§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the Citizen's Charter. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the Citizen's Charter White Paper.
This Government have consistently extended competition to raise standards and to give the citizen wider choice. We have introduced privatisation and competitive tendering; reforms to give new choice in health and education; and measures to give new opportunities in housing. These have worked to the benefit of the consumer.
"The White Paper I am introducing today will build on these measures. Action will be expected from all public services on a number of fronts. First, standards. We will expect public bodies to publish explicit standards of performance and the results they actually achieve. Targets will be set for improvement year by year.
"Secondly, accountability. Full, accurate information must be made readily available, in plain understandable language, about services provided. We will make it simpler to compare the performance of one body against another. This will put pressure on each one to emulate the best and provide consumers with a basis for making choice. Except where their safety is threatened, public servants should no longer be anonymous. We will expect them to identify themselves to the public, 483 with the giving of names on the telephone or in letters and, where appropriate, by the wearing of name badges.
"Thirdly, redress. Where problems occur, people are entitled to have an explanation, and to know what to do. Avenues for complaint should be well-publicised and simple. And when that does not suffice, there should be clear routes to compensation or redress.
"This Citizen's Charter initiative will cover all our public services, as well as those large utilities, which are now in the private sector. It is the widest ranging and most comprehensive ever undertaken by government. It will involve: more privatisation; wider competition; further contracting-out; pay more related to performance; published performance targets—local and national; comprehensive information on standards achieved; more effective complaints procedures; tougher and more independent inspectorates and auditing; and better redress for the citizen when things go badly wrong. The citizen is also a taxpayer; public services must give value for money within the tax bill the nation can afford. Today's White Paper is only the beginning of the charter process. Nevertheless, it contains well over 70 specific measures to raise standards.
"I would now like to set out for the House some of the main measures in our White Paper. First, on education. I commend to the House two old-fashioned concepts that are the benchmarks of success—reports and results. From the new school year parents will be guaranteed a school report on their child's progress. Parents have a right to be able to discuss this progress with their children's teachers, and we will ensure they know how to exercise this right. We will also require schools to publish in standard format results achieved. And we will ensure that tables comparing schools on a number of measures are published locally, and not just on exam results.
"There will also be significant reform of schools inspection. My right honourable friend the Member for Rushcliffe will be publishing detailed proposals later this summer. But I can tell the House today that there will be regular inspection of all schools, carried out with the help of independent people from outside, as well as inside, the education profession. Results of inspections will be distributed to parents. Tougher, more rigorous inspection will be the result.
"I turn, secondly, to housing. This Government have given new rights to millions of householders. But we are determined that those who remain in public sector housing secure a better deal. For housing associations there will be a stronger tenants guarantee. For council tenants, we will update and improve the tenants' charter that we first published 10 years ago. We will examine ways to simplify and to strengthen the procedures giving tenants a right to have small but urgent repairs done quickly. We are ensuring that they receive proper information on the standards of service they can expect. And for the first time we will consider 484 bids directly from tenants in the worst run estates who want to form housing action trusts. No longer will the improvement of their estates be frustrated by the opposition of the local council.
"We are particularly concerned at the low standard of management of housing. We will therefore bring forward proposals to extend compulsory competitive tendering into public sector housing management. The Citizen's Charter will end, once and for all, the patronising of tenants by incompetent town halls.
"Thirdly, on health. We have already introduced new contracts in the health service to raise the standards demanded of hospitals. Under the Citizen's Charter we will expect publication of clear standards for patient care right across the health service. And we will begin by taking two further specific steps for the benefit of NHS patients.
"For out-patients we will require new procedures on the handling of appointments. This will mean that the practice of calling many patients to an appointment at the same time, which has been widely deplored, will be brought to an end. For in-patients there have been substantial improvements in the quality and quantity of care provided. Nevertheless, a minority of people still have to wait too long for treatment.
"We therefore propose that from next April guaranteed maximum waiting times for in-patient or day care treatment should be published. The initial focus will be on those treatments where waiting lists are longest, and where the pain, discomfort, and general reduction in quality of life most significant. I have in mind hip replacements, hernia repairs, and cataract removals. Guaranteed maximum waiting times are being negotiated now but could range from only a few months to more than a year. If it appears that the treatment cannot be provided in the guaranteed time, the health authority or board will seek provision elsewhere including, if appropriate, from the private sector.
