HC Deb 08 March 1993 vol 220 cc659-60
33. Mr. Steen

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his policy towards establishing a citizens charter regarding Government posts abroad.

Mr. Waldegrave

Citizens charter principles apply to all public services, here and abroad.

Mr. Steen

Is the Chancellor of the Duchy aware that the diplomatic service overseas boasts leisure facilities on a par with those of some of the best five-star hotels, with 135 swimming pools and 81 tennis courts? Just as the hotel industry is having to consider carefully how it is run, does the Minister agree that we need to find evidence of whether tennis courts and swimming pools make the civil service leaner and fitter? If he is thinking of a charter for overseas, will he consider that permanent secretaries and their families travel first class at taxpayers' expense, and that every member of staff in the diplomatic service travels club class if they have to be on a plane for more than two and a half hours?

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not find myself entirely in sympathy with my hon. Friend. I have had the privilege to be a Foreign Office Minister and I am aware of the extreme pressures under which many of our diplomatic staff work abroad. I do not think that the House would begrudge them some basic amenities.

34. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to introduce new charters.

Mr. Robert Jackson

New charters in 1993 will cover child support, the environment, and further and higher education. Other charters, such as the parents charter, will be revised to reflect new and higher standards.

Mr. Coombs

May I prevail on my hon. Friend to encourage local authorities to undertake the production of charters, in the hope that that may do something to improve their rather poor public image? What advantage, in particular, does he see in the production of league tables so that residents can compare how their local authority performs?

Mr. Jackson

The Government do encourage local authorities to produce citizens charters and many are doing so or thinking about it. My hon. Friend refers to league tables and the Government are committed to the improvement of information about councils' performances. It is interesting to note that the other day the National Consumer Council welcomed the proposed publication of local authority league tables, which it described as a sea change in what people can find out about council services". I noticed my hon. Friend's implication that such league tables are likely to show that Labour authorities provide relatively low-quality services at high cost to the public, which is no doubt why they are so hostile to the proposal.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

In drawing up his plans for future charters, will the Minister make it clear to the House how he intends to involve consumers—the citizens—in decisions about what should be contained in the charters? Concern has been expressed, not least by the National Consumer Council, that citizens are not sufficiently involved in decisions about what should be in the charters as they are drawn up by civil servants and those who operate the services, together with Ministers.

Mr. Jackson

We encourage every Department, when drawing up a charter, to conduct some sort of detailed survey of customer opinion and to consult customers when framing the survey. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not join those who question the money being spent to enable that new customer service to take place.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. and hon. Friends reconsider their decision not to have a charter for the disabled? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable that my constituents from Manchester Davyhulme and those from other constituencies should be confined to unheated guards vans for long journeys when are travelling on lines other than InterCity? Under a Conservative Government in the 1990s that is just not acceptable. Will my hon. Friend see that British Rail gets its act together and starts treating disabled people at least as well as the airlines do?

Mr. Jackson

I will certainly look at the case to which my hon. Friend refers. As to whether we should have charters for particular groups, such as people with disabilities or other special groups, I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). We thought long and hard about the idea of specialist charters, but we believe that it is better for people in special groups to be treated on an integrated basis with other customers and clients of public service organisations. In our view, it is not necessary to have a special charter for people with disabilities. Instead, when appropriate, such people should be taken into account when charters are being framed. Indeed, they are taken into account in the case of almost all charters, except where it would be inappropriate to do so.

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