Sub-post Offices

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) 6:45 pm, 12th April 2000

The hon. Gentleman thinks that he has struck the kernel of the debate. I consider that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and other Conservative Members did so. I think that, if anyone did, it was the hon. Member for South Devon—[HON. MEMBERS: "East Devon."] I apologise. I believe that the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), and Labour Members, struck the core of the debate.

The core of the debate is the question, "How do we modernise the Post Office, equip it for the 21st century, attract new work into the business and then ensure a successful future for the post office network?" We shall not solve this problem—and the previous Government would not have solved it—by using the benefit payment card, which was a swipe card. It was an interim measure. The Post Office had said that it wanted to move on to smartcard technology. The contract was for only eight years, concluding in 2005, and there is every evidence that whichever Government were in power would be moving to ACT following that eight-year contract.

There was a problem in the early 1980s, and there was a rally in the 1990s, when sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses had to come to the House because of the problems that ACT was causing. We shall not solve this issue until we find a way forward that both ensures that there is a proper future for the Post Office in a modernised, computerised network and resolves the dilemma about how we can cause people to visit post offices to collect their benefits and pensions in an automated network.