Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 17 Jun 1993

Vol. 136 No. 16

Statistics Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Central Statistics Office, or the CSO as it is commonly known, was established in 1949 as a separate office under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. It is now time to redefine its position within the overall institutional structure of the public service, and generally to overhaul the legislation governing the compilation of official statistics in the State.

The CSO currently operates under the provisions of the Statistics Acts, 1926 and 1946. The principal 1926 Act is now almost 70 years old. It provided the statutory basis for the collection and compilation of official statistics while preserving a guarantee of confidentiality for those required to provide the information.

Statistics were, of course, collected and compiled long before the foundation of the State. These included the ten yearly censuses of population, the annual censuses of agriculture, external trade statistics and statistics on births, marriages and deaths. The range of statistics compiled increased significantly following the foundation of the State. These were mainly the responsibility of a statistics branch in the then Department of Industry and Commerce prior to the establishment of the CSO in 1949. Indeed, the 1926 Act originally vested powers in the Minister for Industry and Commerce, but these powers were transferred to the Taoiseach under a Transfer of Functions Order in 1949.

There have been many changes over the years in the collection and compilation of official statistics. Our accession to the EC in 1973 had a significant impact, as statistics had to be produced in conformity with the Community statistical system. This involved the adoption of Community classifications and the initiation of a number of new inquiries.

Another significant development was the establishment of the National Statistics Board on a non-statutory basis in 1986 with the primary function of guiding the strategic direction of the CSO. The board has produced two five year strategic plans. The first covered the period 1988-92; the second relates to the period 1993-97 and was recently accepted by the Government and will be published shortly. Progress by the CSO in implementing these plans are assessed by the board in annual reports which are presented to the Government and published.

There has also been a number of interesting recent developments for example, the completion of the EC's Internal Market at the end of last year required the introduction of a new statistical survey of traders, called Intrastat, to collect statistics on intra-EC trade, which hitherto had been based on Customs documentation; the relaxation of exchange controls and their abolition at the end of last year necessitated the introduction of a range of new sample inquiries to provide improved estimates of Balance of Payments statistics; last year, the CSO initiated a new annual industrial products inquiry, the results of which will be particularly useful because it is based on a classification of products compatible with that used for foreign trade statistics; and last month the CSO published, for the first time, the results of their series on employment in the public service. It is now working on the corresponding earnings series.

The Bill has two broad purposes: first, to update the legislative basis for the collection and compilation of official statistics and, second, to implement the provisions of the Government White Paper. "A New Institutional Structure for the Central Statistics Office", which was published in 1985. The 1985 Government White Paper took account of the views and recommendations of an advisory Statistical Council that was established under the 1926 Act. It also took account of the 1985 NESC Report, "Information for Policy".

I now propose to refer to some of the key sections of the Bill. Section 7 repeals the Statistics Acts, 1924 and 1946, and includes some consequential provisions. Section 8 states that the institutional structure shall have three components: first the CSO itself, is now being established as a statutory body, second, the Director General, shall be responsible for its management and control and third, a National Statistics Board shall guide the strategic direction of the Office. This was one of the main features of the 1985 Government White Paper. Section 10 describes the general functions of the CSO. It includes, in subsections (2) and (3), important provisions relating to the co-ordination of statistics vis-a-vis public authorities, as envisaged in the 1985 Government White Paper. The purpose of subsection (2) is to ensure general adherence to statistical standards and the consistent application of appropriate statistical classifications. Subsection (3) provides that the CSO shall 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. The purpose of this is to avoid duplicating requests for the same data and the high cost of direct statistical inquiries. Existing examples of the statistical use of administrative records include the live register and the use of birth, death and marriage registrations for compiling vital statistics.

Section 11 (2) states that the CSO shall 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 and research bodies. 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 1988-92 and 1993-97 strategic plans, involving correspondence with over 200 undertakings and individuals, as well as seminars and specialist liaison groups.

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 explicitly provided for in Section 13. This is a standard provision internationally and is in line with the 1985 Government White Paper which stated:

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.

The Act will establish the National Statistics Board on a statutory basis. Details of the composition and appointment of the National Statistics Board are given in 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 ex officio member. The functions of the board are spelt out in section 19.

Section 20 defines officers and statistics. This includes, inter alia, all staff of the CSO. Each such officer will have to sign a formal declaration — given in section 21 — binding them to the confidentiality obligations of the Act. The purpose of this is to emphasise to the staff of the office and to the public the overriding commitment of the office to statistical confidentiality. A similar declaration is signed by officers of statistics under the current legislation.

Section 24 provides for the collection of data voluntarily. Much of the information now being collected by the CSO is on a voluntary basis. Examples include price collection for compiling the consumer price index, the annual labour force survey, and the monthly and quarterly industrial inquiries.

Section 25 relates to compulsory statistical inquiries. It provides that the Taoiseach may make an order requiring persons or undertakings to provide information under the Act. Many existing inquiries are already on a statutory basis, being conducted by order under the 1926 Act. Examples include censuses of population, the annual census of industrial production and the quarterly balance of payments inquiries.

Section 30 relates to access to the records of public authorities. It provides that the Director General shall have the statutory authority to access and get copies of administrative records in order to realise their statistical potential. As I stated earlier, it is important that this potential be maximised so as to avoid duplicating requests to persons and businesses and to avoid where possible the high cost of direct statistical inquiries.

