HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc725-7
1. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

What recent discussions she has had with Postcomm regarding deregulation of postal services in Scotland. [65298]

4. Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

If she will make a statement on the reform of postal services in Scotland. [65301]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

The Scotland Office has regular contact with Postcomm and other organisations involved in matters connected with the operation of postal services in Scotland. Regulation of postal services is a matter for Postcomm.

Mr. Reid

Quilters on the island of Islay found last month that their prices had been almost tripled by Parcelforce. Before that Parcelforce had an arrangement with the mail order company that the quilters deal with to the effect that Parcelforce delivered to any part of the country at a uniform rate. Parcelforce has withdrawn from that arrangement and is now charging almost double for deliveries to the highlands and islands compared with other parts of the country. Will the Minister step in now and stop that discrimination against the people of the highlands and islands by the Post Office and guarantee a universal service to all parts of the United Kingdom at a uniform price?

Mrs. McGuire

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that there is a uniform delivery service for letters throughout the whole United Kingdom, but I note from the nodding on his side of the House—and, using the eyes in the back of my head, the nodding behind me—that there is an issue and I will take it up with Postcomm at our meeting next week.

Mr. Duncan

The Minister should be aware that the former Under-Secretary in the Scotland Office, the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), confirmed to me on 7 December that reforms would not lead to any avoidable sub-post office closures. Will the hon. Lady confirm exactly what "avoidable" means? My constituent, Mrs. Cronie, who runs the sub-post office on the Isle of Whithorn, tells me that she has no idea what to expect come 2003 when the pension book disappears". Is that not avoidable? Does it not show that the current chaos is an entirely avoidable Government policy failure?

Mrs. McGuire

As I said last month in reply to another question from the hon. Gentleman, he should stop scaremongering about some of the things that are happening. He is well aware that the Government have supported the rural post office network and that Postcomm is working closely with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters. If he wants to talk about the postal service in his area, perhaps he would like to use in his news release this week the information that the figure for first-class deliveries in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale is one of the highest recorded—94.9 per cent; and that second-class deliveries are 93.3 per cent. That is good news about the Post Office—perhaps he would like to start telling it.

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

The Minister will be aware that the finances of the Post Office are very, very serious indeed and that unless there are significant reforms to the urban post office network, we shall hear a great deal of protest. Great ideas were proposed in the report of the performance and innovation unit, but they are only coming out sluggishly: talking about pilots in Rutland does not convey the urgency of the need to change post offices. Will my hon. Friend assure me that all her energy will go into speeding up the rate of reform of urban post offices?

Mrs. McGuire

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is well aware that there are ongoing discussions about the urban network. He should not be so dismissive about the roll-out of the pilot schemes in Rutland and Leicestershire. The schemes have to be evaluated but, as I have already pointed out, I will meet Postcomm in the next week or so, and I shall certainly raise his concerns.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

When my hon. Friend meets the regulator, will she have something to say about the number of closures that have already taken place in the postal service—one of which was in my constituency and has adversely affected mail deliveries in Ayrshire as a whole? Will she bring some common sense to the situation and tell the regulator that competition in the postal service is not welcome?

Mrs. McGuire

I hear what my hon. Friend says. No doubt he will give me exact details about his question after Question Time and I shall certainly take the matter up as part of my wider discussions with Postcomm in the next few days.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

In the Minister's original answer, she again referred to the universal service obligation. Will she explain how the Government intend to guarantee that obligation to rural and remote areas of Scotland, given that the Postcomm proposal will inevitably lead to the cherry-picking of profitable urban services?

Mrs. McGuire

Of course I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House reassurance about the way that the universal service obligation will be protected, because it is enshrined in primary legislation in the Postal Services Act 2000.

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