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

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.