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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as the House unfortunately had to listen again not only to me but to virtually the same answer from the Minister, I shall certainly not inflict any more upon noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 13 [Licences: conditions and other provisions]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 7:

("( ) A licence shall include provisions covering the following matters--
(a) minimum standards for collection and delivery of relevant postal packets no less demanding than the quality service standards as in effect on the day on which this Act is passed, including a single collection and delivery every day;
(b) compliance with the standards set by Directive 97/67/EC of the European Parliament dated 15th December 1997 and any amendment, modification, or re-enactment thereof for the time being and from time to time in force;
(c) delivery of mail to the front door of the building to which it is addressed (or, in the case of a building in multiple occupation, to suitable postal boxes at or within the front door) or to such other place as the occupiers may revocably consent.").

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a new amendment. I thought it necessary to introduce it at this late stage because, having looked at the report of the Committee stage debates, I found that many of the answers to amendments that I had tabled in Committee were quite unsatisfactory.

To do the Government credit, they were not unsympathetic to those amendments; indeed, they seem to have agreed with the principles contained in them. However, their response was to say that the matter is best dealt with by the regulator in the licence or licences that he will grant to the Post Office or other operators. The Minister said that it would be for the regulator to ensure that the matter is covered by the licence.

I do not agree with that abdication of the Government's responsibility to provide a full and explicit legislative framework for the new, major commercial concern. In addition, although the Government accept the principle that certain commitments and constraints must be imposed on the Post Office, I do not agree with their decision that those commitments and constraints shall be determined by the regulator, independent of Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny.

The Government have made available a pro forma, or skeleton, of the general form of licence that they expect the regulator to grant. I am grateful to the Minister for sending it to noble Lords who intervened in this debate on the previous occasion and who had not had the benefit of seeing the draft licence. Quite properly, the licence will be subject to detailed negotiations with the intended licensees, and licences may vary between individual licensees. I agree that that is absolutely as far as the Government can go at this stage.

However, I am troubled by matters which I raised in Committee and which the Minister agreed were relevant to the running of the new Post Office but which he is not prepared to provide for in primary legislation. I believe that that is quite an important constitutional matter. In our system of primary legislation a Bill goes through three stages in both Houses of Parliament. Then we have secondary legislation, where the Government legislate by what is, in effect, ministerial decree. There are statutory instruments, which are approved by Parliament in a more perfunctory positive or negative procedure. And, now, the Government are introducing what I consider to be a new legislative device over which Parliament will have no control once the Bill is passed.

Instead of legislating on matters which the Minister accepts are important and relevant, he is leaving that to a paid appointee--the regulator. I hasten to say that I do not impugn the integrity or good intentions of the first or, indeed, any subsequent incumbent of that post. However, it is not acceptable that the Government should agree that certain essential matters are required in the public interest to govern the conduct of the Post Office when other licensees and the regulator (for his own reasons) may fail or decline to do so. Where would we be then? There would be no statute and no condition in the licence.

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Therefore, I have extracted from the debates and ministerial answers in Committee three of the matters which it is essential that the licensee should cover. I have proposed in the same general terms that the draft licence should state that the regulator shall be required to include them in the licences.

The first is that the operators shall provide no less of a service than at present. In response to my Amendment No. 4 in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said:

    "It is certainly the Government's expectation that the standards set in the licence will be at least as demanding as the current quality service targets".--[Official Report, 8/6/00; col. 1258.]

I have incorporated those remarks word for word in paragraph (a). I assume that the wording must be entirely acceptable to the Government, because it is what the Minister said.

The second item requires the regulator to conform to the current and any future EC directive on postal services. The EC directive was referred to more than once in Committee. I regret that, due to pressure of work, I have been unable to find all the references, but I should like to mention one. When rejecting amendments to Clause 4, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that,

    "amendments which go beyond the European directive are inappropriate".--[Official Report, 8/6/00; col. 1265.]

That is a clear indication from the Government that the regulator is to conform to the directive, as paragraph (b) provides. Incidentally, I find it paradoxical that I, of all people, should be accused by the Government of gold-plating an EC directive, but never mind. It was a new experience and I quite enjoyed it at the time. I shall make a careful note of the Minister's words, as I have no doubt that I shall wish to remind the Government of them on many future occasions.

