Skip to main content

TV Licences

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

2. What discussions he has had with the BBC about rural residents in Scotland using the Post Office to renew their television licence. (80907)

The contract decision is a commercial matter for the BBC, as the television licensing authority. Of course the corporation has a duty to licence holders to achieve value for money in collecting licence fee revenue.

I thank the Minister for that answer, as far as it goes, but does he not recognise that the Scotland Office has a duty to speak up for the needs of Scottish residents, particularly rural residents? In my constituency, there were 41 sub-post offices where licences could have been renewed; now there are only 16 pay points where the BBC will allow that to happen. Should the Minister not remind the BBC that it has a duty to serve rural Scotland, as well as urban Scotland, and that is crucial that the BBC go back to the Post Office and look again at whether they can negotiate a contract to allow rural residents to renew their licences at post offices.

No, I regret that I am not able to interfere in the commercial contracts between the licensing authority and the Post Office. The Government’s role is to ensure that the Post Office receives the investment that it needs to compete in the modern world. That is why we put in £2 billion of additional support so that it can be part of the universal banking network, for example, and a lot of that support is ongoing. That is the proper role of government; I am afraid that to interfere in those commercial negotiations is not the proper role.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that, given the proposal to change the terms of the Crown post office in Irvine, the service will not be as good as under the old system? The post offices in the constituencies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) have also been changed from Crown post offices to franchises, reducing the possibility of buying licences in those new post offices.

I understand the concern that has been expressed, particularly on the proposal to move the post office from 165 High street to 130 High street, where it will become part of a Spar franchise. My hon. Friend will, of course, understand that the Crown post office network represents some 4 per cent. of the entire network, yet it loses £70 million annually. So there are some tough commercial decisions for the Post Office in managing the Crown network, but I hope that his constituents will not suffer any diminution in service of the type that he mentions, because the Post Office has an important role to play, not just in rural Scotland, where, of course, it has a central role, but in urban Scotland, too.