Meeting date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 12 June 2019
Agenda: Lung Health, Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017, Veterans Strategy (Update), Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Housing Co-operatives
- Lung Health
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017
- Veterans Strategy (Update)
- Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Housing Co-operatives
Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
The next item of business is a stage 3 debate on motion S5M-17645, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.
Before the debate begins, the Presiding Officer must make a determination on whether any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter; that is, whether it modifies the electoral system or the franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. This bill, in my view, does no such thing. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority to be passed at stage 3.15:42
I am very pleased to open this stage 3 debate on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. The deliberations of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee through stages 1 and 2 have been considered. Although the bill might not have been extensive in terms of its size, it is certainly very important for Scotland’s 2021 census, as has been demonstrated in the evidence that has been provided by stakeholders. I reiterate my gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the bill process.
I also highlight again why it is important to support Scotland’s census, which will include the provisions in the bill. The next census will be held on Sunday 21 March 2021, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament. It will be the 22nd census since 1801 and the 17th to be managed independently here in Scotland. It will be the first census since the Scottish Government pledged to make public services digital first. We are building a platform to enable people to complete the census form online, and we expect the majority of responses to be online, with support being made available for those who need it.
Scotland has relied for more than 200 years on the information that the census has given us, and it remains the best way to gather information that Government, councils, the national health service and others need. The information that we will gather will help us to understand who lives in Scotland and what sort of homes we have. It is the official count of every person and household in the country and it is the only questionnaire of its kind that asks everyone the same questions at the same time. No other survey provides the richness and range of information that the census provides.
The Scottish Government and other public bodies use census information to help them to make decisions, including decisions on how money will be spent on the schools in which our children are educated, on the roads that we drive on every day, and on the hospitals on which we rely.
The key quality aspects of census data are that it must be able to count the whole population, it must be credible, people must have confidence in it and it needs to be consistent with comparators. We are very proud of the richness of the data that we hold and the consistency of approach that we can demonstrate over the past 200 years.
National Records of Scotland has responsibility for Scotland’s census on behalf of the registrar general for Scotland. Work is well under way to ensure that the 2021 census is secure and that privacy is protected. Census records have been held securely and confidentially for 100 years.
The census tells us who we are and how we live and work in Scotland. In telling that story, it must reflect society—it is not a vehicle to lead change in society. National Records of Scotland has consulted extensively with groups all over Scotland in order to develop questions and to test them to ensure that they are acceptable to the public.
By asking questions that reflect Scotland as it is today, we will ensure that the census will continue to be a vital source of information for decades to come. The final decision about what questions are asked in 2021 will be for the Scottish Parliament.
Collecting census information is a substantial undertaking, as is producing outputs from that information. It takes considerable time to ensure that the information is complete and is of the quality that is required of national statistics. NRS will carry out a thorough process of capturing, coding and cleaning the data, and then ensuring that it is complete. It will then apply rigorous controls to the data, to ensure that we protect the confidentiality of the data and deliver on the legal commitments that have been made. That will take time, but it is essential to ensure the robustness of the data that is used across services.
NRS has announced its intention to publish the first set of estimates from the 2021 census within a year of census day, which would be considerably earlier than was the case for the 2011 census.
What is the public consultation process? How will members of the public be able to engage in forming and stress testing the new questions?
There are two elements: users’ needs and the need for population data. The consultation commenced years and years ago. The questions have been developed over a considerable time, as has the stress testing. There are different elements to the consultation. There is consultation on the questions—there are questions on Gaelic for example—and the census form contains sections that relate to different communities. Development of the questions has taken place over recent years and latterly, in recent weeks and months.
Jamie Greene is a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. I have encouraged officials from National Records of Scotland to keep the committee abreast of all the process related to, and progress on, the census.
I am about to move on to the content of the bill, but the whole census project goes far wider and deeper. Obviously, Jamie Greene will be aware that the fact that the census will be digital will also have an implication for stress testing. Its being digital adds a new dynamic to the census.
All remaining outputs should be published over the two years following the first set of estimates, including those on sexual orientation and transgender status and history. It is essential that we have quality data, so we must use the required time to achieve that. The bill is an important part of that. I am sure that everyone knows that the purpose of the bill is to amend the Census Act 1920, to allow questions on sexual orientation and transgender status and history to be answered on a voluntary basis.
It is widely recognised that there is limited evidence on the experiences of transgender people in Scotland, and there is no fully tested question with which to collect information. Therefore, the census will take a big step forward in order to ensure that we can develop the evidence that is needed to provide support and protection for Scotland’s transgender population.
Sexual orientation is already asked about in most household surveys in Scotland, and it is proposed that the sexual orientation question for the 2021 census will mirror the question that is already used in those other surveys and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Society has changed significantly and rapidly in the years since the last census, so we must ensure that the census in 2021 reflects that. As I just reported in my response to Jamie Greene, the need for collecting the information was arrived at through a process of consultation and research. National Records of Scotland has worked, and continues to work, with stakeholders to understand the needs and concerns of the relevant communities.
The power to ask such questions to be answered on a compulsory basis already exists in the Census Act 1920. Refusing or neglecting to answer a census question is an offence under section 8 of that act. We want to ensure that non-completion of the questions that are to be answered voluntarily will not result in the penalties that exist for non-compliance in respect of mandatory questions. It is critical that nobody is, or in any way feels, compelled to answer such important but sensitive questions. The bill therefore seeks to mitigate any concerns about intrusion into private life by making answering the questions voluntary, as was the case with religion when it was included for the first time in the 2001 census.
I am pleased that the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee supported the general principles of the bill in its stage 1 report. I was likewise pleased by the support of parliamentary colleagues at the stage 1 debate on 28 February. In my stage 1 response to the committee and Parliament, I committed to lodging amendments at stage 2 to address the perceived conflation of sex and gender identity in the bill. I delivered on that commitment and, I am glad to say, the committee accepted the amendments.
National Records of Scotland worked with the Equality Network and others on the specific text of the amendments before they were lodged. That work included consulting other interested stakeholders—including the women’s groups that responded to the committee’s call for evidence at stage 1—to highlight the suggested amendments and to seek people’s views on them. I am pleased to say that only support for them was received.
The amendments placed transgender status and history into schedule 1 of the Census Act 1920 as an entry on its own alongside religion and sexual orientation, and removed the provision in the bill that would have added “including gender identity” to the paragraph in that schedule that contains the word “sex”. The amendments have ensured that the census order will be available to make the question on transgender status and history voluntary, which is one of the key purposes of the bill.
