I start with a declaration of interest. I am a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament, with an 18-year involvement with the Co-operative movement prior to coming to the House. Since entering the House, I have at various times been chair of the employee share ownership group and the all-party building societies and financial mutuals group. Philosophically, there are considerable elements of the Bill that I instinctively support. The Government's recognition of the potential role of employee share ownership and mutuality in delivering postal services in this country is welcome. My regret, which forces me to oppose this Second Reading, is that the Bill's other parts will militate against the successful implementation of either employee share ownership or mutuality.
My experience within the movement has demonstrated a couple of things to me. We cannot legislate for mutuality. We can set up a framework of legislation in which mutuality can thrive, but we cannot look at a business and say, "We will make that a mutual." Mutuality and co-operation have to stem from the desire of those who work within an organisation to work in a certain way, driven by a certain culture. That culture may exist in Royal Mail and in the post office service, but the issue has not yet been determined.
I welcome the consultation on the Bill with the co-operative movement, but I did not feel too confident when the Secretary of State seemed not to know whether it had taken place with Co-operatives UK or with the Co-operative Group. The fact that he fails to understand the difference between the two does not exactly reassure me of a heavy commitment to that line of organisation.
As Mr Binley said, the previous Business, Innovation and Skills Committee examined the Royal Mail and the Post Office and made a range of recommendations, many of which the Minister alluded to, but many of which have not been implemented. That prompts the question that if their implementation is necessary to make the privatised model work, why have they not been implemented while the company has been in public ownership? Indeed, if they had been implemented, it might have made the private offer more acceptable. The Secretary of State did not sufficiently explain that situation.
My fundamental objection to the whole privatisation programme is that it basically instils a contradictory philosophy to that in the mutual and co-operative elements of the Bill. I have not seen it fully explained how the drive for shareholder appreciation and profit will be mitigated to allow for the regulatory and social obligations of the privatised Royal Mail. There has been a long debate about the universal service obligation, the six-day delivery and so on, and the fact remains that whoever buys Royal Mail in the long term will have to satisfy shareholders, but the potentially irreversible drive to make profit must call into question the regulatory framework that we have been assured will contain the privatised industry. That situation will have serious consequences for the post office service.
If the Royal Mail withdraws its current contract at some stage, or under some ownership or model, it could sound the death knell for hundreds, if not thousands, of post offices. Only 4,000 of the current 11,000 post offices are profitable. My right hon. Friend Mr Denham said that mutuals can fail, and in this context there is a high possibility of failure.