"Fourthly, I turn to transport. For road users, we will tackle the nuisance caused by road repairs. We will use new powers to make utilities digging up local roads co-ordinate their activity and complete work more swiftly. And, for large-scale road repairs, we will extend the use of "lane rental" incentives and penalties in order to reduce time taken for repairs. We will end the unnecessary coning off of miles of motorway when no work is being done.
"There are still too many long stretches of motorway without proper service areas. In order to speed up the provision of these facilities, we will end the present system under which the Department of Transport is solely responsible for identifying sites. In future we will allow developers to take the initiative in selecting sites to provide the facilities motorists need.
"We will reduce the delay in getting a driving test and make it easier to book appointments.
"The deregulation of coach services in the early 1980s has enabled a huge explosion in cheap 485 long-distance travel. Outside London, the deregulation of buses has brought in new operators and better value for money. We have decided that the time has come to deregulate bus services in London.
"Travellers on railways and Underground services have in too many cases been expected to endure sub-standard performance. The Government believe that here too further competition is desirable. We therefore expect to set out later this year detailed plans to privatise British Rail. BR's monopoly of the network will be ended. W. will also set up a new independent regulator to ensure fair access to the network and protect the customer.
"The Government will expect both BR and London Underground to be more open about standards of performance and methods of redress. British Rail will improve its compensation arrangements and it has been asked, as a start, to develop a new scheme, starting with annual season ticket holders. For the first time, where service over the previous year has been poor passengers will be entitled to discounts when their tickers are renewed.
"The Government want to relate pay to performance in all aspects of public service. As an example, on the Underground and railways we will expect records of punctuality and absenteeism to be taken into account where relevant, in packages of pay for drivers, guards, signalling staff and others whose service impacts most directly on the public. Dedicated workers should receive a better reward than those who fail the public.
"Fifthly, I turn to local authorities. Many of the measures that I have already outlined will help to improve their performance. However, there are two further steps which I wish to announce today.
"We will strengthen the powers of the Audit Commission. It will be empowered to publish comparisons which name local councils and education authorities. In future they will also be required to publish a formal response to auditors' reports. We will also extend the scope of compulsory competitive tendering.
"Sixthly, in central government we will promote more market-testing and extend contracting-out into new areas in the NHS, such as distribution, warehousing and non-emergency transport. We will publish a White Paper on this in the autumn. Government activities should not enjoy immunity from inspection and enforcement on such matters of health and safety. Except where national security is involved, all future legislation will ensure that Crown bodies are subject to the same inspection and enforcement procedures as others.
"Seventhly, we have new proposals on the Post Once. We will ensure that clear standards are widely publicised for service to the public. A new regulator will be appointed who will arbitrate on complaints, monitor performance and advise the Secretary of State on setting standards and protecting customer interests.
"Here, too, we believe that further competition would benefit the public. We will therefore narrow 486 significantly the level under which the Post Office has a monopoly for letter delivery. We will reduce it from the present £1 to a level much nearer the first-class stamp.
"Mr. Speaker, all these measures will bring direct benefits to our citizens. But we want to ensure that they have all the support that is needed in exercising the new opportunities that the Citizen's Charter will give.
"We will therefore act to strengthen the powers of the regulators of the public utilities on standards of service. We will ensure that the powers available to each will be brought up to the levels of the strongest. We will thus all be able to set guaranteed standards and require compensation to be paid where standards are not met. We will also enable them to require fixed appointment times for customers for whom that is important. We intend to end the annoyance caused to people waiting in all day for someone to call.
"In the public services, effective inspection is the key to maintaining standards. I have already outlined our proposals for inspection of schools. The Government will also introduce an independent element into other inspectorates. As a first step, more lay members will be appointed to the inspectorate of constabulary later this year. And there will be a full review of the independence and effectiveness of the social services inspectorate. Detailed proposals will be published later this year.
"We will also be consulting on the introduction of a new concept, the introduction of a network of lay adjudicators. These will be people who can help the citizen get a swift resolution of those small but irritating complaints which cause so much frustration.
