§ Sir John Wheeler
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, further to the statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health in the debate on the draft census order on 19 December 1989 in the Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., whether a decision has been made on the request from the Economic and Social Research Council for output from the 1991 census in the form of samples of anonymous records for people and households.
§ Mr. Dorrell
Under the authority provided by section 4(2) of the Census Act 1920, the Registrars-General for England and Wales and for Scotland have agreed, in principle, to the Economic and Social Research Council's request to prepare two separate samples of anonymous records from the 1991 census at the cost of the Council. One sample, for people, would consist of extracts from census data about two individuals in every hundred; and the other, for households, would consist of extracts from census data about one household in every hundred. The Registrars-General are confident that these samples would not disclose any information about identifiable individuals.
The samples of anonymous records would complement the information available from the traditional type of tabulated census statistics. They would provide a flexible sample database for statistical research and would also help users assess which extra tables it would be cost effective to commission from the full census database. They would make a significant contribution towards ensuring that the country gains as much benefit as possible from the taxpayers' investment in the census.
Confidentiality would be safeguarded both by not identifying any geographic areas smaller than a large local authority district and by omitting data categories which apply to small groups in the population. Furthermore, there would be some blurring of data so that not all records would represent actual individuals exactly. In addition, the possibility is being investigated of setting up a body of independent experts to advise Ministers on the confidentiality arrangements for the samples of anonymised records.
The Registrars-General's decision follows consultation with the Office of the Data Protection Registrar, which has confirmed that it has no objection in principle to the issue of samples of anonymous records. The Registrars-General are continuing discussions with the Economic and Social Research Council on the detailed arrangements.