HC Deb 01 May 1991 vol 190 cc307-8
9. Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the Government's policy regarding the provision of Post Office services in rural areas.

Mr. Leigh

The Government remain committed to Post Office services which meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the United Kingdom, including both urban and rural areas.

Mr. Wallace

I wonder whether the Minister realises that, if he were so minded, he could send a 1 kg package to Iceland or a 0.5 kg package to Tibet by international datapost more cheaply than he could send the equivalent packages by datapost to Orkney or Shetland. Does he accept that the revenue received by the Post Office as a result of the 75 per cent. surcharge on datapost to the Scottish islands is small compared with the adverse effect that it has on businesses in the islands? Just as the Government have accepted that social and political considerations outweigh commercial considerations in sustaining some forms of rural post office network, will they consider the case for taking into account similar social and political considerations with regard to datapost charges?

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect. We attach enormous importance to maintaining a uniform tariff structure for normal letter delivery to rural areas. However, the hon. Gentleman referred to datapost, which operates in a competitive and commercial market because it is above the 1 lb limit. First, it would not be right for me to comment on operational matters, which have always been the responsibility of the Post Office. Secondly, if through me the hon. Gentleman asked the Post Office to subsidise the service, he would ask it to do so at the expense of its competitors. I am not sure that that would be entirely right.

Mr. John Greenway

Will my hon. Friend assure the rural communities in North Yorkshire that the availability of a strong network of village post office counters will remain a key feature of the Government plans for the Post Office, as will universal delivery at a common price of the royal mail throughout the United Kingdom? The excellent service provided by rural village post offices is greatly valued by my constituents, and we ought to do what we can to keep it.

Mr. Leigh

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I live in a rural area myself and I find the service provided absolutely excellent. My post and, indeed, my red boxes are delivered on time.