Summer Adjournment

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 5:02 pm on 22nd July 2008.

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Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 5:02 pm, 22nd July 2008

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will seek to honour what you have just said.

As Keith Vaz said, we have had a tour of Britain. We have heard a lot about the different experiences in England and Wales, and I should now like to draw Scotland into that picture, too. There is a theme linking many of this afternoon's speeches, which is essentially that the Government are failing in particular areas. That is generally the case in rural Britain and, as I see it, particularly so in my constituency. Some key decisions will be made over the summer by the Government and the agencies acting on their behalf. Currently, I fear that they will make the wrong kinds of decisions.

One issue is that the Government are failing to understand the realities of rural Britain and the extra pressures of the increases in the cost of living, particularly in fuel and, as was mentioned earlier, the changes to vehicle excise duty. Local businesses in my constituency, whether in the fishing communities or the textile industry in Hawick or elsewhere, are struggling with the extra costs that have been imposed on them in the past few months.

Like many others who have spoken, I face the prospect of post office closures in my constituency being announced in a few weeks. There are 3,500 pensioners who go to post offices each week to get their pensions and 3,500 other people who collect their benefits there. They depend on a network of post offices spread across the vast, beautiful constituency that I represent. I rather fear that, as others have said, the criteria are not designed to ensure that we get a sustainable network that services the local community in the way required. Thousands of my constituents have signed postcards, and thousands have also signed the sub-postmasters' campaign on the Post Office card account. I hope that the Government will hear what has been said throughout the country about that.

A related matter is puzzling for many of my constituents and must be dealt with—the issue of the Royal Mail and its address database. A number of communities in Berwickshire—for example, the villages of Foulden, Hutton, Paxton, Lamberton and Mordington—have a Berwick-upon-Tweed postcode. I have no wish to cast aspersions on the good people of Berwick-upon-Tweed, but my constituents are very firmly in Scotland, even though they have an English postal address. It can be plain irritating for the people concerned, but it can also have serious consequences for official documentation about which country they live in, for example. It can affect insurance premiums in areas where small villages are linked to nearby towns and it can also affect deliveries to those areas. A community such as Fountainhall, a full 15 miles from Galashiels, has a Galashiels postal address, which can cause utter confusion, particularly when people try to buy or sell a house. The Royal Mail has frankly refused to accept that it has any responsibilities in this matter. It has refused to accept that the commercial database that it sells has consequences for people such as my constituents, who are the consumers in this case. I hope that the Government will look further into this issue and force the Royal Mail to rethink.

This summer, pay phones are to be closed across my constituency. Very little account has been taken so far of the poor mobile phone coverage in the area or of the fact that pay phones are often the emergency lifeline for these communities, so I hope that we will see a rethink of plans to close the 46 such phones selected for closure, which represent 27 per cent. of the unprofitable boxes in my constituency—a higher proportion than in just about any other part of Scotland.

Soon after we return from the recess, one of the biggest changes affecting the country as a whole will start in earnest in my constituency when we switch over to digital television. I have raised many issues about this matter in the past, but I want to refocus the Government's minds on "Freeview Lite" and the fact that anyone served by a relay transmitter will get a second-class service with far fewer channels, whether it be on the TV or the radio. With my area having 11 relay stations, almost half my constituents, through no fault of their own, will get that second-class service. If we combine that with doubts about the future of ITV regional news and concerns about the allocation of the digital dividend from the switchover process, we see that very serious problems surround the entire digital switchover process, and the Government need to address them—urgently.

One issue causing great anxiety and anger among farmers in my constituency is the proposal to introduce electronic identification tags for sheep, which is going to be compulsory by the end of 2009. We all understand why biosecurity and disease control are uppermost in our minds and we understand the need to follow through the food chain and ensure proper traceability, but one size cannot fit all. With the farming community comprising many different farms with more than 1,000 ewes across the beautiful hills of my constituency, it is simply not practical to implement those proposals. We need a risk-based approach that will be affordable, proportionate and cost-effective for all concerned. A batch recording system would offer us such a scheme, and I am appalled that so far nobody has been able to take it up and accept it. I hope that the Minister will support a feasibility study and a Scottish trial to ensure that we see off the nonsense of the current proposals.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the future of the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs offices in my constituency. So far, we have heard very little detail about the costs that the Government plan to save. I have tabled parliamentary questions and I hope that I will get a response to them. We are in danger of losing high-quality jobs in an area that can ill afford to lose them. It is time for the Government to look hard again at what they are proposing. I hope that they will do so and send out a signal that they understand rural areas.

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Abdul Majeed
Posted on 20 Aug 2008 8:02 pm (Report this annotation)

Re. Royal Mail and postcodes: this has been their stance from long before I was born. In my city, we have the same postcode issues. Every now-and-again, we see the article in the local newspaper, describing the plight of people on the border of the city complaining that they have the wrong postcodes and high insurance premiums. It seems to have something to do with the Boundaries Commission - not Royal Mail.