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Lord Harrison:

Is it possible to find another bin in which to post the spelling as proposed in this amendment of "licencee" with a "c". The word should be spelt with an "s". It is not just this amendment that has that fault. Others on the Marshalled List of amendments have that misspelling.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey:

I was hoping that my noble friend Lord Clarke would give us the benefit of his experience on this matter. I was only a temporary postman at Christmas many years ago and so I do not have anything like my noble friend's knowledge of the subject.

The amendment would prevent licence holders from imposing any condition on the addressee of mail. In particular it refers to whether the mail should be delivered at the front door or in a postal box in the lobby of a building in multi-occupation. It refers to any condition except as provided in subsection (2B). I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to Clause 89. It provides for a scheme in relation to services provided by a universal service provider which determines the charges, the other terms and conditions and the proposed procedures for dealing with complaints. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree--she certainly has not tabled any amendments that show any disagreement--that this is a valuable provision in the Bill. But, in effect, it would be wiped out by Amendment No. 19.

The amendment would cover all the services of the universal service provider, not just those concerned with the universal service. As I said, it would override the provision for schemes in Clause 89. The thrust of the amendment, as presented, is directed at delivery to the main door or to the lobby of a house in multiple occupation. The delivery of mail to a box at the front of a property, or a requirement that the point of delivery of letters is at a maximum distance from the nearest road is a common condition in many administrations overseas, for example, in New Zealand and the United States. But there are no

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proposals from the Post Office, the postal services commission or the Government to have such a scheme in the UK.

For most people in the UK the normal point of delivery is the front door and we expect that to continue to be the case. If a universal service provider were to propose such a radical departure, we would expect the commission to take a close interest in the matter and to act accordingly. In other words, that is one of the conditions that could well be in the licence. I am sure that the commission, acting responsibly, will seek to ensure either that it does not happen or that if it happens a suitable penalty is imposed.

However, we have a policy of giving the commission as much flexibility as possible on the terms and conditions of the licence and we believe that this amendment is too prescriptive. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press it.

Baroness Miller of Hendon:

I am happy to tell the Minister not to worry because I do not intend to press the amendment. I have clearly said that the Post Office has managed to perform its functions very well without requiring anybody to put up a post-box. The Minister made the point that abroad, certainly in America, one can see post-boxes placed at a distance away from the houses. Especially in films one sees postmen throwing mail across gardens.

For the reasons that I have mentioned, such as postmen having to walk as far as they do, new licence holders may decide that they want to follow the American custom rather than the custom employed presently whereby postmen put mail through our letterboxes. The Minister has said that that will be a matter for the commission and that he does not want to make matters too difficult for the commission. My next amendment, Amendment No. 20, will try to alter that because I would be deeply aggrieved if that were not in the licence. I have seen a draft licence--of course, nothing like that is in it, although the commission has not yet considered the matter--but I would be deeply aggrieved if we had the continental or American style of mail delivery imposed upon us and we lost our letterboxes. Like the Minister, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did not give us the benefit of his wisdom, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 9, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State may by order prescribe such general provisions and general conditions as he shall deem appropriate to be included by the Commission in all licences or categories of licences or licences to be granted to particular classes of licensees.
( ) Every licence granted by the Commission shall contain the reservation of the power to amend it to conform to any requirements of a direction made by the Secretary of State after the issue of the licence.").

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The noble Baroness said: Throughout the course of the proceedings on this Bill in the other place and in your Lordships' House the Government's response to amendments to improve the working of the Bill has been, and no doubt will be in relation to later amendments, to accept, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the principle involved and to say that the matter is something that should be left to the commission to include in any licence. But that is only partially satisfactory.

There may be matters regarding the potential conduct of the business of a universal service provider or a licensee on which Parliament would wish to have some say, but it will have been deterred from doing so because of assurances by the Government that the particular concern would or could be dealt with better within the licence. Similarly, on reflection, the Government may want to ensure that a particular policy is followed by the commission. It could cover cases, as discussed under Amendment No. 11, on which the Government may have a view as to what the commission should have in its licence.

This amendment is not prescriptive because it gives the Government the entirely discretionary power to direct the commission to include particular provisions in licences. They can exercise that power as they think fit. To ensure that there is the proverbial level playing field between early and late licensees, the amendment requires the commission to reserve the power to alter any licence retrospectively. The power to intervene in the contents of licences will be exercisable only by order.

If this amendment is accepted, a further amendment will be needed to Clause 114(9) so as to include it in the category of orders requiring a positive resolution of both Houses. That will ensure that Parliament fully investigates any proposed ministerial intervention.

The last thing the Opposition want is for the Government to intervene in the day-to-day running of the Post Office and the businesses of the licensees. As we are putting the postal business under the supervision of the regulator, by all and every means let him get on with regulating. We are putting an essential industry into the hands of a commissioner who will have the powerful discretion to regulate it and any new, similar companies that he may choose to permit to participate in this area.

We are handing over an institution that has been an agency, first, of the King and then of the Government for some 500 years and which has existed as a general post office for 340 years. There will be no parliamentary control and no direct accountability. I believe that it is essential, certainly during an initial running-in period and until all the possible wrinkles have been ironed out, to ensure that the regulator--the commissioner--does not do or does not fail to do something that is undesirable in the form of the licences that he issues that could otherwise be cured only by fresh, primary legislation. It is essential to leave some reserved power in the hands of the Secretary of State in case something important has been overlooked in the drafting of the Bill. That is not

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impossible considering the number of amendments and new clauses that the Government introduced during the passage of the Bill in the other place.

As I mentioned, I have seen a pro forma of the proposed licence. I am sure that when fleshed out it will prove to be a workable document. However, due to the lack of research facilities, I have not had the opportunity to check the draft against, say, licences of utilities like rail or TV licences, so I cannot comment on it in that respect. We do not want some universal service provider or licensee to boast, in the notorious phrase of a TV executive in the early days of independent television, that he has received a licence to print money.

The object of the amendment is simply to ensure that the Government retain some element of control so that if something goes wrong the Secretary of State will not be able, as the Government do from time to time, to disclaim responsibility.

If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is to respond--I can usually tell who will respond by seeing which noble Lord is looking up as I come towards the end of my speech--I remind him that this amendment is non-prescriptive because it need never be used. If the Secretary of State and Parliament consider that whatever the commission has put into the licence is totally adequate, then nothing needs to be done. But if something is left out, it would be difficult to find time for new legislation. We already have great difficulty in dealing with the legislation already passing through the House. I beg to move.

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