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. Conditions and exclusions on this access are set out in subsection (2). For example, the CSO will not have access to records relating to a court, the Garda Síocháana, the prison administration and the Ombudsman.

Section 31 provides for the co-operation of public authorities with the CSO, which was one of the principal features of the 1985 Government White Paper. This will have the effect of strengthening the existing links between the Office and other public authorities. Subsection (1) gives 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 which are appropriate and practicable, and that public autorities shall comply only in so far as resources permit.

Subsection (2) 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. If there is a conflict between the Director General and a public authority in relation to this co-operation, the National Statistics Board will play an arbitrating role, and, if necessary, make proposals to the Taoiseach for his decision.

Sections 32 and 35 relate to the important topic of the protection of information. The statutory guarantee 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. The public in general, and businesses in particular, have become very concerned about the confidentiality of particulars relating to them, so it is crucial that the new Act give complete assurances on this matter.

Section 33 (2) provides that business activity codes and size codes may be assigned by the CSO to listings of business maintained by other public authorities. The purpose of this is to help to ensure that undertakings in the administrative systems or data bases of public authorities are consistently classified by these characteristics, in order to maximise the value of statistics produced by such bodies or extracted by the CSO from their records.

Section 34 will allow the CSO to provide "public use data tapes" containing completely non-identifiable individual data to persons outside the CSO for the purpose of statistical analysis. This would not be possible under the 1926 Act which provides that individual data, even if non-identifiable, cannot be divulged. This is standard practice in many countries and it has often 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. The Director General will be responsible under the legislation for deciding the conditions and restrictions under which these data tapes will be provided. The main concern will be to ensure the data 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. The forms which survive from the 1901 and 1911 censuses are not governed by the Statistics Act, 1926, and are accessible to the public in the National Archives. Indeed, they are the most frequently used documents in the archives. They provide an invaluable source of information for genealogical purposes, and many people call into the archives every day to find out more about their ancestors. Public access to census of population records after a lengthy period is a common practice internationally.

The final Part of the Bill — sections 26 onwards — relates to offences and penalties. The maximum fine in the existing 1926 legislation is only £50 and has, of course, been severely eroded by inflation over the years. The CSO has not taken legal proceedings for many years because the fine is so small. Another factor here is that the CSO has a policy of seeking voluntary compliance whenever possible. Nevertheless, there is an obvious need to update the penalties. Section 44 provides for penalties of up to £1,000 for summary offences and up to £20,000 for convictions on indictment. The DPP would decide what proceedings to bring in particular instances depending on the severity of the offence. Subsection (2) provides for continuing daily fines for repeated contravention following conviction.

In summary, 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 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.

The Bill will, when enacted, increase the effectivenes of the CSO in providing for statistical information needs. This will be of considerable benefit to the Government, the EC, researchers, economists, the industrial, agricultural and service sectors of the economy, statistical users generally and the public at large.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The Minister and this House have had a number of skirmishes in recent times but that has not diminished my personal respect for him. These misunderstanding are out of the way and good relations between the two Houses are firmly established.

One cannot overestimate the importance of an honest, competent and comprehensive statisical service for the formulation of public policy. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we have such a service and we agree with that objective. The Bill, which reorganises the statistical service and places it on a new statutory basis, has long been awaited. It was initiated in the committee set up by Dr. Garret FitzGerald and must have been an exercise close to that distinguished man's heart. On first coming into Government he set out a number of questions about what should form the basis of a proper statistical service.

That reminds me of my first memories of politics which was a debate in the old L & H at UCD back in the early 1960s. I was a student then and the line-up was a distinguished one: the late Seán Lemass, the late James Dillon and the then young Dr. Garret FitzGerald. I remember the warnings thundered by James Dillon about the perils of listening too often to statisticians. He was not enamoured of the profession.

The committee set up by Dr. Garret FitzGerald reported in 1986 and it is a shame that it has taken until now for that report to find its way into legislation. The legislation must be judged against the criteria laid down in the report of 1986.

We live in an age where quantification has assumed enormous, almost mystical, proportions. Disciplines like economics, psychology and sociology have been dominated by the belief that increasingly sophisticated mathematically based techniques will yield answers to the most intractable problems. This belief was often allied to a contemptuous dismissal of the old approaches which were based on history, the humanities and the distillation of human wisdom.

Those of us who work in third level education have, over the years, seen the increasing domination and arrogance of those who regard themselves as the quantifiers. In more recent times the pendulum has swung in favour of an incorporation of the two in that the George O'Briens and the James Meenans and others who blazed a trail in the early years are credited with more than many of their successors allowed; Mr. Haughey would certainly belong to that second school. At the New Ireland Forum I remember him majestically dismissing the proponents of the dismal science.

Statistics should be a neutral science; an illuminator and provider of firm information upon which good decisions can be made in the public interest. For that reason it is essential that the official compiler of statistics be disinterested, apolitical, beyond political interference or beyond any manipulation by people with ideological axes to grind. The view long held by those who subscribe to the dictum of "lies, damn lies and statistics", that statistics are in part about manipulating numbers to make a point, must have no place in our system. There must never be any suspicion that information from the official statistical service is anything other than the most honest data.

