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Post Office Closures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 15th May 2002.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 6:31 pm, 15th May 2002

I am conscious of the fact that we are short of time, and I shall be brief. I would like to consolidate what I said in the two interventions that I made earlier in this very interesting debate.

First, I very much appreciate the remarks of Mr. Weir, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. He will understand why, when I have said what I have to say. We have heard a lot about rural village post offices this afternoon, and "village" has always been synonymous with "rural". In a town called Herne Bay in my constituency, there are a number of villages. It is a town of 25,000 people, but within that town, Studd Hill, Hampton, Greenhill, Herne, Reculver, Broomfield, Beltinge, and Eddington Lane all regard themselves as villages. In that urban community, those village sub-post offices—those little private businesses—are every bit as important as the ones in the bigger towns. To suggest that it is possible to consolidate all those private businesses into a few bigger ones just because they are in a town—and to say, "That's all right, isn't it?"—is completely to gainsay the demands and requirements of the people living in the immediate vicinity of those little businesses.

Those businesses are used by many elderly people, by young mothers with babies in prams, and by people who regard them as the shopping core—sometimes their once-weekly contact with society—of their community. We must all—not just the Minister, but all of us—be very careful before we take that away and destroy it. If we take it away, we will never get it back, and that would be one social service gone.

Not much has been said this afternoon about the other bit of the debate on the Order Paper, which concerns the delivery service. Yes, we have rightly talked about the needs of the highlands and islands; I understand why. But who is going to compete to deliver a letter from Margate in my constituency to East Anglia overnight at the price that is now charged? Who is going to want to do that job?

I know who is doing the delivering at the moment, and I suppose I should declare a slight interest here. My wife and I have living in our house a young lady whom we regard practically as a daughter, who also happens to be a postman. We know what time she and thousands like her all over the country get up in the small hours of a dark winter's morning when it is bucketing down with rain. She goes into the sorting offices and does her job there. She then lifts a very heavy bag on to a bicycle or into a van—she is lucky enough, most of the time, to use a van—and goes out into the dark with a torch to deliver those letters, as thousands like her do all round the country.

Those are the people who tell the local bobby or someone like me that somebody is not well or in trouble and needs help. We have talked a lot about business, and I understand that this is a commercial business, but if we lose the expertise of all those people delivering all those letters, trudging and cycling all those miles all around the country every day except Sunday—although even on Sunday there are collections—we shall never get it back.

I want to say to hon. Members on both sides of the House—on my own Front Bench, on the Government Front Bench and in the Liberal party—that we must not take away something that is very precious. It has been damaged by some fool who turned it into Consignia, which is about the most crass thing to have been done since we changed the tail fins on British Airways planes and ceased to "fly the flag". It is just another brand image, but it matters to people and is very precious. If we destroy it, we shall never be able to rebuild it.

We need to take a step back and have a long hard think before we lose more of our urban village, and rural village, post offices, and before we sacrifice their work force. Yes, that work force might have Spanish practices—they need to be dealt with—but in the main, it is dedicated, hard working and does a job that most people in this House would not wish to do.