HL Deb 26 November 1992 vol 540 cc1045-7

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to relax or remove restrictions on the type of transaction permitted to be conducted at Post Office counters.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, we are currently undertaking a review of the structure and organisation of the Post Office. Among the issues being considered is the future of Post Office Counters Limited, which will include the level and type of business it should undertake.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that in country districts where the Post Office offers perhaps the only counter open to the public, a wide series of services from that counter can be of great assistance to people who would otherwise have to travel many miles to find a shop? Is it the intention of the Government to pursue the investigation with that in mind?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to assure my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that we have a commitment to a nationwide network of Post Offices which includes rural Post Offices. We are well aware of their special importance in rural communities.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Post Office is ideally suited to be a major retailer of lottery tickets? When the legislation goes through, will the Government bear that in mind?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord that the Government intend to extend the powers of Post Office Counters to allow it to bid for work as a sub-contractor to the national lottery.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance to the House today that she will not make the future of the Post Office a lottery? Can she give Post Office staff, especially those of Post Office Counters, some indication of security? The staff are prepared to fulfil the full range of duties, wherever they are and whatever is needed. They need encouragement and support and not investigations that lead to uncertainty about the future.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, we are well aware of the dedication that is seen in postal services. I am delighted to re-confirm that the maintenance of a nationwide network of Post Offices is part of our policy.

Lord Peston

My Lords, the Question actually concerns removing restrictions on what Post Offices can do. Is the noble Baroness saying that the Government are looking at the issue with a view to removing such relaxations, not only in respect of lottery tickets but also many other things? In my experience Post Offices are better than banks in terms of the way that they look after their customers. Would it not be a good idea if they extended the range of financial services that they offer to the public?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, perhaps I may first welcome the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as one of our well-known economists to the practicalities of the Department of Trade and Industry. I take this opportunity to say that we will consider any requests from Post Office Counters to undertake new business as and when it arrives. However, we must measure such requests against our desire not to widen significantly the scope of the public sector.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, did I hear the noble Baroness say that the Government's policy was to ensure that there was a proper network of Post Offices in the country? If so, perhaps I can write and tell the Minister that our Post Office in a small village in Essex was closed a few years ago. No effort has been made to provide another one. Elderly people in the village now have to travel up to three miles to the nearest Post Office.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, obviously specific cases are a matter for the Post Office. I repeat that we are aware of the services that Post Offices provide. There have been specific measures introduced to ensure that some even continue on a part-time basis to help provide a service.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can my noble friend help those who work in the City of London, where I spent all my working life, and who have a lunch hour between the hours of one and two? Can my noble friend urge the Post Office to open more counters for City workers, particularly junior workers who have a severely restricted lunch hour and find difficulty in obtaining service at that vital time?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am quite certain that there are people in the Post Office responsible for taking on board the views of your Lordships' House. I am sure that that point will be registered.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lord Peston, is it not more essential than ever that the Post Office should be able to extend its range of services, preferably under public ownership, bearing in mind that the banks are closing so many branches throughout the country and their business is obviously insecure?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade announced on 29th July that a Post Office review is looking at the future structure and organisation of the Post Office. I am sure that all those matters will be taken into account.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in the light of my noble friend's helpful reply, can she further indicate when it is likely that a government decision will be announced?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, this is an extremely important matter and we would not wish to make a decision prematurely. It will be announced as soon as the options have been considered and conclusions arrived at.

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