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Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008


Thursday 31 January 2008


Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Post Office Closures (Cheshire)

The Petition of residents of Threapwood and its neighbouring districts,

Declares that that the community value as well as the services available at Threapwood Post Office are vital and must be maintained.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government and Post Office Ltd. to retain Threapwood Post Office and the full services that our post offices provide to local people and the most vulnerable groups in our communities; and further requests that the Government and Post Office Ltd. withdraw their plans and undertake an honest review to examine how, rather than destroying our Post Offices, we can secure their tong term future.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Stephen O'Brien, Official Report, 17 December 2007; Vol. 365, c. 620 .] [P000094]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited (POL) is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until July with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for Cheshire finished on 17 December 2007 and Post Office Ltd announced its decision to replace the Threapwood Branch with an outreach service on 22 January. POL have published their decision in an Area Plan Decision Booklet for the Cheshire area which will be available on their website at:

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. A recent addition to the review process provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.


Dangerous Drivers

The Petition of Mrs Catherine McDermott and residents of South Yorkshire ,

Declares that 7 year old Kyle McDermott was killed by a hit and run driver on 11/09/06. The driver had 2 previous convictions for drink driving but was sentenced to just 5 months in prison.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Justice to urgently review the current sentencing policy for this type of offence with a view to introducing much stiffer penalties.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jeff Ennis, Official Report, 29 October 2007; Vol. 465, c. 620 .] [P000116]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government takes the issue raised very seriously and would like to highlight the following points in response:

Current sentencing policy

The charges brought against an individual following a road traffic incident are dependent upon the Crown Prosecution Service's assessment of the quality of the defendant's driving, both preceding and at the time of impact. When considering the appropriate charge, it is the driving behaviour that is the deciding factor, that is, whether the driver was careless or dangerous, rather than the outcome of the incident, however tragic.

There are differing degrees of culpability on the part of drivers involved in fatal accidents and therefore a range of driving offences a driver can be prosecuted for. If a driver is, as a result of substandard driving, held responsible for the death of a person, the Crown Prosecution Service may currently select from the following charges: death by dangerous driving, death by careless driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, aggravated vehicle taking where death occurs, and manslaughter. The first three of these charges carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment, for offences committed on or after the 27 February 2004. Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The offence of careless driving is at present only punishable with a fine or community penalty, regardless of the consequences.

Failure to stop, which attracts a maximum penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment, can be taken into account in sentencing as an aggravating feature, making it more likely that a driver who has failed to stop and is prosecuted for a bad driving offence, such as causing death by dangerous driving, will receive a higher sentence than a person who has remained at the scene and reported the accident.

Introduction of new offences and sentences

The Road Safety Act 2006 includes a new offence of causing death by careless driving, with a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment, and a new offence of causing death whilst driving disqualified, unlicensed, or uninsured, with a maximum penalty of 2 years. Fleeing the scene will continue to be an aggravating factor and can of course be charged as a separate offence as well.

We expect these new offences to be implemented in 2008 following intense and necessary scrutiny by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

The new offence of causing death by careless driving and the maximum penalty it carries means that the fatal consequences of careless driving are, for the first time, an element of the offence, where no alcohol or drugs are involved, and makes available a custodial sentence if appropriate.