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Mr. Grieve: I thank the Home Secretary for the statement that he made in his contribution, although I regret that the moves, particularly on procedure, could not have come earlier, especially as the criticisms were well known to the Home Office. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that, even at this late stage, those moves were made and there was an offer to review the safeguards for any continuing detention. Moreover, if we are moving in that direction, as I mentioned earlier, we should think of extending that to the period beyond seven days, let alone 14 days. The Home Secretary may wish to consider that, as it relates specifically to terrorist offences.
I am mindful that, in the concessions that he made, the right hon. Gentleman covered most, if not all, the amendments that we had tabled both as probing amendments and to improve the safeguards in the Bill. For those reasons, I seek to press only amendment No. 9, which I understand is accepted. I am pleased that, in a small way, I may have contributed to achieving greater consensus throughout the House. I seek leave to withdraw amendment No. 8 which, as the Home Secretary rightly noted, was only a probing amendment.
That leaves the issue of the duration of any extended period. Again, it is with some regret that I see that, despite criticism from an enormous number of people across the spectrum, the movement by the Government has come only when the Government appeared to be facing defeat if they did not do something about it. I regret that because I had hoped that, in building consensus, we could do better.
If the Government are genuine in their desire to hold consultations with all parties in the House and will do sothe Home Secretary has given me an assurance privately behind the Speaker's Chair that that will take place within the next few days, so that it is not a last-minute matter on Tuesday night, and that all the amendments that are tabled will be given to us with proper time to consider themthe proper way of proceeding at this stage is for those consultations and talks to take place.
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Mr. Grieve: We have approached the matter from the position that we do not like any extension of 14 days. Our earlier willingness to support the hon. Gentleman's amendment, if it was pressed, was based, first, on the desire to reach a consensus with the Government if it were possible to maintain it, and secondly, on the belief that 28 days was not some trade-off or Dutch auction, but the outer limit of what is acceptable. I emphasise that to the Home Secretary. If he were to say 21 days, I would be a much happier man. We pitched the limit very precisely because we thought it the proper place to do so.
I would much prefer not to see this aspect of the legislation happening at all, but if it is to happen, and if the Government are sincereI trust the Home Secretary in a way that I do not trust every Ministerwe will work with the Home Secretary to try to achieve the consensus that he has always desired and to make sure that the legislation commands widespread support not only in this House, but in the country.
Mr. Heath: May I echo the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the helpfulness of the Home Secretary's comments? We have made a significant move forwardperhaps a greater concentration on the possibilities of consensus has been occasioned by the result of the earlier vote. The outcome is welcome, and let us move forward on that basis. I join the hon. Gentleman in feeling that, if the proposed discussions are a genuine attempt to establish consensus on this difficult issue, it is not appropriate for us to press our amendments this evening. I will not recommend to my hon. Friends that they vote against the clause standing part of the Bill, on the basis that we will return next week, when we will have an opportunity to make our points.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I beg leave to present a petition, which forms part of the IsItFair council tax protest campaign, on behalf of nearly 400 of my constituents from Braintree, Witham and a number of surrounding villages.
That the year-on-year, inflation-busting increases in Council Tax are causing hardship to many and take no account of ability to pay; further that the proposed property revaluation and re-banding exercise will make an already flawed system even worse.
The petition of the commuting public of Bromsgrove declares that the train platform at Bromsgrove railway station is in urgent need of lengthening; that demand for commuting down to Worcester or into Birmingham from Bromsgrove has rapidly increased over recent years; that presently too few trains stop in peak hours to give commuters any real choice of services; that those which do stop are appallingly overcrowded as longer trains are forbidden from stopping due to the length of the platform; and draws attention to the recently published west midlands route utilisation study, which put the lengthening of the platform at Bromsgrove station as the top priority for rail infrastructure improvements in the entire region.
The Petitioners therefore request the House of Commons to call on the Department for Transport to now instruct Network Rail to start work on developing a scheme to deliver platform lengthening at Bromsgrove station so that commuters can look forward to a rapidly improved service.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Let me say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how grateful I am for the opportunity to raise this most important issue on the Adjournment. I am moved to do so because I have been approached by Mr. Gary Coyle, the sub-postmaster of Sutton Valence, which, as the Minister will not know, is a most picturesque village on the borders of my constituency. It was once in my constituency, and I was very sad to lose it.