Statistics or the collection of statistics can be manipulated by an unscrupulous regime in the most basic areas, for example, the counting of those who are out of work. We have seen in Britain the disingenuous attempts by the Thatcher Government, and later by the Major Government, to massage the figures and create an impression that fewer people were out of work. We could see it, for example, in the question of establishing the true state of marital breakdown in this country. Obviously the figures that emerge will have implications for public policy. We had the experience of the so called "black hole" where there were major differences about the factual position. In these and many other areas information must be accurate and they are areas where an unscrupulous regime could perhaps mislead the public.

We could also have a situation where people in the service with axes to grind for their own ideological reasons could present an inaccurate picture. The tradition in this country has been of the highest, most disinterested form of public service from those who have held the position of Director of the CSO and those who have served there over the years. This Bill, I am sure, aims to maintain that tradition.

The most frequent complaint from people who are habitual or professional users of statistics concerns the time lag in the publication of the census figures. Only a small number of volumes of the 1986 census has been published, although we are half way into the 1991 census. There tends to be a rush to release the head counts for towns, constituencies and so forth and after that the pace seems to slacken. I wonder why, with improved computerisation, the process takes so long.

The 1986 report frequently refers to liaison with the users. By and large the main users of statistics have a good relationship with the CSO and find the CSO to be receptive and prepared to engage in effective consultation. In the last census a new social class scale was designed after consultation with the committee of users and such co-operation should be encouraged. All wisdom does not lie inside the CSO, outsiders may have insights which could enrich the quality of information. The greatest possible degree of consultation with bona fide users should be encouraged. I have put down an amendment regarding that issue which will be discussed later.

A related issue is the composition of the board. I have no doubt that the Taoiseach of the day would seek to appoint the best possible board. However, the concerns of users are not fully taken into account in the composition of the board. The members will be nominated by the Taoiseach with other ex officio members from Government Departments. While virtually every Department could claim it needs a representative, I am surprised there is no representative from the Department of Agriculture and Food because the Department has for a long time been intimately involved in the compilation of statistical information. There is a case for having a representative of that Department on the board. My main concern is that the users per se may not have sufficient representation.

The original report recommended that three board members be nominated by the NESC and, while I would not necessarily go along with that, I wonder if there is a case to be made for one or two bodies — for example the Royal Irish Academy — being given a statutory right to nominate members to the board. In practice, the Taoiseach's Department would consult these bodies but it might be better if something was written into legislation giving recognition to the rights of users to representation on the board rather than depending on a grace and favour provision by the Taoiseach of the day.

The Minister of State mentioned the question of raw data being made available 100 years after its compilation. This is one area where I would take issue with the Bill. The Minister said one of the most frequently used sections in the National Archives is that dealing with the data from the censuses of 1906 and 1911 but we are saying that the census material compiled since the foundation of the State, for example in 1926 and 1936, will not be available for 100 years. I regret this. I should say that the wonderful, new National Archives are doing a great deal for scholarship in this country and are a credit to all concerned.

At present Cabinet papers are made available after 30 years and they frequently contain sensitive material which can make or break reputations, and provide a fuller picture of how Government operated on our behalf at that time. The data made available under a 50 or 60 year rule would largely be used by bona fide scholars and researchers, and the National Archives would be in a position to check the credentials of those who wished to use it.

I would accept a situation where some material is classified and other material is not, as happens with some police records where examinations are made as to what may or may not be released. I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say on that point because I think a period of 100 years is too restrictive. Perhaps he could say what the situation is in other countries with regard to the release of archive material. I intend moving an amendment on this at which point we can discuss it further.

Looking at the CSO over the years, it is clear from my consultations with people involved that it has become a much more public oriented body and much more cooperative in making material available than many Government Departments. The CSO's light is frequently hidden under a bushel — I am not quite sure what a bushel is — but it could blow its own trumpet more loudly, and take greater credit and more recognition for the excellent work it does. Those who use its services tell me that the CSO has been open to the public. This is not true, however, of many Departments. For example, in the Department of Education, a great deal of data is hidden away and scholars and researchers have difficulty gaining access to it.

On Committee Stage perhaps we could tease out the procedures, if any, for the new office to liberate material which is buried in Departments and which, while not originally collected by the CSO, would be relevant. I hear from colleagues that Departments, and in particular the Department of Education, are notoriously reticent about making available information which would at this stage be of purely scholarly interest.

One of the good things about the Bill is that it clarifies the position of the Director General. The fact that the Director General is appointed by the President will enhance the office, giving it a status that it has not enjoyed up to now in the public mind, even though it deserved to do so. I agree with giving the Director General sole control over the timing and distribution of releases. While clearly there will be consultation on this, the ultimate decision must rest with the Director General, and the ultimate test of the integrity of the office will be on the rare occasion when he or she has to withstand political or other pressure to prevent the publication of figures that might be embarrassing. I am glad also that the Bill gives the Director General control over strategy and methodology for the development of the office because, as I said and as Bill makes clear, the office has to be apolitical and independent.

I already mentioned the question of the board, and I am concerned that all the appointments will be made, virtually directly, by the Taoiseach. I will return to this on Committee Stage. Another thing that concerns me is the major imbalance between the private and public sectors as far as the disclosure of information is concerned. The strictures on private companies to provide information appear to be far greater than the strictures on local authorities. Is this based on the belief that local authorities, by their nature, will co-operate with a governmental agency in making information available, and that private companies — for whom the provision of information can often be an expensive and distracting business — need to be coerced? As I see it there is an imbalance and for that reason I intend moving a number of amendments to that effect.

