Sub-post Offices

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 4:09 pm, 12th April 2000

I will try to if I have time, but I have already spoken for far longer than the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and I want to provide Back Benchers with the opportunity to contribute.

I want to take right hon. and hon. Members through the subsidy. If the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has any further questions, he may put them after I have gone through how it will work.

I have already, I hope, made it clear that benefit recipients who want to continue to have benefit paid in cash in full at the post office will still have that choice. Next week, we will table a new clause to the Postal Services Bill when it is debated on Report. It will enable me to set up a financial scheme to ensure that essential services can still be delivered through a nationwide network of local post offices. Our key target is a viable future for the network. We want to ensure that the Bill covers all possibilities. It may well be that in future, because of changes that are being introduced, financial assistance should be offered to the network.

The power is a safeguard, intended to keep open the option of financial assistance. The Government believe that the Post Office should modernise the network and be able to provide new and updated services and products, developing alternative revenue streams to replace income that may be lost because of the transition to automated credit transfer beyond 2003.

We recognise the real concerns of many people throughout the country about continued local access to post services, particularly in rural areas and also in some of our inner-city areas. The new clause will provide an additional safeguard in the Bill to provide financial assistance if it proves necessary to do so. This underlines the Government's commitment to a nationwide network of post offices.