"Finally, Mr. Speaker, the public are entitled to expect that essential services will not be damaged or interrupted by industrial action, which has not been put to the test of a ballot or which is unlawful in some other way. At present, if the employer does nothing, the citizen is powerless. We therefore propose to amend the law. We will give a new right to individual members of the public to seek an injunction to halt unlawful industrial action affecting services covered by the Citizen's Charter.
"This White Paper is only the beginning of the charter process. During the next few months, separate charters for specific services will he published. And we will be introducing a new charter standard for quality in public services. Only those who can meet the high standards that the public expect, will earn the right to display a new charter mark.
"We will introduce legislation wherever necessary to bring about the changes proposed. In addition, to drive the reform process through, I shall be setting up a special unit in the Cabinet Office. And I shall be appointing a panel of independent advisers to identify new areas for action and to help carry the programme forward. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that its first chairman will be Sir James Blyth, Director and Chief Executive of Boots.
487 "Mr. Speaker, the Citizen's Charter initiative will be fundamental to this Government's policies for the 1990s. It is a programme for a decade. There is much that is good in our public services. They contain a fund of talent, energy and commitment. Our new measures will release more of those qualities so that we can raise standards up to and beyond the best that is currently available. The charter programme will find better ways of converting the money that can be afforded into even better services. I want the people of this country to have services in which they as citizens can be confident and which public servants themselves can take pride.
"I commend these proposals to the House."
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, out of courtesy, I must thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating a Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I said "out of courtesy" because this was not a Statement that the Opposition required. It is the right of the Opposition to require Statements made in another place to be repeated in this House. However, our stance on this particular subject is neutral because we recognise exactly what the Government's intention is in making the Statement; we must expect that during this pre-electoral period the Government will use parliamentary time in order to make Statements of this nature.
I have one very serious point, but before reaching it, I should like to comment on some of the things the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said. I apologise to him for referring to page numbers. On page 6 of my text of the Statement I read that,The Citizen's Charter will end, once and for all, the patronising of tenants by incompetent town halls".Is the noble Lord saying that all town halls are incompetent? Is he saying that some town halls are incompetent; many town halls are incompetent; Labour-controlled town halls are incompetent; or Conservative-controlled town halls are incompetent? Is this another attack on local government from the Government Benches? I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could spell that out.
On page 8 of this long Statement, the expression is used:We will end the unnecessary coning off of miles of motorway when no work is being done".I welcome this enormously, as a perpetual traveller along the M.4, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, knows. It will save me endless angry discussions with him in the Bishops' Bar, when I become extremely irritated, knowing that the whole thing is quite useless, because I have been held up in my travels. The Government have had 12 years in which to put the problem right. Surely they ought to have done better than that.
On page 10 of the Statement the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said:The Government want to relate pay to performance in all aspects of public service".That is an important statement.
488 Does it mean that the pay of senior executives of utilities will be related to aspects of their service? We should welcome that. Does it involve public services such as British Telecom and British Gas? I understand from our endless discussions in the House when the privatisation Bills were going through that these are public service organisations. Does the Statement mean that pay for the chairmen and chief executives of the privatised utilities will be related to performance? That is an interesting concept. I very much hope that the noble Lord will be able to elaborate on that when he replies.
The Statement then says:We will therefore act to strengthen the powers of the regulators of the public utilities on standards of service".Many noble Lords and I have been active in your Lordships' House in ensuring that the powers of regulation of the privatised monopolies are strengthened. We have done so against speech after speech from the Government's Front Bench. We want the regulators to be stronger; the Government have always resisted it in Bills. On this, noble Lords on my right as well as behind me see eye to eye on the matter. If there is a privatised monopoly, there must be strong regulations. Therefore I welcome without reservation the sentence:We will therefore act to strengthen the powers of the regulators of the public utilities on standards of service".Why did that not happen before? Why did we not have it when the Bills came before your Lordships?
A final point before I reach my major and important comment, is that I am happy to note that the first chairman of something called "a panel of independent advisers" will be Sir James Blyth, Director and Chief Executive of Boots. He is a distinguished industrialist. Do I take it that Sir James Blyth will give up his post as Director and Chief Executive of Boots? Is that not a full-time post? Presumably if he is to be the chairman of this important panel, he will have to devote a great deal of time to it. Inevitably, that will restrict the amount of time that he can spend in running the affairs of Boots, which we all know is a great British company.
