HC Deb 14 May 1998 vol 312 cc500-1
3. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

What assessment she has made regarding the impact of proposals for the increased commercialisation of postal services on rural post offices. [40955]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)

Both the Government and the Post Office are committed to maintaining the universal postal delivery service, the uniform tariff structure for postal services and a nationwide network of post offices. Specific proposals for greater commercial freedom for the Post Office will be assessed against those commitments and their contribution to meeting the challenges of changing domestic and international markets for postal services.

Mr. Rendel

I am grateful for that reassurance, which will be appreciated by rural post offices in particular. Does the Minister share my concern that increasing commercialisation could lead to the Post Office's beginning to centralise some of its services so that it can concentrate more on the commercial aspects that may bring in increasing profits? Could not that lead to a further run-down in rural post offices? What does the Minister propose to do about that?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman's fears are unfounded. The principle of the review is to maintain and develop the network of 19,200 post offices. Let us remember that only 5 per cent. of villages in Britain have a bank, but 60 per cent. have a post office. Today we announced a new arrangement for the Post Office with British Gas, which will provide new services through sub-post offices. We are looking for business opportunities not for the centre, but for sub-post offices. The Government have given that commitment from day one and will continue to do so, because the Post Office and its services are critical to daily life in Britain.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the progress that has been made in the review of the Post Office's functions and the Government's acceptance of the Trade and Industry Committee's recommendation that additional commercialisation in the public sector will generate the funds necessary for rural post offices to be protected, so that their services will be available to people in the more distant parts of the country.

Mr. McCartney

I thank my hon. Friend. The Government have lifted the fear of privatisation that for so long hung over the postal services under the previous Government. We are moving forward to deliver a new postal service that will ensure, in rural and urban areas and internationally, new business opportunities for the Post Office in general and for sub-post offices in particular.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

Despite the apparently comforting response to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), are not the Government's proposals too little and too late? Everybody wants the Post Office to have greater opportunities from commercialisation. Other postal administrations are already going down that route—the Dutch post office has purchased TNT and the German post office has taken a 22.5 per cent. stake in DHL. When will the Government do a BT and set the Post Office free?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman is a failed Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. It is no good his coming now, so many years later, to ask Ministers at the Dispatch Box how we are rebuilding a Post Office from the wreck left by the previous Government. From day one of this Government we have made the Post Office a priority, and we shall continue to do so.

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