Today's debate has been very interesting. I will set out-briefly, because time is short-the reasons why I support the Bill.
Years of falling mail volumes-down 15% since their peak-together with low profit margins and a huge pension deficit have mortally wounded our Royal Mail. Doing nothing is not an option if we are to retain a world-class mail service and, most importantly, retain our world-class work force within it. Real reform of Royal Mail was put in the "too difficult" pile by the previous Government, but there were some attempts to change our post office network, including the closure of 5,000 post offices. In my constituency, this included our village shop, and it was a double blow to the rural community. We have lost services such as Sunnyhurst post office, which is still missed by the residents of Darwen. Nothing could have better shown the chaos of this closure programme than the former MP backing the campaign by the Lancashire Telegraph to keep the post office in Darwen and then voting in this place against our proposal to stop such closures.
These losses of service have been most keenly felt in our rural areas, where a lack of broadband and other forms of rural isolation mean that residents are heavily reliant on the postal service to keep in touch with the outside world. I have recently written to Royal Mail after learning that postmen working in the village of Edgworth in my constituency have been instructed to return undelivered packages to Bolton rather than to our small post office in Edgworth. Residents are now expected to make a 14-mile round trip and use a sizeable part of their day to collect parcels. Other poor reforms by the previous Government included the loss of the morning delivery in many areas, including at my house, where we wait until 1 pm or 2 pm for the post.
The Government's proposals, set out in this Bill, are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the culture of Royal Mail. It will open it up to private investment and expose it to the rigours of private sector efficacy but it will, crucially, maintain the universal postal service. When looking at these proposals, we must keep in mind that the real experts in this field do not sit in this House-they are the people who work in Royal Mail. That is why I am delighted that the Bill includes the principle of 10% ownership for employees and the mutualisation of the Post Office.
Supporters of the radical changes that this Government have brought about in schools know that the expertise for running schools does not rest in Whitehall. Likewise, the Bill acknowledges our world-class work force, their passion for the business, their dedication to service and their future at the heart of Royal Mail. If Royal Mail is to modernise, it must bring its work force along with it, and I believe that the 10% ownership measure will do that. Crucially, however, it must avoid militant opposition to privatisation. During the last Royal Mail strike in Manchester, the business in which I worked moved from sending out approximately 1,000 invoices a month via mail to an online and e-mail invoice delivery system. I am sorry to say that after the strike ended, having spent time and effort on moving the system online, we never went back to posting our invoices again. I urge the unions not to swing a wrecking ball at Royal Mail. Royal Mail undoubtedly faces challenges from falling mail volumes, but we must be realistic, and I am sure that a modern Royal Mail with proper employee participation would meet every challenge ahead of it.
Although we currently have 51 licensed postal operators, Royal Mail has not previously been attractive to outside investment owing to its pension deficit. Again, doing nothing is not an option. In this Bill, the new coalition Government take on the deficit, putting the company on a firmer footing while protecting the pensions of all Royal Mail employees past and present. I support the Bill, I support the universal postal service, and I applaud the principle of employee participation.