Sub-post Offices

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 6:32 pm, 12th April 2000

The hon. Lady—like many of her Government's Ministers—has to realise that wishful thinking does not constitute a properly delivered public policy. Although she may have an idea that there should be a new income flow, until the Minister can describe the detailed way in which it will happen, her wishful thinking will count for nothing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) said it all. I sympathise with him in choosing not to name all his sub-post offices. I, too, have more than 100 villages in my constituency of Rutland and Melton and many of them face a dire predicament. As my right hon. Friend says, the trickle of closures is becoming a flood and the anticipation of problems in the future is causing a big problem now. The income of post offices does not stand to be replaced by credible alternatives, and we need to know that it will be.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not rehearse all the arguments put by other hon. Members, including the hon. Members for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) and for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) and my hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I would like to get to the kernel of the debate. Let us dismiss all the irrelevances that have crept in. Of course automatic teller machines will change the pattern of some cash collection, but they are not a solution and there are problems for people who do not want to receive their money in units of £10 or who simply cannot, and who need every single penny to which they are entitled. Indeed, there is the problem of charges. The Government may put 75p on the pension, but if £1.50 disappears in ATM charges, that ain't much of a solution either.

Privatisation is also a red herring. This is not a debate about ownership. It is a debate about the income that will accrue to those institutions that are already in private hands and will determine whether they are able to survive. It is a question not of ownership but of income. Only parliamentary discipline stops me expressing quite how irrelevant I feel privatisation has become to the debate.