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Clause 79 — Guarantees where postal administration order is made

Part of Dairy Farming – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 12th January 2011.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 6:40 pm, 12th January 2011

I shall make a few remarks on Third Reading to summarise where we are as a result of the discussions of the past few months. The House may be aware that in what I can only describe as a spirit of total selflessness and altruism, I allowed my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) to lead for the Opposition in Committee. I thank them for doing so and for the excellent way in which they helped to scrutinise the Bill. I also thank the other Committee members and, indeed, the Minister, who I can see from looking at the Committee records and my colleagues' reports was open and helpful in responding throughout the 20 sittings for which the Committee sat. There is no doubt that, including the evidence session, there was a great deal of opportunity to consider many parts of the Bill in detail.

The problem is that the Bill comes to Third Reading with many of the fundamental issues and concerns that were raised on Second Reading and that have been raised outside the House still unresolved. The earlier debates, including that on the new clause tabled by Bob Russell, show that concerns are not by any means limited to the official Opposition. This might not have been or have become an issue on which a head of steam builds up into a full blown parliamentary revolt, but it is clear that the Government have by no means persuaded all their supporters of the wisdom of their policies and approach.

The Bill will now go to another place and no doubt the same issues will be discussed there. Those on the Labour Benches in another place will make every effort to make the progress that we have not made in the House of Commons. The central part of the Bill is, of course, enabling legislation. It enables the Government to privatise Royal Mail and to transfer this vital part of our national infrastructure to a foreign buyer. The Bill does not require the Government to do so and therefore today's debate is not the end of the story. As I shall set out, too many uncertainties still exist to proceed just on the basis of where we are today. That is not just the view of the Labour Opposition; that is the view of Consumer Focus, which has looked at the matter from a customer point of view. As I shall show, that is also the view of the National Federation of SubPostmasters-the people who in many ways are meant to be at the heart of the Bill.

The House did not agree to secure a 10-year inter-business agreement today, but that does not mean that the campaign to get one will go away. If we have not so far explained to all the constituents of hon. Members who support the Bill why their post offices are under threat, we have plenty of time yet to do so and to push for a change in Government policy. The basic problem is that the Government have still not made the fundamental case for the full-scale privatisation that they have proposed, nor have they addressed the concerns that exist. It is very interesting and, of course, welcome that a new clause has been introduced that is designed to ensure that the Queen's head remains on postal stamps. That is interesting because it has been made necessary solely as a result of the desire to privatise Royal Mail.

As long as the Post Office and Royal Mail remained in public ownership, as they would have done under the Bill introduced by the Labour Government, no one thought for a moment that it would be necessary to introduce legislative protection to retain the sovereign's head on our stamps. It is only because privatisation is being brought in that that is at risk. The problem is that the Government, by conceding on this point, have accepted that full-scale privatisation opens up all sorts of possibilities and dangers that simply do not exist if the Post Office remains in public service.