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Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Is my hon. Friend aware of another relevant German expression that is difficult to translate into any other language? What is happening displays that Powergen has anything other than "Fingersptizengefühl"—a fingertip feel.

Mr. Bacon: I am aware of that expression; my hon. Friend makes a good point, and Powergen needs to reconsider the issue with some care.

The second issue that I want to raise involves a specific problem that arose some three years ago because of the decision of Mrs. Rogers, the then sub-postmistress at Coldham Green, Deopham, to retire from running the post office in Pie lane. As she was retiring, she requested that the post box in her front garden be taken away. Indeed, the parish council suggested that the box should be resited somewhere else, which seemed perfectly reasonable. It also seemed reasonable that Mrs. Rogers should no longer have a post box in her front garden when she was no longer running the post office.

The problem that subsequently arose has endured for so long because of Royal Mail's failure locally—I stress the word "locally"—to understand, recognise or acknowledge the difference between resiting and removing. Thus, the local Royal Mail manager's response to concerned local residents, to the parish council and to me has been to ask why residents of Coldham Green should have an additional post box. In fact, all that local residents are asking for is the relocation of a previously existing box in a slightly different place. The local Royal Mail manager has gone so far as to allege that there is a post box in a place where there is none.

I have gone to the chief executive and chairman of Royal Mail, who have been helpful, and I look forward to receiving a sensible response. I have walked the route that people must now take, and I can see how dangerous it is. Without a post box in their area, local people must walk to the other end of the village down a road that has a 60 mph speed limit—although it certainly should have a lower limit. Young mothers with prams must push their small children down the lane to the post box at the other end of the village, but there is no verge and there is nowhere for them to hide. That is not a practical option, and many people refuse to take it and are thus deprived of a service. I hope to get a sensible answer out of Royal Mail in due course, and also some indication that it will encourage its local managers to take a slightly more helpful and interested approach. Postwatch is also escalating the priority attached to the local complaint, and I hope that there will be a resolution.

As for the so-called neutral position on the Post Office card account, a number of hon. Members have referred to the apparent difference between what we, and our

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constituents, are experiencing in our daily lives and what is happening over there on Planet Hewitt, where there seems to be no difference between the treatment of the options on offer, and they are apparently being laid out in a neutral way. How can Age Concern, Citizens Advice, the National Consumer Council, the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, the Communication Workers Union and the National Federation of Women's Institutes all have expressed concern about the obstacles and difficulties in opening a Post Office card account, yet the Government and Ministers on Planet Hewitt do not seem to think that there is a problem? The Minister should be careful before he takes on the National Federation of Women's Institutes. He should recall what happened to his boss when he tried to do that.

It is absolutely clear that there is an issue. Indeed, the guidance given to Department for Work and Pensions staff, contains this statement:

That does not sound very neutral to me.

That prompts another question. Quite apart from the fact that there is not the neutrality that the Government allege, why should the card accounts cost so much more than bank accounts? After all, lottery terminals have been put into convenience stores, post offices and small shops throughout the country. The proposed payment system is relatively simple, and ought not to cost 30 times more than bank accounts. If one looked into the problem, I suspect that one would discover that, as is often the case with Government IT projects, the Government's IT advice has cost more than it should.

As hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), who introduced the debate, have said, the key issue is choice. Theoretically, at least, the Government are in favour in choice. Indeed, the Prime Minister's Office of Public Services Reform, in the pamphlet, "Principles into Practice", published in March 2002, said:

Amen to that. The Government should back up their rhetoric and give our constituents in both urban and rural areas the kind of choice that they expect.

3.36 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): This is an important debate, in which we can air our views about the future of postal services—a subject that matters to older people, younger people and others who use post offices. In Chorley we face two closures—the Moor Road post office in Pall Mall and the post office on Eaves lane. I am worried about the criteria used for closure, and I would like genuine consultation. Anyone who has been through a closure programme knows that consultation is usually a charade. As we head into a consultation on those two crucial post offices in Chorley, I hope that there will be genuine dialogue, and

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that geographical considerations will be taken into account. There is no post office in Chorley to the south of either of those post offices, and we cannot expect people who have to walk half a mile to use them to walk another half mile to use the next one. Older people cannot walk that far, and a journey of that distance is certainly not feasible for young mothers who may want to call at a post office on the way to school.

I regret that the Post Office is considering closing those post offices, and there must be full genuine consultation. It should listen to local elected representatives and the people who use those post offices. If the Post Office listens to us and takes our views on board, I do not expect it to close them. If the sub-postmaster wishes to get out of the business, the Post Office should approach shopkeepers in the area and nearby supermarkets and say that, rather than allowing a local facility to be lost, it would like them to consider taking on the franchise. The Post Office should go out and look at other shops to try to see if they can facilitate a replacement. We do not want a Post Office that is determined to close sub-post offices but one that is determined to keep them open. That is a crucial point, and I hope that it will be taken on board.

We have heard a lot of rhetoric today from the Opposition, and they have shed many crocodile tears. Under the previous Government, 3,500 post offices closed, but not once do Conservative Members refer to that. If they are genuine—and I expect people to be genuine in the Chamber—they should not try to make political gains but should make genuine arguments on behalf of their constituents. That is how debates should be conducted—[Interruption.] Hon. Members might ask, "Which way are you going to vote?" but that is not the way to proceed. We ought to tell the Minister that there are problems, and that we expect a listening Government to take our views on board. They should propose a solution, refine it and use their vote as shareholder in the Post Office to tell it that they do not like the way in which it is doing business, and they expect it to change. The Post Office should listen to hon. Members, and take our views on board.

Andrew Selous: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that every Opposition Member who has spoken, as well as his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), has asked the Post Office to be more flexible and more creative and to look at the issue from the point of view of the whole community? That is the central point that has been made this afternoon.

Mr. Hoyle: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say. He is slightly embarrassed because he knows the debate is a political one. I would have liked to believe that we could genuinely express our views and concerns, but apparently, the real purpose of the debate is to make political points. That is wrong. It should be an opportunity for Members to make our voices heard.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: I do not know whether my hon. Friend's experience is the same as mine, but I discovered that when post offices were facing closure, surveys carried out among the local population made it clear that many people did not realise the full extent of the

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services that post offices offer. The Post Office could do a great deal more to advertise the services that are available and would be of benefit to people.

Mr. Hoyle: My hon. Friend is spot on. We ought to be telling people not only how good post offices are and how vital they are to a community, but about the services available to them. People have forgotten how many services post offices offer. I believe that the Post Office should offer even more services, and that they should be franchised.

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