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Citizens Charters

4. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement about the future of citizens charters. [522]

Mr. Kilfoyle: My hon. Friend, like my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), represents a city that was instrumental in pioneering charters. We will be relaunching the programme as part of our drive to modernise and improve government. It will be based on the needs of the people who really count--the users of public services.

Mr. Bayley: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks about the city of York inventing the idea of citizens charters. Does he agree that the citizens charter was brought into disrepute by the former Government's refusal to report annually on whether targets had been met, and by their failure to give the public decent means of redress when services fell below the necessary quality? As part of his review, will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to consult local authorities with a good track record on customer contracts and quality of service, and the public--for whose benefit the charter was originally developed?

Mr. Kilfoyle: We shall of course consult all interested parties during the charter programme review. Special emphasis will be given to the people with the greatest interest in the matter: the users of public services. We intend to hold the fullest possible consultation, including organisations that have a particular interest in delivering the best possible services to the people of this country.

Mr. Rowe: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a significant number of public services in Kent have

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achieved a charter mark for excellence and that, far from what the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley) said, the Conservative Government deserve the highest congratulations on having introduced this extremely efficient way of meeting consumer expectations? Will the Minister give a solemn undertaking that charters will be developed in a way that will enhance services, just as they have so effectively done hitherto?

Mr. Kilfoyle: We fully intend to reinforce and extend the use of the charter mark. There are at the moment 645 proud possessors of the charter mark--it is not easy to obtain--which shows that those organisations have achieved very high standards.

There is a great deal of suspicion that the previous Government were more concerned with subterfuge than this Government intend to be. We will be open, we will consult and we will develop the charter mark. I hope that many more organisations in the public domain will apply for a charter mark in future.

Mr. Barry Jones: Will my hon. Friend give an example of an improved service in local government?

Mr. Kilfoyle: There are many examples of improved services in local government, including some in the much maligned city of Liverpool--my home city. My hon. Friend will find that organisations as diverse as ambulance and hospital services have applied for--and successfully gained--a charter mark, reflecting the very high level of service they provide and their commitment to their customers.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the assurance that the charter mark will be kept. However, having seen it in operation in my constituency--I congratulate two of the hospitals in my constituency that achieved it--will there be a guarantee that standards will be maintained and that pressures of finance will not militate against them?

Mr. Kilfoyle: We will aggressively insist on maintaining the very highest standards. The charter mark, remember, is not for ever. Anybody who fails to meet the standards will have their charter mark taken away.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration

5. Mr. Connarty: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proposals his Department has to improve the civil service publicity relating to complaints procedures with particular reference to the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. [523]

Mr. Kilfoyle: The Government will seek ways to improve publicity in relation to complaints procedures generally, and in particular to the parliamentary ombudsman's role.

Mr. Connarty: I am happy to welcome my hon. Friend to his ministerial post and to note that the new Government place importance on an open complaints procedure to give the public confidence in the performance of public sector departments. Will my hon. Friend give a specific example of what the Office of Public Service has done to make people aware of the role

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of the parliamentary ombudsman? Will he also consider changing the title to "parliamentary ombudsman", because no one knows what the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration does?

Mr. Kilfoyle: Being the party of open government, I can reassure my colleague that any suggestions to improve service are welcome. In terms of what we have done, the Office of Public Service booklet, "The Ombudsman in your Files", was recently reprinted and distributed in response to a recommendation from the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.

Freedom of Information

6. Mr. Hanson: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to issue the White Paper on freedom of information. [524]

Dr. David Clark: I hope to publish a White Paper on freedom of information before the summer recess.

Mr. Hanson: I thank my right hon. Friend for achieving a Labour party manifesto objective so early in this Parliament, in producing the White Paper. Will he ensure that there is full consultation of all interested parties on this document, but ultimately that it leads to more open, more effective and more accountable government in the form of legislation at an early date?

Dr. Clark: The freedom of information Act will change profoundly the whole governance of Britain. It is important that we get it right because it will be a landmark Bill. There will be the fullest consultation possible at every level, not only on the White Paper, but on the draft Bill which we hope to publish early in the new year.

Mr. Fabricant: If the Labour party is indeed the party of open government, why is the Minister not sticking to his manifesto commitment to publish the Bill this Session?

Dr. Clark: It is very important that we get the Bill right, because, I repeat, it will change profoundly the whole of the political culture of this country. If we are to get it right, if we are to have an all-singing, all-dancing Bill, it is right and proper that we have the fullest possible consultation from all parts and from all opinions in the country. By following that process, I believe that we will get a very wise and sensible Act of Parliament.

Mr. Derek Foster: I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post and welcome very much his robust statement about freedom of information. Does he agree that the Scott report revealed not just a few Ministers behaving badly but a culture of secrecy and dissembling endemic in the system, and that freedom of information legislation is absolutely essential to deal with that? Will he undertake to bring that forward in the next Queen's Speech?

Dr. Clark: I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for the benefit of his considerable knowledge

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of this subject. We have a clear manifesto commitment to openness and transparency on arms exports and that will be reflected in our freedom of information Act.

Mr. Burstow: Given the Government's commitment to comprehensive rights for disabled people, in drafting the White Paper will the Government give due regard to the needs of disabled people in terms of access to information?

Dr. Clark: Yes, I can give that commitment. One reason we wanted a decent period of consultation was so that we could hear the views of the widest cross-section of people.

Public Services (Value for Money)

7. Mr. Evans: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what measures he intends to take to ensure value for money from public services. [525]

Mr. Kilfoyle: The Government want to achieve high- quality public services which are efficient and focus on people's needs. We have already made a start by setting up the comprehensive spending review. That will examine ways to make better use of resources and root out inefficiency in public spending.

Mr. Evans: I am delighted to learn that the Government are trying to attack public spending on public services, but are they sending the right message to the public--that they will obtain the best public services--when, at the very top, the civil service, political appointments have increased from 38 to 53? Is not that a massive increase? Do we know whether it will stop at 53, or will there be yet more political appointments in the civil service? In the spirit of openness and transparency--in which the Government believe--will the Minister confirm that Sir Robin Butler has not said that he is "seriously unrelaxed" about the number of political appointments that have been made within government?

Mr. Kilfoyle: Not for the first time, the premise on which the hon. Gentleman bases his question is wrong. The message going out from the Government to the British people concerns accountability, accessibility, the responsiveness of government and a drive for greater efficiency. That is why, since 2 May, we have announced not only a comprehensive spending review, but a review of the private finance initiative and the public-private partnerships. We have also announced measures on the electronic delivery of Government services, the Department's efficiency plans and that we will reconsider the agency targets for Ministers. That is the message that is going out from a Government who are gearing up for the 21st century, unlike the previous Government who were geared to the 19th.

Mr. Pike: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he make it a priority to ensure that quangos and training and enterprise councils, which were stacked with Tory nominees by the previous Government, are made more accountable and that they give value for money?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall reconsider the whole system of appointments to quangos,

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their necessity and the principles of accountability as part of a full-scale review which my right hon. Friend has already announced.

Mr. Grieve: As the hon. Gentleman is concerned about open government and public spending, will he undertake to publish the salaries of all the new special advisers with whom the Government are stuffing the Whitehall machine?

Mr. Kilfoyle: We shall follow exactly the usual procedures in publishing the range within which those individuals are employed and paid.


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