Citizens Charter (White Paper)

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 25th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West 3:30 pm, 25th November 1992

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the citizens charter.

The citizens charter White Paper, presented to the House in July 1991 by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, launched a radical and far-reaching programme of reform and improvement of public services. I am pleased to be able to report today that we are delivering that programme and now developing it still further.

The White Paper "Citizen's Charter First Report: 1992", published today—copies of which are available in the Vote Office—reports much more progress than I can list in this statement. Just 16 months into the 10-year programme, more than 90 per cent. of the 150 or so initial commitments in the citizens charter White Paper have been met or are in hand; and there is a substantial future agenda of more than 80 pledges of further action. This is a formidable record.

I would like to give the House one or two examples of what the charter is delivering. In health, we set maximum waiting times of two years for admission to hospital. That target is being met virtually everywhere. In England, in the year to March 1992, the number of people on waiting lists for more than two years had fallen from more than 51,000 to less than 1,700.

In education, the parents charter is providing parents with more information than ever before about their children's schools, starting with written reports and league tables of exam results, and going on to national curriculum results and truancy rates. We have set up the Office for Standards in Education to ensure that schools are regularly inspected, that parents receive inspectors' reports and that inspection teams include people from outside the education profession who can look at the school from the parent's point of view.

British Rail now publishes punctuality and reliability targets, and performance against them. There is compensation when those standards are not met. Privatisation will open up opportunities for competition and innovation, and will make best use of the railways for the benefit of its passengers.

On motorways, private developers are being encouraged, through relaxation of the regulations, to build more service areas to give drivers more choice and more competitive services.

Services are being improved to meet what users say that they want: driving tests available on Saturdays; evening sittings in some courts; tax inquiry centres to provide local point of contact for taxpayers; utility companies moving towards fixed appointment systems.

We have brought in legislation where necessary to meet our objectives—for example, the Education (Schools) Act 1992, and the Competition and Service (Utilities) Act 1992 —and we will continue to do so where there is need. For example, the Local Government Bill currently before the House will, if approved, give council tenants a new right to repair and a new right to improve and to get compensation if they improve their own homes and then move. It will also extend compulsory competitive tendering to improve local authority housing management.

Many of those standards of service are set out—often for the first time—in the 28 charters now published for users of the key areas of public service—for patients, parents, passengers, council house tenants, job-seekers, Benefits Agency claimants. The latest of these is the courts charter, announced today by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

Setting out the initial baseline of standards is therefore virtually complete for many of the main public services. This is part of the wider transformation of the way public services are run, moving away from the old command structures to more open, responsive management by clear and published contracts, which empower managers with the authority to run their organisations in the way that best suits the needs of those who actually use the service.

The emphasis will now shift to ensuring the delivery of standards and progressively improving them. We will do that in a number of ways. Performance-related pay is being introduced to make sure that good performance is recognised and poor performance identified. Many agency chief executives, for example, are on terms which include a performance-related element. Published information of performance against standards will be backed up by regular systematic surveys of the public's views of their public services.

Next, it is vital that public services be provided by the most competitive supplier—public or private—which offers the best quality of service and value for money for the user and the taxpayer. Wherever it is feasible and desirable, we will therefore continue to privatise services.

Where responsibility for services remains in-house, we shall market test them. I am pleased to announce today a fiftyfold increase in the targets set for the market testing of activities by central Government. In previous years, an average £25 million-worth of services were tested against the market. By next September, we plan to test services worth £1·5 billion.

We have made a formidable start on the objectives that we set ourselves, and the programme will continue to develop. The White Paper published today sets out a further extensive agenda of future action, including extending the patients charter into primary care; tightening targets from April 1993 to a maximum of 18 months for admission times to hospitals for treatment of hips, knees and cataracts; and publishing a further and higher education charter setting out for the first time the standards of service which students can expect when they attend university or college. Further action will also include updating and reissuing the parents charter later next year; setting new standards for British Rail; publishing of league tables so that people know how well their local authority is performing; and piloting a charterline telephone information service aimed to lead to a national service.

