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Post Office Counters

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he expects to announce plans to privatise the Post Office counters service.

We have taken no decision to privatise Post Office Counters Ltd. The Post Office has a network of some 20,700 post offices, of which some 19,400 are already operated by self-employed agents.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but will he draw on the experience of many other countries, including, increasingly, several countries in eastern Europe, which are trying as widely as possible to break up the monopoly of the sale of Government services, Government-supplied goods and Government licences? Does he agree that the further introduction of competition in that area can only benefit the consumer of those services?

My hon. Friend knows that we are constantly looking for ways in which we can introduce competition in many areas, to the benefit of the consumer. I am sure that he will also recognise that our Post Office is among the best in the world, because of the level of service that it provides, because it operates at a profit and because its tariff is one of the best, certainly in western Europe. My hon. Friend will agree with me on reflection that we must ensure that we always strike the right balance in those matters so that the consumer and the taxpayer gain the maximum benefit.

Can it conceivably be true that the Minister has a possibility of promotion to the Scottish Office?

That question, as the hon. Gentleman knows, must be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I hope that he does not ask her.

Will my hon. Friend do something to encourage the Post Office to tell us exactly what is happening in the service? A post office in my constituency has been under threat for 18 months, initially of closure, but now apparently of being placed on an agency basis and another post office is under a cloud. We want a more effective post office system with a broader range of services, whether on an agency basis or a Crown basis. What we do not want is confusion.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I am surprised and disappointed at what he said. I hope that he will take the opportunity, if he has not done so already, although I am sure that he has, to take up the matter vigorously with the chairman of the Post Office, who is always prepared to consider such matters. I hope equally that my hon. Friend will recognise that the Post Office is constantly striving to achieve the best level of service together with profitability and the minimum burden on the taxpayer. A lot has been achieved in that direction. If my hon. Friend studies the annual report and accounts of the Post Office, which were published this very morning, he will see a healthy picture.