I beg to move,
That this House condemns the Government's failure to provide a coherent strategy for the future of sub-post offices; expresses concern that nearly a year has elapsed without any solutions to the problems created by the arbitrary announcement to withdraw income from community post offices in return for the payment of benefits; believes that the acceleration of post office closures in 1999–2000 will continue as a result of the Government's policies; applauds the determination of the last Conservative Government to maintain a national network of post offices; supports the computerisation project started by the last Conservative Government to tackle fraud and improve technology available in post offices without cutting their income; calls upon the Government to recognise the social value of post offices to local communities; and now requires the Government, as a matter of urgency, to identify new income streams for sub-post offices in the future and to end the confusion for benefits recipients about the future payment arrangements at local level.
Today, 2,000 sub-postmasters are in London because they fear for the future of their businesses. Nearly a year has elapsed since the Secretary of State announced Labour's Treasury-driven decision to switch the payment of benefits and pensions from post offices to automated credit transfer. Since that announcement was made, there have been many debates in the House; indeed, this is the second Opposition day debate that the Conservative party has introduced.
In the past year, there has been an acceleration of post office closures—double the number the previous year. Post offices are being advised by their banks not to extend their borrowing and we know that the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters fears for the future of 8,000 sub-post offices, which are privately owned businesses at the heart of both rural and urban communities. Indeed, it was shocking to hear at Prime Minister's questions this afternoon that the Prime Minister still seems to believe that Britain's network of sub-post offices is part of a nationalised industry and that it is not made of private businesses that invest their own capital and need to prepare their own business plans for the future.