I am also concerned about, and would like to tease out, some of the powers conferred on compilers of information because in recent times, especially in relation to tax inspectors, we have seen the conferring of powers which might erode some traditional civil liberties. The right to enter houses in search of information is something that disturbs me, and I will talk about it more fully on Committee Stage, but I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say.

As regards penalties, the Minister of State has stayed slightly ahead of inflation. A penalty of £25 in 1926, I am told is probably the same as a penalty of £700 today; therefore, £1,000 is not a big increase. The penalties have been increased but not too far ahead of inflation.

The changes in the Bill are welcome because the 1926 Act is out of date. There is a need for the collection of information to be transparent and the Bill advocates that cause as well as clarifying the position of the Director General. I hope I will be able to work out any defects on Committee Stage.

I am reminded of the story of an unfortunate compiler of agricultural statistics who was sent out to compile information from a farmer who was reluctant to divulge the information required by the CSO. Finally, the farmer said, "I will tell you the way it is. Some 70 per cent of farmers are above the average." He was asked, "What average, sir?", and he replied, "The average of the other 30 per cent."

I welcome this Bill and ask the Minister of State to listen to the points I have made and, on Committee Stage, he may even take some of them on board.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on introducing this overdue legislation in his usual efficient manner.

This Bill largely originates from a report in 1986 which emphasised the necessity to modernise the relevant legislation which dates back 70 years. Because of this the Bill is to be welcomed as it should enhance the opportunity for development planning.

I have a difficulty with legislation of this kind which deals solely with facts and figures and does not afford either the proposed Director General of the CSO or the proposed National Statistics Board itself an opportunity to evaluate findings or to highlight the necessity to address any aspect of these findings. For example, when Ministers of State, particularly from the Department of the Taoiseach, reply to questions in the Dáil they can only comment on statistical information. They have no responsibility to act on such information. In view of this perhaps it might be possible to consider on Committee Stage the necessity to extend the function of the National Statistics Board to evaluate and, where necessary, to highlight findings.

This legislation will enhance the status of the CSO and, it will have the authority to make information more readily available to the public and to those involved in the planning and development of the economy. In this respect speedy compilation of accurate and reliable information is essential.

As we know from experience, by the time the information is available it is outdated and often it is too late to act on the facts highlighted. For example, the monthly unemployment figures compiled by the CSO do not provide a breakdown of the figures into categories such as carpenters, teachers and so on. Such a breakdown is not even available, I believe, to the Department of Social Welfare. The paucity of information means it is not possible to highlight the need for additional training in specific categories of employment growth or to curtail training where there is over supply.

These comments apply to areas such as education and they illustrate the necessity for publicising as much information as possible on the figures issued by the CSO. The provisions in this Bill make this possible.

It is important to continually remind authorities of the necessity to avoid duplication of services. I welcome the inclusion of health boards and local authorities in the compilation of information and the co-ordination of such information through the CSO. It means that large amounts of information are being collected from bodies such as the health services and agricultural services, all of whom will benefit. If there is to be an agency like the CSO undertaking the functions prescribed for it in this Bill, there must be a mechanism for minimising the duplication of information.

It is essential to avoid, in an area of scarce financial resources, a series of agencies or Departments undertaking their own research and compiling their own reports. For example, the reports of the health boards are published annually and virtually all local authorities now publish reports. It is, therefore necessary for the proposed National Statistics Board to liaise with these bodies to minimise overlap in work where possible. There can be no doubt about the desirability and importance of compiling accurate information given that there can be conflicting information from various bodies at times. For example, there has been contradictory information between Departments, politicians and farming organisations on the level of farmers' incomes. The CSO must be in a position to provide accurate information and must avoid situations and circumstances where conflicting information may arise as this leads to bad decision making.

This problem applies to other areas besides agriculture. There has been conflict on figures for tourism and forecasts of visitors to this country. This illustrates that there is important work to be undertaken by the proposed Director General of the CSO and the proposed National Statistics Board. This work will be vital in planning the future structure of our tourism business and in tackling the unemployment problem. It will indicate the number of skilled people available in the workforce and will allow people in the planning and development area to plan accordingly.

I agree with most of this legislation. It is a worthwhile Bill. I am happy the Central Statistics Office is being moved to Cork, as part of the Government's decentralisation policy. The decision to relocate the CSO in Cork was made some time ago and is in line with Government policy on the decentralisation and relocation of Departments.

I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Dempsey, and the Office of Public Works, which has contributed to a dramatic improvement in the economies of towns and regions through the decentralisation policy. The relocation of the Revenue Commissioners to Ennis, County Clare, and to Limerick has had a dramatic impact on the economy of the mid-west region. The relocation of the CSO to Cork is progressing steadily and I hope the office will be in place early in the New Year. It is a welcome development.

Perhaps the Minister could comment on certain areas of the Bill which need clarification. I am not certain it is necessary for the President to appoint the Director General of the CSO. We all appreciate this office must be above politics, if anything can be above politics at present. Personally, I cannot understand why the appointment cannot be made by the Government on the advice of the Taoiseach.

