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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.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Postal Services Bill

3.34 p.m.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, before we proceed further I wish to ask the Minister a question of which I have given him notice.

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

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amendments ineffective? Have we wasted much time trying to make everything right? I hope that the Minister, who smiled at me so nicely across the Dispatch Box, will give the House a satisfactory reply.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I support my noble friend's comments, which are absolutely right. I have it on good authority that the Prime Minister said:

    "You have a strong campaign on rural post offices. I want to preserve them too ... Later this month we will publish plans that allow people to carry on taking out pensions and benefits in cash and that will protect rural post offices and offer them a new lease of life".

I am not entirely sure--my source did not tell me this--whether he said "We will publish plans" or "I will publish plans". However, it is not surprising that I have my suspicions about that. Nor did my source tell me whether the word "that" in the sentence,

    "that will protect rural post offices and offer them a new lease of life",

referred to the taking out of pensions and benefits in cash or to something else. If it refers to something else, again my noble friend is quite right to say that that will affect proceedings on the Bill. It is bound to, at some stage. Have we already wasted much time? Are we about to waste much time second guessing what the Prime Minister or, indeed, the Secretary of State might say by tabling amendments, manuscript amendments and so on, in order to clarify the position? If the noble Lord will clarify the position now, we should all be extremely grateful. That would probably help him too.

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,

    "Subject to check on delivery".

Now we are told that the Prime Minister dropped substantial parts from his prepared speech. Which bits stayed in and which were left out?

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

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soon after Easter. Can we be told whether that report is imminent or whether it will be produced in some weeks' or months' time?

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, before my ex-house companion at Eton replies, I hope I may say a few words.

Noble Lords: Privilege!

The Earl of Onslow: The only two members of my house who were not thought fit for government office were the noble Lord and myself. They were right about myself but wrong about the noble Lord.

If the Prime Minister implied in his speech that he would change his policy, either the Bill ought to be taken away and redrafted or it is flannel. Which is it?

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.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is very nice to see that the Women's Institute has infiltrated this House. I am sure that it will lead to good things.

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.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, the Question is that the House do now resolve itself into Committee upon the Bill. As

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many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". I think that the "Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

Tellers for the "Not-Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 53. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


3.45 p.m.

Clause 1 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be agreed to?

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.

I have, or rather had, two questions--both of which have been somewhat pre-empted by the Secretary of State's announcement today. I cannot believe that he was so frightened of what I might say--

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It would be helpful to the speaker if those who are leaving the Chamber would do so silently.

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.

The other matter has also disappeared--namely, how can it be that paragraph 1 of the schedule states that,

    "The Commission shall consist of...a chairman appointed by the Secretary of State",

and no fewer than three other people appointed by him after consultation with the chairman and the chief executive. However, paragraph 5 goes on to say that

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the commission shall appoint the chief executive. It looks to me as if the chief executive was to have had a hand in appointing himself--which, of course, is all wrong. At this point, perhaps I may say that I am delighted that, unlike in the case of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, there was in the department every intention of having a chairman and a chief executive. On that Bill, I understand, the jury is still out.

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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