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Post Office Closures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 15th May 2002.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness) 3:38 pm, 15th May 2002

When I was before the Select Committee on Trade and Industry recently, I narrated precisely the arrangements that were established as a result of the Postal Services Act 2000. One of the elements of that package, which, I remind the House, was supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives as well as Labour Members, and recommended by the Trade and Industry Committee in a previous report, was that greater commercial freedom be given to the Post Office. Consistent with that greater commercial freedom was the recognition of the need for a regulator to balance the new public policy framework that was set down.

I note in passing that at the time of the passage of the 2000 Act, the Communication Workers Union urged the Government to establish "as independent as possible" a regulator at the time that the new framework for postal services markets was established. It is therefore entirely appropriate that, consistent with my responsibilities in e-commerce where I have an informal but continuous dialogue with Oftel and its director general, David Edmonds, I meet the chairman of Postcomm regularly and informally.

On the other hand, it would be unwise of the Government to get themselves into the position of trying to second-guess the challenge that Postcomm faces. Let me make that challenge clear. In the Postal Services Act, we set down two principal responsibilities for the regulator: first, to maintain the universal service obligation, and thereafter to introduce competition to assist consumers, cognisant of that primary duty to uphold the universal service obligation.