For 12 years, the Government have presided over, and often prompted, reductions in the standards and provision of public services. They are still doing so. Having heard the Prime Minister's proposals this afternoon, it is possible to conclude only that they are a mixture of the belated, the ineffectual, the banal, the vague and the damaging.
Where are the practical policies in this White Paper for the action that is needed to tackle our crumbling schools? Where are the practical policies to reduce hospital waiting lists, which are now 40 per cent. higher than when the Government took office? And where are the practical policies, to be implemented now, to make up for the years of under-investment in a transport system that is increasingly congested and increasingly costly? Where are the practical policies for dealing with the growing housing crisis—after 12 years of record high mortgage repayments, a cut of 80 per cent. in the number of houses built for rent, and a trebling in the number of homeless families?
Where are the practical policies in the citizens charter for reducing the number of people living in poverty, which has increased threefold in the lifetime of this Government? Why does the citizens charter not contain a commitment to a freedom of information Act? Why does it not improve access to legal aid? Why does it not provide necessary rights for the millions of disabled people in this country? What is there in this document, or indeed any other Government policy, to improve Government accountability to the people of this country? Where, for instance, is the costing of these proposals? The Prime Minister is sometimes interested in that aspect of things. Is this not yet another Conservative pig in the poke which will be unconvincing?
Will the Prime Minister accept from me that, although any action to improve standards of safety, performance and accountability is welcome, giving people some compensation for poor service is no substitute for developing good services? Where is the commitment to improved training for those working in and managing services in the public and private sectors? Indeed, where is there anything to improve standards of provision and service for the 14 million people who every year have cause for serious complaint about the standards of goods and services produced by the private sector? Where is the mechanism in the charter for improving quality in local services?
The statement, quite correctly, says:
The citizen is also a taxpayer. Public services must give value for money within the tax bill that the nation can afford.
What value for money did the Government give when they wasted £14 billion of taxpayers' money on maintaining a poll tax that nobody wanted? What compensation will the Government offer for that monumental act of waste and injustice?
Two months ago, the Prime Minister promised that his citizens charter would be a "revolution". What we have is not a revolution but a massive evasion. What is being offered is very little, very late, very limited, very slow and, after 12 years of a Government who have run down so many public services, very unconvincing.