Sub-post Offices

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Conservative, South Norfolk 5:39 pm, 12th April 2000

The hon. Lady has missed my point. We are talking about the loss to sub-post offices of payments from the public sector. They come not from post offices but from the Benefits Agency. That is why privatisation is irrelevant to the issue. The loss of business from the Benefits Agency is causing all the worry among the sub-post offices.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), in an admirable speech in Westminster Hall this morning, drew attention to the central issue. I recommend all right hon. and hon. Members who were not present to read it. My right hon. Friend was speaking from great experience as a Treasury, Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Social Security Minister. He said that the solution lies in the DSS area. When he was faced with the proposition to move to automated credit transfer, he was told—I am sure this is right because I have had experience of various Departments, too—that if he carried through the entire project as it is now being proposed, the loss of £400 million would close most sub-post offices.

My right hon. Friend went for an alternative solution, and that was the swipe card. I have received letters from the sub-post offices in my constituency asking why we do not go for that solution. Those who have written these letters say, "That was the solution that would have protected us and we support it", but we are told that it has run into great technical and other difficulties. For example, there are difficulties of delay and in terms of practicalities, and therefore it is no longer practical to pursue it. I do not know whether that is the position and nor does my right hon. Friend, although he has some doubts about how hard the project was driven by the Labour Government. Also, I do not know whether there are real issues that cannot be resolved.