This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the second reading in the House of Lords of the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL] on 13 May 2019.
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The Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL] is a three-clause government bill that provides for questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be included in censuses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also provides that completion of these questions should, in effect, be voluntary. The bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 1 May 2019. It is due to have its second reading on 13 May 2019.
The next UK census is expected to take place in March 2021. The census is a devolved matter, but the relevant bodies from each region of the UK work closely together in preparing the census. For example, they intend to hold the census on the same date, and have committed to using the same topics and questions whenever possible. As the Welsh Assembly has not amended the main relevant legislation, the Census Act 1920, the first clause of the bill applies to both England and Wales. However, the Welsh Assembly must be consulted before further legislation to enable the 2021 census is made. The second clause applies to Northern Ireland in the absence of an executive and sitting Assembly. Separate legislation is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.
The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) carried out an extensive consultation before recommending changes to the census. This resulted in new questions in three areas: sexual orientation, gender identity and past service in the armed forces. The first two of these are the subject of this bill. The ONS also recommended excluding some questions previously asked, and changing some response options for continuing questions.
The new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are designed to meet a need for better quality information on these subjects. In particular, the data will help in developing policy, planning public services—for example, health services— and helping public authorities to meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. The questions will only be asked of people aged 16 or over. There will be no penalties for not completing these questions, making them in effect voluntary. Penalties exist for not completing the remainder of the census, apart from a question on religion introduced in 2001.