The census bill will allow questions on sexual orientation and transgender status and history to be voluntary. However, there is still a subordinate legislation process to follow, which will very soon be under way, to ensure that the questions are included in our 2021 census. I am grateful for the support of Parliament up to this point, and I look forward to the further extensive engagement that lies ahead.
That the Parliament agrees that the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill be passed.15:53
I thank fellow members of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, and the staff who work with the committee, for getting the bill to where it is. The reality is that never before—at least not since I joined this Parliament—has a one-page, 23-line bill caused so much debate and discourse, and attracted so much correspondence and controversy.
However, before I get on to the complex issues around sexuality, sex and transgender identity, let us start with the basics. What is a census and what is it for? One definition of “census” is:
“the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about all members of a given population”.
We can thank the Romans for that. What did they ever do for us?
As we know, in the modern age the census is important for many reasons. Completed every 10 years—with the next one coming in March 2021—it gives us a complete picture of the nation, as well as the sort of information that Governments need in order to develop policy, and to plan public services and how it will allocate funding to them.
The last census in 2011 was changed from the previous one—that is not unusual—and questions were added on race. That was a voluntary addition. The census changes, society changes, Governments change and attitudes—I hope—change, too.
The purpose of the bill is simple—it will allow National Records of Scotland to alter the census and vary the questions that it asks. It proposes to add two additional voluntary questions—on transgender status and history, and sexual orientation. We do not know what those questions will be or what guidance will go with them. We will address that when we have to. Answering the questions will be voluntary—not mandatory. People will not be forced to answer them, and there will be no penalty for not answering them. Answering the questions will not redefine one’s sex or change it legally. The questions will not confer additional rights or freedoms on anyone, nor will they remove anyone’s existing rights or freedoms.
The stage 1 report recommended
“that the mandatory sex question”
in the census
“should remain binary.”
I, along with another member, abstained from that recommendation. That was not because I took a view on it during the discourse on the stage 1 report, but because, in my view, that was not what the bill was about or what it proposed. That was not the question that the committee was asked to respond to. The committee had a point to make with that recommendation, and it made its point.
The debate around the conflation of the terms “sex”, “gender” and “gender identity” is complex. That there has been so much fuss about a simple bill and that so much debate has come out of it might strike an observer as being slightly odd. I have a thought on that. It comes down to one thing: timing. Many members will be aware that a wider conversation is taking place about gender recognition legislation, the content of which we are yet to see. The subject inevitably stirs up emotions. I see the bill as something of a precursor to that debate, which will be wide ranging.
Let me go back to the real questions of why we need the data, who needs it, and what we are going to do with it. In the early days of the bill, a member of the Scottish Parliament said to me that it is none of Government’s business to ask such questions. To be fair, I have some sympathy with the notion of minimal Government interference in people’s private lives, but I think that the voluntary questions are useful additions to the census, and I will be happy to answer one of them, albeit digitally.
It is interesting that, when the Office for National Statistics looked at the legislation in England and Wales, it said that the inclusion of a “Prefer not to say” option might improve the response rate. We shall see what questions are put before us.
There is a shortage of meaningful data when it comes to information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Scotland. Our public services need such data for making funding decisions and delivering service plans across health, education and social care services. We frequently hear that all those areas are underdelivering in the community.
As a co-convener of the Parliament’s cross-party group on LGBTI+, I find that much of the research that I am presented with comes from third sector organisations such as Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland. Robust national data would allow public bodies to make better decisions. That is important, because we know from research that LGBT young people in Scotland experience higher levels of mental health problems, that nearly half of LGBT young people rate their school experience as bad, and that a quarter of LGBT people face issues in their place of employment. The data will help the Government to make decisions.
After the bill has been passed, Parliament will have two tasks ahead of it. First, NRS will present us with the new voluntary questions for our approval. It is absolutely right that the questions should be the right ones, that they make sense, and that they are accompanied by appropriate guidance on how to answer them. A person who identified themselves in the old census using the sex question may now use the new voluntary questions as a means of doing that. We have to ensure that high levels of data are returned and that the quality of the data is reliable. Therefore, the devil will be very much in the detail.
The second and more important task ahead of us relates to the more difficult debate on gender recognition. That is not a debate for today, so all that I will say on the matter for now is this: please let everyone’s voice be heard in it. Let us collectively, as a Parliament, condemn threatening or abusive behaviour wherever it appears, and from whomever it comes. If we are going to get it right—we must get it right—we must lead by example. I will do my bit, and hope that we will all do our bit.15:59
I am pleased that we are debating the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill at stage 3, as part of the preparation for the 2021 census. As the opening speaker for Labour, and as a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, I thank everyone who provided evidence throughout the bill’s stages and those who provided briefings for today’s debate.
During the stage 1 debate, I highlighted a number of drafting issues with the bill, and I am pleased that they were addressed by amendments at stage 2. We now have an important bill in the evolution of the census, and there is recognition of the need for relevance through the introduction of questions on sexual orientation and transgender status and history in an appropriate manner.
However, it has not been a smooth journey. The bill’s progress took place against the backdrop of anticipated changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. At times, the debate has been too divisive, aggressive and intolerant of alternative views. There will be time for parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and it is our duty to approach that work in an inclusive and responsible manner.
I return to today’s bill and the census. The bill suggested that the terms of sex and gender would be conflated, which appeared to pre-empt the decision on any proposed changes to the sex question. The guidance that was provided with the bill added to such concerns, as the policy memorandum said:
“Looking forward to 2021, consultation has identified the need for a more inclusive approach to measuring sex. The sex question being proposed for the 2021 Census will continue to be one of self-identification and will provide non-binary response options.”
National Records of Scotland provided additional written evidence to the committee, which said:
“We are currently considering whether or not to have a non-binary response option for the sex question, but it is too early to say if this will be the final proposal as testing and consultation continues.”
That position was confirmed by the cabinet secretary during her evidence. The lack of clarity during our scrutiny of the bill was unfortunate, and it resulted in the committee taking considerable evidence on that issue, even though it is not the subject of the bill. However, important matters were raised that should inform National Records of Scotland in how it takes forward the next stages of the census.