The important, fundamental point arises on page 2 of the Statement. Here I am very serious. Again I quote from the Statement because it is important that your Lordships should be aware of what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said:Except where their safety is threatened, public servants should no longer be anonymous. We will expect them to identify themselves to the public, with the giving of names on the telephone or in letters and, where appropriate, by the wearing of name badges.To my mind this raises a serious constitutional point. Are we now abandoning the concept of ministerial responsibility for Crown servants? Up to now it has always been a fundamental constitutional principle that Ministers take responsibility and not civil servants. Are we saying that public servants should no longer be anonymous? For example, if I had a trade and industry problem, instead of talking to the Secretary of State I could talk directly to the permanent secretary of the department. I could say, "You must identify yourself either by telephone or in letters and wear a name badge. By the way, I will know who you are and what you are going to do about it". 489 Is that not a fundamental breach of the major constitutional principle that the Civil Service is the service of the Crown? Ministers are appointed and elected from time to time to respond on their performance—no one else. It is a ministerial responsibility. That is a serious constitutional point and I hope that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will attend to it.
Other than that, I read and heard what the noble Lord said. It is a load of waffle.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, from these Benches I too thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for reading to us the Prime Minister's Statement in another place. The Statement is interesting. As far as one can understand, the contemplated White Paper is a compendium of consumer and customer measures and initiatives of one kind or another aimed at achieving accountability, redress and higher standards in the public services.
I thought that for many years the invisible hand of the market was supposed to take care of these matters. It is n extraordinarily interesting change of direction for the Government, so close to a general election, to envisage a much more positive and powerful role for government in arriving at good consumer services. From these Benches we welcome that; but perhaps I may inquire what has happened to the invisible hand. Has it withered away? Is it like the monkey's paw, we are to see it no more? Do the Government no longer believe that the market and its adjusting mechanisms are adequate to ensure a proper supply of goods and services to customers?
Perhaps I may say generally about the White Paper that despite its long gestation, it still bears every sign of hasty delivery. In many aspects, it is extremely broad brush. Perhaps that is because it is a White Paper. I wish to inquire when we shall see details that will allow us to judge more accurately whether some of these broad proposals are as helpful as initially they appear to be.
The major criticism we make from these Benches of the so-called citizen's charter is that it does not have much to do with citizenship. It is a kind of consumer code rather than a citizen's charter. Even in its own terms it seems extremely inadequate to the subject which it addresses.
Perhaps we may take the instance of public utilities. From these Benches we urged at the time of privatisation and we still urge that there should be greater competition in the great public utilities that have been put into the private sector. The Government have not chosen to take the road of competition. One might argue that because they were so anxious to get a good price for the public assets they. were selling, they did not put properly competitive structures into the public utilities.
The first approach to achieving good results from the privatised public utilities is to see that they are fully competitive, and that there is a competitive structure within British Telecom. We do not agree with the party on the Benches to our left that British Telecom should be renationalised. However, we go further than the Government in believing that British Telecom should be given a more competitive basis on 490 which to provide good services to the customer. To the extent that competition is not possible in the public utilities, there must be firm regulation.
I noticed on page 12 of the Statement on the Citizen's Charter a reference to strengthening the power of the regulators. I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Leader of the House could confirm that that means an end to the so-called light touch of regulation. That was the guiding doctrine of the Government in the early days of privatisation—that all the privatised utilities would have light touch regulation. Where there is a remaining monopoly, albeit in the private sector, light touch regulation is incompatible with the public interest.
I have two other observations. First, this charter raises public expectations in a way which the Government might think to be somewhat excessive, even in an election year. From today onwards, from the day that the Citizen's Charter is prominently featured on television, to whom does the aggrieved citizen complain if his water is polluted, as it was overnight in Buckinghamshire; or if his stretch of motorway is coned off despite the efforts of the Ministry of Transport; or if the salary increase of the chairman of his public utility is thought to be excessive? The Government seem to be inviting us to assume that everything is now again the affair of government. If people are to take that literally, they will want to know to whom they should address their complaint about inadequate service. I should be most interested to hear the response of the Leader of the House.
My final point is that citizenship means a great deal more than a sort of consumer code. It really means redirecting power towards the man and woman in the street. It concerns civic rights and not simply consumer rights. It means equal votes, freedom of information and a Bill of Rights.
