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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in relation to the charges for credit cards, most organisations will always want to resist that unless they see good competitive reasons for doing otherwise. As

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competition rises and as opportunities present themselves, I believe that people will look at that differently. In either case, it is clearly a commercial decision of the Post Office. To the extent that the regulator feels that action has not been taken that is appropriate to the needs of the users, he should lay down the regulations. My point is that it is one of many standards and, therefore, is appropriately left to him.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in that case, I am delighted that we have had this debate. Clearly, the regulator will read what has been said and make up his own mind about the necessity for my suggestion. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 [Duties in relation to public post offices]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 28, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert ("any postal services are provided directly to the public (whether or not together with other services)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 [Review and information]:

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 29, line 5, at end insert (", including comparative information on the efficiency and economy of the provision of such services").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, some noble Lords will recall that a fortnight or so ago we discussed this amendment in Committee and the Minister, to my pleasure, said that he would take the amendment away and consider it. I presume that his consideration has led him to table Amendment No. 11, with which my amendment has been grouped. I dare say that I shall find out in due course. I have been asked to table this amendment by the Periodical Publishers Association of which I am a vice-president. I have that interest to declare.

In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, quite rightly pointed out that it was possible to send magazines abroad in bulk for posting to individual addresses in this country. In my days as a magazine publisher, that was one of the devices that we used. We sent magazines abroad in bulk to Holland, where they were redirected back to our readers in this country. We also had an international magazine with a world-wide readership which, rather surprisingly, we had posted in Singapore. Quite often, readers received it from Singapore, but not always. That is one way of dealing with bulk deliveries of magazines. We would prefer to use the Post Office, as the most sensible and readily accessible means of delivery; that is, if reasonable arrangements can be made with the Post Office especially as regards charges.

Earlier the Minister said that he did not want to hear arguments repeated that he had heard before in Committee. I can assure him that I have no intention of repeating those arguments, because he will have read them carefully and committed them to memory. I have just one point to add. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said earlier, warm words sometimes cool with the passage of time. I do not know whether that is a

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quotation, but that is what he meant. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, repeated that notion too. That is an important aspect of this part of the Bill as, in Committee, the Minister pointed out that the commission would be prepared to see benchmarking introduced as a means of dealing with what I want to see done. That is all very well as far as the present commission is concerned--doubtless it is quite prepared to do that--but there is no certainty that future commissions will be of a like mind. The warm words, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, intimated, will cool; so I would like to see this provision in the Bill.

Lastly, I want to say a fleeting word about amendment No. 11. I find it welcome, but I find it not wholly satisfactory. I hope that my noble friend is not offended by the coolness of my welcome; it is not meant to be cold, but cool. I do not like the words,

    "considers it practicable to do so",

which leaves the commission to make up its own mind whether or not it will do what we all want it to do. This is a situation in which the commission should be under an obligation to do something, rather than to consider whether or not it is practicable. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. Like him, I do not want to repeat matters mentioned earlier. In Committee I supported the noble Lord and I had tabled two similar amendments--Amendments Nos. 38 and 39--which were somewhat wider in their application. I remember the noble Lord saying that he was more modest than I was and I made the point that I was not quite so modest. As I recall, the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, said that we were getting into a discussion about who was the more modest. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. Amendment No. 11 could be described as even more modest than Amendment No. 10. So I feel that Amendment No. 11 is pie in the sky and does not do what we would like it to do.

Given that the Minister's noble friend is such a modest man, and his amendment is sufficiently modest, I hope the Minister will feel it possible to accept Amendment No. 10. He has so far found it difficult to accept amendments. But it always goes down a treat to accept an amendment from one's noble friend.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, again, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, made a compelling case for his amendment, as he did in Committee. I believe there was a suggestion from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench that the word "effectiveness" should be included. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, obviously thought that was one "e" too many and that the amendment was fine as it was.

The Minister's response that, "it is a helpful suggestion" is so full of cop-outs that, if I worked for him and he instructed me to do something, I would be tempted to say, "In so far as it is practical for me to do so and all other things notwithstanding, I shall make

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my best endeavours so to do". I am sure that it is practical to accept this amendment. There is plenty of information available. The commission will be in a good position to collect that information. I see no reason why the Minister should not accept Amendment No. 10, but I suspect that he will not. At least he has shown a degree of willingness in bringing forward his own, perhaps overly-carefully drafted, amendment, and for that he should be commended.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am rather confused by Amendment No. 11. This "overly-carefully drafted amendment", as my noble friend described it--so far as I can work out, because I cannot put my hand on the precise clause in the Bill--is an exact repetition of what is already in the Bill, whereas Amendment No. 10 is different and new. Therefore, if we are talking of these amendments as being in the alternative, I shall certainly go along with that of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, perhaps I can make a preliminary comment and point out that, in this race for moderation in which we are involved, Clause 44(1) starts by saying,

    "So far as the Commission considers it practicable to do so".

Amendment No. 10 is therefore also constrained, I believe rightly, by the practicability of the specific case.

I shall respond to my noble friend's amendment and then speak to Amendment No. 11. The underlying purpose of both amendments is to require the commission to collect information so that it will be able to compare the efficiency and economy of the Post Office with other postal operators. As I said in Committee, I am sympathetic with that principle because I believe benchmarking is vital to those sorts of operation. I therefore brought forward the government Amendment No. 11.

As can be seen, the wording of our amendment is somewhat more detailed than that of my noble friend. That is because the government amendment strives to define exactly what comparative information is. However, the purpose behind both amendments is identical.

It should be noted that the requirement as set out in our amendment, and also in that of my noble friend, still leaves the commission with some discretion over whether or not to collect such comparative information. That is because the commission may not always feel that such a comparison is useful. Also, the commission does not have the power to require such information from unlicensed operators operating outside the licensed area who are not providing the universal service. It can only request the information. Therefore we cannot put an absolute duty upon the commission to gather the information.

I am sure that no one, least of all the Opposition, would want the commission to have the power to require information from people operating completely outside the licensed area. Our amendment is therefore important, but I hope also practical. In those

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circumstances I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment and the House to accept Amendment No. 11.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the Minister sits down perhaps he can help me. He drew my attention to Clause 44(1) which, in terms of paragraphs (a) and (b), is almost identical to Amendment No. 11 which will be a new subsection (2A) inserted between subsections (2) and (3). The only difference is the part which says,

    "which enables comparisons to be made between the efficiency and economy of different postal operators".

All the rest is already contained in subsection (1). That makes the Minister's amendment tautologous to a great extent and therefore unnecessary. That is why I prefer the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon.

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