Postal Services Bill

Part of Planning (Developer Bonds) – in the House of Commons at 3:55 pm on 27th October 2010.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 3:55 pm, 27th October 2010

I feel like saying, "Here we go again", because in my time in Parliament we have been through three different attempts to privatise Royal Mail in some form or other. All three attempts have failed, and I think that we will decide not to get this one through. I am convinced that the public, whatever their attitudes and their knowledge of what is going wrong on some of the issues relating to Royal Mail, do not want a fully privatised Royal Mail or, indeed, a partly privatised one. It is a pity that the previous Government's approach-my Government-almost left it open, as many Labour Members said, for another Government to carry on and go much further. So I have a kind of déjà vu here.

The bit of the Bill that I really welcome is the lifting of the pension fund burden, but that can be done anyway-it should have been done by the previous Government. We did not need to go through all this time, effort and waste of money on consultants to know that the Royal Mail was in a bad state. Part of that was because of the pension fund deficit. Whose problem was that? It was certainly not that of the men and women who deliver our post or the members of the Communication Workers Union; it was, purely and simply, that of Governments of all complexions, who allowed the pension holiday to be taken.

A lot has been said about modernising, but the thing that made such a difference to why the Royal Mail started to decline in many people's view was that for some years it had shockingly bad management. All they seemed to want to do was pay themselves grotesque salaries at the top, while the limited investment that was being made was not put into the modernisation that should have taken place. The position is slightly changed now, because the new management at Royal Mail are a different kind of management. I am not saying that they are absolutely perfect; I was very disappointed in the letter that was sent out, to which reference has been made, concerning the question of wanting to free up some of the universal service points. That is worrying, but recently there has been a real improvement in relations between the management and the CWU.

A lot of the modernisation has gone ahead: new machinery and technology has been introduced, aligned with the new six-day standardised work plan; delivery methods have improved; and the equipment and the ways of working have changed. We have to examine mail and distribution centre rationalisation but, as I said in an intervention, closing the Vauxhall Nine Elms facility would be crazy, because it would involve huge additional costs of moving post out of London in lorries and vans. I hope that there is still room for discussion on that and that we will be able to prevent it from happening.

What I am trying to say is that change is taking place and there is a changed attitude. Therefore, there is now no reason why the new Government, with the right support from those on the Opposition Benches, could not create a Royal Mail, minus its pension deficit, that has the kind of support that will give it sustainability and allow it to compete with anyone else in the world. The Bill, as it stands, contains so few safeguards. How sad it is that we could end up with our famous, wonderful Royal Mail, which has had so many loyal workers over many years, is a lifeline to people in rural communities and is seen by many people living in isolated communities as the one bit of contact that they have-in the form of their postman or postwoman-end up in the hands of a foreign owner. It is not just that that ownership is foreign. They will hand our precious asset over, out of the public sector, and for what? I saw no argument for it. There is no argument.

The changes are already happening; we have a work force who realise that things need to change and they are changing. I cannot believe that some of the Liberal Democrats are going along with this, although I accept that they want to see the support for the post offices. I welcome again that support for those post offices, but it is a separate issue that should be happening anyway. I urge my party not only to oppose the Bill, which we are, but to say that we were wrong to move for semi-privatisation, because it has allowed us to go this way and has allowed the Government to pick up from where we left off.

The Communication Workers Union is signed up to all the modernisation, but we do not want to see a service that is stripped back to the minimum, getting rid of the second deliveries and a number of such issues, as well as posing an overall threat to the universal service obligation. The public do not want this and they will not let it happen. The coalition Government are taking on public opinion at their peril.