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Postal Services Commission

Volume 401: debated on Thursday 20 March 2003

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Whether the appointment of the chairman of the Postal Services Commission will be renewed; and if she will make a statement. [103881]

The term of the current chairman of Postcomm, Graham Corbett, formally ends on 31 March. I am glad to be able to tell the House that he has agreed to an extension of his term of up to a year, to complete the current phase of Postcomm's work and allow time for the appointment of his successor. Having consulted Mr. Corbett on the future composition of Postcomm, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed to begin the process now to recruit a new chairman. She has also agreed to reappoint Janet Lewis—Jones for a further three—year term.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am concerned to know how his Department will ensure that the successor, the new chair and, indeed, members of the commission will be appointed with some relevant experience of the postal service. How can he ensure that?

The current commissioners have been successful in establishing Postcomm as a postal regulator with a strong, independent voice. That was no mean feat and I congratulate them on it. There is a case for the commission reflecting direct experience of postal markets. We have agreed with Graham Corbett on a balance of continuity and change as the work of Postcomm goes forward. We will seek to appoint a new commissioner with specific experience of postal markets to reflect my hon. Friend's point. We also need to reflect on the overall balance of Postcomm in considering candidates for the new chair.

Will the chairman of the Postal Services Commission look specifically at the Government's broken promises and ensure that elderly people can continue to collect benefits in the way that they have always wished to—from post offices? Postmasters and customers in my constituency are complaining bitterly that the Government have not kept their promise and that they are under huge pressure and influence to open new bank accounts. The Government made clear promises, but they have broken them. Will the new chairman look into that?

Those promises have been maintained and will be maintained as the new arrangements roll out from next month. In particular, it will be possible for anybody who so wishes to continue to receive their benefit in cash weekly at the post office without charge either through a basic bank account, an ordinary current account, where the bank has a contract with the post office, or through a Post Office card account. That requirement, which was set out three years ago, is fundamental to the way in which the automated credit transfer change has been implemented.

I am slightly disappointed that Mr. Corbett has an extension to his position. He has not been the force that we needed, although I may be in a minority of one on that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Thank you. May we have an assurance that his successor will have ideas that are rooted in reality and not be obsessed by the market approach, down which Mr. Corbett seems to be leading the Post Office?

In my view Mr. Corbett has done a good job in establishing Postcomm with an independent voice. Nobody should be surprised that he has sometimes taken views at variance with those of the Royal Mail—that goes with this terrain. Maintenance of the universal service obligation is Postcomm's key aim. That will certainly be at the forefront of the aims of the new chairman, as it has been for Graham Corbett.