§ 11. Mr. Boateng
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next intends to meet the chairman of the Post Office.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)
I will next meet the chairman of the Post Office, Sir Bryan Nicholson, on 4 May.
§ Mr. Boateng
Will the Minister confirm the Government's commitment to the Royal Mail as a national public monopoly? Will he assure the House that he has not fallen prey to the predatory exercises of those who want to get their hands on the choicest cuts of the Royal Mail while leaving the ordinary consumer to the mercy of an inferior service? How much are the Government committed to the Royal Mail and to a service for all consumers?
§ Mr. Forth
The answer to the question is yes. We are convinced that the future of the postal service must involve a service that is universal in its coverage and operates at a standard price for all its users. We are confident that the management and employees of the Post Office are dedicated to a constant improvement in the service that they operate for the people of this country. That has the full backing of the Government.
§ Mr. Knapman
Does my hon. Friend agree that competition is good and monopoly is bad and that before any future European directives are issued those basic facts should be taken into account?
§ Mr. Forth
Yes, that is right. In this country and throughout the Community, we must try to establish that balance of universal coverage which is appropriate and necessary to provide a level of service with the maximum reasonable and available competition so as to give the maximum benefit to all our users and consumers. We are absolutely dedicated to achieving that.
§ Mr. Beggs
Prior to meeting the chairman of the Post Office, will the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry consult his colleagues, including his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about the possibility of enabling constituents throughout the United Kingdom to purchase motor vehicle road fund licences from post offices, and will he then discuss that with the chairman of the Post Office?
§ Mr. Forth
That is as much, if not more, the responsibility of the Department of Transport and of my right hon. and hon. Friends there as it is of this Department. I am aware of the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed because it is something with which all hon. Members have to deal on a constituency basis. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are constantly seeking to ensure the best and most effective coverage for all parts of the kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman has a constituency case, I assure him that I and my colleagues will look most carefully at it.
§ Mr. Forman
Is my hon. Friend aware that his answer to the original question will be most welcome to the chairman of the Post Office and to all its employees? Will he confirm that there is a danger that the European directive on postal services could introduce barriers to new entrants to the market? Will he assure the House that it is Her Majesty's Government's policy to ensure that that does not happen?
§ Mr. Forth
First, I assure my hon. Friend that as yet there is no directive. A group of senior officials, including 1415 officials from my Department, are considering the possibility of publishing a Green Paper—a discussion document—to try to establish the correct place for the postal services in the single market of the European Community. That work is continuing. At the moment, we do not envisage that the Green Paper will emerge until later this year. At that point, it will have to be widely considered throughout the Community and by the Council of Ministers and even then, there will have to be a lot of consultation.
Secondly, I am aware that concern has been expressed about this matter throughout the United Kingdom. I assure everybody that the directive is at the very earliest stage. Although we agree that it is correct to identify the right place for postal services within the Community, equally it is the Government's intention to provide the maximum area of freedom of operation for those who wish to provide alternative services complementary to the postal monopoly.