Good public services are essential for those who rely on them, and it is vital—never more so than today—that no money be wasted in their provision. The citizens charter programme of public service reform and improvement is at the heart of the Government's agenda for the 1990s. The White Paper will be a baseline from which to chart future progress. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar

If the Minister were serious about quality public services, he would have announced a long-term commitment to the public sector. He has failed to do so. Instead, he has given us another glossy document full of regurgitated facts, many of them published a number of times already. The Government have already spent £7,500,000 on the publication of the citizens charter and its departmental progeny, and I seriously question whether yet another glossy document represents value for money.

The Minister got one thing right in his statement—that consumers' and citizens' rights are crucial. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I am pleased that Conservative Members agree. Their problem is that the public agree too, but they view the Government's citizens charter as farce and hype. The bottom line is that that is all it is.

Does the Minister agree that people's daily experience of British Rail is not, contrary to what he has just stated, satisfaction with published punctuality and reliability targets but a slashing of the budget of the Department of Transport which has resulted in declining standards and, as we learned this morning, a question mark over safety?

The Chancellor of the Duchy has had the cheek to mention targets. Targets were set below the level that many train services were already achieving, yet the Government hold up the targets as an example of the charter's success.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that people's day-to-day experience of the health service is, again, a cut in spending? There is the two-year target for waiting lists, but the right hon. Gentleman has failed to tell the House that the number of people waiting for one year has increased phenomenally. The Government are playing with statistics. The people's experience is different from the picture that the Government paint, and they know it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree also that people's day-to-day experience of public utilities is not one of deep and sustained pleasure as a result of having appointment times and meeting people with name tags, important and helpful though those things are? Instead, there is deep dislike and distrust because the chairmen of public utilities have been having pay increases of 20, 30 and 40 per cent., yet the Government expect public sector workers to take a cut in pay. At the same time, they expect public services to improve. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged last week at Question Time that the morale of staff is crucial. When the Government are cutting wages of public sector workers, how can the right hon. Gentleman expect morale to be high?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that our citizens need basic rights—for example, access to information and to opportunity—that the charter does not deliver? The Government have greatly cut legal aid budgets, and as a result 10 million people no longer have the ability to use legal aid to appeal for their rights. The Government have cut the funding of citizens' advice bureaux and of voluntary centres that give people the chance to appeal and make complaints. That is the reality of what the Government have done.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the public's sceptical view of the charter is a sad outcome because, as I have said, the basic idea is a good one? [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I am pleased that Conservative Members agree. It is a good idea for the simple reason that the Labour party proposed the citizens charter first.

I have recently completed a survey of all local authorities. I have found that more than a third of them had implemented many of the quality management aspects of the charter before the Prime Minister ever dreamed of making it the centre of his domestic policy. It is the only policy that he has left.

Does the Chancellor of the Duchy agree that the Government have twisted the idea of the charter to provide another instrument or means of attacking local authorities and local democracy? The Government are against local democracy and public services. As the right hon. Gentleman made clear this afternoon, they are interested in privatisation and contracting out. That is the ideological dogma that drives the Government to say that the private sector is good and that the public sector, whatever it does, is bad.

Privatisation and contracting out was the agenda of the 1980s. We want to see quality public services, and that is the agenda of the 1990s.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I warmly thank the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) for having had the courage to say—we do not often hear it said by Opposition Members —that we have a good idea and that she supports the principles of it. She even referred indirectly to President Reagan, who always liked to say, "If your opponents have a good idea, claim you invented it." I am extremely grateful to her.

The hon. Lady made the important point that both sides of the House are united in the campaign for better public services. Again, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I am delighted that she shares the Government's long-term commitment to good public service.

I welcomed the hon. Lady's commitment to consumer rights. That is not the view expressed so eloquently by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) when I was last at the Dispatch Box, when he referred to "consumerist crap", if I may use the phrase. I apologise, Madam Speaker, but it is a direct quotation.

The hon. Lady talked about the daily experience of British Rail. I agree that it is unsatisfactory for too many of our fellow citizens. The way to get things put right, however, is to acknowledge honestly where the problems are, to put the spotlight on them and to drive up standards. That must be the first approach, and that is what the passengers charter is all about. There have been no spending cuts: there has been a major increase in spending. Total waiting lists and the two-year waiting list are down.

