With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, his Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and gave categorical assurances that his proposals will revitalise and re-energise our postal services. He assured us not only that our postal services will not be diminished, but that they will expand and grow, and become more inventive and entrepreneurial. There is an apparent guarantee that national delivery will be set in stone. I asked him how the Government could guarantee for perpetuity a privatisation of postal services without entrepreneurs, who apparently will come rushing in, but Mr Binley said that entrepreneurs would run a million miles away from putting money into the Post Office.
The Secretary of State made those guarantees and cast them in stone, so why can he not do that in respect of sub-post offices? I am perfectly prepared to accept changes to post offices up to a point, but all the sub-post offices I know are additions to retail outlets, not the primary source of business for the individuals running them.
The public still firmly believe, despite the vagaries-or worse than vagaries-of the changes to our postal service, that the Post Office is a public service. The people of this country take great pride in it and believe it to be central and essential to their way of life. It matters not how many times one points out to them the decline in the number of letters we write, as everybody would apparently sooner send an e-mail because that is easier. I can understand that, but I am certain that I am not the only Member of this House who despairs of the day when e-mails were invented, because of the time it takes to send and read them. And what do we get at the end of it? I shall not go down that road, but I can see by hon. Members' smiles that my experience is shared universally.
None the less, the public value and treasure the public service provided by post offices, and not only because, as for many of my constituents, it frequently used to be the case-this has improved slightly lately-that the only other human face that some people saw was that of the postman. In many instances, the only people whom they had conversations with were those they met in our sub-post offices. I have come across more than one example of a sub-postmaster missing seeing a particular pensioner over a comparatively short time span and alerting social services and the police because he was concerned that she might have had an accident or that something else might be wrong, and being proven right. Post offices do not simply offer a commercial service, whereby we can communicate with each other via the post; they offer a public service through which the public value each other and, in essence, take care of each other.
This Bill is yet another brick in the wall of what the Government are attempting to convince us will be their big society, if all these policies go through. However, it seems to me that what these policies will produce is the big broken society. If we lose the capacity to care for each other, what will be the point if we do manage to close the national deficit? It is the human beings of this country who are of primary importance. They are the ones who are going to get us out of this mess. Their feelings about public services are not limited to what the Government tell us are their priorities-the NHS and education. Rather, it is the public service in our postal services that they value. As others have said, there are aspects of the Bill to which one can give comparative support, but the Bill as a whole is an unmitigated mess.