Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is talking about the possibility, for which there is as yet no substance, of replacing a loss of revenue that is certain and definite? Will he confirm that the Horizon project, as now truncated, deals only with the internal management and revenues of sub-post offices, and that it as yet does not have the functionality to deliver the banking and other services of which he has speculatively spoken? Will he confirm that he will not even go out to tender to obtain the necessary software until later this year?

    Mr. Byers: The problem that we inherited was that the scheme concocted by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) was three years behind schedule. Our project will deliver automation for every post office by spring 2001. In addition, the changes that I intend to introduce to the Postal Services Bill next week will provide a safeguard and a mechanism. Even if we have to use that mechanism, we shall not have to do so until 2003, when ACT is introduced. We are giving plenty of notice of change, which will continue from 2003 until 2005.

    For more than 150 years, the Post Office has been an important part of the social fabric of our country. The Government are committed to ensuring that it continues to play an important role in British society by building a modern, vibrant network fit for the future. We shall deliver that, and I commend the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.