Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me the opportunity to explain the purpose of this provision.

The clause sets out some important duties for the council which will help it to fulfil its role of representing the views of users, providing advice and information and making proposals. The council should, therefore, be required to make all these representations to all relevant people who may find this information useful. In particular, it seems reasonable to require the council to provide advice and information and to make representations and proposals to all people who may be involved in providing a postal service and not just licence holders. As the noble Baroness noted, the clause does not put any duty or onus on the people receiving the representation.

I deal now with the question of the "push-off" factor. A good example of someone falling within the category which the amendment seeks to remove would be the providers of essential transport for the conveyance of mail. The noble Baroness may agree that if the council found that relevant information should be given to those people, that should be done.

Those providers would fall within the definition of Clause 52(2)(d), and in the interests of users of postal services it makes sense for them to be given advice and information by the council and to receive representations and proposals about relevant postal issues.

Also unlicensed postal operators may be responsible for an increasing part of the postal market in future if the reserved area were to decrease. For instance, there

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1340

are already many operators providing a postal service for parcels who are not, and will not be, licensed. In view of those two obvious examples where it would be useful, and where we believe that the council should provide information, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Having suggested matters that should be on the face of the Bill, I am amazed at the number of occasions on which the noble Lord has said that such a provision is totally unnecessary. However, the noble Lord now suggests that there should be included in the Bill a provision which has no effect on an individual if he does not wish to take any notice of it. We wanted to put many interesting provisions on the face of the Bill but the Government considered them unnecessary. It seems extraordinary that the Government legislate now to put a provision in the Bill which has no effect. As did the Minister in another place, the noble Lord admitted that the provision has no effect; no notice need be taken of it. Yet we legislate to put it into the Bill.

In view of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 52 agreed.

Clause 53 [Publication of information to users]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 49:

    Page 33, line 40, leave out (", or arranging the publication of,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 53, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 54 [Exercise of functions: general]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 50:

    Page 34, line 28, at end insert--

"( ) a committee for England,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 51 to 53.

Clause 54 gives certain directions to the consumer council for postal services as to how it shall exercise its functions. In subsection (4) it is directed in paragraph (a) to establish separate committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no corresponding direction--I stress the word "direction"--to set up a committee for that insignificant part of the United Kingdom called England. This is another example of the Government's efforts not only to break up the United Kingdom but to balkanise them into a series of disparate so-called regions.

For the benefit of the large number of members of the Government of Scottish and Welsh extraction--they are not present in the Chamber today but that will look good in Hansard--England is the large bit of the country that sticks out to the south of Scotland and to the east of Wales. It is the bit of the United Kingdom which constantly pumps money into the other three parts to keep them going.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1341

Subsection (4)(a) states that the council shall establish committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Paragraph (b) permits additional area committees within those three regions. However, the subsection merely permits the council to create a committee or area committee for England; and that would be at its discretion.

Paragraph (c) states that the council,

    "may establish one or more committees for, or for any areas within, England".

It "may" establish. Suppose it does not? England would then simply not have the platform from which to provide the input to the council provided for under subsection (5). That is the whole purpose of establishing these committees.

The first three amendments rectify this defect. Amendment No. 50 adds England to the regions of the United Kingdom described in subsection (4)(a) where the council "shall" establish a committee. Amendment No. 51 adds England to the places where area committees may be established under paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 52 deletes paragraph (c) altogether because the other two amendments make that paragraph redundant. The final amendment to this clause is Amendment No. 53. It supplements Clause 54(6) which requires the council to establish at least one office in each of the regions and,

    "at which users of relevant postal services may apply for information".

It should be noted that Clause 54(6) requires the council to establish these offices, by post one assumes. However, even the new council will have to concede that these days there are other quicker and cheaper means of communication.

The postal services commission has very commendably already established its own website, which is, I am informed, going to be updated daily. For the benefit of those of your Lordships who are interested I will put it into the record so that it can easily be looked up. It is All my uncontroversial amendment does is to require the council to do the same. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I must ask the Minister whether it is right that Scotland should ever be referred to as a region? I really do not think that the reference to a regional committee and then to refer to Scotland is at all constitutional. Scotland is, of course, a kingdom in its own right.

Lord Skelmersdale: Be that as it may. I think that it is very strange to establish committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland--whether they be called regions, areas, kingdoms, provinces, or whatever--and not to establish a committee for England. I am sure the Minister will explain why.

Even if a central London-based English council were established, it cannot reasonably be expected to be aware of or sensitive to the needs of the regions of England. Geography and economic prosperity or decline affect an area's outlook and dictate many of the

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1342

problems affecting local consumers. That applies to the Post Office in the same way as it does to electricity companies and so forth. For example, a part of Britain may experience another hurricane with postal services being interrupted; there will be a volume of complaints in that area. The council will need to know what is going on and respond according. All kinds of things can happen in various parts of the UK. May I dare to call them sub-regional? Not only is my noble friend absolutely right about that, but we often have arguments in this Chamber about the meaning of the words "may" and "shall". Here, quite clearly, as they are all in the same subsection, they must mean different things. My noble friend, quoting the Bill, said that the council,

    "shall establish ... a committee for Scotland ... Wales, and ... Northern Ireland",

but that it only "may establish" one for England. The Minister owes us an explanation of that.

Viscount Goschen: I support the words uttered by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. There certainly will be such divisions--and I see the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, looking at me and waiting for me to use the wrong term. I shall not give him that satisfaction. If we are going to divide the procedure and set up even more committees of the council, England should be given the same basis of "shall" rather than "may".

However, I question whether the additional committees need to be set up at all. We are talking about a postal service and a universal service provider. We are talking about using the same value stamp to send letters from one end of the country to another. Does the Minister have a strong explanation and rationale as to why even more money should be spent on even more committees providing even more reports which will no doubt be filed in something circular by most of the people who receive them?

The Minister has gone to great length to say that we should not be too specific in the Bill. However, the council is given pages and pages of information about what it shall and shall not do. For such a body, we seem to have an overprescriptive set of clauses and I hope that the Minister can give a strong explanation of why that is so. If he cannot, I suspect that more amendments will be moved at the Report stage proposing the deletion of a clause or the given words between the brackets.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page