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That the draft Mental Capacity (Deprivation of Liberty: Monitoring and Reporting; and Assessments-Amendment) Regulations 2009, which were laid before this House on 23 February, be approved. (Barbara Keeley.)
That the draft Enactment of Extra-Statutory Concessions Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 10 February, be approved.
That the Insurance Premium Tax (Amendment of Schedule 6A to the Finance Act 1994) Order 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 219), dated 10 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10 February, be approved.
That the draft Local Government (Structural Changes) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Other Provision) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.
That the draft Cornwall (Electoral Arrangements and Consequential Amendments) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.
That the Banking Act 2009 (Restriction of Partial Property Transfers) Order 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 322), dated 19 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.
That the Banking Act 2009 (Third Party Compensation Arrangements for Partial Property Transfers) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 319), dated 19 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.
That the Banking Act 2009 (Bank Administration) (Modification for Application to Banks in Temporary Public Ownership) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 312), dated 19 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.
That the Banking Act 2009 (Bank Administration) (Modification for Application to Multiple Transfers) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 313), dated 19 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.
That the Banking Act 2009 (Parts 2 and 3 Consequential Amendments) Order 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 317), dated 19 February 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.
That the draft Criminal Damage (Compensation) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 17 December, be approved. (Barbara Keeley.)
That Mr David Curry be discharged from the Committee on Standards and Privileges and Mr Greg Knight be added. (Barbara Keeley.)
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con):
I beg leave to move a petition on behalf of the members and supporters of the South Downs Campaign, of whom there are more than 10,000 who are mostly my constituents. The petition is in order and has been checked in the Journal Office so I shall not delay the House by reading it all out, but I shall give a few words of very brief explanation. Seven or eight years ago, the Government proposed an area for a new national park in the south downs. The proposal was rigorously examined at a public inquiry and the inspector, for reasons best known to him, decided to cut part of the area out, much of which is in my constituency. That is why these supporters
are up in arms. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty. If we are to have a national park, it should include all the area as originally envisaged. That is the petition of the supporters of the South Downs Campaign and I very much hope that the Government will listen to it and revert to their original plan.
Sheweth that the area of land known as the Western Weald, including the towns of Petersfield, Liss, Midhurst and Petworth and the surrounding villages, has been designated by the Countryside Agency (now Natural England) as being worthy of inclusion on the South Downs National Park, on the grounds of their great natural beauty, cultural and historical richness and close links with the chalk downs; further sheweth that the people living in that area and those who admire and love it are strongly desirous of it being so included.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to confirm that the South Downs National Park shall include all of the said area and all such areas as have subsequently been considered worthy of inclusion.
The Petition of residents of Eastham, and others,
Declares that the decision by Wirral's Cabinet to either close Eastham Library or transfer it to community ownership is wrong in both form and substance; further declares that the concept of community transfer has not been sufficiently thought through here and it will give rise to widespread concern about the future of the facility; notes that since Eastham Library was previously recommended by Wirral Council to be retained, the people of Eastham have not been given any reasonable chance to respond to the consultation and make their views known; and further notes that the people of Eastham, as the rest of Wirral, South, see themselves as always getting short shrift in relation to the North of Wirral.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to encourage Wirral Council to reconsider its decision to close Eastham Library if community ownership cannot be found by end of June 2009.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): According to a recent survey by Help the Aged, nearly 60 per cent. of older people say that their post offices are essential to their lives. The Post Office is a much loved institution and I want to tell my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs that I am proud of what the Labour Government have done to maintain a post office network with a viable future. I am proud that, unlike their predecessor, this Government have recognised the value to our communities of preserving a comprehensive network of local offices, and that they have agreed an ongoing social subsidy of £150 million per year as part of an investment in the service of £1.7 billion.
We know that, if the Post Office were privatised, there would be just 4,000 profitable offices, and I suspect that they would be less profitable were it not for the comprehensiveness of the current service. As I said, our Labour Government are providing a social subsidy of roughly £18,000 per loss-making branch. That is an extraordinary commitment to the service, and a clear sign of the Governments loyalty to it.
In contrast, the previous Conservative Government took a completely different view. I know that that was many years ago, but it is worth remembering that 3,500 post offices closed in an age before technological advances made internet banking a way of life. Today, the Tories say that they oppose all closure plans and yet they will not even commit to the current £150 million social subsidy offered by the Government. So when one looks at the small print of their promise, although one sees that they pledge not to shut the 4,000 branches that make a profit, by my reckoning that leaves another 10,000 facing closure.
Given what I have said, it is my belief that the Government have given quite enough to enable the network essentially to be maintained, but it is in that context that I feel that my constituents in Rye have been woefully let down by Post Office management. The first problem concerns the decision early last year to close the Tilling Green post office that served a huge number of local residents. We petitioned, marched and demonstrated, but all to no avail.