There are questions to be addressed about the changes that were made to the guidance that was provided for the 2011 census, which made it clear that trans people should answer with their self-identified sex. It is important to recognise that the sex question is mandatory, and that answering it was difficult for transgender people; answering the question with their lived identity is consistent with how they present in other areas of their lives. However, there are arguments that the change has introduced a degree of uncertainty into the data that is gathered, and that sex and gender identity are now conflated into one question. The committee heard a proposal that there should be two questions—one on sex and one on gender identity.
I understand the concerns that were raised by the Equality Network, which said that reversing the position that was taken in 2011 would be highly problematic. Transgender people have legal rights to privacy, dignity and respect, and the organisation argued that it is not appropriate to insist that people disclose their biological sex at birth. Murray Blackburn Mackenzie argued that such an approach damages data integrity and quality, and that it sets a precedent for other data-gathering exercises and surveys, resulting in the loss of robust data on the protected characteristic of sex.
How do we resolve the situation that has already been created? We can reflect that there should have been discussion and scrutiny prior to the changes in 2011, and we can learn from that experience, but I would be hesitant about reversing the decision.
By including questions on trans status and history, the bill should enable policy makers and anyone else who is interested in the data to cross-reference responses and extrapolate figures based on sex and on gender identity. At the next stages of the census process, I would like reassurances on that point.
The committee, by majority, voted to retain a binary sex question. Although I abstained on the vote, given that the issue was not the focus of our work at hand, a majority of committee members were persuaded by the evidence that we heard from experts who use the information that is gathered from the census.
I raised an issue on that matter at stage 2, to which the cabinet secretary might wish to respond. I understand that the choice with which a non-binary person is presented does not reflect their lived experience. However, the NRS said that it would just assign a sex to the respondent. It said:
“If we ask a non-binary question—that is the big if and is obviously something for the committee to take a view on—we do not propose to produce outputs on a non-binary basis. In our conversations with stakeholders, we have always been consistent that it is about allowing people to respond in a way that reflects how they identify but that we will still produce outputs on a male and female basis.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 20 December 2018; c 43.]
I would welcome clarity on what purpose a change to the binary question would serve. The response from NRS also makes assumptions about the number of people who would chose a non-binary term. I appreciate that NRS will undertake testing of the questions, but the number of people who will respond to the question, and how, is unknown. I ask the cabinet secretary to respond to those issues in her closing remarks.
I look forward to this afternoon’s debate.16:04
Given the volume of amendments to some other recent bills, it has been a while since we have reached a stage 3 debate and been in the position of saying essentially the same things that we said at stage 1. However, despite the much wider debate that specific census questions play into, the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is not a contentious bill. It is short and really quite simple, and the Greens support it from the point of view of both effective data collection and the improvements that it makes in ensuring that Scotland is a country where everyone is treated with dignity and respect by the state.
The bill’s purpose is to ensure that everyone feels able to accurately complete the census—a principle that finds consensus here in Parliament. It will allow questions in future editions of the census regarding sexuality and what we are now referring to as trans status and history to be asked appropriately—namely as voluntary questions, rather than mandatory ones.
Compelling someone to provide an answer on something as intensely personal as their sexuality or trans status would be wrong even if we lived in a society that was free from bigotry, but it is clear that we do not live in such a society, as was brutally illustrated by the monstrous attack on two queer women on a London night bus just last week and in the stories that members of the trans community told outside this Parliament just a few hours ago.
At the same time, though, the opportunity to collect that data from those who are happy to provide it is an opportunity to meet the needs of those who too often go unnoticed and unsupported. It is a small change to something that happens once a decade, but it is part of a process to ensure that people’s identities are respected, particularly when they engage with public services.
During its stage 1 deliberations, the committee received submissions in support of the bill and of trans inclusion more broadly from many national and long-standing equality organisations including the Scottish trans alliance, Stonewall Scotland, Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap and Equate Scotland. I particularly thank the Equality Network for its evidence, for its helpful suggestion of an amendment, which the committee agreed with and the Government delivered on, and for its work in organising the powerful rally outside Parliament today, where the voices of trans people and their supporters across the Parliament were heard.
As I mentioned in the stage 1 debate, though, I am not the only one to have been frustrated and saddened by the process surrounding the bill and our committee consideration of it. I acknowledge that National Records of Scotland asked the committee to consider the potential questions, which will come through the census order after the bill is passed, but we should acknowledge the upset and anxiety that have been caused to many vulnerable people by the digression of the debate into matters that are outwith the scope of the bill.
At times, the very validity and existence of trans and non-binary people was called into question. I feel some shame that my Parliament has caused some of my friends stress and a fear that their rights, rather than being enhanced, could be rolled back. What should have been a small technical amendment to the Census Act 1920 to ensure appropriate wording has become an avenue through which a major debate has played out—and, to be frank, I do not think that it has played out in a way that any of us can be happy with. We can do better than the false framing of trans rights versus women’s rights, as all Scotland’s leading women’s organisations have so ably shown us.
I hope and expect that, when the Gender Recognition Act 2004 comes before us, we will do better than to hear evidence from just a single trans person. I certainly hope that those women’s organisations, such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, will be invited to present their wealth of evidence and experience, showing that their trans-inclusion measures have not undermined the rights of cisgender women.
Legitimate concerns were raised through the consideration of the bill and they should be addressed in the broader debate on the introduction of trans-inclusion measures. How such measures intersect with services for women, including women-only spaces, is one example. As Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland highlighted in their written evidence once it became clear that that was where the debate had turned, their experience in providing support services in a trans-inclusive manner for women who have experienced violence has given them rich evidence. Their letter to the committee stated:
“It is very clear to us that trans inclusion in our own organisations has not given rise to substantive concerns or challenges. Rather, trans women have added to our movements through their support, voluntary work and as staff members”.
Some questions that were raised were very much within scope, particularly around data reliability and comparability. It was suggested that questions being completed on the basis of self-identification, which is existing practice, and the inclusion of a third option in the sex question would harm the overall data set and in turn affect, for example, planning of sex-based services. I believe that the fears there are misplaced. I point in particular to the submission from the head of engagement for NHS National Services Scotland, which is the body that oversees the patient information database. The NHS uses its own data rather than the census data in service planning, and it already collects patient data on the basis of self-identification without issue. The coalition of national women’s organisations, which has extensive experience with that type of data, stated that collecting the information in a trans-inclusive fashion would be beneficial.
I dissented from the committee’s stage 1 conclusion in favour of a binary sex question. Like the respected women’s and equalities organisations that I mentioned, I support a third option. Its inclusion would allow more people to complete the census and, as National Records of Scotland found, it would increase response rates, despite the conclusion in the committee’s stage 1 report claiming the contrary. That option could allow us to gather valuable data on a small and vulnerable group for whom we cannot practically gather that information in any other way, and it would not negatively affect anyone else.
