§ 1. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
If he intends to introduce penalties or sanctions for non-compliance with charter mark objectives; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)
Currently, charter mark holders may have their award withdrawn if they fail to maintain the required standard. We have no plans to introduce penalties or sanctions beyond that.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I thank my hon. Friend for that response, but I plead with him to consider the matter further. I believe that those who have been awarded the charter mark but whose services subsequently fail to come up to standard— there are instances of this— should have their plaques, and any certificates that they have on display, withdrawn. I hope that he will take the matter seriously. Does he agree that, if the standards that the Government have set are to be maintained, it is important that people recognise that their certificates and plaques can be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Before people are awarded a charter mark, they have to undergo a rigorous process— they must meet the nine criteria that are set out; they must be assessed by independent professional assessors; and the award must subsequently be approved by the panel. The charter mark is not easily obtained, and it is awarded for only three years— people must reapply if they want it extended. There is also the sanction of withdrawal in extremis. My hon. Friend may recall the examples of British Gas, which was not up to standard in the service that it offered, and of London Electricity, to which we provided the support, help and advice to enable it once again to attain the standard that we expect of charter mark holders.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Although I appreciate the thrust of the question and response, does the Minister accept that a number of groups involved in hospital care in Northern Ireland that have deservedly been awarded the charter mark have found that, given the pressures under the previous Administration, and even currently, they cannot reach the standards set for waiting lists, for example? I was given to understand that there would be no change in the standards, but I hope that those groups will not be punished if, because of an absence of finance, they cannot meet some of those standards.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I welcome part of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I stress that we maintain very high standards for charter marks. Without such high standards, charter marks would not have the credibility which last year led to 947 applications— an increase of 28 per cent. 702 on the previous year. It is precisely because standards are maintained that so many people apply for a charter mark as a badge of excellence in service quality.