Greens enter debate about 2011 census

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The Green Party is petitioning the government not to allow the 2011 census to be run by an American arms manufacturer.

Lockheed Martin, which produces missiles and land mines used in Afghanistan and Iraq that are illegal in many countries, is one of two remaining contractors in the selection process.

80% of their business is with the US Department of Defence and other Federal Government agencies.

According to the Green Party, Lockheed Martin boast of their ability to provide “integrated threat information” that combines information from many different sources.

The Green Party’s LGBT spokesperson, Nigel Tart, is horrified by this prospect.

He told “They’re taking us for idiots if they think people will entrust such personal information to an outfit like Lockheed Martin.

“It’s doubly insulting to the LGBT community, as the government recently defended its refusal to include a question about sexual orientation, by saying it might put people off responding!”

Launching the Census Alert campaign, Green Party Principal Speaker Siân Berry said: “A fundamental tenet of census-taking is that the people filling in the forms should trust that they are doing so in privacy, to ensure they give accurate information.

“Involving a company with the dubious connections of Lockheed Martin could easily undermine public confidence, and so devalue the worth of the information collected.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) will decide in January 2008 which company has won the contract.

In April spoke to Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, who tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons asking the government to ensure that a question is asked in 2011 about sexual orientation.

“A question on sexual orientation would help to monitor equality legislation and improve service provision to lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” his motion reads.

Mr Williams, the MP for Bristol West, welcomed the decision to ask a question about civil partnerships, but said that is important to know how many gay people there are in the UK.

“There will always be some dispute as to the proportion of people that are gay, lesbian or bisexual – is it 5%? 8%? 10%?

“It is important that the make-up of society is understood.”

A spokesman for the ONS said: “The Office for National Statistics recognises that there is some user demand for information on sexual identity but considers that the census is not suitable for collecting information on sexual identity for the first time.

“The main priority for the Census is an accurate headcount. There are significant concerns about privacy and acceptability and the effect that such a question could have on the overall response.”

Mr Williams told

“I do not buy this argument that this is not a suitable question for the census, every census since 1901 has added questions – we now ask people about their race and even if people are white and Irish.

“In 2001 I wrote onto my census form that I am Welsh, because there was no way of recording that as I live in England, and that I am gay.”

Mr Williams said that some reluctance to answer questions on sexual orientation could be overcome by making people aware of how census data is used:

“I can understand that some people will be reluctant to disclose, but information about individuals is secret for 100 years and it is only the aggregate statistics that are published

“There is a risk of under-reporting, but a PR campaign by ONS and campaigning groups to encourage people to register would counter that.”

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 Census will not be made until the consultation and testing programme is complete and Parliament gives formal approval in 2010.

A White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals is scheduled for the next parliamentary session.

“We are looking at the feasibility of including the question (or questions) on ONS social surveys, to allow for estimates of the size and characteristics of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) population to be produced.

“We are consulting on this with government and non-governmental organisations, including representatives from LGB groups,” said an ONS spokesman.

The Green Party has a petition on the Downing Street website.