I do not know whether Mr Greer noticed but, in the evidence that we received, National Records of Scotland said that, if there was a third option, it would just assign a sex, so it seems as if the NRS would not actually gather any data on the group that presented as non-binary.
That is why I said that the option “could” allow us to collect that valuable data. That is a choice that could be made. It is a policy choice for National Records of Scotland or the Scottish Government. Alternatively, the Parliament could make a decision on whether to reallocate the people whose data is collected in that group between the male and female categories. The point is that the collection of the data does not negatively affect anyone else. Indeed, for all other purposes, as the member mentioned, that random redistribution into male and female categories will happen. Therefore my question remains: why not make a change that positively benefits a small and vulnerable group at no cost?
As Claire Baker did, I ask the cabinet secretary to reflect in her closing remarks on whether the sex question—whether or not it has a non-binary option—will continue to be on the basis of lived sex, as has been the case previously.
I hope that, as the process moves forward, all members take the opportunity to listen to those whose lives and identities we are discussing. One role of the Parliament is to lift up the voices of Scotland’s most marginalised, and the bill is one small opportunity to do just that, which is why I support it.16:11
As others have observantly noted, the bill is somewhat short, with only three sections, so I am more confident than usual that everyone in the debate will genuinely have read the whole thing, which is possibly not something that we will be able to say about the Planning (Scotland) Bill when we consider it next week. However, as the cabinet secretary correctly observed, the bill’s brevity does not translate into a lack of importance. Getting the census right is a once-in-a-decade task that is laid before the Parliament of the time. Just as with the previous census, the results of the next one will be reflected on for many decades to come.
Before I deal with a couple of points in the bill, I want to associate myself with the motion that was recently lodged by Jenny Marra and widely supported by members across the Parliament. As Jamie Greene and Ross Greer said, one issue that has hit the headlines or has at least been a feature of social media traffic is the importance of the census producing accurate information about sex and gender identity as a precursor to the wider legislative proposals that the Parliament will consider on those matters in due course.
This national Parliament, above all places, should not tolerate threats, intimidation and physical violence against women who articulate a view on the definitions of sex and gender. We must surely make a joint, concerted and strong stand against what happened recently at the University of Edinburgh in that regard, as Jenny Marra’s motion rightly does. Someone who was involved in the university debate told me:
“This whole situation is distressing, and most distressing of all is the sense that those of us arguing for a rational debate, that allows arguments against simply replacing sex with gender identity across law and public policy to be properly heard, are being left vulnerable to defamation and threats of violence.”
Any sympathy that I have for an argument evaporates when some of those who purport to make it behave in the way in which I understand happened. We cannot and should not tolerate that. That is not the Scotland that I want and it is surely not the Scotland that the Parliament wants. A rational debate about rights needs to be just that—rational.
It is important to be clear on what we are talking about today. As a result of the bill, the 2021 census will be equipped to gather more data about people’s gender identification and sexual orientation. Of course, the actual questions that will be asked will be considered via secondary legislation in the form of a census order, and no doubt there will be further important debates on exactly how those questions are worded, which will be for later. However, during this debate, I have listened to those who have argued about how we shape the bill in order to get the census right.
Arguments have been made about the importance of robust data, and it is important to reflect on the policy memorandum, which explains that
“Government, local authorities, health services, the education and academic communities, the third sector, commercial businesses, and others need reliable information on the number and characteristics of people and households if they are to conduct many of their activities effectively.”
That seemed to me to reflect the overwhelming weight of evidence that I and committee colleagues heard over recent weeks. Ensuring that bodies are equipped with robust data in order to carry out their services is therefore the overwhelming purpose of the census.
There have already been important reflections during the debate about how we ensure that the data is robust, with Ross Greer adding his perspective on that. I recognise the arguments that have been made about the importance of representation. The census will collect information that will be relied on. It is important, therefore, that the snapshot that will be taken is able to accurately reflect Scottish society as it is at the time.
The trans community needs to be included in the census. That community deserves not just to be seen in the census but to be counted accurately in it. Those are the first steps to people having their rights realised, whoever they are and in whatever way, across Scotland. Our records do not know enough about the trans community. With the passing of the bill before us and other bills that will come, that will surely change and change for the better.
I believe that the bill is capable of doing what it was set out to do. That is surely to design a census that collects important sociodemographic information that is used in the design and delivery of public services. On that principle, we will very much support this measure.16:16
Before I start, I associate myself with the remarks of Claire Baker, Jamie Greene and Tavish Scott in urging a civilised debate on these matters and in condemning all violence or threats of violence against women, as outlined in Jenny Marra’s motion.
I thank the committee clerks and all the witnesses who gave evidence for our scrutiny of the bill.
I support the bill. Both sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and it is appropriate to ask about them in the census on a voluntary basis.
Sexual orientation should be simple to quantify and data should be produced that is useful to our understanding of society. Trans status is more complex. As well as including transsexuals who have surgery after psychological therapy, Stonewall’s trans umbrella includes people with no medical treatment who refute the contention that they have a psychological condition. It includes transvestites and non-binary identities, and it will be interesting to see how the census question captures meaningful information about this very different group of individuals.
I want to explain briefly why some feminists find the concept of gender identity problematic. In her book “The Second Sex”, the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir argued that gender was a social construct, not something innate. Some so-called feminine characteristics such as passivity, concern for appearance and types of dress are roles that we adopt, not who we are. Feminists believe that a boy can like pink and play with dolls, and he is still a boy; and that a girl can like toy trucks and crop her hair, and she is still a girl. To suggest that those who do not conform to those gender stereotypes must be a different sex is troubling for some feminists.
I reject the concept of innate gender identity, but I will vote for the bill in a spirit of pragmatism and compromise. I accept that, for a growing number of people, identity is of deep personal significance.
Sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and it has been a census question for 200 years. It is particularly important for women that sex is recorded accurately, because it is women who face most discrimination based on their sex. We also need to record sex to plan services such as health. The book “Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men” by Caroline Criado Perez—a favourite of the First Minister—demonstrates that bodies differ not just in terms of reproductive systems but in many other ways, for example in the presentation of heart disease.
The proposed non-binary sex question was rejected by the majority of the committee and, crucially, by the Office for National Statistics. The ONS conducted a robust equality impact assessment on the census, whereas the same exercise by NRS was inadequate. For example, it did not consider sex as a separate characteristic.
