§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt)
Ministers always do their best to reply to all ministerial correspondence in as short a time as possible.
§ Mr. Dowd
I am sure that the Minister must be aware that all hon. Members have to deal with a wide variety of public sector organisations and departments, nearly all of which have set down some sort of minimum time in which we can expect a response of them. Lewisham council, for instance, will reply—this applies to any department—within 10 working days. The great exception is of course the Government, Ministers and the Departments for which they are immediately responsible. I do not doubt that people try their best, but is it not slightly hypocritical of the Government to refuse to impose on themselves standards that they freely inflict on everyone else?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman appears to be unaware of the detailed targets, set out by Ministers and reported on to this House, covering the number of working days within which correspondence will be answered. All Departments have those ministerially agreed targets, and their performance against them is monitored centrally, the results being published in the Official Report.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
Does my right hon. Friend agree that improving response times is very much part of the citizens charter initiative?
§ Mr. Hunt
Yes, I completely agree. It has been part of the charter philosophy that people should be entitled to have their correspondence dealt with within a reasonable period. When I was Secretary of State for Employment, I took pride in the fact that the Employment Service met some testing targets for responding to correspondence. I applaud it for what it did and for what many other public organisations are now doing as a result.