I agree with the hon. Lady, although her party has not shown much sign of agreeing with her and me on this, that information is absolutely vital for the consumer. That is why the campaign to publish education information is welcomed by my hon. Friends. I do not know whether Labour has done a U-turn on that or whether it has turned full circle. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who is seated beside the hon. Lady, has a good record on information issues. For that reason we welcome the hon. Lady's support, if that is what it is, for the publication of education information last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.

The hon. Lady said that legal aid had been cut. It has doubled over the past four years and will increase by 10 per cent. a year in the years ahead. Unfortunately, the hon. Lady was wrong about that, but let us not concentrate on the small elements that were wrong. We must welcome the lamb that joins the flock and say that we are grateful for her support for this campaign.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the Opposition's sour grapes, many people recognise the significant advances that have been made as a result of the charter? Some of those advances have been better than others. Speaking from personal experience—I am sure that my experience can be replicated elsewhere—I know that the South Warwickshire health authority has had a considerable reduction in waiting times. It also has the appreciation of patients and a recognition by the staff that even greater targets will be achieved in the early part of next year.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

In my present job and in my previous one I was impressed by the way in which the health service was taking ownership of the patients charter. The best of the public services want to make their services better. In setting the standards, we have sought to find best practice wherever we can—for example, in South Warwickshire —and have then said that such standards should be spread across the service. That is the principle behind the setting of standards in the citizens charter.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Citizens Charter), Chair of Campaigns and Communications, Liberal Democrat Party

The Minister spoke about waiting times in the health service over two years up to March this year. What has happened to those times since the general election?

The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the rail charter and new rail targets. Can he confirm that British Rail has asked for a relaxation of the original targets and say whether he will respond to that request?

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about his support for open information on Government activities. I understand that he pressed Lord Trefgarne and Alan Clark to make available the information on the revised guidelines on Iraqi arms sales. Why did that not happen and, as assistant citizens charter Minister, what does he propose to do to make sure that it happens in future?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

On the first point, I can report further good news that will please the hon. Gentleman, who is a fair-minded person. The over-two-year waits in the regional health authorities as opposed to the special health authorities, which have a particular problem at Hammersmith hospital, are now down to five. Therefore, there have been major further improvements since April.

British Rail standards are being negotiated for next year with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Government presume that the standards will rise and not fall. That should be made clear.

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, I am sure that he will agree that it is far better to leave such matters to Lord Justice scott.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

The Secretary of State said that announcements were being made today about the legal system. Given the intolerably high costs of that system, does my right hon. Friend not realise that some parts of the citizens charter seem fairly hollow to those of modest means who fail to qualify for legal aid and who find themselves confronted on the one hand by people with massively greater means, or on the other by people who get considerable assistance through legal aid?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The courts charter, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor published today, addresses in an extremely practical and sensible way a whole range of issues which, on my experience of constituency cases, greatly worry and upset people occasionally. Those include, for example, long waits in court, unpredictability and opaqueness of procedures. It is important to deal with those matters.

My right hon. Friend asked about legal aid. The figures for public expenditure on all programmes in recent years show the extraordinary way in which the legal aid programme has expanded faster than almost any other. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is right to look with a radical eye at the growth of that programme.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

The basic, fundamental citizens' right on which all other citizens' rights depend in a democracy is the right to vote. Why is there nothing in the citizens charter about the disgraceful state of electoral registration? Why have we not been fully informed of how many people are on the register, and of how many should be on it?

If we are serious about charters, let us return to the charters of the 19th century, which were intended to extend the franchise and to ensure that everyone had a say in a developing democracy.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise particular points about how the registers are kept, it is perfectly legitimate for him to do so. If the subject is raised, however, some Conservative Members may wish to consider whether it is sometimes a bit too easy to get names on to the list without their being properly checked. Such matters should be examined from time to time, and they are examined.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford , Croydon Central

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I especially welcome the line about competitive tendering. It is likely to prompt a small fracas of complaint, especially from some sectors of local government—although other sectors will be murmuring that it is about time, and asking why the move did not come a little earlier.

Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley

Is this a question?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford , Croydon Central

It will be, if the hon. Gentleman sits tight.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the complaints that will come from local government will relate to the responsibilities of the client side and its failure to put contracts in order rather than to the competitive tendering system? When he considers the length of contracts, will he seriously consider leaving the contracts long enough to justify the investment of contractors in both capital and training? I am thinking of a norm of five to seven years.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

Having led a well-known local authority not far from here, my hon. Friend has considerable experience of these issues. He was very successful in achieving better value for money from both public and private sectors, thus benefiting the citizens of Wandsworth.

My hon. Friend's final point is very important. Whether contracts are run by outside contractors or by an in-house team, there should be enough security in terms of length to allow capital and training investment when that is right. The length of contracts will vary from function to function.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the drastic reductions in funding for urban programme inner-city projects—it is down to £176 million for next year, and will decrease further for the following year—will have a fundamental effect on access to information and advice about welfare benefits for people in deprived inner-city communities? Will not that increase the scepticism and cynicism with which poor people view the so-called citizens charter?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I do not think that there is scepticism and cynicism about a campaign to raise the standards of public service. The hon. Lady failed to mention the large increase in resources for city challenge. I was in Bolton and Wigan yesterday, and there was great rejoicing in both towns about the arrival of large quantities of city challenge money.

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

The public will welcome the continued progress of the citizens charter, while recognising that there is still a long way to go. Employees in the public service will also welcome it, because they are also consumers and because they will derive job satisfaction from the improvement in the quality of services.

The announcement of the courts charter is also welcome, but what can my right hon. Friend tell us about the 52 police forces? Are they included in the citizens charter?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

My hon. Friend is quite right: all the evidence that I have received when meeting the staff of many organisations up and down the country shows that our ideas are very welcome. I acknowledge that we are taking those ideas from the staff of such organisations, and then spreading high standards throughout the public service.

The police are not directly accountable to Ministers as the civil service is, and it is for them to produce their own charters locally. Some police forces have already done so: I am happy to say that my own, the Avon and Somerset force, has produced a very good charter. I was present at its launch.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Does the Minister accept that this is a PR gloss to cover the looting of public services by Tory business men who contributed to Tory party coffers? Does he not think that it lacks credibility when it comes from a Minister who talks about the need for information but who wanted to prevent information from going to the courts by signing a public interest immunity certificate? When does the Minister intend to produce a charter that defines the difference between the public interest and Tory party interest when Ministers sign public interest immunity certificates?

Will the right hon. Gentleman produce a charter that results in performance-related pay applying not just to chief executives but to Tory Ministers as well? Or would they not do very well?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I think three out of 10, according to the hon. Gentleman's usual sneer score.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

As the grateful recipient of a refund from British Rail for a severely delayed train, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a charter that delivers the goods to one and all, including Members of Parliament? I urge him to continue with the progress that he has already made. Can he say what percentage of the initial charter commitments has been completed before we embark on the second phase?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I would much rather that there was no requirement for refunds and that all trains ran on time. In the meantime, however, it seems to me that refunds are a good way of signalling to the management of British Rail that services should improve and of bringing some help to people who have been inconvenienced.

The answer to my hon. Friend's second point is, about 90 per cent.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice , Lewisham East

I have written to the Secretary of State today on behalf of a constituent who feels that, in the case of British Rail, the citizens charter is a sham. A year ago, there were six trains an hour that could take him to work; now there are three. The citizens charter, he believes, means that British Rail will devise a timetable to suit the trains rather than the trains to suit the timetable, and that people will be unable to get discounts.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

No, the latter technique would not be a satisfactory way of meeting targets and that is not how it will be done. I shall of course look at the hon. Lady's letter to me. I cannot guarantee, nor can the chairman of British Rail, that all British Rail services will remain at exactly the same frequency for the rest of time. It would be foolish of me to commit myself to that.

We should stop knocking British Rail. It is trying to raise standards and is being entirely honest about where it is not meeting proper standards at the moment. Investment in British Rail is at a record level—far greater than when the Labour party was last in power. Services should therefore improve.

