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Dying bird becomes phoenix

Pimlico ? ....Give me Newport.

Dying’ English bird becomes Welsh Phoenix

Michael Fallon MP for Sevenoaks described the Office of National Statistics as a dying bird in Commons debate on the Statistics Bill in the Commons on Tuesday (13th March). The bill was supported by all parties and will give the National Statistician and the new Statistics Board more independence than ever before.

Michael Fallon I want to say a quick word about the Office for National Statistics. There is a danger that, while we have admired the plumage, we are forgetting the dying bird. It is clear to me—and it is certainly clear to the Statistics Commission—that the ONS is under huge pressure at the moment as a result of the reorganization required by the Bill, the imposition of efficiency targets, the relocation to Newport and the preparatory work for the 2011 census, including this year’s pilot schemes.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): May I try to expunge from the minds of Members the dreary picture created by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) of, for goodness’ sake, a dying bird? In Newport, we see the ONS as a phoenix with iridescent plumage that is about to soar to new heights of independence and success.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), we have reservations about the Bill. I think that many of us would be persuaded by the arguments made by our own side and by the Opposition parties and would like to see the Bill improved. But this is the nature of Government. They have decided to give up some power. It is a rare event in politics for any Government to decide not to hang on to power. It is difficult to prise their hands off the lever of power. It has to be done finger by finger, but it is happening.

Andrew Dilnot said that this is the most important Bill in this Parliament and he is probably right. It is on a par with the independence of the Bank of England. I hark back to many years ago when some statisticians came to see me as their constituency MP in the late ’80s to complain because the then Conservative Government were transferring Government control of statistics from the Cabinet Office to the Treasury. The statisticians said that they were worried about what would happen to the quality of their work, given that the transfer was being made to the Department that had the greatest vested interest in fiddling the figures. It is wonderful to see that 10 years in opposition has radicalised the Conservative party to such an extent that it is pleading for more independence. ENDS