What has happened to freedom of information? It has been extensively leaked that Ministers at the Home Office thought that there might be a case for including freedom of information in the Citizen's Charter. Why is it that this country, almost alone, languishes without proper freedom of information? When a cruise liner crosses the Atlantic and health inspectors come aboard at both the British and the American ends, why is it that any results dealing with environmental conditions of the ship found by the British inspectors are kept secret, whereas the American results are fully published? Why is it that every scholar who wants to research the doings of government finds it easier to get in through the United States, where there is freedom of information, rather than here?
I suspect that the Government have been defeated by Whitehall yet again in putting together the Citizen's Charter. The real enemy of the citizen, if one uses "citizen" in the sense that most people throughout the world would understand it, is our centralised, secretive and closed system of government and administration.
Some of the Government's proposals are useful, and we acknowledge them. Some are cosmetic, and they can be fairly readily identified. But unless the Government are prepared to open up Whitehall and 491 the system of Government we shall continue to have what characterises all public matters in this country, that is, a culture of subjecthood rather than one of full citizenship.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said that the Opposition did not require this Statement to be read in this place. I can only say that that shows a singular lack of discernment on the part of the Opposition because either the noble Lord was not listening to what I was saying or for some other reason he has failed to appreciate the significance of the Statement.
I do not think there will be many people in the country who will consider it is just waffle to guarantee a maximum waiting time for types of treatment within the NHS. Not many people who are suffering and needing a hip replacement will think it is just waffle to lay down the maximum time within which that operation should be carried out. There will be few parents in this country who will think it is just waffle to say that on every occasion their children will be entitled to have a school report, or to say that there should be a comparison of exam results to see how some schools compare with others. I do not think there will be many people so foolish as to imagine it is just waffle to extend the rights of tenants on run down council estates to get essential repairs carried out. Not many people will think it is just hot air to say to the long-suffering travelling public that if there is an unsatisfactory service on British Rail they will have new opportunities for compensation.
I could go on in that vein, but I will not bore the House. I have gone through many points, and it is absurd to describe a whole list of specific proposals as just waffle.
The noble Lord wanted to know to which councils we were referring with regard to the patronising of tenants by incompetent town halls. Of course we were not referring to all town halls. Many local authorities in this country give an excellent service, as does Westminster council nearby. The noble Lord must surely be closing his mind to the facts if he does not acknowledge that some local authorities patronise their tenants, and he must surely recognise that there are incompetent town halls.
To take Islington, a recent QC's report found administrative chaos as a result of having the cash office staffed by the innumerate, the filing done by the dyslexic and the disorganised, and the reception performed by the surly and the charmless. Then there is Manchester, whose ombudsman said that its actions fell a long way short of providing a satisfactory response, and which at the end of 1989 had the highest number of vacant dwellings in Britain. One only has to look at reports of the Audit Commission to see that some local authorities are performing well and providing a good service to the citizen, while other local authorities are behaving abominably.
The noble Lord did not appear to think much of the changes in the practice of coning off stretches of road, but I very much doubt whether any noble Lord here 492 has not recognised that unnecessary congestion is caused because miles of motorway are coned off while only a tiny part of the motorway is actually being worked upon.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I had thought that that was about the only part of the Statement with which the noble Lord agreed.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord liked something. I should not have thought that limiting the length of motorway coned off was quite as important as ensuring that one's mother gets a hip operation sooner. Again, it shows a singular lack of discernment on the part of the noble Lord.
I referred to pay related performance. The noble Lord tried to turn the argument into one about high pay for the executives of privatised industries. Nobody can doubt that the performance of British Gas has improved enormously since privatisation. Price increases have been contained since privatisation, so there has been better performance. Nobody can seriously doubt the improved performance of British Telecom. Fewer public telephones are out of order now compared with a short time ago, so there has been an improvement in performance. Whether it is right for senior executives to give themselves very large increases and thereby set a less than perfect example to others is a real issue, but it has nothing to do with improved performance, because improved performance has in fact been obtained by privatisation in those industries.
As far as powers of regulation are concerned, undoubtedly the regulatory powers have changed as various privatisation measures have gone through Parliament. We have learnt from our experience of the privatisation of successive utilities and have built on Oftel and Ofgas. However, we should not say that there is no room for further improvement. Indeed, we believe that there should be further improvements. Sir James Blyth's appointment will be part-time.
