Does the Minister have any proposals to introduce a charter for gas consumers? After all, at the moment they are caught in a pincer movement between a Government-required VAT increase and an increase in gas prices above the rate of inflation, and now they have heard that the chairman of British Gas is to receive a. 75 per cent. increase in his salary, bringing it to £500,000.
Gas consumers are being taken to the cleaners; this private monopoly has been created by the Government and the consumers have no protection. Perhaps one of the Minister's miserable new charters might render them at least a little protection.
I detect that that was a welcome for the Government's proposals on legislation. The best assurance for customers is competition. That is why the Gracious Speech included proposals, which will start in 1996, to remove the monopoly of British Gas in the domestic sector.
Price increases are a matter for British Gas and the independent regulator, Ofgas. The director-general has confirmed that the increase recently announced is allowable within the price formula and, of course, salaries are a matter for the shareholders.
As part of a programme of open and accessible government, I refer my right hon. Friend back to the question from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and ask whether the Minister can incorporate in the charter for Government Departments and agencies accessibility for both members of staff and the public? Perhaps the simplest way that he may consider doing this is for Ministers to ask their employees in the civil service and agencies to notify them if they intend to take on property which is not accessible either to staff or to the public.
My hon. Friend has raised a number of important points. He will recall that when I was with the Department of Employment we launched a new scheme called "access to work". The disability symbol, which is now available across the public and private sectors, is an indicator of the need to maintain a very positive approach to the sorts of problems that he outlines.
Does the Chancellor accept that the fares increase announced by Network SouthEast last Friday, which in some cases is twice the rate of inflation, shows that the passengers charter cannot protect the public from bad management and bad organisation? Does he accept that that raises serious doubts about the extension of charters into other aspects of the public service?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues to their new Front-Bench responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman must be referring to the lowest cash increase for eight years—an increase which is not, of course, allowable for lines that have not met the targets which have been so clearly set out. I believe that the passengers charter is one of the great successes of this Administration, just as the citizens charter has transformed for the better the quality of services right across the public sector.
In considering the citizens charter initiative, has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to review the article in The Independent on 17 November? It stated that the Government's health and schools policies in particular were paying off and that that was in part a result of the charter targets.
I am very happy to catch up with my hon. Friend. He instances just one further example of the way in which the citizens charter has transformed for the better the quality of public services and has come in right on the side of the ordinary citizen.