HC Deb 19 February 1997 vol 290 cc920-1
15. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the future of the Post Office. [15036]

Mr. Page

The Government's view on the future structure of the Post Office was set out in our Green Paper, "The Future of Postal Services", published in June 1994, and in the statement of my right hon. Friend the then President of the Board of Trade to the House on 11 May 1995.

Mr. Foulkes

May I give the Minister some helpful advice? Given that the vast majority of the British public are opposed to privatisation of the very profitable Post Office, and given that they also consider it one of the best public services—way ahead of gas, electricity and water—will the Minister now take action to prevent Tory Members from becoming an endangered species by ruling out the inclusion of Post Office privatisation in the Tory election manifesto?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman will have to await our manifesto and the Prime Minister's statement. He will have to control his natural impatience until then, but let me draw to his attention a document that has just emerged from the Communication Workers Union. In the Green Paper, the CWU seeks greater commercial freedom, and expresses a wish to move the Post Office more into the private sector than ever before. Is that the real break between the trade unions and the Labour party?

Mr. David Shaw

Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not always, "Should we privatise, or should we retain in private ownership?"? The real issue is, "What is the best way in which to ensure that the post is delivered to our constituents on time?" If private ownership would achieve that better, and if as a result of that postmen would receive better salaries—and bonuses at the end of the year—perhaps both postmen and our constituents would prefer a change of ownership.

Mr. Page

I fully accept that it is the customer who matters, not the system that is used. In order to help the customer, we have abolished restrictions on capital expenditure in the Post Office. Moreover, a new corporate planning process has been introduced, and we have been able to grant the Post Office significant new end-year flexibility. We have done all that in order to help the Post Office to provide the customer with a better service.

Mr. Llwyd

That may be all very well, but does the Minister not agree that we have the best postal service in the world, or at least in the British Isles? Does he not recall the huge public support for the status quo that was evident in the last discussion about privatisation? Does he agree with the sentiment "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"?

Mr. Page

Life moves on. Nothing can remain static. The recent decision by the Dutch post office—which has been privatised—to bid for the international express carrier TNT is a case in point. We must look to the future to ensure that Royal Mail can stay as No. 1, rather than remaining vitrified.