HC Deb 21 April 1999 vol 329 cc897-8
14. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

What steps he has taken to encourage Departments to set improved response times for letters from (a) hon. Members and (b) members of the public [80305]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)

The Government believe that all correspondence should be answered quickly and clearly. All Departments and agencies are required to set targets for responding to correspondence from Members of Parliament and the public, and to monitor and report on their performance. Later this month, I shall address a workshop for those concerned to discuss how we can further improve correspondence handling by central Government Departments.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman knows that every single Member of Parliament is aware that he or she is not receiving the service that they and their constituents require. Surely, it is not good enough to set targets of three, or even four, weeks for receiving a reply to a letter from a Member of Parliament, when there is a failure to meet those targets in 50 per cent. of cases. What is he really going to do about that situation? We have just heard about all those additional advisers; perhaps he should sack them and simply employ some good secretaries.

Mr. Kilfoyle

That is a bit rich coming from an ex-political adviser. Having said that—

Mr. Bruce

I have never been a political adviser.

Mr. Kilfoyle

If the hon. Gentleman was not a political adviser, I withdraw the remark.

As for the question about correspondence, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that needs vary considerably from Department to Department. It is grossly unfair to say that all Departments are awful. Some do not meet the standards that have been set, but others do so. The difference is that the Labour Government set out to change things to ensure that Members on both sides of the House receive the service that they deserve and expect.

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