The law provides for a census to be taken not less than five years after the previous census. However, every census requires further legislation which details how a particular census is to be run.
The legislative process necessary to undertake a census in England and Wales is governed by the 1920 Census Act, as amended by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. This makes it possible for the United Kingdom Statistics Authority to take a census once Parliament has approved the necessary 'secondary' legislation.
There are three stages to the parliamentary process of this secondary legislation:
1. White Paper
The 2011 Census of Population and Housing White Paper ‘Helping to shape tomorrow '(Cm 7513) announced the UK Statistics Authority's proposals for the 2011 Census in England and Wales. It was presented to Parliament in a written Ministerial statement on 11 December 2008 and in bilingual format to the National Assembly for Wales by the Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery.
The White Paper detailed the extensive consultation undertaken to identify requirements for census data and set out the topics and questions proposed for inclusion. It also highlighted changes in methodology, such as the delivery of questionnaires by post and the option to complete the questionnaire via the Internet. Data security and confidentiality were highlighted as top priorities in all of these plans.
2. Census Order
The Census Order set out the details of the information to be collected from the 2011 Census questions. It was laid before Parliament on 21 October and debated in a Commons committee on 30 November 2009 and in the House of Lords on 2 December 2009. The Order was approved by both Houses and was made by the Privy Council on 9 December.
3. Census Regulations
The Regulations described the delivery and collection methodology, prescribed the measures to ensure the security of the completed forms and confidentiality of the data in the field, and included a facsimile of the questionnaires to be used. The Minister for the Cabinet Office laid the Census Regulations before Parliament on 4 March 2010 and they came into force on 31 March 2010. The Regulations are subject to the negative resolution procedure of both Houses. Separate Regulations for Wales were laid before the National Assembly for Wales in April 2010.
Wider UK legislative process
Legislative responsibility for the censuses in Scotland and Northern Ireland is devolved to the respective legislatures.
The responsibility for making Census Regulations with respect to the census in Wales now rests with Welsh ministers. Responsibility was transferred from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the National Assembly for Wales in December 2006 by virtue of a Transfer of Functions Order (TFO), made under the provisions of the Government in Wales Act 1998. The TFO also made provision for Welsh ministers to be consulted on the content of the Census Order. The regulations for Wales followed a similar timetable to those for England.