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Crown Post Office (Newton Abbot)

Q7. [198453] Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD) : What plans he has to visit the Crown post office in Newton Abbot.

The Prime Minister: I have no current plans to do so.

Richard Younger-Ross: That is a shame, because the Post Office proposes to close the Newton Abbot Crown office and the sub-post offices in Queen street and at Keyberry and to replace them with one franchise given to Costcutter. Will the Prime Minister condemn the Post Office for refusing to allow any other local business to bid for that franchise, and will he support the commercial workers union in asking for the sell-off and franchising—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Richard Younger-Ross: Will he support the commercial workers union in asking for the suspension of the sell-off and franchising until the Trade and Industry Committee has completed its report—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman speak.

Richard Younger-Ross: —and the Post Office has completed its negotiations with the union?

The Prime Minister: It is not correct to equate closures with franchises. More than 280 of the 550 directly managed post offices have been successfully franchised, and I understand that there are high customer satisfaction levels with that. The problem that we face is quite simple. The combined losses of those 550 directly managed post offices are more than £70 million a year,
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and we simply cannot afford to sustain those losses. We are putting hundreds of millions of pounds into supporting post offices, but there is a limit to that.

I understand, incidentally, that discussions are continuing between the Post Office and the Communication Workers Union to try to resolve this issue.


Q8. [198454] Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): President Chirac has insisted that Europe should become a superpower to counter the United States. The Prime Minister himself has said that he wants Europe to be a superpower. When will he accept that this complete contradiction of his commitment to an undemocratic European constitution, with its defence and foreign policy, runs counter to our proven alliance with the United States? When will he discover that he cannot ride both horses at the same time?

The Prime Minister: It is extraordinary, given that the hon. Gentleman was down to ask a question, that I have briefings on education, crime, health and jobs, although it was perfectly obvious that there was only one subject he would ever ask about: Europe. I really must complain about those briefings.

Mr. Cash: Answer the question, then.

The Prime Minister: I will answer the question. I think that this country is lucky to have two major strong alliances—one with the United States of America and the other as a leading member of the European Union. It is important that we keep both alliances intact, because they are both important for the future of this country. I can think of many other countries around the world that would be delighted to have two such strong alliances. It is time, frankly, and with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that we started to celebrate, not denigrate, that fact.

Q9. [198455] Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend take time out of his busy schedule to visit the £15.5 million OpTIC optoelectronic incubation and research centre at the St. Asaph business park in my constituency? That technology centre will result in 24 new high-quality, high-tech companies being created every two years. What help can be given to spread that technology around the rest of Wales and the rest of the UK?

May I also ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be hanging around for the next few minutes for my ten-minute Bill at half past 12?

The Prime Minister: I cannot give an absolutely firm commitment on that, but I am sure that it is a great Bill, whatever its subject.

My hon. Friend is right. Investment in science and technology is a major part of the Government's programme to make this country the No. 1 capital in the world for the development of science and technology and businesses associated with it. We are in a strong position and we could be stronger still. The facility in my hon. Friend's constituency is not the only one in the
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country. They are important, and we need to grow and to build them because they have a direct impact on our future prosperity.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): I welcome today's meetings on Northern Ireland but does the Prime Minister appreciate the puzzlement of people there, given that 12 months after the election and more than two months since he declared at Leeds castle that he had virtually got the issue sorted out, nothing has happened? Will he get a grip and end the drift that someone somewhere clearly wants to prolong?

The Prime Minister: I hope that people in Northern Ireland are not too puzzled. Frankly, by now, they should be used to the stops and starts of a difficult and arduous process. Again, I pay tribute to the right hon.
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Gentleman for his work in the peace process, which should always be stated. I hope that the talks today will be productive. Although it is taking slightly longer than I anticipated, we are trying to resolve the outstanding issues. I think he would acknowledge that, provided that it is absolutely clear—it must be—from anyone who wants to sit in the Government of Northern Ireland that paramilitary violence is ended once and for all in all its forms, there is no reason why the Unionist community should not sit in an Executive with other parties, including the republican party, to govern Northern Ireland in a devolved way. I greatly hope that, in the next few days—it may be a little longer—we will make progress to ensure that, on the republican side, there is a complete end to violence, and on the Unionist side an acceptance that if that is so there should be power sharing.

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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to motion 18 on today's Order Paper, which is entitled, "Application of the Parliament Act to the Hunting Bill"? It has been signed by 20 hon. Members from all parties representing both sides of the argument. Would you prefer to give time for that to be debated today?

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps I can answer Sir Patrick and then there will be no need for further points of order. Those matters are for the Government, not the Speaker. [Interruption.] Perhaps I can clarify matters. Debating time in the House is for the Government, not the Speaker, to determine.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last night, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and 18 of their colleagues who were able to get into the Lobby with them voted against an outright ban on hunting. Is there any precedent in the long history of the Parliament Act for it to be used to force through a Bill, against which the holders of the great offices of state and the leader of the Government have voted?

Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members' voting records are a matter for them, not the Speaker.

Mr. Gray: What about precedent?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should not worry about the Parliament Act. That is for me to worry about and look after—[Hon. Members: "And us."] Of course, and I look after the interests of all hon. Members, especially those of Back Benchers.

Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: I shall take the hon. Lady last because she has a different point of order.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may know that the board of inquiry into the deaths of the six brave policemen who were killed at Majar al-kabir last year reports today. The Secretary of State for Defence will conduct a press conference to discuss the report at four o'clock in the Ministry of Defence. With great respect, I have shown a deep interest in the matter, given that one of my constituents was murdered in the incident. Other hon. Members have also done so. At the very least, the Secretary of State should have the guts to come here, make a statement and be questioned properly in Parliament.

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