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Post Office Network

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

1. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers on the future of the post office network in Scotland. (92535)

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that he will acknowledge the concerns across the country about the future of the Post Office, but is he aware of the growing dismay about those politicians who claim to support postal services while actually wanting to privatise them? That is, of course, the policy of the Liberal Democrats.

I entirely agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman—whom I almost called my right hon. Friend—makes. However, the problem is worse than he says, as the Government have made available thousands of millions of pounds through the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry to help support and sustain the post office network. Of course, it is also Liberal Democrat policy to abolish the DTI and spend its budget elsewhere.

When my hon. Friend discusses the future of post offices with his ministerial colleagues, will he ensure that their importance in urban areas—and especially poorer urban areas—is fully taken into consideration? What support are the Government giving to such post offices to enable them to compete?

My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally important point. Post offices have a key role to play in deprived urban communities, just as they do in rural communities. The urban post office network has benefited from the £2,000 million that has been invested in recent years. That money has enabled the Post Office to become part of a global banking network and to compete in the modern age. The reality is that customers will determine the Post Office’s future—we cannot expect that the post office network in 10 or 20 years’ time will be like the one that existed 10 or 20 years ago.

It is appropriate today that the House should mark the passing during the recess of Hector Monro, who represented the Dumfries constituency for some 33 years and held several ministerial offices. Hector was a great servant of this House, of his constituents and of Scotland—and never more so than in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing. He will be sorely missed.

Does the Minister agree with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, and the many Scots who have signed its petition, that the post office network in Scotland has an important social value? If so, why have the Government systematically removed business from that network?

First, may I associate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and colleagues on this side of the House with the warm tribute that the hon. Gentleman paid to Hector Monro? My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) has spoken of the warmth with which Hector is still remembered in the constituency for the work that he did for the south of Scotland.

The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) asked about the nature of the post office network, but I remind him that the Government have provided financial assistance, in the form of the investment of taxpayers’ money, that amounts to well over £2,000 million. That speaks not of a Government who are withdrawing support from the Post Office, but of one who continue to support it. I contrast that with the fact that 3,500 post offices throughout the UK closed in the 18 years of Conservative Government.

May I draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to Auchterarder sub-post office? When the VisitScotland tourist office there closed, Donald Ramsay, the sub-postmaster, had the foresight to enter into negotiations and secure 90 per cent. of its business in his post office. Does my hon. Friend agree that local post offices might be able to take advantage of similar opportunities when tourist offices and the like are placed under threat? Will he join me in congratulating Mr. Ramsay on his foresight in embarking on that new business venture?

I am more than happy to pay tribute to Mr. Ramsay and to my hon. Friend, who I know played a part in negotiating the arrangement that has brought the tourist office into the post office. I look forward to VisitScotland opening an office in Port Glasgow so that the same synergy can be established there. My hon. Friend has given the House an example of how the Post Office can enter into new entrepreneurial ventures that will help sustain it. That stands in sharp contrast to those hon. Members who go around collecting petitions about the future of post offices, while supporting policies that would see them close.