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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, it does not appear in the minimum standards on the face of the Bill, but

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it is one of the issues which the postal services commission will be negotiating with the operators in the licence.

Lord Skelmersdale: It is not that so much, but whether the Bill would allow it if the post office commission, as one would fully expect, continued to cause the Post Office to operate that particular system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes.

Lord Skelmersdale: In that case, for the second time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 9 not moved.]

5 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 2, line 34, after ("tariff") insert ("including first and second-class pricing").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with the question of second-class post. The Bill provides for a uniform tariff country-wide. It is a basic requirement that it should cost no more to post a letter to an address in the next street than to the remotest part of the Western Isles. Londoners, for example, subsidise the cost of deliveries to the Hebrides: and so they should. It costs the same to send a parcel of the same weight to anywhere in the country: and so it should. But there is a service which enables the public and businesses to reduce the expense of posting their mail. It is called second-class mail. In return for agreeing to a less frequent service, with priority given to first-class mail, the cost of a letter can be reduced from 27p to 19p.

Many businesses especially use second-class mail to reduce the cost of sending out non-urgent mail such as circulars and so forth. Millions of letters are mailed at Christmas by second-class mail. Many people would have to reduce the number of Christmas cards they sent if it were not for the second-class facility.

The amendment, which is simple and does not need much explanation, is to ensure that the facility is not withdrawn by the new Post Office company in the interests of boosting its profits. There have been some articles in various newspapers that say the second-class mail might very well be at risk, and I very much hope that the Minister can reassure me that that is not the case. I beg to move.

Viscount Goschen: Perhaps I may add my support to the points made by my noble friend Lady Miller. Clearly, the guarantee of two standards of postal services and two tariffs is extremely helpful both to businesses and private individuals. Does the Minister feel that the wording of Clause 4(1)(b) is conducive towards permitting this? The Bill states:

    "in accordance with a public tariff".

Should that not be,

    "in accordance with public tariffs which are uniform"?

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In other words, it would specify deliberately on the face of the Bill that there is more than one tariff.

Baroness Byford: I also rise to support my noble friend's point. I, like others, have been quite concerned about the rumours going around that the second-class mail may be withdrawn in the future. Would the noble Lord the Minister clarify that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I start by putting the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, at rest. Tariff does not mean a single price. A tariff can have any number of ranges of prices, different speeds of delivery and different weights. That is the nature of a tariff. It is not a single price. There is nothing sinister in the use of the words "a single tariff".

I think that I can also put the minds of the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Byford, at rest. There is no intention whatever in this Bill to make it necessary or possible to withdraw the first and second-class post. That is a matter for the operators and the commission. The commission will no doubt make its requirements known to the operators when it is seeking to negotiate a licence.

The common understanding is that the services represent the first and second-class postal services currently provided by the Post Office. We do not believe that it is necessary to make specific reference to the present services of one postal operator in a clause which is designed to be universal.

There is no threat in this Bill to first and second-class post.

Viscount Goschen: I quite accept the noble Lord's clarification of the word "tariff". I am sure it is defined somewhere in law. If it does allow for separate pricing, I am very pleased to hear that. I entirely accept the noble Lord's assurance.

However, does he believe that simply stating that there is an understanding that the first and second-class post will continue is good enough? The Bill is extremely specific in many circumstances--for example, regarding geographical coverage and so forth--but it is not at all specific regarding the provision of first and second-class post. Many people and businesses in this country would consider such a guarantee to be exceptionally important. Would it not be sensible to write that on to the face of the Bill, so that the Minister's assurances that he has no understanding that there are any proposals to withdraw one or other of the services could be turned into concrete legal fact?

Baroness Byford: Perhaps I may also follow my noble friend on that subject? I am slightly anxious that the provision is not on the face of the Bill. Will the noble Lord confirm that if the commission decided to do away with the second-class postal service the commission would have to come back to Parliament for approval, or could it be done without

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Parliamentary approval? If the latter is the case, surely the former option, of having it on the face of the Bill, is desirable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I had hoped that by taking my response to Clause 4 at somewhat inordinate length I had dealt with the issues in all of the amendments, and in particular in this amendment. I am sorry that I failed to do so. The point I tried to make about the whole of Clause 4, and all the amendments to it, is that Clause 4 represents the minimum standards in conformity with the European postal services directive, and no more than that. The actual level of standard will be a matter for the licence between the commission and the operators.

We do not think it appropriate to prescribe on the face of the Bill all of the improvements to the minimum standards, some of which already exist and some of which might result from the negotiations between the commission and the operators.

The basic structure of this part of the Bill is that there is a European Union directive which requires a universal service provision. That is required through a licence. The operator is required to agree on quality standards and to observe quality of service standards. Those quality of service standards are published; they are monitored by the postal services commission and by the consumer council; and, for the first time, as I have said, there are penalties if they are not met.

There is a whole range of other things we would like to have, including first and second-class post, midday delivery, 7.30 a.m. delivery, and collections on Sundays. There are all kinds of things we would all like to have from the postal services, but I suggest that it would be inappropriate to put them all on the face of the Bill in addition to the minimum standards which are required by the European directive.

The whole point is that we are setting up an independent commission whose responsibility it is to ensure that services meet consumers' needs. I am sure the members of the commission who have just been appointed will read what noble Lords have said and will take their passionate defence of first and second-class post very seriously.

Viscount Goschen: The Minister cannot pray in aid the fact that he is putting into effect European Union legislation and that there should be no more and no less. During our debate on Amendment No. 5 he conceded that he had deviated from that course when it had suited him and felt it appropriate. Why not in these circumstances?

We are not talking about a "not before 7.30" provision or some more trifling point. This issue is fundamental and I believe that my noble friend Lady Miller has identified an important omission.

Baroness Byford: Before my noble friend responds, I hope to encourage the Minister to reconsider the proposal. During an earlier discussion, he spoke proudly of the fact that written into the Bill is the responsibility for a universal delivery service. If that is

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so important--and I accept that it is--it is equally important to have on the face of the Bill a requirement for a second-class service.

My noble friend Lady Miller referred to "old money". I am afraid that my brain will not work with the old money, but I know that for many pensioners there is a big difference in the cost of a first-class stamp, at 26p, and the cost of a second-class stamp, at 19p.

I hope that, as a result of our gentle persuasion, the Minister will be willing to take the proposal away and reconsider it. If it is so important to have a universal delivery service on the face of the Bill, I believe that it is even more important to have provision for a second-class stamp and that that will not preclude people from using the service as all Members of the Committee want.

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