Delivery Charges (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 4:48 pm, 20th December 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Douglas Ross on securing this debate. This is an issue that I have pursued over many years; I think it is fully 15 years since I first initiated an Adjournment debate on this subject. In that time, I think that, if anything, the situation has got worse.

In 2002, it was myself, the then hon. Member for the Western Isles and some colleagues from Northern Ireland who were interested in a debate like this. Since then it appears that the contagion has spread, so that it is now as far south as Moray—indeed, we have heard that communities and conurbations as significant in size as Inverness and Aberdeen can often find themselves excluded.

We have heard also, from the excellent piece of research done by Citizens Advice Scotland, “The Postcode Penalty,” that the cost of delivery to island communities can often be more than 50% higher than to other parts of the country. That is why I say to the Minister today that a market that operates in such a way that it excludes this number of people, our own fellow citizens, from any meaningful access to it, is an instance of market failure.

The problem is that, as the hon. Gentleman said, these are all private companies, and they are doing what private companies do; but when a market fails, it ceases to be a matter just for the private companies involved and it becomes a matter for Government. When a market has failed there is a duty on Government and on the competition authorities set up by them to ensure that it is made to operate in a way that is fair to everyone. That is not happening at the moment and there is an opportunity now for the Government to initiate these discussions and to say to this industry, “You are operating in a way that is not fair to too many of our fellow citizens, and if you are not going to put your house in order, as manifestly has been the case for some years, the Government will take some action to make you do that.”

One of the things I always say when people bring me examples of this situation is that there are many local businesses that can often provide the same thing at a comparable price once the delivery charge is taken into account. But there are often many things that are not available for people to buy, especially in our smaller towns and more remote communities.

Ahead of this debate a magazine, Culture Vulture Direct, was given in to my office in Kirkwall. It included a piece of furniture that I thought could grace the Carmichael living room this Christmas. It is a lovely little piece of furniture: a two-drawer cabinet, painted grey, with a soft whitewashed finish. Who could resist such an idea? What really sealed the deal for me was that it is called the Orkney narrow two-drawer cabinet. Ideal! Who on earth could possibly not want to have that in their living room in Orkney? Unfortunately, it comes from culturevulturedirect.co.uk, which in relation to this piece of furniture states that delivery is to the UK mainland only. That tells you all you need to know, Ms Dorries.