The sex question should also be based on biological sex, in my view. In 2011, without any public scrutiny, the census included online guidance that said that the sex question could, for the first time, be answered according to how people felt. The briefing from Murray Blackburn Mackenzie points out that that decision was based on a flawed private consultant’s report that erroneously said that sex included gender reassignment. It also points out that as we have no idea how many trans-identifying people—including non-binary—live in Scotland, no amount of testing by NRS can tell us how the data might be affected in 2021 by a self-identifying sex question.
Professor Susan McVie, chair of quantitative criminology at the University of Edinburgh, who sits on the Government’s board for official statistics, told the committee that the self-identified question in 2011 was a mistake. In a further letter this week, she said:
“The conflation of sex and gender identity goes against existing inequalities legislation and risks the construction of inaccurate and corrupted data.”
The inclusion of a trans question for the first time means that people can express their identity and answer the sex question accurately. I am not convinced by briefings that refer to “lived sex”. There is no definition of “lived sex” in either law or biology.
It has been suggested that feelings may be hurt if transgender people have to answer a question on biological sex, but there are other census questions that people could find distressing, such as those on mental health or disability. People answer them knowing that the census remains confidential for 100 years. Trans people will, of course, have to reference their birth sex on other occasions—not least in relation to medical treatment.
I hope that the cabinet secretary will take my points on board and, more importantly, the expertise of Professor McVie, Murray Blackburn MacKenzie and the Office for National Statistics. The census is the gold standard of statistics, and it is important that it is committed to both accuracy and material reality.
I call Annie Wells, to be followed by Stuart McMillan. I encourage members to keep to four minutes.16:21
I thank all the organisations that kindly sent briefings ahead of the debate. It is only right that the census reflects the views of modern-day society, which is why I will support the bill at stage 3 today.
Things have moved forward since stage 1, and I am pleased to see that clarity has been provided during stage 2 on how questions on sexual orientation and gender identity will be formatted. I welcome further engagement on the wording of such questions, and the fact that the Parliament will have the opportunity to consider future questions once they are finalised.
The census is no insignificant task. Completed every 10 years—the next one is scheduled for March 2021—it gives us a complete picture of the nation, providing information that is needed by Governments in the UK to develop policy, plan and run public services, and allocate funding.
The census provides an opportunity to build on existing data so that public authorities can fulfil the public sector equality duty and consider the full needs of protected groups under the Equality Act 2010. Times have moved on. More and more people are openly identifying as LGBT, and it is only right that the census reflects that. The bill will allow National Records of Scotland to alter the current census to vary the questions it asks, resulting in the inclusion of questions on prescribed aspects of gender identity and sexual orientation.
It goes without saying that that all needs to be done with care and consideration. After all, the purpose of the census is to collect data that is accurate and reliable. Questions should be clear and straightforward, and given the need for individuals’ privacy, they should be answered only on a voluntary basis without the threat of penalty. We have to understand that not everyone will feel comfortable with providing the information, and that in homes where the form is being completed by the head of the household, young people in particular may not want to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. I am therefore pleased that those questions will be voluntary, and that National Records of Scotland has committed to ensuring that individuals can submit a private response to the census to replace any response submitted on their behalf.
I am also pleased that, at stage 2, the cabinet secretary altered the bill to place trans status and history as an entry on their own, alongside religion and sexual orientation, removing concerns about the perceived conflation of gender and sex.
It is reassuring to see that NRS worked with the Equality Network and others on the specific text of the amendments before they were lodged and that no issues were raised with stakeholders, including the women’s groups that provided evidence at stage 1. Significantly, it is also welcome that, given that the actual inclusion or wording of any such questions is not within the scope of the bill, that will be subject to further engagement with NRS and stakeholders.
I am also reassured by the fact that the Scottish Parliament will have the right to consider and reject a future question should it see fit, meaning that all evidence can again be duly considered.
I reiterate my support for the bill at stage 3. This is a short but much-needed bill that will allow the census to reflect modern society. I hope that, by passing the bill, we can build on existing equality data and assist public authorities in fulfilling the needs of protected groups.16:25
The bill, which is largely technical in nature, has caused a stir in terms of public debate. The bill simply seeks to amend the enabling powers in the 1920 act and, as has been stated by the cabinet secretary, a period of informal engagement with the committee regarding the questions will begin after stage 3.
My focus today is solely on the contents of the bill and what it is intended to do, but I will touch on one other aspect. I welcome the passage of the bill through Parliament and recognise how important it is to help keep the census up to date with society. During the passage of the bill, I realised that I was the only committee member who was on the committee that scrutinised the order for the 2011 census 10 years ago. I was struck by how much society has changed in those 10 years. Society is more open and tolerant, but there is still a long way to go. The bill, which will allow the census to deal with today’s society and beyond, is therefore important.
Ross Greer touched on the aspect of the census that concerns the voluntary question on transgender status, and talked about the issue of the NHS using its own data. Section 17 of the policy memorandum touches on the issue of the lack of data around people’s transgender status. I can understand why the NHS will want to use its own data. First, other data is not there at the moment; and, secondly, when the census takes place in 2021, it will record the data at that time, and things will change hugely in the ensuing 10 years.
During the stage 1 debate on 28 February, I quoted paragraphs 11 and 75 of the committee’s report. Paragraph 11 says:
“The Committee agrees that there has been considerable social change with regard to issues concerning sexual orientation since 2011.”
Paragraph 75 contains this quotation from the cabinet secretary:
“The census does not lead public opinion; the census has to reflect society as it is just now and ask questions that maximise the response rate so that the data can be used.”
Those statements were absolutely correct at that time; they are now; and they will be in future.
The bill recognises the importance and sensitivity of the new questions and it tries to mitigate concerns about intrusion into private life by placing the questions on a voluntary basis. The main policy aim of the bill is not to facilitate the asking of questions about transgender matters and sexual orientation but to make answering those questions voluntary, just as the religion question was placed on a voluntary basis by the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2000. The other census questions are compulsory.
I am genuinely pleased that this technical bill will be passed today, and that we will have a census that is fit for 2021—a census that can be delivered, that people can fill out, from which data can be gathered and that people can trust and have faith in. As colleagues have indicated, there will be plenty of time to discuss the gender recognition issues.
