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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. It was slightly shorter than I, and possibly the usual channels, intended. But that is no reason for me to filibuster at this stage. However, it would be only right and proper for me to comment on the points that have been made.

It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and my noble friend Lord Northbrook, reached the same conclusion in answer to my question; that it was the unions. I believe that that is a fair reflection of what they said. It was particularly interesting to hear the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, with his experience in the Post Office. I hope that he will not accuse me, in my very carefully worded speech, of straying into matters which are more proper for the Second Reading of the Bill. Indeed, I bent over backwards to avoid that particular trap--of course, not that I knew he would produce it for everyone else to fall into!

The noble Lord gave the reason why the unions have reacted in such a way. They believe that it is

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sensible to wait for the regulator. I can tell the Minister that I was well aware of the contents of the report of the Department of Trade and Industry and the action taken by the Select Committee of another place. It agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and, essentially, with the unions. But the question remains; why on earth did not the Government consider this issue previously? Between publishing the White Paper and withdrawing the order under discussion tonight, the Postal Services Regulations 1999 were laid and, as the Minister explained at length, the Government are pressing on with acting upon them. They are setting up the commission--which means the regulator of the Post Office, although one is not allowed to call him that--presumably until we pass the Bill. The Minister and his department could well have foreseen the objections of the Select Committee, especially having taken steps to set up the commission.

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I was particularly interested in the Minister's comment, which is not contained in the White Paper, that the 1981 rejection did not affect the universal service obligation, which we all agree is vitally important to all receivers and senders of letters in this country. I should not disagree with any noble Lord on that issue.

On reflection, I believe that the Select Committee's point of view, the unions' point of view and now the Minister's point of view--although it was not a year or even three or four months ago--is right and we should wait for the regulator. However, I believe that the debate has been worth while. We have received a reasonable explanation from the Government and I am grateful to the Minister for giving it to us. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

        House adjourned at seven minutes past six o'clock.

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