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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 November 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, University and College Students (Support), Covid-19 Testing (Health and Social Care Workers), Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality), Urgent Question, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Housing Market (Islands)


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The next item is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-23321, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument. I ask members who wish to speak against the motion to indicate that now.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Census (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020 [draft] be approved.—[Graeme Dey]


I rise to speak against the statutory instrument on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. We do not agree that Scotland’s census should be delayed to 2022. Good data has never been more important and putting the census out of sync with the rest of the United Kingdom will make it more difficult for academics in Scotland and elsewhere to carry out vital research and scrutiny. UK-wide population statistics are used to calculate key economic and social indicators, such as unemployment and mortality rates. A delay to the Scotland census would make Scottish population estimates less accurate. This would be the first time since the second world war that the census day has not been synchronised across the UK.

The Scottish National Party’s justification for delaying the census is poor. That action has not been deemed necessary in other parts of the UK, so we must question whether it is down to a lack of preparation or ambition from the Government.

National Records of Scotland has presented options on how to preserve the 2021 census date. We urge the Government to think again about those options to avoid another—avoidable—delay to the vital publication. I urge the chamber to reject this legislation and, instead, to ask the SNP to return with proposals to deliver Scotland’s census on time.


The instrument before the chamber today relates to the census and seeks to move it to 2022, following the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the planning for a 2021 census. Until the pandemic, NRS was on track to deliver a successful census in 2021.

Let me be clear that the decision to move the date of the census was not taken lightly. We are all aware of major events around the world that have been cancelled or significantly disrupted due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Planning for Scotland’s census has been seriously impacted as a result of the pandemic, as many of those events have been. Indeed, censuses across the world have been impacted. The census in Ireland has been postponed to 2022, and other international censuses—in Australia and Canada, for example—have had to cancel rehearsals or reduce scope.

Many members have heard me say how important census data is. It is crucial that a high response rate be achieved. Scotland’s census 2011 achieved a response rate of 94 per cent, so we need to repeat that high level of response for 2022. The other options that we considered in order to preserve the 2021 date estimated a response rate of no more than 80 per cent, which would not deliver the required quality of data. A high response rate produces high-quality outputs that data users can use in the short, medium and long term, and it is for that reason that the decision was made to move the census to 2022.

We must ensure that the census produces the high-quality data that is required by users, and moving the date provides the best chance of the census doing that. No other survey provides the range of information that the census provides. We get only one chance every decade to ask the people of Scotland to complete a census, which makes it all the more important that a full census is taken, and that it reaches all communities across Scotland.

I requested that NRS thoroughly consider all the options to preserve the 2021 census date, but none of the options provided confidence in securing high response rates and achieving a successful census.

Scotland’s census methodology was not designed to manage the level of bias and non-response that would be likely with a March 2021 census. The Office for National Statistics has some mitigations around statistical methodology and access to data to manage a biased or low response. That is not available to NRS and did not inform the Scottish census design, which it was on track to deliver pre-pandemic.

I appreciate that some data users will be disappointed about having to wait an additional year for data, and that there may be concerns about Scotland’s census being out of sync with the rest of the UK, but I reassure members that NRS will continue to work with the other UK census offices and its users to ensure that Scotland’s census delivers the high-quality analysis and outputs that are required. The change of census date provides the best opportunity to do so, and Scotland will still feed into the UK population estimates—the change of date does not prevent that.

NRS officials appeared before the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, which scrutinised the recommendation to move the census to 2022, and I appeared before the committee, when my decision to move the census was scrutinised. The process was open and transparent, and I am grateful to the committee for unanimously recommending approval of the SSI.

I invite the Parliament to approve the Census (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020.

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of eight Parliamentary Bureau motions. I invite Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move motions S5M-23315 and S5M-23316, on committee meeting times, and motions S5M-23317 to S5M-23320, S5M-23322 and S5M-23323, on approval of SSIs.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that, under Rule 12.3.3B of Standing Orders, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee can meet, if necessary, at the same time as a meeting of the Parliament from 2pm to 4.30pm on Wednesday 18 November for the purpose of considering and agreeing its report on its inquiry into construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland.

That the Parliament agrees that, under Rule 12.3.3B of Standing Orders, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee can meet, if necessary, at the same time as a meeting of the Parliament on Tuesday 24 November during debate on the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into Supply and demand for medicines, and during Members’ Business, for the purpose of considering amendments at stage 2 to the United Kingdom Withdrawal from the European Union Continuity (Scotland) Bill.

That the Parliament agrees that the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens (Revocation) (Scotland) Notice 2020 be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Human Tissue (Excepted Body Parts) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Mandatory Use of Closed Circuit Television in Slaughterhouses (Scotland) Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Information for Passengers Travelling to Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/328) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 19) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/330) be approved.—[Graeme Dey]