Citizens Charter (White Paper)

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

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Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar 3:30 pm, 25th November 1992

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.