The Director General should be appointed for a specific length of time. This point has not been clarified in the Bill. If I was offered the job, I would be reluctant to accept it because one's services can be dispensed with at any time on the advice of the Taoiseach. I would prefer to see a fixed time limit, especially at the initial stages when the new authority is being set up. A rotating Director General would be the worst possible option.

I am not sure it is advisable for the Director General to be a civil servant. I do not know if it is intended to appoint a civil servant or if the appointee will become a civil servant on taking up the position. I would prefer if the position was open to civil servants and non-civil servants. I have the highest regard for civil servants and I would not want people to think otherwise. However, when appointing a person to a key position, it is important not to be confined to the Civil Service. This matter must be considered more carefully.

I agree with the Minister's proposal to impose a fixed time limit on board membership. This in line with the legislation for the establishment of other semi-State and statutory boards. If the Minister imposes a fixed time limit on board membership, he should also impose a time limit on the Director General's appointment. This should be considered on Committee Stage.

Like Senator Manning, I welcome this legislation. It is an important area of responsibility. I wish to put on the record our appreciation of the dedication and commitment of the existing staff of the CSO. We might not have always been satisfied with the information we received from them, but they did provide accurate information.

Do not shoot the messenger.

Unfortunately, information is often delayed. Therefore, it is not possible to counter misinformation which has been given to the public. For example, information may have been given to the public about the effects of certain matters on communities or on incomes. However, when the figures were published, it was found there were no ill effects.

There have been a few examples of where misleading information was given to the public who felt that certain matters were having a devastating effect on the economy. They were told that millions of pounds had been lost in industries and thousands of people had lost their jobs. However, this never happened. If accurate details and specific information had been available from the CSO, it would have been possible to comment on this negative and damaging propaganda. This is important in disputes involving industries and communities.

This legislation is clear and precise. As the Minister has said, it is divided into three areas — the establishment of the statutory body, the independence of the Director General and the establishment of the board. It is a worthwhile Bill and I welcome it. I hope it establishes the framework which will enable our economy to develop and prosper and allow the people involved in the area of economic planning and development to plan future developments.

I welcome this Bill and I associate myself with the comments and the suggestions made by Senator Manning and Senator Daly.

The statistical service has a proud record in this country. We were among the world leaders in the 19th century in the area of statistical services. It is fair to say that some of the most outstanding public servants in the country have occupied the position of Director General of the CSO since independence. Without embarrassing those still alive, one can mention Professor Donal McCarthy who later became President of University College, Cork, Dr. Roy Geary, an internationally famous statistician and before them, Mr. Stanley Lyon and Mr. John Hooper. Therefore, the CSO has a firm foundation of reputation and record on which to build.

Senator Manning mentioned the importance of the integrity of the CSO. That is correct. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, paid a deserved tribute to the integrity of the Civil Service here yesterday. In the case of the CSO its intellectual integrity could now be regarded as a cornerstone of responsible public administration in this country. Therefore, I accept entirely the importance of the role of the CSO.

The role of the CSO has changed in recent years because of the greater demand for domestic statistics, and the greater reliance placed on statistical data in presenting all types of arguments. As a historian, perhaps I should dislike this practice, but I take the view that history, while it transcends statistics, should also incorporate them, that a good historical argument can never be invalidated by statistics, and that if the statistics are incompatible with it, there is something wrong with the statistics. However, I will not proceed beyond that. Historians and scholars should become more adept and professional in the use of statistics. It is partly that and is partly the fact that our membership of international organisations, the EC in particular, has considerably increased the flow of statistics and changes in the type of statistics.

A great deal of statistical discussion now revolves around our comparative position in the EC and how our performance in particular areas compares with EC averages. It is difficult for the uninitiated to make sense of bold assertions about where we come on the league table and what that means. People will not challenge our position on a league table but the important point is what that position means in terms of the opportunities and challenges we face. The EC dimension adds a further layer of complexity to understanding the implications of our statistics as well as providing more statistics for us to try to understand. I have tabled amendments with a view to raising the consciousness of some statistics users including, in particular, Members of the Oireachtas. It appears striking and, unfortunately, realistic, that when the Minister listed the main users of statistics in his introductory statement he referred to "principal users of statistics, such as Government Departments, the EC and research bodies" but Members of the Oireachtas are conspicuously absent and correctly so because I doubt if they are regular users of statistics either in the sense of perusing the voluminous volumes — if I can use that phrase — that appear, or pursuing the CSO to extract data that might be useful in contributing to public discussion. I am not blaming anyone for that. I have enormous sympathy for Members of the Oireachtas. I had sympathy before becoming one but I have a lot more now. Members of the Oireachtas have an impossible job to do if they try conscientiously to keep abreast of developments in specialised areas, never mind stretching themselves over a range of areas. I marvel at the diligence of a number of them trying to keep abreast of and understand what is happening.

It is important that measures be taken to try to improve Members access to statistical data and to enhance their understanding of those data. Unless we have a statistical training or have been immersed for years in research it is difficult to understand what the data means. One can read them off but there are so many qualifications on how they are collected, how they compare and what exactly they say, that one can never be sure one is interpreting them correctly.