I echo the calls from colleagues across the chamber for people to carry out these discussions with respect and in a calm and professional manner. People’s views will differ, and it is important that all views are heard.16:30
Given some of the issues that we have touched on in the debate so far, it would be easier either to speak only for 30 seconds or for 30 minutes. I thank the committee for its work and endeavours in getting to a point at which we can debate at stage 3 without any amendments. I thank the organisations that gave evidence to the committee and provided briefings ahead of the debate. They have helped to inform my understanding.
To some extent, the bill’s importance and significance are in inverse relation to its size. Many members have touched on that point, including Jamie Greene and Ross Greer, who described it as a short and simple bill. However, issues that are short and simple can perhaps find the fissures in our public discourse and considerably expand them. I agree entirely with the general principles of the bill; to an extent, the debate is a rehash of the debate that we had at stage 1. The bill places on a statutory footing the voluntary questions about sexual orientation and trans history, which is welcome.
I welcome the fact that the 2021 census will be predominantly digital, with provisions in place for people who are not able to participate digitally. It will be interesting to see the implications that that has for expediting the production of the data. I will be fascinated to see the data that emerges from the census. The 2021 census comes at a significant time not just for Scotland but for the world. I do not want to talk about tension but, in many quarters, a strong dialogue is taking place between different generations. Generation Z—those born in 1996—are now coming of age. Millennials like me, born between 1980 and 1986, are not quite at the knacker’s yard, although it sometimes feels like we are heading that way. Do not worry—I will not go on to generation X, the baby boomers or the silent generation. I say “Hi” to James Dornan.
When it comes to shaping public policy, the data from the census has significant real-world implications. As Tavish Scott said, every decade, we have a task in getting the census absolutely right. The process of the bill has been commendable. I hope that the tenor that has characterised how the bill has moved through Parliament will inform the conversations and discussions that we will have in the next parliamentary year, when we look at the census order. I do not envy those who are charged with devising questions, as it is a complex issue. Identity is a complex issue. However, although a census is an event, it is also a cumulative, intergenerational process.
The 2011 census included a welcome question on carers, and, in that census, 429,000 people identified as carers. In a subsequent Scottish health and care experience survey, 759,000 people identified as carers. There were a number of complex reasons for that. During carers week, it is appropriate to highlight that not everyone who is a carer realises that they are a carer, so there is a constant need for work and guidance to help people to understand the questions that they are being asked and to understand the relevance to their circumstances and experiences. I hope that, as we progress towards the census and consider the questions later in this parliamentary session, we will continue to take a moderate and considered approach.16:34
I join other members in thanking the committee for its hard work in reaching this point and making things relatively straightforward for the rest of us. I associate myself with the remarks of Tavish Scott and others about the importance of having such a debate with respect and dignity, which should be applied universally.
The purpose of the bill is to allow questions on sexual orientation and prescribed aspects of gender identity to be answered on a voluntary basis. It is a big step but an essential one, because no one should be fined for not answering. As the cabinet secretary said, the bill will be followed by Scottish statutory instruments. There is always a catch—there are always SSIs.
Had the member been listening to the debate—I noticed that she was in conversation with her colleague for the first three quarters of an hour—she would know that it is not the same procedure as for any other SSI. The Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill introduces a different procedure that is not like any other procedure. When the final questions come, the role of the Parliament and, particularly, the committee will be quite different from their role in relation to regular SSIs.
Oh, well—that will teach me. I apologise to the cabinet secretary if she thought I was being flippant. I did not mean to be.
I recognise the importance of the census as a tool in understanding the make-up of society. We are fortunate that we have been running it for 100 years. All of Scotland’s citizens should feel able to complete the census. At the same time, the data collection purpose of the census allows Governments to adopt appropriate policies in providing services to the population.
In a helpful briefing, Stonewall outlined some of the important purposes of the bill as being to enable us to have authoritative data on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; to assist local authorities in meeting their statutory requirements, which change over time; and to inform the planning of service provision to advance LGBT equality. The data can be used to build an evidence base and to measure progress towards meeting equality outcomes, which is important. We lack that kind of information, and we need it to decide how to shape services for the LGBT community.
We desperately need the data for trans people, who face difficulties in their daily lives. As an MSP, I recently took on the case of a transgender woman who was advised, seven days before an employment tribunal, that she would no longer get the legal representation that she had been promised. I believe that there are issues for transgender people that are deeply rooted in employment law. It is a real experience for those people, and we should consider giving support in that regard. In a survey that was carried out in 2017, LGBT Scotland found that transphobia was seen as an issue by 85 per cent of LGBT people and that 41 per cent of young trans people had experienced a hate crime in the previous year.
In the previous debate—when I was listening—I asked the cabinet secretary whether she could clarify the definition of a household and be sensitive to the fact that many LGBT young people are not comfortable with telling their family what their identity is, so that we can be sure that we deal with that question correctly. I look forward to receiving an answer to that question.
Will the member take an intervention? Oh, she has finished.
Perhaps the cabinet secretary can add that point to her concluding comments.16:38
I am pleased to speak in this stage 3 debate on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. I, too, thank the committee clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre for all their hard work in connection with the bill.
As we have heard, it was not matters within the formal scope of the bill that were at issue, but wider matters regarding the wording of the mandatory sex question. That will fall to be agreed through secondary legislation, which I understand will be introduced next year.
Before turning to that issue, it is important to stress that there was consensus around the purpose of the bill. Specifically, all committee members supported the introduction of voluntary questions as to sexual orientation and trans status and history. The only issue that arose concerned the rather confusing drafting in the original version of the bill, which risked conflating sex with gender identity. However, the cabinet secretary made it clear that it was never the intention behind the bill to conflate sex and gender identity, and, as promised, she lodged amendments at stage 2 to rectify matters.
The cabinet secretary also confirmed her support for the committee’s recommendation that an individual’s privacy rights should be respected when they are completing the form. I am pleased to note—it will perhaps give Pauline McNeill some relief to know—that National Records of Scotland is developing a system to allow individuals to complete forms in private, which is important progress.
As I understand the position, the next steps on the bill will be for the committee and wider stakeholders to have close engagement on the wording of the voluntary questions. I look forward to that process.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the wider debate that was generated on the mandatory sex question, even though, as I have said, it is not within the formal scope of the bill. Although the committee recognised the strongly held views on the matter, it nonetheless recommended—by a vote of six members in favour to one against, with two abstentions—that the mandatory sex question should remain binary. I entirely support that recommendation.