Regarding the identification of public servants, I cannot believe that the noble Lord really thinks that that has anything to do with ministerial responsibility. We are talking about a good customer service at, for instance, the DSS office. Anonymity does not affect responsibility. When people go to a place such as a DSS office it is surely reasonable, improves confidence and is likely to lead to better and more courteous service if the identity of the individual is known. It is equally obvious that if someone wants a new driving licence it helps enormously if, when grappling with the DVLC in Swansea, he can ask the identity of the person who is talking to him so that he can go back to that person and try to get better service.
I am grateful for the welcome which the noble Lord, Lord Holme, gave to the charter. The noble Lord asked me whether the Government no longer believed in the market. I have to tell him with the greatest respect that he has missed the point. It is because so many public services are necessarily provided by monopolies and therefore the normal disciplines of the market do not operate, and because 493 there is no adequate competition, that one has to find other mechanisms for improving public service. That is what this exercise is all about.
This is a very long document and it will repay detailed study. It is also the case that it will be fleshed out as time goes on. More detailed proposals in each separate area will be forthcoming. The document is concerned with citizenship and with better service to citizens. I cannot agree with the noble Lord's strictures about the failure of the Government to introduce a freedom of information Bill. The charter is all about openness in public service delivery, openness about standards, openness about achievements and failures and a commitment to deal frankly and straightforwardly with patients, parents and users of all public services. One does not need a freedom of information Bill for that. This is a charter for citizens, not for those who wish to reduce ministerial accountability to this House.
Of course we are raising public expectations. We are right to do so. That is the engine for change. As a result of raising public expectations, as a result of focusing on what it is possible to achieve, I have no doubt whatsoever that we shall achieve the improvements which we all so much want. Mechanisms are already in place in certain areas. In other areas mechanisms will have to be put in place—new complaints procedures, new opportunities for people who are not satisfied with the way in which their complaints are dealt with to go to lay adjudicators, for example, for a proper adjudication of a matter.
I hope, therefore, that on consideration the House will welcome warmly this very radical, imaginative and forward-looking document.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, will my nobleo friend congratulate our right honourable friend the Prime Minister on this very comprehensive plan for making it easier for consumers to obtain redress and to complain? Will he urge our right honourable friend to reject all the carping criticism and sour grapes, which were entirely predictable? Will he further remind any who have criticism of the power of the regulators that without privatisation there would have been no regulators and that it is our creation which we are strengthening? That is to be widely welcomed on behalf of consumers.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for all that she said. Privatisation has brought huge benefits. She is right to say that if we had not had privatisation we should not have the regulators and should not have this argument at all. No one will convince many people in the country that privatisation has not brought great benefits, as has contracting out in local authorities.
§ Lord Jay
My Lords, under this charter—if it is not waffle—if the Government as a result of providing inadequate finance to, say, London Underground cause great disruption and delays for passengers, 494 would those passengers who have suffered have a right of redress in the form of compensation from the Government?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord asked that question somewhat with his tongue in his cheek. It is absolutely certain that if one improves service one attracts more customers. Improving service does not necessarily result in increased cost. If everyone involved in the performance of a utility gives better performance, that attracts more customers and creates more resources for the improvements to which the noble Lord was no doubt referring.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House spoke of citizens' rights and referred to education, housing, health and transport. There was no mention of social services. Does he agree that we need to look into the social services of this country, first, at ministerial level where there is a great deal of overlap and a number of gaps between Ministries, and, secondly, from the point of view of local government? The social services have had a great deal of legislation put on their plate—the Children Act, so ably carried through this House by the noble and learned Lord, the National Health Service and Community Care Act, the Child Support Bill and parts of the Criminal Justice Bill.
