We have made considerable progress through legislation and through the publication of 26 follow-up charters. For example, in relation to the patients charter to which my hon. Friend referred, patients now have maximum waiting times for operations and individual out-patient appointments. From April 1993, we will reduce waiting times for hip and knee joint replacements and cataract operations to 18 months; publish reports on individual hospitals and ambulance services, and extend patients charter provisions to primary health care.
Much more is being done. We will shortly be publishing a White Paper describing progress to date and plans for future development.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that 900,000 people have asked for copies of the patients charter shows the great interest in and support for it? Is he aware that my constituents want him to consider powers of redress for them where the patients and other charters are not fulfilled? What additional powers can be given to people to deal strongly with British Rail when trains are late or with the ambulance service when ambulances do not arrive?
One of the consequences of the citizens charter targets is that it is possible to establish more effective means of redress and access to compensation in certain circumstances, especially in the case of British Rail. The most important benefit of the charter approach and the institution of targets and standards of performance indicators is that it enables those concerned with delivering the services to identify more clearly the areas of failure and do something about them.
I sat through the end of questions earlier when the matter was very fully exercised. I was struck by what my right hon. Friend said about the use of targets by the authorities administering that allowance to ensure improvements in the management of the service.
On the patients charter and the objectives being set by the "The Health of the Nation" White Paper, is there consultation between my hon. Friend's Department and the Department of Health to ensure that we do not empower patients to rush around the country for unnecessary treatments such as tattoo removals and breast enlargement, to the detriment of those whose rights are being affected by the use of cash for such unnecessary treatments?
The relationship between the citizens charter unit in my Department and the front-line Department responsible for the service is that they are in the lead and we are supporting them, in ensuring consistency of treatment in charter principles across the whole range of public services. I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.
Does the Minister agreed that an important ingredient for local authorities and health authorities in delivering a quality service is not just charters but, as he implied earlier, the morale of staff? If so, will he tell the House now whether he agrees or disagrees with a freeze on public sector pay?