Sutton Valence post office is well known in the local area because it is the centre of village life. When I first went to live in Sutton Valence 18 years ago, it had several shops. There was a baker, a village store, a newsagent, and of course the sub-post office; today, only the sub-post office remains. If it went out of business, there would be no natural hub of village life in Sutton Valence, and many vital services would not be provided. That is true in one Kentish village on the borders of my constituency, but it is also true of many sub-post offices in many other villages in my constituency and across the entire country.
The little sub-post office in Sutton Valence has survived while others have closed because Gary Coyle has been full of every last initiative. It has a flourishing retail business that sells everything from woolly jumpers to pencils; it has the lotteryI have bought my own tickets there many a time, some of them very successfulit takes in cleaning, because the nearest dry cleaners is a long way away; it takes in villagers' photographs to be processed; and it advertises, because if one wants to find an electrician in the village, one naturally goes to the post office to read the little postcards at the front.
I am sure that I am describing to the Minister a scene that he knows very well. However, that scene is seriously under threat. That is why Gary Coyle set up postmasternetwork.co.uk, which assists sub-postmasters all over the country in considering how they can diversify to prop up what is becoming an extremely difficult business to run. Why is it becoming so difficult? The Government are always to blame, of course, but on this occasion they must take a certain share of the blame, inasmuch as there has been a withdrawal of benefits paid through the post office because most pensions are now paid directly into bank accounts.
I have no objection to that. I am not saying that it is wrong or foolish, but merely that it must be acknowledged that it has had quite an impact on sub-post offices, particularly on little rural ones. Not only has the postmaster lost the commission that he would have got for distributing those benefits, but because people no longer go to the post office to collect their pension, or whatever it may be, they are not in there to buy other services. The throughput of customers has drastically decreased and most sub-postmasters cannot make a living simply from the revenue they receive from the post office.
There are lots of things that sub-postmasters could do, however, and lots of things that they would like to do. They are not being miserable and saying that there
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is nothing they can do. They say, "There is plenty we can do. Why won't you, oh Government, via the Post Office, let us do it?"
Cash machines are an example. A cash machine is an enormous convenience, but never more so than in a rural area. The option is often a bank five miles or more away in the next town or big village. That is certainly the case for my constituents. The nearest cash machine is probably in Headcorn, which is four or five miles down the road. That is fine for people who have an automobile, or for people who go out to work and will be passing a cash machine anyway, but for the people about whom we should be ever more concernedthose who do not have transport and who live in villages to which public transport is extremely badthe more conveniences they have on their doorstep, the better for them, and not just for the sub-postmaster.
Sub-post offices may not set up cash machines, however, and they have to obtain a special waiver from the Post Office to see through to completion the contract for any existing arrangements. That is bad for the sub-post office, because it takes from it the revenue it would receive from whoever supplies the cash machine, but it is also appallingly bad for people who live in the village and depend on the cash machine.
Some particularly enterprising sub-post offices would like to act as bureaux de change. After all, part of their raison d'être is handling money. They have security arrangements; they are used to all that type of thing and would love to act as bureaux de change. Come on, we are talking about Kent. We come out of the channel tunnel with our pockets bursting with euros so we want to go to the sub-post office to change them[Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but why should not we change our euros at the sub-post office? Can somebody tell me? I do not know why, but the Post Office says, "No".
Then there is the choice of mail providers. The Government have instructed Postcomm, which is the mail regulatoralthough I do not need to tell the Minister thatto prepare the mail market "for competition". Fine. Sub-postmasters welcome that. "Yippee", they say, "we will now be able to offer our customers, to their benefit and ours, a choice of mail providers." People could take their packages to Sutton Valence and send them via the Royal Mail, TNT or someone else. No. That is not allowed either under Post Office rules. Sub-post offices can deal only with the Royal Mail. So much for preparing the market for competition.
The Post Office, due to its near-monopoly position, takes other unfair advantage of small sub-post offices. I have already mentioned one survival strategy for many of those little sub-post offices: the lottery. The Minister will know that shops supplying lottery services have to stay open well beyond core post office hours, yet the Post Office still takes 20 per cent. commission on all lottery tickets issued, despite the fact that sub-postmasters are carrying out that business in their own time. It is not as though sub-postmasters even make that much per ticket, but to pay 20 per cent. commission to the Post Office, which, I think, also owns 20 per cent. of Camelot, is extremely questionable.
Sub-postmasters are keen to advertise financial products, but they are not allowed to do that either, so they are losing yet more revenue. I do not suggest that
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they should give advice about financial problemsI can see the difficulty with that. I am talking about advertising and acting as an intermediary for financial products. Again, however, everything is loaded against small rural sub-post offices. If a sub-post office operates in a general store, such as Tesco, it can advertise Tesco financial services.
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