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I shall make progress and then give Labour Members a final chance to chip in. I am conscious of the clock. The House can tell that I have been racing through my remarks as quickly as possible. I want to give hon. Members a chance to speak, but I shall point out aspects that matter particularly to Labour Members.
There was an early-day motion at the beginning of the year signed by 35 Members from the Labour Benches. It is pretty well word for word the motion before the House today. The only respect in which I have heard that it is thought to be different is the use of the word "instruct" in the context of instructing the Post Office to suspend its consultation. That is dancing on the head of a pin. It would be intellectually dishonest of any Member to think that that gives them a let-out clause.
The Government, through the shareholder executive, owns the Post Office. They instructed the compulsory closure programme to start in the first place, so they can equally instruct the Post Office to suspend it. As I said earlier, in part at least because of the local elections, they have already done just that. So the insinuation of the word "instruct" is no excuse for those hon. Members who have signed the early-day motion not to vote with us tonight.
Furthermore, we know that hon. Members, including Ministers and Cabinet Ministers, are campaigning in their own constituencies. I entirely accept that there are occasions when the Government—even the Government of their own colour—do something and hon. Members want to make a stand for their constituents, but what we are seeing are not just a few scattered examples of an hon. Member saying, "I must defend the interests of my constituents"; we are seeing a wholesale operation across the entire map, with almost every Member doing that. Thus, wholesale activity makes a mockery of what should be collective responsibility. Collective action has driven through collective responsibility.
Of even deeper concern is the fact that the Secretary of State revealed in an interview
"that he might campaign against Post Office closures in his own back yard."
"'I want to see what the detailed proposals are'"— he happens to be in charge of them, but never mind—
Fair enough, except for this: when everyone is doing it, it is not just representing our constituents; it is collectively denying the entire policy of the Government.
There is a more perturbing point. As we all know, if a Member succeeds in keeping one post office open, under the current plans another one will shut. We can but ask whether a Secretary of State who is in charge of the shareholder executive that owns the Post Office might perhaps have more clout in those negotiations than a mere Back Bencher. If the Secretary of State can keep one or two post offices open in his constituency, where does that leave his colleagues in a neighbouring constituency?
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