HC Deb 25 October 1993 vol 230 cc569-72
32. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what discussions he is having with members of the United States Government about the citizens charter; and if he will make a statement.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I met Vice-President Gore and key members of his staff on 18 October. We discussed the United States Administration's national performance review initiative. The Vice-President emphasised the similarities between the recently announced United States programme and our citizens charter. He was grateful for the help his team had already received from British civil servants and he wanted this dialogue to continue. Members of his staff will be attending the "Service for the Citizen" conference in London in December.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Vice-President Gore's national review includes setting standards, market testing and reducing unnecessary regulation? Does he agree that the United States Administration are following Britain's lead and adopting our principles and our citizens charter to improve their public services?

Mr. Waldegrave

In this matter, the answer clearly is yes. Both Governments are faced with the same problems of rising expectations and the search for greater efficiency. Both Governments have come to similar conclusions, and I am happy to say that Britain is some two years ahead.

Mr. Enright

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the advice of the United States on open government? If he has taken such advice, will he consider resigning in view of the fact that, in a previous post, he was affected—whether deliberately or not—by one of the greatest cover-ups of which we have heard recently?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman would be wise to wait for the end of the inquiry. It is not incumbent on members of a party which was not trusted enough by its leader at the time to be told about the Chevaline project to give us lectures on the subject.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does not the fact that Vice-President Gore's review has come to the same conclusions as my right hon. Friend show that my right hon. Friend's policies of market testing and compulsory competitive tendering are the way forward for the delivery of public services? Is not that the right way to bring about a cultural change in the delivery of this country's public services so that an enormous amount of money can be saved, particularly in the delivery of local authority services?

Mr. Waldegrave

The principles behind what both we and the Americans are doing lead to those conclusions. It is better for public services, and better for those who work in public services, to know that waste is being winkled out. They do not want to waste taxpayers' money, any more than taxpayers want that money to be wasted.

33. Dr. Kim Howells

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made to date under the citizens charter.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. David Davis)

Excellent progress is being made. There are now 37 charters, and 411 organisations applied for this year's charter mark competition. We shall announce the winners on 27 October.

Dr. Howells

Will the Minister comment on the progress of one of those 37 charters, the taxpayers charter, which is, as I am sure he will agree, an important one? How will the public's access to the mysteries of the payment and administration of taxes be helped by the wholesale closure of tax offices all over the country, including in my constituency?

Mr. Davis

A new adjudicator has been appointed to work on the taxpayers charter, which was the first to be implemented. There has been a significant improvement in the service to individuals who are pursuing their tax concerns. We have received letters complimenting us on the effect of the taxpayers charter.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not the most natural thing in the world that it was the Conservative party which introduced the citizens charter in this country? Were we not the party which gave ordinary council tenants the right to buy, the party which gave parents their rights and also the party which gave trade union members on the shop floor their rights?

Mr. Davis

As ever, my hon. Friend puts things in perfectly clear terms and is absolutely right. The citizens charter is now such a success that both Opposition parties are now claiming to have invented it.

Mr. Meacher

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has undermined progress both on the citizens charter and on open government by the way in which he has handled his own Department? Either his civil servants were not open with him and did not give him the relevant information on the arms to Iraq affair, in which case his incompetence to run a Department is proven, or they did give him the relevant information, in which case he has given neither Parliament nor the Scott inquiry the full truth. Is it not abundantly clear, either way, that on grounds of integrity and honesty he ought now to resign?

Mr. Davis

It falls to me to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. Last time I exchanged words with him across the Floor of the House it was about the dock labour scheme, of which he was an avid supporter.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Answer the question.

Mr. Davis

I shall answer the question in a second. I had hoped that in the meantime the hon. Gentleman had perhaps gained rather more respect for good management and value for money. The hon. Gentleman, like all of us, will have to wait for the outcome of the Scott inquiry.

Mr. Davis

As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes his judgment half way through the case and shows just how much respect he has for judicial procedures. He should wait for the outcome of the Scott inquiry, when I suspect —in fact, I am certain—that all that he has to say will1 be proved wrong.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Can my hon. Friend tell the House what has been the effect of the public relations campaign to broadcast the existence of the charter mark scheme? How many applications have been put in this year and how does that number compare with last year? Can my hon. Friend tell the House something about the quality of those applications?

Mr. Davis

There have been 411 charter mark applications this year, all of very high quality. There has certainly been a net improvement in quality over the year. The scheme is proving to be an excellent incentive in the improvement of public service throughout Britain.

34. Mr. Raynsford

. To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much his Department has spent on publicity and public relations activity related to the citizens charter.

Mr. Waldegrave

The Charter Unit has no separate publicity budget. However, media, production and distribution costs for projects carried out by the Charter Unit was just over £1 million in each of the first two years and, in this financial year, just under £500,000 by the end of October.

Mr. Raynsford

At a time when many public services are teetering on the brink of closure because of underfunding and when many others are facing the prospect of their budgets being savaged by the Chancellor next month, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a better use of that publicity material—of that publicity budget—to persuade the Chancellor that the delivery of proper and efficient public services depends on investment in those services? If the right hon. Gentleman had sat with me and many colleagues at lunchtime today listening to the appalling story of London Transport's betrayal by the Government, who promised funding but have now withdrawn it, he would surely recognise that it is nonsense to talk about improving public services without the requisite investment in them.

Mr. Waldegrave

I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is a proper part of any public service that its users should be given proper information about how to use it and about their rights, and in connection with their expectations. One cannot expect to run a proper public service unless one does that, and to have a small central unit encouraging that is very worth while.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who have followed the Scott inquiry admire the open and frank way in which he responded to all the questions? In old-fashioned parlance, he behaved like a gentleman.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

Given the emphasis that the Government are now putting on tackling the problems of crime, in the context of the amounts being invested in publicity for his citizens charter, will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster examine the amount of money that goes to victim support, and the action that he can take on victim support, as many of the groups that provide support are under enormous financial pressure and do not feel that they are getting from the Government the support that they need to help victims of crime?

Mr. Waldegrave

That programme falls to the Lord Chancellor's Department. As a long-standing supporter of the Bristol victim support scheme, I know exactly what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It is not so much a matter of publicity; it is a matter of finding funds for a worthwhile service.

Sir Paul Beresford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sums to which he referred as being spent on promoting the citizens charter pale into insignificance when compared with the amount that many Labour local authorities, particularly in London, are spending on promoting their propaganda and covering their incompetence?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend speaks with great experience of what Labour authorities get up to in neighbouring boroughs to that which he used to administer. It is worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that I answered the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) by saying that my Department's budget for publication was £1 million a year. Our public expenditure is £244,000 million a year. It does not seem like an incorrect balance to me.