I have questions which may arise on further Stages but part of the problem we confront in trying to get the best use out of our statistics is that the official statistics are only one element of the statistical data with which we are bombarded. Sometimes semi-offical, unofficial or private statistics are used by interested parites, which may include Members of the Oireachtas. This is partly because they are presented in a way which make them more user friendly and they are devised for a particular purpose and unless one has the skills to interpret them one may be convinced by what appears to be self-evident truth.

I will take a couple of examples of what I have in mind as regards education in which I am particularly interested. There are difficulties getting information for a Member of the Oireachtas, in this case myself. I will take five minutes to mention them as they are illustrative of problems that confront Members. We discussed the Culliton report here yesterday and on other occasions and I will refer to one of the best known sentences in the report which has been used for policy purposes. It is the policy implications, not the intrinsic merits or otherwise, that interest me. The report states that:

Between 1971 and 1986 the number of accountants more than trebled, and the number of auctioneers and lawyers doubled, but the number of engineers increased by less than 50 per cent.

That is part of preparing the reader to accept the conclusion that we ought to invest more heavily in technical education and relatively less in other areas of education. I have an open mind on the investment categories in education; I do not represent any particular area of interest in education. I am a historian but much of my historical writing has been on the inter-relationship between technology and business. My background is not one of culture in the narrowest and sometimes most derogatory sense of the word in which it is used by those who argue that such creatures are peripheral to the economic problems confronting Ireland today.

When I read that statistic I asked if the inference was justified, but we will leave inference aside for the moment since inference goes into politics to an extent. Then I asked myself if the statement was justified and what evidence there was for it. One of my initial reactions was that given that relative emigration rates are likely to vary greatly between these groups, with a far higher rate of emigration among engineers than among lawyers due to the marketability of their skills abroad, the statistic may indicate something which happened in Ireland but does not tell us what the educational institutions were producing if many of those graduates went abroad on a different emigration rate. Even finding that out requires a lot of digging.

In order to clarify the point I contacted the Higher Education Authority as I considered it the first body to refer to for such clarification. They supplied me with figures which, as far as they went, did not even bear out what was being said in the Culliton report, but if one were to pursue them in order to be confident of one's conclusions, one would have to ask further questions and pester someone whose job it was not to be supplying this type of data.

I have preliminary information but I have not gone further on it because it is partly a question of my time and that of others, and partly of trying to know how one establishes the truth in cases like this. Leaving aside inferences and conclusions, how does one find out if the basic information is accurate? This is the type of statement to which most people can relate and is evidence which seems convincing. It is not cast in the form of a statistical table where one wonders about decimal places or what it all adds up to. This seems to make sense to people and therefore carries disproportionate weight in the formation of public opinion and in receptivity to arguments.

A second and related piece of evidence that is being used at high official level at present comes from a different source, an international source, a copy is not available in our Library. I have sent for it but it has not yet arrived from Paris. It is a statement to the effect that Ireland establishes one firm for every 500 people, annually presumably. However, these things are defined. I presume that the statistic dealing with people is fairly accurate but everything else is less concrete. France, Germany and, I think, Italy have one firm for every 200 people; the United States has one firm for every 240 people. This shows definitely that we lack an enterprise culture, we have only half the rate of firm formation compared to other countries and we lack self starters. We need to inject into education — this is an issue that arises in the context of the Green Paper and the forthcoming White Paper on Education — a far higher consciousness of the meaning of an enterprise culture.

I am a strong believer in competition and enterprise but it is important to diagnose problems correctly initially. What do those figures mean? Are they comparable? Are they drawn from the same source? They do not come from an Irish official source but they are used in official discussion. How can someone who wants to ascertain the reliability of this type of data, or perhaps look even further since I am leaving the policy inferences aside, do so? It is easy for someone like me who is daily engaged in research in other contexts but it is difficult for a harassed Member of the Oireachtas who has many claims on his time.

We are often told we are very poor at establishing small firms in this country and one could very well ask what is the statistical basis of the relationship between small firms and large firms in these other countries I mentioned. How many small firms are established in order to supply large firms in these countries because if there is a far different ratio of large firms to small firms, it may be that the opportunities for establishing small firms in those countries are far greater than here. If one were to take account of that factor, the degree of enterprise being shown by Irish people in the circumstances is comparable. I will not go on further about that because one can see how many layers there are — it is almost like an archaeological dig.

The inferences drawn are very important and are likely, I suggest, to influence policy at Cabinet level at least as much as the perusal of reams of tables in statistical abstract. Impressions are formed much more effectively by that type of information than they are by the tabular type one finds in much of the official statistics.

I am very concerned about the relationship between the supply of official statistics, the supply of official statistics and semi-offical statistics from international bodies. For example, I do not know the status of the Culliton report in official terms. I presume it was set up under the auspices of the Government; is the type of material used there official data in the sense in which CSO material is official data? How far can one check these things? How far could one ask the CSO for a factual evaluation of the quality of the data used in what seems to me an official report or a report under official auspices as distinct from a pressure group's report or a report from any of the lobby groups around the country which are aiming at an immediate and particular legislative objective?

The more we rely on this type of presentation of material, in a sense the more we marginalise the official statistics and the CSO. We can have wonderful statistics and a very wide range of coverage, we can have complete confidence in the integrity and competence of the CSO and then we ignore a great deal of the data and give preference to material that has not been collated for similar purposes. There is a real and serious problem in how we incorporate CSO material in policy formulation rather than relying on other material which is more favourable in the short term.

