Sub-post Offices

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:59 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 4:59 pm, 12th April 2000

As I did not serve on the Committee, I did not know that, but it is the sort of thing that I would expect. However, having said that about the attitude of the Tories—who are, in a sense, irrelevant to the debate—I shall move on.

There are very important grounds for concern. The announcement that, gradually, more and more benefit recipients will have to enter the banking system is probably the hottest issue in my constituency and throughout Liverpool.

I should like the Government to review their policy in light of several matters. Those who have a notion that, by the year 2005, a majority of the people in my constituency will have bank accounts fail to take into account the social variations between the area that I represent and other parts of the country.

The Library of the House of Commons published an interesting research document. It shows that it is not so much rural areas that will suffer, although I have no doubt that many villages will face difficulties. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues were to examine the research paper, they would see that the 20 constituencies at the top of the vulnerability list are almost all in urban areas.

My constituency is rated the 10th most vulnerable, but what do we mean by most vulnerable? In my constituency, there are 15 post offices and, in 13 of them, more than 40 per cent. of the work is related to the payment of benefits. A substantial proportion—87 per cent.—of the post offices in my constituency depend considerably on benefit work. At the bottom of that league table are constituencies such as South-West Surrey, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Kensington and Chelsea. They are richer areas and fewer people in them depend on benefits. The consequences of the switch to payments through bank accounts are likely to be dire for my constituency.

Consideration should be given to social variations, and I recommend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State consult the list that I have described. No one is against post offices and the Department of Social Security making use of technological advances, but we must consider in detail how such advances will affect customers and employees.