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich

I warmly welcome the tremendous list of achievements that the citizens charter has already brought about. I welcome also the increasing momentum for citizens charter aims for the future. In particular, I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said about market testing. Does he agree that the result will be that the public as taxpayers will get better value for money and that the public as consumers will get better services?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Having taken money from hard-pressed taxpayers, it must be our duty to ensure that we spend it in such a way as to obtain the right quality and quantity of services, at the right price. That is what market testing is all about. In many cases, as the smaller programme showed, the contracts will be won by the in-house team. Major efficiency gains of up to 25 per cent. have been made. Therefore, the citizen, both as taxpayer and as the user of services, will welcome the policy.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Is the Minister aware that, on page 25 of the citizens charter, we are told that, when telephoning the Employment Service, the average time taken to answer the phone is half a minute and that, if it takes longer, than that we can complain? Yesterday, while I was dealing with a constituent's case, it took a. quarter of an hour for the Department of Social Security office, just down the road, to answer my phone call. The reason is that the number of staff has been cut and that there are so many people with complaints against the DSS and the Employment Service. Nearly 4 million people are out of work. That is why they cannot answer the phone.

As for the consumer crap to which the Minister referred, yes, pensioners want money, the homeless want houses and schools need to be repaired. That is what the Government should be doing instead of trotting out these glossy documents that do not add up to a row of beans.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I give that perhaps five out of 10.

On the substantial point, I believe that the hon. Gentleman now has a standard against which to measure complaints. If the service is not good enough, I think that he has a measurable complaint to make. The hon. Gentleman has obviously read the White Paper closely up to page 25, which reports on the client satisfaction rating of the benefit services in integrated offices, benefit services in non-integrated services and jobcentre services. They all have high levels of satisfaction.

Photo of Mr Roy Thomason Mr Roy Thomason , Bromsgrove

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the establishment of arm's-length service providers is an opportunity for the Government to control the quality of services? Such control does not exist for in-house providers. Does he agree that the difference between him and Opposition Members is that he is concerned about the consumer, not the provider of public services?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

My hon. Friend, as a former chairman of the Association of District Councils, has great experience in such matters. It was not only on his side of the local government divide that people believed what he has said. I quote Sir Jeremy Beecham, the leader of the Newcastle city council: The drawing up of specifications and tender documentation gave a fresh insight to members and officers alike in the consideration of what had often been taken for granted and, in terms of financing, dealt with on an incremental basis. Though it would be a mistake to push the argument too far, the purchaser-provider split and the development of Service Level Agreements between the provider of central services within authorities and client departments have caused a re-examination of performance, with generally beneficial results. None of the Opposition Members I am looking at has run things for a long time. Those hon. Members on the Labour side who have run things know the truth of what I am saying.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

Does the Minister agree that the panoply of citizens charters is rather short on those which enable members of the public to complain about the effects of Government actions on their lives?

I received a letter from a constituent who runs an organisation called Belle Isle Elderly Winter Aid. It provides much help for the elderly in the area. It was encouraged to put in a detailed bid for work which needed to be done for the elderly through the urban programme. The bid was accepted by the city council as one of the new starts in the urban programme. The organisation wrote to me and asked me to bring to the attention of the Government its concern that the work which it does among the elderly has been short-changed by the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment to stop new work on the urban programme.

Does the Minister think that there should be some mechanism in the form of a citizens charter to enable those people who have done the work to bring to the Government's attention their anger and concern for the elderly who are their responsibility?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I exempt the hon. Gentleman from my previous remarks about not running things; he was a distinguished leader of a local authority.

I said earlier that the huge additional resources which are being provided through city challenge to many of the same areas and objectives had perhaps been underestimated. Of course, that has meant a restriction on the growth of the main traditional urban programme. I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the ethos of what he has announced today, and especially his statement that he will provide us soon with an opportunity to compare the performance of local authorities on a like-for-like spending basis.

Will my right hon. Friend focus on the courts charter? There is a feeling among our people that access to the courts is now for the very rich or the very poor. People believe that justice delayed is injustice—and there is far too much delay; that lawyers seem to make large sums of money by causing delay; that crooks can too easily intimidate witnesses and that those witnesses who have the courage to go to court often come away feeling bruised and shaken by the whole experience. We are talking about the rule of law. I am sure that my right hon. Friend recognises the rule of law as a top priority for his charter.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I welcome both parts of what my hon. Friend said. First, the Audit Commission's work on comparative indicators for local authorities is essential and it will be strengthened. I predict with absolute certainty that, when the comparative tables are published, we shall have exactly the same uproar from all the provider groups represented by Opposition Members as we had about the education information. It will be as wrong then as it was on education.

