HC Deb 23 June 1993 vol 227 cc285-7
3. Ms Estelle Morris

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he expects to make a statement on the future of the Post Office.

Mr. McLoughlin

No decisions have yet been taken on the future organisation and structure of the Post Office; a statement will be made to the House once decisions have been taken.

Ms Morris

Does the Minister realise how unsatisfactory his reply is? Does he further realise that we have been waiting almost a year for the Government's plans on the future of Parcelforce and the structure of the Post Office? Does he accept that that unjustfiable delay is the worst possible environment for the Post Office to operate in? Will he take this opportunity to acknowledge that the Post Office is popular, successful and profitable, and that the best way in which he can help it is to leave it alone?

Mr. McLoughlin

It is rather typical of the Opposition to oppose any changes. They are following their usual practice of opposing the changes that we have introduced in the nationalised industries and nationalised structures over the past 14 years. It is rather a pity that the hon. Lady did not take time to praise the Post Office for the way in which it showed increased profits yesterday and announced a very good annual report.

Mr. Dover

Is not it true that the Post Office is currently constrained in its ability to invest because it has to compete with other nationalised bodies? Is not there a real risk of the sub-post office network closing because there are restrictions on what those post offices are allowed to do? Would it not be by far the best bet to opt for privatisation, when all those restrictions will be removed?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I have said, we are still considering several points. With regard to Post Office Counters Ltd., of the 20,000 post offices, 19,000 are in private ownership.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Will the Minister recognise that a new pressure group for the Post Office was launched last week called PPS—Protecting Postal Services? That pressure group has been founded because there is widespread concern about the Government's intentions in relation to the future of the Post Office. Would not it he helpful if the Minister relaxed the external financing limits so that the Post Office can invest? The Minister lifted restrictions to allow sub-post offices to develop their services. However, further delay on the ideological privatisation of the Post Office is not what is needed: what is needed is the continuation of the service that is so necessary for urban and rural communities throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. McLoughlin

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, because 19,000 of the sub-post offices are already in private hands and therefore have no restrictions whatsoever.

Mr. Page

I congratulate the Post Office on its recent and most successful figures, but when my hon. Friend the Minister considers the future of the Post Office, will he set in place a structure that will attack the present estimated deficit of some £400 million to £500 million in losses through fraud and organised crime in respect of the distribution of benefits and pensions?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His work on the Public Accounts Committee provides him with extra experience of these areas. The Government remain committed to the maintenance of a nationwide network of post offices. It would not be appropriate at this time to prejudice contractual negotiations between Post Office Counters Ltd. and Government Departments. However, total Government business transacted by Post Office Counters Ltd has increased over the past three years and is expected to increase this year.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister accept that it is a disgrace that, after a year, no conclusions have been reached and t here have been no statements to Parliament? How does he propose to celebrate the first anniversary of the Post Office review—with the price hikes, loss of investment and export business and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs which the chairman of the Post Office predicted yesterday? Is not the Government's policy on the matter now a combination of fumble, fright and fat fees for consultants while the British people, the British Post Office and British business suffer?

Mr. McLoughlin


Sir Michael Grylls

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to improve the service from the Post Office is to encourage competition? What plans does my hon. Friend have to do just that?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I said earlier, we are considering a number of options in the review. Some of the points that my hon. Friend has made will be very much borne in mind.

Forward to