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Given the limited time available, I shall refrain from criticising the illogicality and stupidity of the network change programme, because any credibility that it ever possessed has been comprehensively demolished by Members on both sides of the House.
I shall focus my attention on the impact that the programme is likely to have on my constituency. The closure programme for north Wales has not yet been announced, because of the politically motivated purdah imposed by the Post Office. It will be announced in July this year but, given the pattern that is evident across the country, post offices in my constituency will certainly close. I should like to draw the House's attention to circumstances in the southern part of my constituency, which largely consists of scattered villages. They may well fall within the three-mile limit of the rather silly access criteria in the programme, but as few people fly as the crow does, they are, in fact considerably further apart. I should like to use the village of Pentrefoelas as an example. Its post office will not necessarily close, but the post office in the village of Llanarmon yn Ial may well close, as may post offices in Llanfalteg, Llansanan, Llangernyw and any other village in the immediate vicinity.
Pentrefoelas is not untypical, and its post office is operated by Mr. Mark Tuck and Ms Sonia Taylor. It is a profitable business, and it is combined with the only shop in the village—it, too, is profitable—and a small guest house, which is also profitable. Unless those three profitable businesses are operated together, there is not sufficient business to maintain an income for the postmaster and his wife. Pentrefoelas is a village of 300 people, most of whom are elderly and many of whom do not have motor cars. The nearest village is Cerridgydrudion, which is about 6 miles away by road. If the closure programme hit Pentregoelas, the people who live there would be obliged to travel by road to Cerridgydrudion. The comments of some of the residents Pentrefoelas are telling. Miss Rita Davies, who is 79, said:
"The nearest post office from here is Cerridgydrudion, which is six miles away. I would have to get a community taxi, costing in the region of £5, as the bus service is not very good."
Mrs. Linda Bolger said:
"As a single parent with five children and no transport, I rely heavily on the post office to cash my giros, and the local shop for buying bread...The closure would affect me greatly."
Perhaps most tellingly, Mrs. Maureen Rice said that the closure of the post office
"would mean the end of village life."
In the past few years, rural communities in Wales have suffered a great deal as a result of the downturn in agriculture, most recently following foot and mouth disease. They have sustained school closures, and they have experienced rising fuel prices. In fact, over the past few years the stuffing has been knocked out of village life in rural Wales. The rural post office—in most cases, the only shop in the village—is the last bastion of rural life in many parts of Wales, but the residents of rural Wales now see it being removed. That will have an effect not only on the cohesion of communities, but on other things in Wales, too, such the culture and the Welsh language, which is very important. In those circumstances, I find it odd that the Government's amendment to the motion purports to recognise
"the vital social and economic role of post offices, in particular in rural and deprived urban communities" because in my constituency it is precisely those communities that will suffer at the hands of this programme.
I am glad that some Labour Members will join the Conservatives in the Lobby this evening. It is evident that many more than those who have spoken in the debate support the general thrust of the motion; in fact, 35 have already signed early-day motion 997, and, as we know, several Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, are lobbying actively for the retention of post offices in their constituencies.
This is probably the single most important issue I have experienced since I was first elected to this place. It has attracted more consternation, anxiety and worry than almost any other. I am glad that there are Labour Members of principle who will join us Conservatives in the Lobby this evening. I hope that many more do, and that the Post Office receives a signal from the House this evening that this sham programme is utterly unacceptable and that it is damaging to the social fabric of this country, and that the Post Office and the Government will have to think again.
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