My hon. Friend was right to say that postmasters and postmistresses do not want a subsidy. They want to make their businesses commercially viable by moving into new areas and diversifying into new facilities. The announcement that we have been able to make today will go a long way towards assisting them.
Today's announcement will also introduce to the network a new confidence that has been lacking over recent years. We have been able to lift the cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the post office network. People can now plan ahead with confidence, as they will know the direction the Government intend to take with the network.
With regard to what my hon. Friend said about the Benefits Agency, we will make sure that benefit recipients and pensioners are made fully aware of the options and the genuine choice available to them. The big change on ACT does not begin until 2003, so there is a period in which we can make sure that the various initiatives are in place and functioning effectively. That is the challenge of the next few months, but I hope that today's statement will mean that many sub-postmasters and mistresses in my hon. Friend's constituency feel that they can plan ahead with confidence, in the knowledge that the network has a viable future.