The Census (Return of Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL] 2017-19 is a Government Bill that provides for voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be included in the census in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 1 May 2019. It received its first reading in the House of Commons on 26 June 2019; Second Reading is scheduled for 17 July 2019.
A census takes place in the UK every decade, with the next census planned for March 2021. The census collects demographic information about all UK residents.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the census in England and Wales. It recommends adding two new questions to the 2021 census on sexual orientation and gender identity. It recommends that these questions are voluntary to answer, and that they are only asked of people aged 16 or over.
In Northern Ireland, the census is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). NISRA recommends adding a voluntary question on sexual orientation, limited to people aged 16 and over.
The Bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of topics that a census may ask about in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. It also provides that there is no criminal penalty for not responding to these questions. It does not require either of these topics to be asked about.
The new questions have been welcomed by organisations representing the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. The Bill was also generally well-received in the House of Lords. Members of the Lords raised queries about the privacy of respondents’ answers to the new questions, and the clarity of guidance for transgender people in answering questions on sex and gender identity. However, the Bill completed its Lords stages without any amendments.
Other changes are recommended for the 2021 census but are not covered by this Bill. The Commons Library briefing Preparing for the 2021 census (England and Wales) (CBP 8531) explains the ONS’ proposals in more detail.