27. Mr. William O'Brien
To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessment he has made of the effect of the introduction of the citizens charter on people of pensionable age; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)
The citizens charter calls on public services to take account of the needs of all their users, including pensioners. Where appropriate, charters include specific standards for pensioners. The Benefits Agency charter, for example, contains a standard for dealing with claims for retirement pension.
How does the Minister explain Government policies on the financing of local government which result in further cuts in warden services, meals on wheels and home help services? How does he equate the cuts in those services with the promise made by the Prime 705 Minister, when he presented the citizens charter, that there would be an improvement in services to everyone? Will the Minister explain?
§ Mr. Jackson
Whatever the resources provided—the amount of resources provided to support pensioners has increased substantially under this Government—they can be best applied if they are properly managed. The citizens charter is all about improving the management of public services. The people who most depend on public services are those who have most at stake in the citizens charter.
§ Mr. Fisher
What would the Minister say to a pensioner who looks through the citizens charter first annual report and who finds scarcely a single mention of the words "pensioner" or "pension"? Is not that yet another example of how the Government ignore the needs of 10.5 million pensioners? In addition, pensioners in this country have lower incomes than pensioners in any other European Community country. What exactly will the Minister do, through the citizens charter, for pensioners or for other groups, such as the 1.5 million people with disabilities? They are totally ignored by the citizens charter.
§ Mr. Jackson
The hon. Gentleman, speaking for the Labour party, is in no position to lecture us about pensioners. Pensioners' total net incomes under this Government have increased 10 times more than they did under the previous Labour Government. The citizens charter is for citizens, and pensioners are citizens. Pensioners resent being put into a special box by the hon. Gentleman and by people who think as he does. Pensioners want to be treated alongside others. They are users of public services as others are. They may use a given public service more extensively, so to that extent they will benefit from improvements in the delivery of that service. We have to think of the charter as a citizens charter, not as a charter for special interest groups.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)
We plan to publish a new charter for further and higher education, for Scottish and Welsh heritage and for the Northern Ireland buses and courts services. Existing charters will be revised to raise standards on a continuous cycle.
§ Mr. Flynn
Does the Chancellor know that more people are robbed and cheated by their own banks and insurance companies than are burgled and mugged by the criminal fraternity? May we have a charter that will protect people against exorbitant bank charges, against fraudulent home income bonds and against poor-value endowment policies and personal pensions? When does the Chancellor intend to act to protect people against the greed, incompetence and dishonesty of banks and insurance companies?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The hon. Gentleman goes much wider than my brief. The citizens charter is about the management of public services and that is a big enough task for now.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that other Governments are now following our lead? Will he 706 consider introducing a new charter—an adopters charter —for couples wishing to adopt, as many couples currently face far too many bureaucratic obstacles?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I can certainly accept the first part of my hon. Friend's comments. At the conference just before Christmas, representatives from a number of countries were interested in our approach and we had much that was positive to discuss. On his second point, I know, from my experience as Secretary of State for Health, that my hon. Friend is a considerable expert and has been a campaigner in respect of adoption. I do not believe that a specific charter would necessarily be the right way forward, but I should be happy to discuss it with him.