Paragraph (c) would ensure that the Post Office, or another licensee, could not attempt to force customers to have a mailbox at their front gate, in the American style, and should make deliveries to the front door, as we are all used to. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, told your Lordships:

    "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".--[Official Report, 8/6/00; col. 1290.]

If we substitute the words "shall be included" for the words "could well be included", we can be sure that the licence will include what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, agrees is our expectation of delivery to the front door. There would be no chance of the regulator being persuaded to allow that provision to be dropped in return for some other promise by the licensee.

The Government's job is to govern, not to shuffle off some of their responsibilities to outside agencies, especially ones not directly answerable to Parliament

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on a day-to-day basis. The amendment would require the regulator, subject to a fairly wide discretion on the wording, to grant licences on some minimal and non-controversial terms that the Government have conceded are essential.

I could have made the amendment longer and included more conditions, but I restricted myself to the items that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that he was certain would be in the Bill. On that basis, the amendment should be acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I support my noble friend on this important amendment, which would clarify the starting position for the commission. I entirely agree with the Minster that we are talking about the delivery of letters alone.

Paragraph (c) of the amendment is about the important issue of the delivery of mail to the front door of the building. It would avoid giving the licensee a perfect opportunity to adopt an American-style system, which would be highly detrimental to the service that we are used to in this country. I hope that the Minister accepts that.

Paragraph (b) relates to compliance with the standards set by EC directive 97/67. As my noble friend said, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said in Committee that it would be wrong to go beyond the directive. However, the directive is fairly wishy-washy and, under the principle of subsidiarity, it gives member states responsibility for specific items. I agree with that principle.

Paragraph 32 of the directive states:

    "Whereas national quality standards consistent with Community standards must be determined by Member States".

That clearly gives us scope to go beyond the directive, as does Article 16 in Chapter 6, which states:

    "Member States shall ensure that quality-of-service standards are set and published in relation to universal service in order to guarantee a postal service of good quality".

It does not go on to say what a postal service of good quality is. It leaves that to member states.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was not as forthcoming as usual on the specifics of these issues. It is clearly for member states to decide.

Paragraph (a) of the amendment relates to the quality of service standards in effect on the day on which the Act is passed. While I support the principle of what my noble friend has said, I have to raise a question about the standards today. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, said in Committee:

    "Where I live in Scotland, post is not delivered until after 1 p.m. and often after 2 p.m.".--[Official Report, 8/6/00; col. 1264.]

All that I can say to the noble Lady is, "Lucky her to get a delivery at all." When I am in London, I live in the borough of Hammersmith where the postal service is notoriously erratic. On a number of occasions, deliveries have not been made until about 3 p.m. and over the past three or four weekends there

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has been no delivery on Saturday. I thought that Ministers had gone into the post office to sabotage my mail so that I would not get any parliamentary papers--but I would not accuse them of that in real life.

Wondering how best to tackle the problem, I rang the manager of the post office in Hammersmith. It seems to have a peculiar telephone system with a two-way button. For half the day, they let the telephone ring and ring without answering it and for the other half of the day they switch the button to the other side to make the telephone constantly engaged.

After great perseverance and about a dozen attempts, I finally got hold of the manager on Monday. He did not recognise my address as being within his area, but he found somebody who knew that it was. He blithely told me that of course I did not have any deliveries on Saturday and I was not going to have any on that day--Monday--but there was a chance that I would get a delivery the following day.

That is a wholly unsatisfactory level of service. I told the man that my parliamentary papers had not arrived and that at meetings in the House I had been the only person not to have received them--and those present included people from Scotland. He was a little perplexed and I got a delivery before 8 a.m. the next morning, for which I was very grateful. The service has become a bit more erratic again since then. What remedies are there now for such a diabolical level of service and what remedies will there be in the future? What will the penalties be for not delivering on time? In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said:

    "In my experience the most important factor was to receive the first post early in the morning by 8 a.m. or 8.30".--[Official Report, 8/6/00; col. 1265.]

Would the Minister make it a condition of a licence that deliveries in urban areas, including the very remote and distant borough of Hammersmith in London, are made by 9 a.m.?

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