It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I will be brief, because we have all had a long week. I congratulate Douglas Ross on securing this debate on a very important issue for his constituents, and I applaud his eloquent speech. The residents and businesses who have campaigned against huge and often arbitrary surcharges and delivery delays deserve much praise for bringing the issue to public attention and forcing the Government to respond. Much credit is also due to the research done by Citizens Advice to draw together evidence of the very patchy picture.
This is not simply an issue that affects a few people on remote islands. According to a Citizens Advice Scotland report, the average delivery charges for customers are at least 40% higher in the highlands than in the rest of the UK, and in the Scottish islands and Northern Ireland they are approximately 50% higher. One million people live in the affected areas in Scotland, despite often living in sizable cities and towns. Being charged up to five times the standard delivery cost is a huge issue, especially for businesses with frequent orders and low-income residents.
It is very welcome that the Government are finally investigating the issue, but Ofcom needs to be empowered to clamp down on geographic discrimination in the provision of deliveries. Ministers would not tolerate it for a minute if delivery charges were higher in their country piles than in inner-city locations, so why should they tolerate it for Scottish families, who are as much a part of the UK as people living at any other address?
Citizens Advice Scotland has recommended that the public and private sectors co-operate to reduce costs. It suggests exploring the possibility of extending Scotland’s network of pick-up and drop-off locations in places such as parcel lockers, convenience stores and post offices, which can reduce costs for delivery companies. Has the Minister considered Citizens Advice Scotland’s recommendations? If so, will she give us a timeframe for responding to them? I would also welcome her response to the suggestion from my hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney, who has had an extensive career in the postal service, that Ofcom could be given the power to cap surcharges.
I look forward to swift recommendations from Ofcom for protecting Scottish customers and businesses from higher charges and slower services. Labour is committed to a high-quality delivery network that provides a timely and cost-effective service for all customers. I conclude by expressing my support for Royal Mail and its deliverers at this busy time, and wishing them all a happy Christmas and new year.