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Clause 79 — Guarantees where postal administration order is made

Part of Dairy Farming – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 12th January 2011.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 6:28 pm, 12th January 2011

If the hon. Gentleman had been present for our debates in Committee, he would have found that his Opposition colleagues understand that it is impossible for any Minister in this or previous Governments to say that no individual post office will ever close. Why? Because in large part they are private businesses, and individuals can retire, decide to close their business or, of course, die. So, it is impossible to give him that reassurance. The reassurance I can give him, which his colleagues could not during the previous Parliament, is that no programme of closures will be driven by this Government. That is why we have secured the money, and the deal-the contract signed by the Government with Post Office Ltd-ensures that there will be a network of at least 11,500 post office branches throughout the United Kingdom.

When the Opposition scaremonger on that issue, we simply need to remind ourselves of their record on post offices. When urgency was needed to invest in Royal Mail, the only urgency the previous Government demonstrated was an urgency to close post offices. The numbers do not lie. The number of days the previous Government were in office: 4,753. The number of post offices closed in their two major closure programmes: 4,854. That is a strike rate worthy of an English batsman, not of a Government seeking to protect communities, small businesses and the most vulnerable throughout our country, yet we have had no apology for that appalling record.

Through this Bill, the Post Office also has the opportunity to move to a mutual ownership model, which would give employees, sub-postmasters and communities a real stake in their post office network. With our work to pilot more and more new Government services, both national and local, through the post office network, such new ideas will give local post offices a fighting chance.

Let me end by returning to the universal postal service. I reiterate that this Government are fully committed to that service: six-days-a-week collection and delivery to the UK's 28 million addresses at uniform and affordable prices. This Bill gives Ofcom an overriding duty to secure the provision of the universal service, and the tools that it will need to do so. It gives greater safeguards to the minimum service levels for the universal service, with parliamentary protections, and it creates a new regulatory regime that can bring rapid deregulation for the universal service provider where there is effective competition in the market. Ofcom has a statutory duty to deregulate where it can, and we are giving Ofcom the tools to do so for the postal sector.

I would like to thank all those who have been engaged in the Bill's passage through the House, particularly Bill Committee members for their work over the past couple of months. We have certainly had some lively discussions. I would also like to thank the hon. Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and for Angus (Mr Weir). Although we may not have always agreed, I am grateful to all of them for the detailed scrutiny that they have given the Bill.

The coalition Government have not shied away from grappling with this issue, which has defeated two one-party Governments. This shows the Government at their strongest and most radical. This Government are taking decisive action to tackle the problems that the previous Government ducked. I commend the Bill to the House.