Is the Minister aware that many people will consider that answer to be unsatisfactory because of the way in which the Post Office is using its position as a monopoly supplier in relation to the closure programme? Why are the Government prepared to intervene in the nationalised industries when to do so is to the public disadvantage, but not when such action would help the public?
I compliment the hon. Gentleman in his persistence, because he had an Adjournment debate on the subject on 23 May. I do not think that he has any quarrel with the Government or with the Department of Trade and Industry. His quarrel is principally with his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who was responsible for setting up a Post Office Board with its own board of directors in 1969. It is interesting to note that when the Labour party was last in office it did not intervene once in any sub-post office closure.
Will the Minister nevertheless recognise that the criteria applied by the Post Office to sub-post office closures are unsatisfactory because they do not take account of the wider implications, such as their importance to local communities and the fact that the presence of a sub-post office in a local shop can mean the difference between that shop surviving and closing?
The criteria that are used by the Post Office in deciding whether to keep open or to close sub-post offices were discussed at great length in the debate which took place on the Floor of the House on 23 January. Much more lenient criteria are applied to rural sub-post offices.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the concern that has been expressed in Shrewsbury about a recent decision to close four sub-post offices. Bearing in mind the recent denationalisation of British Telecom and the responsibility for the provision of rural services placed on that now private company, is it not time that we reviewed the 1981 Act and the code of practice placed on the Post Office so that there is much wider consultation before sub-post office closures, perhaps with a better form of appeal?
There is nothing wrong with the present system of consultation. I appreciate the concern about the proposed closure of some sub-post offices in my hon. Friend's constituency. I am sure that full advantage v/ill be taken of the appeals procedure as it now stands, it may be of comfort to him to know that 10 per cent, of appeals are successful.
I appreciate the constitutional relationship that exists between the Government and the Post Office, but is there a remote chance that perhaps on a social occasion, quite informally, Ministers might raise not only the subject of the closure of sub-post offices but the possibility that at some time in the future first-class post might arrive in somewhat less than three days from the date of posting?
Is the Minister aware that his statement that the Labour Government did not intervene over post office closures is grossly inaccurate? My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), who is present in the House, intervened when Sir William Ryland was chairman of the Post Office Board and stopped it from closing post offices. The Minister ought to correct the misleading impression that he has given. Is he further aware that the Post Office's problem was created for it by the Government, who reduced its external financing limit and caused the closure of 5 per cent, of post offices? The Government were responsible for that policy, and the Minister ought not to shirk that fact.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which his right hon.
Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) intervened. He did so under the general powers in section 11(2) of the Post Office Act 1969, which states that he has power to intervene on matters of a general character for remedying
a defect in the general plans or arrangements of the Post Office
for exercising any of its powers.
A particular closure decision cannot be regarded as a
general plan or arrangement.