For many people in Tilling Green, using the post office was the only way that they could collect their pensionsand, as Sir Fred Goodwin does not live in Rye, those are pensions that we do not mind paying. If the people running post office services believe that the fury of the residents of Rye has subsided following the closure, they are mistaken. The size of my protest file shows that the number of people who remain concerned is just enormous. Of course, the anger might have been assuaged were it not for the debacle that has followed the closure, but the fact remains that the decisions on post office services in Rye were always flawed, and they remain incomprehensible.
The closure of the Tilling Green office left Rye, a town of some 4,000 people that has a rural hinterland with a further 10,000 inhabitants, with only one post office. That is not good enough, and the resultant chaos is evidence of that.
When the wise leave their offices each night, they back up their computers, but Rye post office services have been left without any back up. What has really upset my constituents in Rye is that, on four occasions over the past year, they have had no service at all, sometimes for a day or two at a time. On one occasion, it was claimed that the office had to be closed for reasons of health and safety and, on another, the agent postmaster failed to get up on time. Most recentlyand the House may find this hard to believethe office was closed because of a problem with the lease.
Older residents waiting for their pensions have been unable to gain access and have been told they must return another dayalthough they were not strictly told, as the post office door was simply closed, with a notice pinned on it. When the office has been open, there have been epic queues, with elderly customers expected to queue for up to 30 minutes. Sally Holloway tells me that, These days, they say when a relationship ends you have to find closure. Well, Rye residents relationship with Rye post office is not overthey do not want closure. In fact, they want new openings; that is what we are looking for.
Post Office services are not an optional extra. Things do go wrong. That is why back-ups are necessary. For example, James Black, a local business man whose trade relies on postal services wrote to me asking how on earth businesses reliant on the Post Office for services or banking are supposed to function when certainty of service is undermined.
Yet another fiasco at Ryes Main Post Office.
I, along with around 10 others, waited in the rain for the Post Office to open at 8.30. Nothing. Then at 8.40 someone turned up with a key! Apparently the keyholder had decided not to come in and asked one of the counter staff to collect the keys. Unfortunately, the man who picked up the key turned up with only one key! The door needed two keysso he had to go off again to collect another key! I had to go off to work dripping wet and no pension. The Post Office apparently opened at 10 am.
Surely this makes a strong case for re-opening the Post Office at Tilling Green?
I wrote to you earlier in the year regarding the disgraceful closure of Tilling Green Post Office, which of course, as we all know, happened. How can this be justified, when the main Post Office in Rye has not been open today, and the notice in the window says closed until further notice? My 87-year-old Mother walked to the post office for various reasons, to find doors locked and telling her that the nearest post office was Winchelsea. Someone needs to give a few answers to this appalling state of affairs.
Why do my constituents find themselves in that situation? The problem is that the Post Office plan was flawed from the very beginning, because it failed to take account of the many, not the few. I understand why some far-distant rural offices have been subsidised by thousands of pounds, but we need to recognise that the consequence has been that post offices in semi-urban areas, such as Tilling Green, have been closed, despite the need for only a small subsidy.
Nearly 1,000 people have been inconvenienced, so that a service can be provided for a few score. Nearly 1,000 people who are in the main deprived, disabled and
elderly have been sacrificed, so that a few people can maintain their rural outlets, to which most of them drive anyway.
There is a democratic deficit in the decision-making process of the Post Office organisation. The whole system is wrong, and we should never have agreed to it. As a Member of Parliament for the past 12 years, I have become increasingly troubled by the inability of elected representatives to effect the wishes of their constituents and Rye post office has been a prime example of that impotence. In the years to come, we do not want to have to say, We were only following postal orders, but that is the way that it feels.
The service belongs to the public, not to Post Office Ltd. I have told my right hon. Friend the Minister before and will say again that we as a Government can delegate decisions, but we cannot delegate responsibility, and the anger that remains about the decisions of the Post Office will continue to remain and we will be blamed.
This cloud may yet have a silver lining. In the past few weeks, the Post Office management has said that it has found an alternative site in Rye, within the local Jempsons-Budgens supermarket, that will provide a comprehensive service with disabled facilities and adequate parking. Mr. Stephen Jempson is an experienced postmaster and is apparently prepared to invest £2 million in a new facility, incorporating a new in-store post office. That is great news, and I wish the proposal well, and if it comes to fruition, goodbut even if it does, Tilling Green residents will still be disadvantaged, and the town still needs a back-up should anything go wrong.
As a Government we need to recognise the anger and concern of so many people about what some regard as the abdication of decision making to the Post Office. It is not good enough that we are better than the Tories. That is easy. We need to be listening, and people need to listen to those who are elected to tell the story. If we took back control, perhaps listening politicians would make better decisions.
I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will study the Rye case carefully, for at every turn in the past, decisions have been wrong. Simply put, the Rye debacle is a master-class in how not to do things. I hope, even at this stage, that he will ask Post Office services to look yet again at the need for an outlet in Tilling Green and beyond and that we can learn from the mistakes.
The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) on securing this debate on post offices in Rye. I know that he cares passionately about post office services. He is an excellent constituency MP, and he campaigns assiduously on behalf of the people of Hastings and Rye, not only on this issue but across the board.
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