In that regard, evidence was received on the scientifically grounded theory of human sexual dimorphism, and we were reminded that sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Witnesses also queried how any other approach could ensure that the census would adhere to the highest statistical standards and provide longitudinal consistency. As the committee’s convener has mentioned, Professor Susan McVie, the chair of quantitative criminology at the University of Edinburgh, has today said in a letter to committee members:
“The conflation of sex and gender identity goes against existing inequalities legislation and risks the construction of inaccurate and corrupted data that are not fit for the purposes for which the Census and other official data sources are required.”
It is important to reiterate the point that I made at stage 1 about how National Records of Scotland would proceed if there were to be a non-binary question under the mandatory sex question heading. Claire Baker has also raised the matter in this afternoon’s debate. However, the point gets to the crux of the matter, so I will mention again that the head of census statistics at National Records of Scotland, Amy Wilson, said in evidence to the committee that it would
“randomly assign people back into the male and female categories”
“still produce outputs on a male and female basis.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 20 December 2018; c 43.]
That begs the question of what the point would be of including such a non-binary question in our national census—incidentally, a route that the ONS has recommended against being taken in England and Wales. That debate is for another day, but, given the considerable amount of evidence that was received on the subject, I felt it important to make mention of the issue this afternoon.
In conclusion, I stress my support for the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, and I look forward to voting for it at decision time.
We move to the closing speeches.16:42
The debate has been interesting and has inspired conversations, as well as speeches in the chamber. While a debate is the final stage of the passing of a bill, in many ways this one has been the opening conversation on future debates on gender identity and the census, reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and transgender rights. Although the debate has been wide ranging, we should not lose sight of what the bill will achieve. If it is passed, the census that will take place in 2021 will, for the first time, collect information on a person’s sexual orientation and transgender status and history—if they wish to answer the relevant questions.
The census strives to be accessible and relevant and to maintain integrity in its data. It is important that such questions are asked on a voluntary basis, which is a position that is widely supported. I understand that work is on-going to ensure individual respondents’ confidentiality and sensitivity to their needs, and I would appreciate an update on that work.
The census is important for public bodies to be able to make key decisions about resource allocation, policy development and how services are planned. By gathering such additional information, the needs of the LGBT community could be better served and understood, as Jamie Greene highlighted in his opening speech.
I return to the sex question. It is interesting to look at the work of the ONS, which is considering the same issue. It has concluded that there would be a risk to the data collected on sex if a third response option were to be added to that question. However, Ross Greer set out his belief that that question should be included and made arguments in support of his position.
As we are agreeing today, voluntary questions will be added on transgender identity, and the ONS thinks that it can meet the needs of that group. As Annabelle Ewing has just stated, the committee has proposed that the sex question in the Scottish census should remain unchanged. It is interesting that, depending on the results of its testing, the ONS proposes to add a caveat to its sex question, to explain that a gender question will follow later in the questionnaire. It has said that that has been found to increase acceptability among the transgender and non-binary populations. It would be interesting to hear whether that option has been explored in Scotland.
It is concerning that elements of the debate have become toxic. The situation has involved misrepresentation and accusations, which presents the Parliament with a challenging environment in which to consider the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which form a parallel issue to the debate that has added an intensity to the discussion of the bill that was perhaps not expected.
Murray Blackburn Mackenzie’s briefing sets out concerns about what it describes as “Losing sight of women’s interests”. Joan McAlpine raised those issues. There is concern that the protected characteristic of sex is being diminished and even ignored. Those points must not be dismissed; they need to be addressed. We must not close down debate, and open debate must take place without fear or threat to anyone.
I have heard the comment this afternoon that society is changing but, to ensure that Scotland is a safe, welcoming and respectful country for everyone, we need to make progress with understanding and work to achieve consensus. Reform of the GRA is necessary and, although I accept that that is not the cabinet secretary’s responsibility, the Government needs to be clear about its intentions and bring the debate for parliamentary scrutiny.
The debate that is dominating public discourse often does not recognise other issues that affect LGBT people. The LGBT population is subject to multiple disadvantages in the workplace, in education and in civic Scotland. We know that prejudice exists towards the LGBT community and that physical and verbal assault is all too common. Access to appropriate health services is not always easy, and that is compounded by Scotland’s geography. As Pauline McNeill highlighted, LGBT Youth Scotland has reported that 84 per cent of LGBT young people and 96 per cent of trans young people feel that they have experienced a mental health problem.
LGBT people can face isolation from their families and communities. I fully recognise the concerns that have been expressed about what changes to the GRA will mean for women and girls and for women’s rights, but we must recognise that LGBT communities are often vulnerable and open to exploitation and assault. We need to chart a path through the debate in a sensitive and understanding manner that recognises and addresses the concerns of everyone about the impact of the proposed changes.16:47
I am pleased to close for the Scottish Conservatives in the stage 3 debate on the bill. It has been interesting to hear the contributions from across the chamber. As a member of the committee that considered the bill, I welcome the progress that has been made and thank all who contributed, gave evidence, supported the process and gave us briefings. The depth of feeling is obvious.
This is a short but important bill that will ensure that future censuses collect information that helps us to better understand modern Scotland and the people who live here, as Jamie Greene outlined. We have heard good and balanced speeches from across the chamber—from Tavish Scott, Ross Greer, Claire Baker and Joan McAlpine.
As has been discussed, the Equality Act 2010 requires public sector organisations to consider the needs of groups with protected characteristics when they deliver services and in their employment practices, for example. Organisations must have regard to the need to ensure that individuals are not discriminated against, harassed or victimised; the need to ensure equality of opportunity between groups; and the need to foster good relations between groups, which is vital. My colleague Annie Wells itemised that. We have heard about the strong views that organisations such as Stonewall have expressed in briefings about what should be done and how our debate should be informed.
To perform the duties that are placed on them, public sector bodies require reliable data on protected characteristics. However, significant gaps remain in the data on sexual orientation and gender identity. National Records of Scotland says that there is not currently a reliable data source on the size and locality of the trans community in Scotland. That is a major reason for requiring an update to the census legislation, and I believe that the bill will allow public sector organisations to fulfil their equality duties better.
It is worth noting that similar information is being considered south of the border. A UK Government white paper and the Office for National Statistics recommended that the 2021 census in England and Wales should include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity and that, as with our census, answering should be voluntary.
As my colleagues have outlined, the Scottish Conservatives want to ensure that the guidance on the questions clearly explains the difference between sex and gender identity, which are often conflated, and also that the questions on gender and sexual orientation are voluntary, with no penalties for those who choose not to answer them.
