The Office for Demographic Change Bill [HL] is a private member’s bill introduced by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Conservative). The bill would create an Office for Demographic Change with a remit to analyse the trends and impact of UK population change. It would also place a duty on the Government to produce an annual charter for demographic change, explaining the Government’s demographic objectives.
The bill received its first reading in the House of Lords on 14 June 2021. Its second reading is scheduled for 4 March 2022.
Lord Hodgson has previously proposed the idea of creating an office for demographic change. In 2019 he wrote a report, published by the think tank Civitas, entitled ‘Overcrowded Islands? The Challenges of Demographic Change for the UK’. Lord Hodgson argued that projected growth in the UK’s population could have negative impacts on the economy and “our environment, our ecology and our society”.
The report defined the UK’s “settled population” as “every person legally entitled to live, and currently living, in the United Kingdom irrespective of race, colour or creed”. Lord Hodgson acknowledged there were “sensitivities” around debates about population and immigration. He argued that “demography presents data on which calm rational discussion—‘a grown-up discussion’—can be based”. The report recommended that:
A demographic authority should be established, along the lines of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which has proven to be successful in providing independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances.
What the bill does
The bill has three clauses.
Clause 1(1) would establish a body corporate called the Office for Demographic Change (henceforth ODC).
Clause 1(2) would establish the ODC’s duties, which would include collecting and analysing evidence on UK population change; and considering future population change, including examining and reporting on the Government’s charter for demographic change (see clause 2).
Clause 1(3) would provide that the ODC must produce an annual report and lay it before Parliament.
Clause 1(4) would provide that a range of assessments must be included in the ODC’s reports, including:
- the economic, environmental, and sociological impacts of the Government’s charter for demographic change;
- the extent to which the charter’s objectives have been achieved and the main risks to their achievement in the future; and
- the extent to which demographic change may affect the Government’s ability to honour international treaty obligations.
Clause 1(5) would provide that the ODC has “complete discretion” in the performance of its duties, except that it must perform them “objectively, transparently, and impartially”, and it must not consider the impact of any alternative policies.
Clause 1(6) would provide that the secretary of state may establish the ODC by means of regulations made by statutory instrument.
Clause 1(7) would provide that regulations made under clause 1(6) could be annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament.
Clause 2(1) would place a duty on the Government to prepare an annual document for the ODC, called the charter for demographic change, which would set out the Government’s policies related to anticipated population change.
Clause 2(2) would provide that the charter must set out the Government’s objectives relating to population change, and the means by which they would be achieved.
Clause 2(3) would provide that a copy of the charter must be laid before Parliament.
Clause 3 would extend the bill to the whole UK and provide for its commencement on the day on which it was passed.
Previous attempt to legislate for an office for demographic change
Lord Hodgson attempted to add amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 which would have had similar provisions to his current private member’s bill. The amendments were ultimately unsuccessful and were not added to the legislation.
During the act’s House of Lords committee stage in September 2020, Lord Hodgson tabled amendments 77 and 78. They would have placed a duty on the Government to produce a charter for EU immigration and demographic change and created an office for EU immigration and demographic change, respectively. The amendments were limited to EU immigration due to the scope of the legislation.
Speaking to the amendments, Lord Hodgson made similar arguments to those in the 2019 Civitas report. He said that establishing an office for demographic change would “lance the boil of an issue which has divided and disfigured our society for too long”.
The Government did not support the amendments. The Government minister, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, said the Government had set out its plans for a new points-based immigration system and therefore it “did not believe the charter proposed in amendment 77 would make our immigration objectives any clearer”.
On establishing a new demographic authority, Lord Parkinson said he did “not believe we need a whole new body and process” to analyse the impact of the new immigration system. He said there was already an independent body, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which “hold[s] the Government to account” for its immigration policies. He said the MAC was “widely recognised for its expertise and impartiality”, and that it had a remit to consider the “environmental, ecological and societal impacts, as proposed by amendment 78, as well as economic impacts”.
Following the debate, Lord Hodgson withdrew amendment 77 and did not move amendment 78.
- Office for National Statistics, ‘National population projections: 2020-based interim’, 12 January 2022
- Lord Hodgson, ‘In 50 years, our population will have increased by over 50 per cent—not counting Hong Kongers. Is this sustainable?’, Conservative Home, 7 May 2021
- BBC News, ‘Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like’, 9 November 2017; and ‘The great myth of urban Britain’, 28 June 2012
- John Elledge, ‘Why we must finally abandon the myth that Britain is overcrowded’, New Statesman, 13 August 2020
- Population Matters, ‘Small island, big population: why the UK needs a sustainable population policy’, 6 August 2020