Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Government wants to know whose bed you’re sleeping in

Here is some sound advice for anyone having an illicit love affair: if you do not want to be found out, do not arrange to sleep together on the night of March 27-28, 2011.

That is the night when the government is going to count the British population, creating a precise, comprehensive record of who was sleeping where, how old they were, what ethnic background they come from, and what kind of central heating kept them warm that night. The 2011 census is already being called a “snoopers' charter”. It is certainly going to give everyone an incentive not to lay their head to rest in the wrong house, at least for that one night.

The Conservatives complained yesterday that the 32-page questionnaire is too long, too expensive, and likely to undermine public support for the exercise. Anyone who does not fill it in risks a £1,000 fine. The forms will sent out by post, but it will be possible to fill them in online.

Householders will be required for the first time to give the sex and date of birth of any visitor staying that night.

This will also be the first census with a question about same-sex civil partnerships. The question about a person's marital status has expanded from four possibilities — married, separated, divorced, or widowed — to eight.

Householders will also be asked to state how many bedrooms there are in the house, information that could affect the size of council tax bills, and what type of central heating the property has. Another new question is about second homes. Anyone who stays at a different address for more than 30 days a year will be required to specify the address. For MPs, that information is now public knowledge. Others might wonder why the state needs to know.

The Tory shadow Cabinet minister Nick Hurd said yesterday: “Just because the government has the legal powers to ask these questions does not give the state the licence to ask anything they want. These bedroom snoopers are yet another sign of how the Labour government has no respect for the privacy of law-abiding citizens.”

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