Census (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill passed

New questions can be asked – but answering will be voluntary.

New voluntary questions can be asked in Scotland’s 2021 Census on transgender status and history, and sexual orientation, following the passing of the Census (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill.

The Bill will make changes to the 1920 Census Act to enable National Records of Scotland to ask these questions on a voluntary basis. The final proposed questions will be laid before the Scottish Parliament for agreement before the census takes place.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, said:

“Our country has relied on the census for over 200 years and it remains the best way to gather the information government, councils, NHS and other users need.

“This is an important Bill that will enable questions on transgender status and history, and sexual orientation to be asked on a voluntary basis for the very first time, with no penalty for not answering them.

“It is widely accepted that there are currently data gaps on sexual orientation and trans status. Including questions on these demographics in the census will provide valuable data for public service planning purposes and will help public bodies meet duties under the Equality Act 2010.”

Paul Lowe, Registrar General for Scotland, said:

“National Records of Scotland are consulting extensively with groups all over Scotland to develop and test proposed questions to ensure they are supported by the public.

“By asking questions which reflect a modern, inclusive Scotland, we will ensure the census will continue to be a vital source of information for decades to come.”

The power to ask new questions on a compulsory basis already exists in the Census Act 1920 but refusing to answer a census question or neglecting to do so is an offence under the section 8 of the Census Act 1920. This Bill allows questions on sexual orientation and trans status and history to be asked on a voluntary basis. These questions are aimed at improving data used for public service planning purposes and will be entirely voluntary.

Background

  • Scotland’s next census will take place on Sunday 21 March 2021, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament.
  • Plans for Scotland's Census 2021 include details on question development, privacy and confidentiality, collecting and publishing information and the legislative process.
  • A census is organised in Scotland every 10 years and collects information on households and individuals to inform public services, policy and research.
  • Scotland's Registrars General have taken responsibility for the country's census since 1861.