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Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the decisions of the usual channels have not always been fully approved by Members of your Lordships' House and that taking clauses out of their numerical order often causes confusion in the course of Committee or Report stages? Although on this occasion we shall consider carefully whether the considerable alteration is justified, the Government and the committee which considers these matters should be very reluctant indeed to change the numerical order.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am, of course, aware of the points that the noble Lord raises. I respect his judgment in this matter. The usual channels in this case are the relevant Front Benches who are responsible for the large majority of the amendments that are tabled. If we are wrong, the procedure will be seen to be wrong. However, it worked in another place. We believe that it will help the consideration of the Bill. I commend the Motion to the House.
I understand that yesterday the Prime Minister made a most interesting speech to the National Federation of Women's Institutes. I very much regret that I was not present to hear it as I might have joined in at some stage or t'other! However, he referred to his concern about sub-post offices--a matter with which I believe everyone in this House is concerned. He also said that the Government intended to make a statement about what they would do to help sub-post offices in the future. As we are about to embark on the first day of the Committee stage of the Postal Services Bill, will the Minister tell us when the statement will be made? Will it affect the Bill? Will it mean more government amendments? Will it make our
Lord Windlesham: My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, the comments of my two noble friends raise the question: what did the Prime Minister say in his speech to the Women's Institute yesterday? Is the noble Lord aware that I have tried to obtain from No 10 Downing Street a transcript of the speech as delivered? I am informed that no such document exists. I already have in my possession the speech as it was intended to be delivered, which, in the way of the Government's presentation, had been issued in advance. Printed in large letters across the top are the words,
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about time wasted in preparation. On Monday this week the Secretary of State attended the Communication Workers Union conference. He said that the report from the PIU is imminent. We heard at Second Reading that it hoped to report to the Prime Minister
Baroness Byford: My Lords, again before the noble Lord responds, I agree with the points raised by my noble friends. Unlike, I suspect, other Members of the House, I have been dealing with this particular issue during the passage of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill. It has raised enormous problems because we have not been able to get any answers. I can tell noble Lords that, for good reasons, there was due to be a meeting this morning with Alan Johnson, where at least some light may have been thrown on the issue. That meeting had to be cancelled. If the Minister can respond to this matter it would be extremely helpful, not only to many of us working on this Bill but also to those of us who have been doing a large amount of work on the other Bill.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, before the Minister replies, if he is aware of what the Prime Minister said, perhaps he can tell your Lordships' House before more amendments are tabled and before any amendments are debated. If he does not know what the Prime Minister said--and, more importantly, if he does not know what the Prime Minister meant, which is more likely--there is no case for the Committee stage to proceed.
If the members of the Women's Institute had listened to what the Prime Minister said yesterday, they would have a clearer picture. The position is very clear. The PIU report on post offices will be published shortly. This will, of course, be done with due respect for the parliamentary conventions. These issues do not impinge directly on the Bill before us, although the report may well help inform decisions on whether schemes under Clause 102, the subsidy clause, are needed.
Lord Skelmersdale: If my Motion on the Marshalled List were to be taken at face value it would be a wrecking amendment. Such was never my intention. But recent Rules of the House--which I must confess I do not like one little bit--make it virtually obligatory to announce one's intention to ask general points on a clause or schedule by putting down a Motion that such be opposed. In the good old days, of course, one just stood up and spoke. Be that as it may, I was trying to be good.
Lord Skelmersdale: I was saying that I have been pre-empted by an announcement today of the Secretary of State, Mr Byers. I cannot believe that he was so frightened of what the House might say or do, or indeed what I might say or do, that he decided to come clean. That said, it is annoying, to say the least, that not once but twice in the past 24 hours we have been pre-empted by announcements by two members of the Cabinet.
We have had already a short discussion of the Prime Minister's activities yesterday, but I venture to suggest that your Lordships as a whole will not know who the members of the postal services commission are to be. That is one thing that I sought to discover.
I said that I have been pre-empted. Mr Byers announced today that he had appointed not three but five other persons to join with the chairman and chief executive designate. I understand that these are: Mr Robin Aaronson, who is a director of the London office of a firm of business consultants and a trained economist; Ms Julia Kaufmann, who is, of course, currently a director of the BBC's "Children in Need" appeal, but I understand that that is coming to an end; Ms Janet Lewis-Jones, who has a portfolio of appointments which includes the British Board of Film Classification, the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority and the British Waterways Board; and Mr Ken Olisa, who is chairman and chief executive of a company working with IT innovators and investors. He is also governor of the Peabody Trust and, I am sure, of many other organisations. Then, surprise, surprise, there is Mr Tony Cooper, who is a very senior trade unionist. He is general secretary and chief executive officer of the Engineers' & Managers' Association and a member of the TUC General Council.
I should be grateful if the Minister could give us some further information about the appointments. Are there to be any more appointments and has the chairman yet decided on a quorum to put to the first meeting? Will the meeting be during or after the Bill receives Royal Assent? Are we, in short, going to be pre-empted by further announcements on the Post Office during the course of the proceedings on the Bill? I, for one, believe that already the Government are, to say the least, in danger of being accused of contempt of the House, on which of course there are other grounds into which it would be inappropriate to go just now.
The position of the chief executive having a hand in appointing himself also applies to Schedule 2, which deals with the consumer council for postal services. I could have fired the same warning shot across the Minister's bows on that matter by giving notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Schedule 2 be the second schedule to the Bill, but I did not think that that would be right. However, depending on the answer I receive from the Minister, I may have to do something similar by means of a more direct amendment on Report.
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