I submit that the social services have had a difficult time over the past two years. Many social workers are excellent but there have been difficulties, as noble Lords will know from the reports of inquiries which have had to be held. Are the social services to be included in the better services in the Citizen's Charter?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, my noble friend has put her finger on the issue. No one can think of the social services without thinking of local authorities and of the performance of local authorities. The performance of local authorities is a key issue raised in the paper.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, will the noble Lord consider that many of us are deeply disappointed by the Statement because we believe that it rests on a fundamentally mistaken diagnosis? Does he accept the words of Sir Anthony Hidden in paragraph 15.1 of his report that:The link between the funding of safety and the future of safety is an obvious one"?Does he accept that that link between funding and quality of service is true mutatis mutandis of other areas of public service? Does he accept that there are many people in this House and outside it who think that the Government could do more to improve local authority housing repairs by the revenue settlements they are about to announce than by this charter and more to shorten health service waiting lists by funding than by this charter? I sympathise with the noble Lord saying that he does not like the word "waffle", but should not a free market government accept that if they say they want something and are not prepared to pay for it that is waffle?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, that is the most defeatist comment that I have ever heard in all my life. 495 To say that within a given amount of resources there is never room for improvement and to argue that there is no point whatever in trying to inculcate an attitude of service among people who work in the public sector and that nothing whatever can be done without giving more and more money is a poor do. Of course there is a link between funding and quality of service, but the charter is concerned with delivering the best service within the resources available.
Everyone knows perfectly well that in every field of life one can either perform well or perform badly. Where there are two people with the same opportunities and the same resources, one can perform well and one can perform badly; one can give a good service to the public and the other can give a bad service to the public. The object of the exercise is not to cry that nothing can be done unless more money is thrown at the problem. It is to put new disciplines in place so that there are proper opportunities for people to complain when they do not think they are receiving the service they deserve; to provide more opportunities for people to receive compensation when they do not receive the service they deserve; more openness; and clear statements of what public services say they will deliver to the public so that if they do not then deliver what they say they will deliver they can be called to account. That is not a matter of money. It is a matter of putting in place proper mechanisms so that the individual has proper redress.
§ Lord Cockfield
My Lords, I welcome the Statement, which represents a significant step forward. We can always argue whether it goes far enough or whether further improvements can be made, but that it represents progress cannot possibly be denied. I suspect that it will ultimately prove much more important than even the Government themselves realise. There is an important statement about getting a foot in the door. Once you get a foot in the door, you can always push it open a little further. The worst possible attitude is to say, "We do not like this and we had better close the door right away", because you do not get any progress like that.
I was greatly intrigued by one of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He always introduces me to a new world, the existence of which I never suspected. I wonder whether he has ever completed an income tax form and whether he read it before he signed it. I am quite certain that he did, but he will find on the face of that form printed in clear the name of the inspector of taxes concerned.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I have completed an income tax return; indeed, I do so every year. Perhaps I may return the compliment. In 1977 he introduced me to a new world—he Price Commission—of which he was a distinguished chairman and my predecessor. I put that fact on record because I am always most grateful to him for introducing me to new worlds.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I adopt wholeheartedly what my noble friend has so eloquently stated. I 496 reiterate what I said earlier. If before privatisation we had insisted on the gas man telling the customer what he was called, no one in his right senses would have said that that in some way interfered with ministerial responsibilities.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I should like to make one or two comments and ask some questions about the Statement. Does the Leader of the House realise that his initial remarks about local authority housing were deeply insulting to many local authorities, their housing managers and staffs? I hope that he will in some way mitigate those statements. What redress will people have if they convert to housing action trusts? Does the Citizen's Charter extend to the action that people can take if they have mistakenly transferred to an HAT? Will the Minister comment on the tenants of private landlords? Are they to have their rights and privileges extended under the Citizen's Charter, because they are tenants too, often of bad managers?
The noble Lord referred to the extension of the scope for compulsory tendering for services in local authorities. What does that mean? Will it involve all services or only some? Do the Government intend to reduce local authorities to enabling bodies only? We would be interested to know exactly what the intentions are.
Does that Statement in any way supersede the assurance that was given in an Answer to a Starred Question last week that there was no question of the administration of public libraries being put out to competitive tender?
Finally—here I must declare that I am a member of the EETPU and an adviser to NALGO—with regard to the part of the Statement that referred to an individual citizen's right to pursue injunctions against trade unions, will that undermine the right to strike? Will it not create an administrative and judicial nightmare if each individual citizen has recourse to the courts to stop strikes? I wonder whether that matter has been considered. Perhaps the Leader of the House will deal specifically with that item.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, the object of the exercise is not to insult local authorities but to obtain better services for those who live within local authority areas. I reiterate what I said earlier: one has only to loot, at the reports of the Audit Commission to see that there are great differences in performance among local authorities. It is not an insult to local authorities to draw attention to those differences in performance and strengthen the hand of the Audit Commission by empowering it to publish comparisons which name local councils in order to obtain the better performance that the citizen deserves.
