures for more than 200 urban and rural districts were published within three months of the census being taken but the compilation of the final figures has to await the completion of two intensive processing operations which are undertaken simultaneously. This applies to the 1986 census. The area coding operation involves a detailed examination of enumeration summaries, maps and listings with a view to correctly classifying every household and institution geographically. Everything has to be put on maps and, of necessity, this is extremely detailed and time consuming. It requires clerical scrutiny of the enumerator's maps and other field work documentation. A second operation involves the detailed statistical processing of each of the one million individual census questionnaires. Everything does not go into the computer immediately just the overall figures. We then have to go through a detailed process before entering further information in the computer. This is a clerical process and is dependent on the manpower available.

Deputy O'Mally raised the question of employing temporary staff and whether this involves the Minister for Finance. A general provision applies in all of these cases and the Department of Finance has an overseeing role in regard to pay and conditions and so on in every Department but it has no involvement in the individual appointments. Frankly, with the number of appointments being made at various stages, politicians are as well out of it. At interviews, particularly for census staff, a balance has to be struck between candidates with local knowledge and familiarity with a particular area. Deputy De Rossa thought it was a little over the top that the Director of the Central Statistics Office is appointed by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach but this is in line with the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I do not think this is over the top; it serves to underline the importance of the office and the independence of the office. Deputy De Rossa is right in some respects that it is largely symbolic in that one could not envisage the President causing a constitutional crisis by refusing to accept the nomination but we all subscribe to symbolic gestures at various times. It is important to underline the independence of the role of the director of the Central Statistics Office.

Deputy Hughes questioned the accuracy of the tourism numbers. The figures are based on comprehensive sample surveys conducted by CSO staff at airports and seaports. The passenger numbers are broken down into categories on the basis of the survey results. I stress that they are comprehensive sample surveys because it would not be possible to stop everybody coming in and going out of the country and ask a series of questions to ascertain whether they are tourists or persons travelling on business. The CSO try to be as accurate as possible.

Deputy O'Keeffe made two points on how the CSO presents its information and how it markets its services. The strategic issues in relation to marketing and dissemination of statistical information is considered by the National Statistics Board and, while the statistical quality of the figures must be the overriding consideration, greater emphasis should be given to marketing in order to increase the revenue and improve the CSO's dissemination arrangements. The board believes that considerable strides have been made in recent years. Most people find booklets with only tables of figures off-putting and I am sure the National Statistics Board will take into account what has been said both in this House and in the other House. It may be that it could be presented more attractively, but at the end of the day it is not a matter of how attractive they are; it is more important to ensure that they are independent and accurate. I think I have covered most of the points made by the Deputies.

I conclude by thanking Deputies who have remained here late tonight to make their contributions on Second Stage. The points made have been noted. Although Deputy O'Malley has said he does not see this as urgent legislation, I assure the House it is time to have out of the way any legislation which is around since 1985. With the co-operation of the Whips and the spokespersons we will be able to do that before the summer recess.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29 June 1993.