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Freedom of Information (Scottish Parliament)

7. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What discussions he has had with the Scottish Office on freedom of information in a Scottish Parliament. [39796]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark): I have had a number of discussions with Scottish Office colleagues as part of the collective consideration of our freedom of information proposals. It will, however, be for the Scottish Parliament itself to determine freedom-of-information arrangements within the areas devolved to it.

Mr. Dalyell: On the non-devolved areas, given the basic nature of members of any parliament, can any of us imagine Members of the Holyrood parliament, of any party, failing to clamour for those extra powers that they think should be theirs by right and then, when they do not get them, blaming the awful "us" at Westminster?

Dr. Clark: We have made it clear that the freedom of information legislation will apply to the reserved powers and reserved legislation held with the United Kingdom Parliament. We have said that it is up to the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament to decide which freedom of information legislation, if any, they want. There will be nothing to stop the Scottish Parliament adopting the United Kingdom legislation if it feels that that is the right legislation to change the political culture relating to openness and secrecy.

Citizens Charter

8. Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): What representations he has received on his proposals to reform the charter programme. [39797]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): We are committed to modernising and improving the quality of public services right across the country by focusing on the issues that are most important to the user. As an important step in trying to achieve this, we have consulted widely on the future shape of the charter programme, and have received very positive and helpful responses from a wide range of organisations and individuals.

Our full plans for the new charter programme will be available when it is launched later in the year.

Mr. Bradley: Does my hon. Friend agree that, far too frequently under the previous Government, citizens charters were not worth the paper they were written on? Far from conferring on citizens new and valuable rights, they were too often carefully erected as barriers to keep the public at bay.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent research published by the National Consumer Council which found that, of 1,000 public services polled, a third had not acted in response to public consultation that they had conducted and about half were not aware whether the public were happier or less happy with their work since the publication of their charter? Can my hon. Friend advise the House

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what practical measures the Government will take to ensure that, in future, performance matches the promise of citizens charters?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The NCC report was taken seriously by the charter unit within the Cabinet Office. The NCC and many other organisations have been consulting with us on how we should redraft the charters. I should point out that the problem with the previous Government was that they believed that everything was top down. We are taking a different approach. Our recent consultation elicited more than 270 responses from organisations and individuals. I have consulted service providers at the coal face, from as far north as Edinburgh down to Southampton, to find out what they think charters should be about. We have now introduced, at the pilot stage, the people's panel, to find out what the citizens expect of public services.

EU Bureaucracy

9. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): To what extent he has been able to secure a reduction in EU bureaucracy during the United Kingdom's presidency of the EU. [39798]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark): In March, we had a successful presidency conference in Manchester at which we discussed ways in which we could improve European Union regulations and minimise unnecessary burdens on business and citizens. Out of that came a 10-point plan, which has been welcomed by the Internal Market Council.

This is part of an on-going programme to cut red tape. Progress will be reviewed in October at the follow-on Vienna conference under the Austrian presidency. I have today placed in the Library copies of the action plan.

Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and commend him for his efforts, but is this not yet another example of the Government entering the British presidency with high hopes and good intentions, but of progress sadly being minimal? Will he establish a timetable so that, beyond the Austrian presidency, there is a clear rationale, to which each member state is committed, behind the reduction of bureaucracy and red tape across the European Union?

Dr. David Clark: I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view. At national level, we are trying to move from the heavy-handed approach of the state to light-touch government, which we must achieve if we are to survive as national states in the global economy. Every effort must be made to ensure that the European Union follows the constraints that we have adopted at national level. We clearly could not achieve everything that we wanted within a six-month presidency, so we devised what I thought was a rather cunning plan and persuaded the Austrians, who have the follow-on presidency, to adopt the same theme. We also have the Germans' agreement to carry on for a further six months. I hope that there will thus be an 18-month attempt to cut red tape emanating from Brussels.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Can the right hon. Gentleman give an example of a reduction in European Union bureaucracy that has specifically resulted from the

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application of article 3b of the Maastricht treaty, which covers subsidiarity, or of the protocol on subsidiarity of the treaty of Amsterdam?

Dr. Clark: We are currently working on a complicated issue that affects white electrical goods, which means that such goods in all member states will be compatible.

Public Consultation

10. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): What consultations he has had with the general public on issues relating to the delivery of public services. [39799]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark): As part of my better government programme, I am keen to look at government from the point of view of the ordinary citizen. Services should be structured to reflect the needs of citizens, not only to suit service providers. We are putting people first in our attempts to modernise and improve public services. We have carried out extensive consultation with the public and have set up a people's panel, the first in the world. The panel will ensure that, instead of trying to assess the judgment of providers, we know the feelings of ordinary users of public services.

Mr. Rammell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response, and especially welcome the people's panel, which provides an opportunity to involve ordinary people in everyday decisions that affect the delivery of their Government services. How will the needs of older people be considered in the panel, given that circumstances and isolation often prevent their views from being taken into account?

Dr. Clark: Older people are key users of public services. We have recognised the importance of providing joined-up services, which are more accessible and easier to use. Old people find it doubly difficult to queue and queue, and to fill in occasionally unnecessary forms. To simplify that, I have set up the better government for older people programme, which is running across 28 local councils, with the support of Age Concern and the Anchor Housing Trust. In June, I shall also launch "Passport 50 Plus", which is a sort of pensioners charter. It will cover the rights of older people in health care, pensions and benefit, housing, safety and leisure. It is part of the Government's programme to make sure that public services are in line with the needs of our citizens and convenient to them.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I acknowledge that the Chancellor of the Duchy has done a great deal to assist delivery of services through the steps to which he has referred, but has he, in his consultations, received representations about the importance of sustaining the network of post offices and sub-post offices in rural areas, which are the point of contact for service delivery for many people who cannot afford the high petrol prices in such areas and therefore cannot get to main population centres? Will he help to sustain that network?

Dr. Clark: I am happy to give the assurance that the Government will do all they can to ensure that we protect

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post offices in both urban and rural areas. With that in mind, we have already installed in a post office in the south-west a kiosk that will allow individuals to conduct a much wider range of public services than those provided purely by a post office. When we publish our White Paper on better government, the right hon. Gentleman will see that we have imaginative proposals which will involve the Post Office in a banking capacity to help in the delivery of services and benefits.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): What characteristics of the panel entitle it to be called the people's panel?

Dr. Clark: The people's panel will replicate demographically the nature of British society. It will allow us for the first time to assess what services the British people want from the Government. It will also allow us to provide the modern services that the British people expect from a modern Government.


The Prime Minister was asked--

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