My hon. Friend touched on important matters with regard to the courts. The charter attempts to deal with some of the difficult issues that he raised, such as explanation of what will happen before people act as witnesses. I have had constituency cases in which a great deal more could have been done in that respect. The charter also sets standards for some of the very matters to which my hon. Friend referred.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones , Alyn and Deeside

Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell us about the plans for an inspectorate of magistrates courts? We should like to know about the personnel and the control of that inspectorate. Is he aware that in Wales tens of thousands of people will lose their access to free legal aid? That is in a country of low pay and major pockets of poverty. When it is proposed to close magistrates courts, will the consumer —the community—be allowed to give a view? If courts are closed in large counties such as Clwyd, Dyfed and Gwynedd, that will impose long travelling times and great expense on people who have to go to the court. We need answers; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The inspectorate of magistrates courts will be responsible to the Lord Chancellor. It will attempt to carry across best practice from magistrates courts around the country and ensure that standards are levelled up. That is a sensible way of proceeding. The magistrates courts are a pluralistic world.

On the second point, it is sometimes necessary to centralise courts. It is almost always unwelcome. Yesterday in Bolton—I draw this to the attention of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department—I was shown an example of courts which are out of date and difficult to use. It is sometimes necessary to build new courts and sometimes to centralise them, if the services which modern standards require are to be available in those courts.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

The Government are moving forward at an acceptable pace with this policy. That contrasts with the groaning and giggling that we have heard this afternoon from Opposition Members. How many Labour local authorities reached the necessary standard for a charter mark? Will he amplify what he said this afternoon about the pilot charterline?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The South Yorkshire police is one authority that immediately comes to mind which reached charter standards.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor):

Kent county council.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

Kent is not by any stretch of the imagination a Labour council, but it won a charter mark.

The charterline is an important initiative. I was asked about complaints being effective. A charterline with a single number which will key people into information and complaints systems across the public service will be a major gain for accessibility of the public service to the ordinary citizen.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

The Chancellor will recall from his time as a Foreign Office Minister that people have to pay for visas to come to Britain. The visa service in many overseas posts is indifferent and 20 per cent. of all appeals against decisions of visa officers are upheld. How is it consistent with the citizens charter to remove the right of appeal against the refusal of a visa, as the Government will do under the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

As far as I can remember, the right of appeal was removed in cases where the right was technical and there was no chance within the rules of the appeal succeeding.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement, representing as it does a fiftyfold increase in market testing. Does he agree that the new arrangements represent as profound a beneficial change in the delivery of our great public services in the 1990s as did those which we brought about in the private sector in the 1980s?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

What my hon. Friend says is right. The revolution in the method and standards of delivery for public services is not confined to this country. Most countries are addressing that agenda, but I genuinely believe that the United Kingdom is ahead, and that we have a more coherent and thoroughgoing philosophy in that respect. The international conference which we intend to hold next week in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre will bring together people from all over the world to discuss those issues, and it will show that that is true.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar

As the Minister has in some senses shown this afternoon, the reality behind the charter is that he has lowered the aspirations and has not secured the achievements. He has also misled the House: he said that 90 per cent. of the original charter aims had been met, yet he has no basis for that statement. He has not polled the consumers; nor has he written to all the local authorities, health authorities or police authorities so as to have any measure of the Government's success. We can answer the question whether Labour local authorities have delivered, because we have written to every body mentioned in the charter. We have a fund of information on what has and has not been achieved. The Minister has not even bothered to talk to many of the organisations.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

Many local authorities have sent me copies of the letter which the hon. Lady sent to them.

The whole basis of the operation is consultation with users and services. That is the principle on which we are working.

On the subject of our pledges, the original White Paper contains a range of things which we said we would do—and those are what we have done. I by no means say that every standard has been met. If that were so, it would prove only that the standards were too easy. In many respects, as with British Rail, there must now be a drive to correct the situation in areas where our work has shown that the standards are not being properly met.