Earlier today I passed a lobby outside the House, whose protagonists were carrying placards that bore two messages. The first was "Bash the bankers, not the pensioners", and the other was "Save our services". Indeed, there is a lobby of pensioners in the House even as we speak. The Secretary of State highlighted the fact that post offices are of particular importance to pensioners. However, I thought he rather narrowed the importance of post offices, certainly for my constituents, because post offices are vital not only to pensioners but to people with disabilities, the unemployed and young parents. One must give credit to the new coalition Government, because their record is 100% consistent: despite their pronouncements to the contrary, all their policies attack the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society.
There are no guarantees whatever in the Bill that post offices and sub-post offices will be maintained. It is easy to say that there will be no more post office closures-I am somewhat confused on whether that covers sub-post offices-but without cast-iron guarantees, my constituents will suffer inordinately. All of us who were here in the last Parliament and who are most grateful and humble for being returned remember our struggles to save our sub-post offices. That is certainly true of my constituency and throughout London. I lost four in the last round, and six in the two previous rounds. Such closures impact on more than the individual users of the sub-post office. London is essentially a sequence of small villages, and sub-post offices tend to be a major part of the smaller, local economies. People go to the post office and do a little bit of shopping in their local shops. Once the post office goes, those other shops lose out.
The Government are telling us that the retail sector will be the essential driving force of our growing economy, but if there are no guarantees that essential counter services will be maintained, the economic fallout could be greater.