Post Office Network

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 28th June 2000.

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Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 3:30 pm, 28th June 2000

Now we know why 3,000 post offices were closed while the Conservatives were in government. Are they for it or against it? Who knows from the hon. Lady's contribution?

The hon. Lady asked some specific questions. The wonderful benefit payments card has been held up as the way forward. When we came to office, it had already overrun by three years, was over budget and was set to be obsolete by 2007. The Conservatives may deny it, but that was the reality. The hon. Lady knows it, and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) knows it too, because he was the architect of the chaos that surrounded the benefit payment card.

The hon. Lady is right to say that there is difficulty with delivering goods over the internet because fewer people are at home during the day. That is because 970,000 more people are in work as a result of our policies.

The hon. Lady talks about the views of sub-postmasters. We shall wait to hear what they say about this afternoon's announcement. I am confident that, as members of a reasonable organisation, they will warmly welcome my statement and the PIU report because they provide a real vision for the future of the Post Office.

The hon. Lady raises the important issue of transaction costs. We know that, at the moment, a transaction cost is paid by commercial agreement between the federation, the Post Office and the banks if they are acting as an agency. That will not change when a universal bank is introduced, but those bodies will enter into commercial negotiation.