HC Deb 28 March 1984 vol 57 cc282-3
11. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he proposes to give encouragement to proposals to permit sub-post offices to be opened in partnership with other commercial activities such as petrol stations.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

It is for the Post Office itself to make commercial decisions about where to place sub-post offices. I understand that a number of sub-post offices already operate from petrol stations, including some in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I recognise the difficulty, in rural areas especially, in maintaining the present number of sub-post offices, but will my right hon. Friend apply his considerable intellect to encouraging roving thought and unusual partnerships so that this benefit can be available to the community, especially to the elderly and those on modest incomes?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I thank my hon. Friend for the tortuous compliment that he paid me. The Post Office is prepared to be flexible when receiving applications from various trading entities and enterprises for the placing of sub-post offices. The only places where sub-post offices cannot be placed are betting shops. They are only rarely placed in pubs.

Mr. Ashdown

Does the Minister recognise that the sub-post office, which is so vital to rural areas, is in large 'Measure dependent on the survival of a network of retail outlets? Has he read the recent COSIRA report, which predicts that perhaps 50 per cent. of village shops might close? What steps might the Government consider taking to ensure that that does not happen?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I accept that in many instances the village shop with the post office attached is an essential part of village life. The proposals of the Post Office in the recent review of the sub-post office network will have no effect on the rural network. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are well aware of the importance of that network.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will be greeted with a welcome from those living in rural areas? Will he do everything that he can to encourage greater flexibility by the Post Office towards partnerships and encourage mobile sub-post offices in rural areas?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I accept what my hon. Friend has said. I re-emphasise that the Government fully accept the importance of the rural sub-post office. These sub-post offices are not merely places to buy stamps. They are where communities, especially the elderly, come together to buy groceries and to participate in what is almost a meeting place.

Mr. Ewing

Does the Minister accept that most sub-post offices are not in rural areas but are in dispersed parts of urban areas? Will he give an absolute assurance that before any changes are implemented on a widespread basis he will encourage the Post Office and to look at this issue and have discussions with the National Federation of Sub-Post Masters and the Union of Communication Workers? Will he further assure the House that the practice of opening in partnership with other undertakings will not become widespread at the expense of Crown post offices and sub-post offices or the jobs that they provide?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

As the House knows, the Post Office put forward proposals to the Government following its review of urban sub-post offices, which was necessary because of population changes and other considerations. I emphasise the long-established criterion that no one living in an urban area should have to travel more than half a mile to a post office counter. The Post Office has submitted proposals, and there is wide consultation taking place with sub-postmasters. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government must be satisfied that all interests have been taken into account, including those of consumers, before any decisions are made.

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