I am trying to enhance our appreciation of the CSO; I am not denigrating it in any way. Enormous responsibility is on Members of the Oireachtas to try to use material and to follow up with questions about the use of material which both raises our consciousness and makes the CSO, and perhaps other suppliers or users of statistics, more conscious of the scrutiny to which they can be subjected. At the moment such material receives very little scrutiny and I doubt if many Members of the Oireachtas would get much thanks from their colleagues if they spend a long time trying to dissect and break down statistical data. I am concerned about that and that is why I put down an amendment that at least one of the Taoiseach's nominees should be competent to represent the interests of Members of the Oireachtas; how precisely those interests would be made known, elaborated, devised and so on is another matter.

I am simply horrified at the problems that Members of the Oirechtas confront in trying to pursue seriously and conscientiously the type of question I have mentioned. If the standing, competence and self-confidence of the Oireachtas is to be raised, massive research support in a whole range of areas is required. Many of these bear no relation to statistics but the statistical areas must be central because so much argument is conducted in those terms nowadays.

That is the gravamen of what I wish to say at this stage but in reference to the point raised by Senator Manning about the 100 years rule — I jotted this down for discussion purposes of an amendment — it is incongruous that the 1901 and 1911 census figures are available — I spent many happy hours working on them — and the 1926 figures are not available. For genuine scholarly and research interests, it is incongruous that the first census after the founding of the State, which records many of the changes that occurred during that time, should not be available in the way the last census before the founding of the State is available.

I fully appreciate the problems of confidentiality. I accept those and I agree entirely with what the Bill states in terms of the importance of protecting confidentiality but I would like a more user-friendly type of phraseology or at least an understanding that when the Director General is exercising his discretion, or her discretion as the case may be in due course, about charges, rates and access and so on, the legitimacy of impersonal research purposes will be very favourably kept in mind. I would like a commitment along those lines, that for scholarly purposes, legitimate researchers can gain access to this material in a way or on terms which do not impede serious genuine research.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Statistics Bill which deals with the CSO, the Director General and the new board. It is time we updated legislation for the collection and compilation of official statistics. This is necessary in view of our membership of the EC. Statistics need to be collected and available to State agencies, local authorities and others so that future projects can be planned. With the £8 billion coming from the EC, proper plans need to be in place and statistics are of the utmost importance

I welcome the fact that the CSO offices are to be decentralised to Cork. Perhaps Cork did not use statistics very well last Sunday when we were dealing with County Clare but let us hope next Sunday——

Cork got the figures wrong.

——when it comes to Kerry that we will do a little better. That remains to be seen. It is no good gathering facts and figures and storing them away. The information gathered by the CSO and other agencies should be used fully for the promotion of various services in this country and internationally. There is a great need for close co-operation between the CSO and the Ordnance Survey Office. For example, many towns and villages throughout the country, which do not have urban councils or town commissioners, often do not have defined areas.

If somebody asks what is the population of an area, does one measure it in terms of boundary: for instance, do you go to the crossroads, do you follow the piped water supply line or do you follow the town or village lights? How does one determine the number of people living there? Coming from a rural region, I know it is difficult to assess accurately how many people live in an area. In co-operation with the local authority, the Ordnance Survey Office and the CSO, the population of every town or village should be assessed. The population in a region can define the category of a town or village with regard to entry to Board Fáilte, for example: even 100 people could make the difference between a higher and lower rating.

It is also important for the CSO to help in future job planning. Every year, there are many students coming out of third level institutions. If they knew from the start the number of jobs that would be available when they graduate five years on, they would be able to assess their chances of getting employment in that discipline. At present, there may be 200 applications for 2 vacancies. If statistics were accurate, people could be influenced when making career decisions which would increase their chances of gaining employment.

I also welcome the fact that the appointment of the Director General of the CSO will be made by the President because it will help ensure confidentiality. When getting a form a person will look at it carefully. Their first reaction may be to refuse to fill it up because they consider it asks for too much information. Although this may be ordinary information, people do not like putting it on paper. We are suspicious by nature, but we must give confidentiality and protection of information top priority where the CSO is concerned. We need to carry out a public relations programme to assure the public that the information they give is confidential and will only be used to produce non-identifiable data. It will be difficult to get this message across as many people will not sign forms because they fear that the information may be used against them in the future. This could either lead to misleading or no information being given.

When a person receives a census form they ask themselves how they will tackle it. I agree with the long and detailed census form because these forms are not issued too often and it is important to get as many details as possible. There are many people working on the census who can help those who are having difficulties filling the forms. The more comprehensive a census is — if the figures are used correctly afterwards — the more of a benefit it will be for everyone.

I am glad we are putting the CSO and the National Statistics Board on a statutory basis, that the information gathered will be confidential and that the figures compiled by the CSO, the Director General of the CSO and the National Statistics Board, will benefit local and national areas and will be of extreme importance for us in our membership of the EC.

I thank the House for welcoming the Bill. Senator Manning referred to some differences of opinion we may have had in my role as Government Chief Whip. I explained myself to the Seanad Committee on Procedures and Privileges and I take this opportunity to say that no disrespect to the House was intended at that time. As long as I am Government Chief Whip, a more than adequate supply of Bills will be initiated in this House because it makes the work of the other House more efficient in that they are thoroughly examined here. I am conscious that there is a time limit on this Bill, so I will touch on the topics to which the Senators referred and that will give us time to deal with them in more detail on Committee Stage.

