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Volume 462: debated on Thursday 5 July 2007

8. What plans he has to increase the contractual freedom afforded to sub-postmasters; and if he will make a statement. (147643)

Sub-postmasters are private business people who operate 97 per cent. of the 14,000 post offices in the network. They are free to develop their associated retail businesses and to pursue commercial arrangements with who ever they want, so long as the products provided are not in direct competition with the key Post Office products that provide income to support the network.

May I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment? It is interesting to learn that brother Digby is now taking holy orders. I wonder whether he might take ministerial orders; it will be interesting to see. The Minister will know that sub-postmasters are concerned about the terms of their contract, which are vague. They are uncertain as to their freedoms in this respect and they have a real need for greater help and support to allow them to develop new areas of business. What plans does the Post Office have to answer those concerns?

We are in dialogue with the Post Office about all that it can do to support sub-postmasters in their efforts to diversify and to grow and expand their businesses. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this is a competitive environment. A number of sub-post offices are under pressure, as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) said, but the Post Office will take this action with a mind to the products offered in sub-post offices that provide them with their own revenue.