HC Deb 15 September 2004 vol 424 cc1269-70
Q8. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)

On the topic of urban regeneration, is the Prime Minister aware that in my constituency there are proposals to close three urban post offices? In two of those areas, the nearest post office is more than a mile away, and in one of the areas there are plans to build hundreds more houses, all of which will increase car journeys, yet only yesterday the Prime Minister said that he was concerned about the emission of poisonous gases into the atmosphere. How does he square his policy of closing post offices with his alleged concern for the environment?

The Prime Minister

It is not that we have a policy of closing post offices. The hon. Gentleman will know that, under the previous Government, about 3,000 post offices closed. Post offices have continued to close under this Government, because their business and financial viability is being altered as a result of more people getting their benefit not through the post office but through their bank account. We have set aside several hundred million pounds to support rural post offices, but in the end we cannot support every post office, no matter what its financial viability is. That is why we have substantial investment going in, but there is no point in kidding people; unless we double or treble that investment we cannot keep every post office open.

Q9. Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

May I inform my right hon. Friend that, this week, we will be celebrating the fact that the 1,000th home on the Middle Park estate in Eltham will be improved under the decent homes programme? Although we are justifiably proud of our investment in decent homes, there still remains a problem in my area with young families who cannot find affordable homes. Those people have grown up in houses that were built by Labour, and they look to Labour to provide for them and their families. May I appeal to my right hon. Friend to allow local authorities once again to build council houses using their investment allowance?

The Prime Minister

First, the point that my hon. Friend raises is correct. There is obviously a real issue to do particularly with younger people wanting to get their feet on the rungs of housing ownership and being unable to do so, and we hope that we can address that over the next few weeks. There is also a need for greater social housing, and we are putting additional resources—billions of pounds—into that. He is also right in saying that there has been a substantial reduction in the number of social homes that do not meet the decency minimum threshold, and we have reduced that by 1.6 million homes in this country over the past few years, but we will put more investment and resource into it. I agree that one part of that must be social housing, which can come from a variety of sources. Over the next few years, we are supporting housing for up to 12,000 key workers in London. That will make a substantial difference not just to housing but to the quality of people who can come into our public services.