HC Deb 24 July 1974 vol 877 cc1581-3
10. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider further measures to inform the public about the responsibilities of the local ombudsmen and the procedure to be followed by the public when approaching the local ombudsman with a complaint; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Oakes

This is a matter for the Commission for Local Administration itself. I understand that the commission is already giving urgent consideration to it.

Mr. Madel

As it is vital that the public know about the local ombudsmen, will the Under-Secretary ask local authorities to circulate a leaflet to all ratepayers, possibly with the autumn rate demands, giving information about the ombudsmen? Will he look at the situa- tion in which a person with a complaint, which he has to make in the first instance through a councillor for a particular area, may not live in that area and thus may not know the councillors representing the area? Ought not the system to be changed if we are to enable the local ombudsmen to get to work to deal with local grievances?

Mr. Oakes

Distribution of a leaflet to every ratepayer would be somewhat costly, although I shall look into the suggestion. Leaflets are being prepared for citizens' advice bureaux so that information about the local ombudsmen is available. With regard to pursuing a complaint through councillors for a particular area or a particular authority, if the councillors will not approach an ombudsman and flatly refuse to help a constituent, the constituent can go direct to the ombudsman with, if necessary, the assistance of his Member of Parliament.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Will my hon. Friend accept that it is becoming obvious that some councillors are reluctant to forward complaints to the ombudsmen because they think that those complaints reflect upon their councils? What is the procedure whereby a Member of Parliament can take a matter direct to a local ombudsman?

Mr. Oakes

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this point. The position is that a complainant who believes that he has suffered injustice must approach a member of the local council first. If he is unsuccessful in persuading any councillor to forward the complaint he may approach the ombudsman direct, and in doing so he is free to seek the advice and assistance of his Member of Parliament.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Are all local ombudsmen now in position? If not, would it not be better to wait until they are all in position before the necessary publicity campaign is launched?

Mr. Oakes

Three ombudsmen have been appointed but unfortunately at the moment they are operating from a temporary address, 47 Parliament Street. They are empowered to examine cases as from now and I remind the House that this relates to cases arising from 1st April 1974.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

With regard to publicity, will my hon. Friend consider approaching the various local radio stations, which welcome material such as that relating to ombudsmen which they can use as a basis for their local programmes? I am sure that if he contacts the local radio stations they would welcome the opportunity of broadcasting a programme on this subject. Will he approach them?

Mr. Oakes

I welcome that suggestion and I shall look into it.