On the question of the injunction in the case of industrial action, it does not undermine the right to strike. It will be a further deterrent against illegal industrial action; in other words, where there is no right to strike and where an employer can at present obtain an injunction, but where a private citizen cannot obtain an injunction in those circumstances in which an employer does not choose to do so.
497 A passage in the Citizen's Charter deals with housing action trusts. An individual citizen, not just a local authority, would be able to activate the process which might lead to a successful bid for a housing action trust.
§ On the question of public libraries, I have nothing to add to the statement made previously.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, does my noble friend realise that the Statement will be widely welcomed by many people? Does the White Paper deal with the powers of the local government ombudsman? Many citizens have gone to the ombudsman and had their cases considered by him. He has come down in favour of the citizen, but the local authority has taken not a blind piece of notice of the complaint which the citizen has made and which has been upheld by the ombudsman. I trust that somewhere in the White Paper there will be powers to enforce the decisions found by the ombudsman.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, local authorities will certainly be required to respond to reports made by the Audit Commission. That is an analogous situation. Thus, when a person criticises a local authority, he or she can at least expect the local authority to show whether it will react or not. I cannot put my finger on any particular passage in the White Paper that deals with the enforcement of action against local authorities when there is a recommendation b y the local government ombudsman.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, although the Citizen's Charter is an important document in securing the rights of the citizens of this country, does the noble Lord agree that, in order to obtain the higher standards to which we are entitled as one of the most developed countries in the world, other actions are also required?
I should like to support the intervention of my noble friend Lord Russell, who said that proper funding of the public services is also required. When we refer to the recently privatised public utilities, we venture onto entirely new ground. Many noble Lords consider that the structure with which some of those utilities were privatised was not entirely right and did not allow the degree of competition which could lead to the best service. I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that, while the charter which is presented today is a big step forward, other actions also are required?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making clear, as is the case, that the charter is a big step forward. But I do not have anything to add to what I said a short time ago to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I feel that it would be an admission of defeat if we thought that nothing could be done in those areas without increased funding. We are talking about areas where in fact there has been an enormous increase in government funding over recent years. That makes the argument which has been advanced even weaker. Let us take, for example, investment in British Rail. There has never been greater investment in British Rail than there is now. 498 When the argument is that it is all about funding, it hardly seems to be a good point to quote the example of British Rail, for a start.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, the noble the Leader of the House has announced a strikingly ambitious programme. Apart from the misbehaviour of our children and the failure of certain horses to run up to expectations, the charter seems to cover virtually every complaint in society. Can he tell us a little more about the costing of the programme? It is normal government practice when reaching major decisions for the Treasury to attach an estimated cost. Can he tell us first what is the estimated cost to government of monitoring this programme? Secondly, and more important, what is the estimated cost to all the public services of implementing the programme? Will the Government provide the extra resources to do that?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I believe that I made absolutely plain that the theme of this paper is how better service can be obtained within existing resources. There is no doubt that that can be done. Indeed, we have shown how it has already been done in various areas—for instance, in areas in which there has been privatisation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for referring to it as an ambitious programme, as indeed it is. Obviously he does not think that it is just hot air.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House enlarge on his comments in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, on freedom of information? Does he accept that the difference between a customer and a citizen is that the customer has the right to shop around and the citizen has the right to know? Unless that right is fully enshrined in law and applied to the private as well as the public sector, much of the good intention of the Citizen's Charter will not be effectively delivered.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, government is far more open now than it was in 1979 when we came into office. Act after Act can be quoted where there is greater openness by government. So, I am not inclined to take criticisms from a party which when it was in office took no steps in the direction to which the noble Baroness refers.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, have the Government given any thought to how public servants are to be motivated to give the service looked for in the Statement?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I am not quite sure that I fully understood the question. Would the noble Lord repeat it?
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I wonder whether the Government have given any thought to how public servants can be motivated to give the service that is called for in this Statement?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord is performance related pay. That is one of the answers. However, I should not like it to be thought that that is the only answer. Once one begins to take pride in an organisation that pride becomes 499 infectious and people want to provide a better service. But performance related pay is certainly one weapon that one can use.