First, I would like to refer to the importance of maintaining the independence of the CSO, something they jealously guard and rightly so. Senator Manning said that if the CSO was not independent, or was not seen to be independent, there would be a possibility of the manipulation of data, which would not be to anyone's benefit and if there was only a suspicion of this, it would lead to problems for the CSO. I accept this point and I assure the House that the Bill is designed to strengthen that independence. Senator Manning refered to the manipulation of data concerning the live register statistics in the UK. In May 1992 we changed the way we compiled these statistics to bring them into line with OECD practice and this reduced the live register count by 5,200. When this change occurred after consultation and as a result of the review carried out by the CRC of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, the categories of persons excluded from the live register post-May 1992 were, and have been, clearly delineated in each statistical bulletin of the monthly unemployment figures. Therefore, it is obvious that these figures will be different, depending on the set of statistics used. That underlines the point made about the independence of the CSO.

A number of Senators referred to the area of co-ordination. It is accepted that some sections of the Bill, particularly section 10 (2) and (3) and sections 30 and 31 will strengthen co-ordination between the CSO, Government Departments and public authorities.

Senator Manning mentioned the distinction between public and private organisations. This Bill also relates to private organisations, business or individuals. The same penalties apply to both public and private organisations. In section 3 the definition of the term "undertaking" includes a public authority. Sections 30 and 31 will generate more work for the public authorities in terms of complying with the legislation.

A number of Senators, including Senator Daly, spoke about the composition of the board. The 1985 White Paper made specific recommendations in this regard. One subsection provides for the composition of eight members of the National Statistics Board in the manner prescribed in paragraph 27 of the 1985 White Paper. However, this legislation provides for the appointment of an assistant secretary or equivalent or higher grade from the Department of Finance. It excludes a specific reference to the National Economic and Social Council. Since this is a non-permanent statutory body, we had to ensure that if something were to happen in the future — I do not want anyone to take the wrong meaning from this; there are no plans to do away with the NESC — and another body was put in its place, the legislation would not need to be amended.

This legislation provides for the nomination of persons of proven ability and experience in the relevent fields by organisations which the Taoiseach considers representative of users of official statistics and providers of information. The NESC will continue as the nominating body while it continues in existence and the Taoiseach will act on the nominations of the NESC.

The CSO is gearing itself towards computerisation, towards the increased use of computerisation in the preparation of forms and the compilation of statistics but there are many areas where clerical resources are needed. In fairness to the CSO, they have produced the recent statistics well in line with previous years. Generally they have done their work more quickly but the CSO largely depends on manual operation for the input of statistics and this may cause delays. The CSO often remind me of the need for additional personnel so that tasks, such as the census, may be carried out more quickly.

In relation to business inquiries, one is dependent on the rate and speed of response from businesses. Most businesses respond satisfactorily to demands or requests for information but others do not. Last year we initiated, on a statutory basis, a number of annual sample inquiries into the services sector. The samples covered 6,500 enterprises in areas such as the retail sector and even though the inquiry related to a narrow range of questions, the response was disappointing. It took approximately three months for 50 per cent of forms to be returned. Many resources were used in follow-up measures and that can cause problems and delays. However, increased fines, which I hope we will not have to impose, will prove beneficial. Existing penalties are too small.

In recent years there has been an improvement in regard to the time taken to complete work. For example, the results of the annual census of industrial production have been published earlier than usual. Furthermore, the national accounts of 1991 were published in July 1992, while the national accounts of 1992 will be published later this month. Improvements are ongoing.

Regarding the Director General, he or she is appointed by the President so as to underline the independence of the position. A similar practice is used in other appointments, for example, the DPP. The Bill provides for a fixed term contract basis. In relation to Senator Daly's question about civil servants, the person to be appointed Director General need not be a civil servant. However, on appointment that person automatically becomes a civil servant.

I am unable to answer Senator Lee's question about the Culliton report. I do not know whether those compiling the report used official CSO statistics or their own statistics. I share the Senator's view in relation to the sentence he quoted. Senator Lee also mentioned education statistics and specifically the Higher Education Authority. The Higher Education Authority recently established an advisory body on statistics on which the CSO is one of the bodies represented. It is expected that this body will remedy some of the shortcomings mentioned. This point also relates to public bodies. This legislation will be of benefit in this regard.

A Member referred to the adage, "lies, damn lies and statistics." It must have been a statistician who made the comment that a politician uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination. Senator Lee pointed out that it might be of benefit if politicians used official statistics in debates in the Houses. We return to the aforementioned points about real statistics and their availability in reasonable time.

We will be discussing the 100 year rule on Committee Stage. I have no serious hang-up whether the time-scale is 50, 60 or 100 years. However, there is considerable unease about the confidentiality of information. I understand that census forms remain confidential for about two generations. If this period were any shorter, people filling the forms would fear that the information would not be confidential and their grandchildren or others would be able to look into their background. This is a real fear. The Senator made a very good point in relation to the 1901 and 1911 censuses of population and the fact that the information provided in subsequent censuses is not available to researchers. I may not be able to do anything about that in this Bill but for research purposes we might be able to examine this issue.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.