HL Deb 13 June 1994 vol 555 cc1428-30

2.41 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they are likely to publish a Green Paper on the Post Office.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Green Paper will be published shortly.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that information. Can he confirm that the Government will leave open all options, as stated in the Green Paper, until they have been fully considered by the public and interested parties? Bearing in mind that the Government have already expressed certain preferences, will the Green Paper, in regard to Post Office Counters, indicate how the Government's preference for retaining public ownership with greater commercial freedom can effectively be achieved? Secondly, if that is the solution proposed for Post Office Counters, why cannot that solution be proposed also by the Government in the case of the Royal Mail?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we dealt with these issues in great detail in the Statement made on the Post Office a few weeks ago. The Green Paper will consider a range of options and the Government will express a range of views on them. Beyond that I cannot comment before the Green Paper is published. However, I confirm again what I said in the initial Statement. The uniform rate, the universal service and the nationwide network of service are all non-negotiable.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is not the Government's preference for some form of privatisation of the Post Office yet a further syndrome of the discredited ideology for which they now stand, represented by poll tax, rail privatisation and now the privatisation of the Post Office? But is it not also gratifying that the Government seem to be paying a very high price at the polls for these acts of political lunacy?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Government's preference is for a Post Office that will serve the best interests of the people of this country. That aim has been achieved in successive privatisations: it has been proved time and time again. The policies of the noble Lord's party would have provided no benefit and substantial costs.

Lord Dean of Harptree

My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that there will be a secure future for village post offices, which play such a vital part in rural communities?

Lord Strathclyde

Yes, my Lords, in the same way as we protected rural telephone boxes when it came to the privatisation of British Telecom. There is absolutely no reason why we should not do the same for rural post offices.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the Green Paper also consider the question of employment? Will the document say exactly how the employment of those people already working for the Post Office, who have given such marvellous service over so many years, will be protected against the mass redundancies which have taken place in other denationalised industries?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, there is no point at this stage in further predicting what the Green Paper may or may not contain. But one important aspect will be the care with which we deal with those currently employed by the Post Office.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, in answer to his noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, the noble Lord said that there was no reason why the Government should not preserve local post offices. Will he confirm in a more positive way that the Government will in fact maintain local post offices?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, when the Green Paper is published, the noble Baroness will, I believe, find a great deal of comfort in this area. It would be wrong to give a firm commitment at this stage, but British Telecom does not keep rural telephone boxes open for profit. It is obliged to because of the regulatory framework. The point I was making to my noble friend is that there is absolutely no reason why we should not replicate a similar kind of regulatory framework.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is there any possibility that the Government may be diminishing in their Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill the safety that is provided by the present regulatory environment?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, when the Green Paper is published—and if, as a result of that Green Paper, we come to legislation—that will be the proper time to discuss the kind of regulatory framework that should exist.