§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just arrived in this place. We should show consideration for our new colleagues.
§ Mr. Hain
—and with the current reorganisation of the Royal Mail into nine separate businesses on a regional basis, together with an additional number of separate business centres, despite the known opposition of a certain person whose name and head appears on stamps, will the Secretary of State agree to consult that certain person before he proceeds with his disastrous programme of privatisation of the Post Office or any sectors of the Royal Mail?
§ Mr. Leigh
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to our exchanges. [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Yes, I was reading that bit.
What is important is not whether the Post Office is in private or public hands, but that the public obtain the quality, choice and value for money that they demand, within the context of a uniform, affordable structure. We have repeated those commitments many times. The matters to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are purely operational; they are not a prelude to privatisation.
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. Given his career, I would have expected him to be more open-minded. If it is true that certain parts of the Post Office might profit from more competition, and that more value for money might be achieved, what is wrong with that?
§ Mr. Soames
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the Post Office is not that it is not technologically advanced—it is—but that the trade unions have made poor progress in adjusting to modern conditions and equipment? Does he agree that they really must adjust to modern working practices much more quickly, for the benefit of all of us who use the postal system every day of our lives?
§ Mr. Leigh
That is exactly why the monopoly is a privilege and not a right. That is why it is always appropriate for the Post Offfice—which is responsible for operational matters—to examine every part of its activity to see whether more choice and value for money, and better quality, are possible. Opposition Members, of course, never accept that. They are the reactionaries, the Bourbons of this debate; we are the Orléanistes, the 305 pragmatists, ready to consider any kind of proposal from the Post Ofice that is aimed at improving the quality of service for the customer.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Normally, I try to reach question 9 by 3 pm; we have only reached question 6. May we have briefer questions and briefer answers, please?