It is welcome that the wording of the questions will be tested, and that there will be consultation and engagement with National Records of Scotland and other stakeholders. However, we were still keen to ensure that a duty was placed on the Scottish ministers to review the success or otherwise of the proposed questions on sexual orientation and gender identity after they have been included as part of the next census. It is vital that that review happens.
At stage 2, Jamie Greene MSP lodged amendments on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives to seek to address some of those issues. Following discussion with the cabinet secretary, she indicated that, although the amendments could be lodged, she supported what they were trying to do and thought that there was little requirement to lodge amendments. We felt that that was appropriate and withdrew our amendments.
As we have already heard in the debate, the proposals have cross-party support and it has been great to hear what we have heard today. It is good for Parliament to have this kind of discussion, and it is good for Scotland to have this kind of discussion.
The changes that will be brought about by the bill also have the backing of organisations outside Holyrood, and we have had briefings from many of those organisations, saying exactly what they feel and what they think that Parliament should be doing to support communities outside Parliament. We had indications from the Law Society of Scotland, which welcomed the clarity that the questions will be voluntary.
In conclusion, we support the bill to include voluntary questions on gender identity and sexual orientation in future censuses, and we are content with the assurances that have been given. This will have a massive impact going forward. We believe that the bill is good for Scotland because it sets out exactly what is required. We look forward to seeing progress once the bill passes.16:52
I am grateful to my parliamentary colleagues here today for another useful debate on these sensitive matters. I am pleased that stakeholders, the committee and Parliament have supported the key principles of the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill throughout the bill process.
It is right that the questions should be voluntary. It is also critical that all census respondents know that voluntary means just that and there will be no penalty for not answering the questions. From the beginning of the process, we have made it clear that the purpose of the bill is to remove criminal penalty from these questions and make them voluntary rather than the standard compulsory.
Work is in hand by National Records of Scotland to ensure that that is communicated, which includes embedding the words “This question is voluntary” in the text of the new questions, so that census respondents are not required to cross-refer to separate instructions to find that information. That was done with the religion question in the 2011 census. After discussions at stage 2, the registrar general also confirmed that he will make it clear in the covering message on the front of the census questionnaire, as well as in the supporting guidance. I am confident that the messaging that the questions are voluntary will be clear.
Stakeholders have been involved throughout the planning for 2021 to ensure that National Records of Scotland will ask the right questions in the right way. National Records of Scotland carried out a public consultation between October 2015 and January 2016 to understand what information users need from the 2021 census. It is worth stressing that the purpose of the census is to identify needs and to ensure that those needs can be met. We have had a number of good contributions about why we need more information, particularly about sexual orientation and transgender issues. A number of the contributors to the debate made that point, including Claire Baker and Jamie Greene and others. Work has been done directly with a wide range of stakeholders, involving thousands of people from across Scottish society.
The bill process has highlighted that we must continue to ensure the identity of all individuals and groups that have an interest in census matters and ensure that new relationships are developed between them and National Records of Scotland.
It is also critical that stakeholders continue to be kept informed and, where possible, are able to influence plans up until census day.
Pauline McNeill raised the issue of households. I replied to her after stage 1 with information, but I will also copy to her the information that we gave to the committee, particularly about the sensitivities for households—especially individuals who may not have come out to the rest of the family but who want to take part in the census—and how work will be done to respect confidentiality and be discreet.
The census bill has been the first direct involvement in Scotland’s 2021 census for the Scottish Parliament and it has clearly stimulated debate and interest in the census as we move forward to the subordinate legislation process. We have the critical requirement that a census order and census regulations have to be in force before we can have a census in 2021, which will involve extensive work by the committee. I appreciate the work that it has put in to date, but a considerable amount of work on those orders and regulations will be required. Work is already being progressed with the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee to ensure that it has the necessary information this year to thoroughly and appropriately consider these matters.
Passing the census bill will mean that we can ask questions on sexual orientation and transgender status and history on a voluntary basis, but Parliament will still have to agree that the questions will be asked in the 2021 census. I detect from the contributions today that there is a willingness and appreciation that that should be the case. Other questions and other census matters will be considered by the committee and wider Parliament as we progress through the process. The questions are clearly a critical part of the census.
National Records of Scotland is currently planning the whole operation for a successful digital census in 2021. There are only 648 days to go until census day, but the responsibility and influence of Parliament does not end at census day. In my opening speech, I mentioned that National Records of Scotland plans to process and output census data. The registrar general will prepare reports on the census returns, including on data content and operations, and lay them before the Scottish Parliament at the appropriate time after the census.
In addition to those specific reports, the registrar general will prepare a comprehensive report on the overall census operation. It will include an evaluation of the new questions that will be asked in 2021, including the voluntary ones on sexual orientation and transgender status and history, and will also be brought to Parliament for consideration. As members can see, National Records of Scotland has a thorough process in place to collect, process and output census data and also to ensure appropriate consideration and evaluation of those matters.
One issue that was raised in the committee report and in contributions from Ross Greer and Claire Baker is whether the sex question will be on the basis of lived sex. That issue is not the purpose of this bill and, indeed, I agree with Jamie Greene and his approach. The focus of his remarks was specifically on the bill’s content, reflecting the fact that considering the actual wording will come next, as part of the process.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I want to make my point here. I have already communicated to the committee that it is really important that people will have confidence in using the census data and also in completing the data honestly. That will be one of the issues with regard to the wording. I stress—and this is the point that I made to Pauline McNeill—that the issue will be for the committee to consider on the basis of all the evidence that is provided, including the further testing that is currently taking place and consultation with stakeholders. Only when those have been done can we determine what the question will be.
That is what is quite different about this process, compared with other processes. When I present the final census order, I will need to know that there will be agreement on the completeness of the order. That is why the NRS will need to work very closely with the committee to share the evidence of what works and look at comparisons with other countries including the rest of the UK and also Australia, Canada and other places where this will be taking place. That is the right way to go. I cannot definitively give Ross Greer or anybody else an answer, because that is the collaborative and co-operative process that will be involved in putting the census together.
I thank everyone who has contributed throughout the process of the census bill and to today’s debate. The 2021 census will be our first predominantly digital census, and for it to be successful, we must ensure that we ask the right questions in the most appropriate way. I repeat my thanks to all those who gave evidence to help to improve the bill during this parliamentary process and particularly to our colleagues in National Records of Scotland and the bill team. I commend the motion in my name.