This is an important day for the future of the post office network, because hundreds, if not thousands, of people have travelled to the House to put their case. That was not stage acted: in the fine tradition of democratic lobbying, it was an endeavour with a serious point and purpose. Those people were not just representing themselves—a fact to which the three million signatures on a petition handed in this morning readily attest. I congratulate all of them and hope that they have travelled safely from far and wide.
We have initiated this debate, not for the first time, because we have been leading on this issue and we shall continue to press the Government for the answers that they refuse to give. It is high time that they listened hard and answered in detail. Perhaps the starting point for that should be the debate, which I commend to hon. Members on both sides of the House as compulsory reading, initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) in the Westminster Hall annexe this morning. My right hon. Friend spoke in detail and with devastating effect.
The Government's policy simply does not add up. They say that they want to protect the post office network, but they intend to rob it of its income. They then speak with certainty only of issues irrelevant to the problem that they are causing. We will not let them get away with that.
We have had a lively debate, and many hon. Members have brought their experience to bear. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), even though he spoke from the Government Benches, was spot on. He essentially said, "No income, no post offices," and explained that that would hit the poorest hardest. Many of his constituents will be very hard hit by the Government's policy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) was rightly worried about post office closures in his constituency. Indeed, there have been more than 500 up and down the country since the general election. Let me be honest about the earlier figures. In the 18 years preceding the general election, there were 2,568 post office closures. Let us put that figure on the table. It is not 3,000, as the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. I doubt whether he will come back to the House and correct the figure. I am afraid that, if he did that on each occasion, it would become too habitual a duty.
The call is for the Government to be more practical. I think the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) must be a deeply confused person. She says that post offices do not want subsidies. She is right. They want incomes. She was unable to explain to the House where those incomes would come from.