Although I have had a useful meeting with my French opposite number about the citizens charter, it has not yet been discussed in meetings of the European Council of Ministers. The citizens charter and the British approach to improving public services is, however, attracting interest in many European countries. We shall be describing some of our achievements at a Europe-wide conference on service for the citizen on 3 and 4 December. This is being organised in London as one of our presidency events.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the conference. Does he share my sense of disappointment that our partners in the European Commission have shown insufficient interest in producing the levels of accountability and efficiency in the public services that we are learning to demand in this country? Will he redouble his efforts to ensure that they do show it?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. One of the problems with the Commission is that it is not a direct provider of services to the public. The charter concept focuses on the direct provision of services to the public. We certainly intend to ensure that the Commission is kept fully abreast of these important developments.
Do European Ministers not ask the obvious question: what use is the charter to so many people in this country who are losing their jobs and facing tremendous problems as unemployment continues to mount? Does not all this illustrate the fact that the charter is just a cosmetic exercise when seen by people who daily face the possibility of unemployment lasting months or perhaps years? They know that all this is just a mockery.
That is not so. In other European countries there is a keen awareness of the dilemmas—of the need to control public expenditure while meeting rising expectations of quality in public services. Our approach is seen as interesting and innovative in that direction. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the recent campaign in the United States, where Governor Clinton campaigned on the slogan of re-inventing government, involving the use of techniques pioneered in this country.
We in Britain pioneered privatisation around the world; now we are taking the lead around the world in the improvement of public services.
Will my right hon. Friend put paid in the White Paper to any rumours that British Rail is seeking to reduce the standards and targets set in the passengers charter, particularly those in respect of punctuality, because it is said that British Rail is finding them too hard to achieve? Does he agree that my constituents and other travellers in Kent expect, as set out in the charter, the highest standards of punctuality, time keeping, regular services, and cleanliness—and the new rolling stock which was the subject of an earlier question of mine that was not reached?
What use are the charters to our constituents when, if we, as hon. Members, raise with Ministers cases involving social security, employment, immigration and many other matters, instead or responding to us Ministers shuffle us off to unaccountable quangos, agencies and units? When will the Government end that farce and restore the proper accountability of Ministers to the House of Commons?
The accountability of agencies, to which the right hon. Member has referred, is perfectly clear. Chief executives answer for management issues which have been delegated to them, but the line of accountability to the House remains absolutely, as it was, to Ministers. That is the truth.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite the sneers from the Opposition, the citizens charter is extremely popular? It gives people—council tenants, workers and hospital patients—their rights. There are no faceless people on the end of the telephone who will not give their names. This is what the people want and we are giving it to them. That is upsetting the Opposition no end.
Will the White Paper take into account the effect of the pay freeze, which will mean a cut in the wages of most workers in the public sector? Does the Chancellor agree that staff morale, which his Department concedes is so crucial to the implementation of charters, is likely to continue to decline so long as unemployment continues to grow and the Government have no strategy for job creation?
Restraint in public sector pay is exactly a strategy for job preservation and job creation elsewhere. What is more, the new earnings survey shows that in the past two years public sector pay settlements have run ahead of private sector pay settlements by a significant amount.
I do not believe that it was the substantive question of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in any event, but I take his point.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that the Opposition parties, who are supposed to be so committed to freedom of information, are so opposed to the publication of information about schools' performance which has been so widely welcomed by many parents around the country?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It was very noticeable that, of the nine leader articles that appeared the next day, only the Daily Mirror remained loyal to the Labour line. I do not understand how the Labour party can be against the provision of information to the users of a service, even though I now understand that the Leader of the Opposition was pushed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister into taking his line on the matter.