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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is it not the case that Royal Mail anticipates that it will reduce its losses by some 90 million a year by switching from rail to road? Would it not be wrong to interfere with such a wise commercial judgment?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the figure of 90 million is the total savings from the total transport review. Transferring rail services to road will save about 25 million which is a substantial amount of money. It is a commercial decision for Royal Mail to take rather than the Government.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the situation not complicated by the incidence of VAT which is payable on rail freight but not on road movements by Royal Mail? Of the saving of 25 million, how much is accounted for by VAT?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as the noble Lord asked that question on a previous occasion, this time I can give him the answer. The 25 million saving would come down to 19.5 million. It would nevertheless still be a very substantial saving. It arises because VAT is not paid on stamps. Therefore, VAT cannot be recovered from the railways. I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting that we should charge VAT on stamps as a way of solving the problem.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, what has to happen before the Government acknowledge that such a decision is of major public interest and is much broader than purely a commercial cost matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in the past 25 years during which I have had any connection with

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the postal service, I believe that Royal Mail has suffered enormously under all governments through Ministers and civil servants interfering in commercial decisions. It is not the intention of the DTI to continue with that tradition.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords—

Lord Renton: My Lords, will it be borne in mind—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is the turn of this side.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that a number of my noble friends are perplexed by the answers that he is giving on this particular matter. What is the point of Labour Members of Parliament and Labour activists knocking on doors up and down the land and assuring people that we intend to move freight from road to rail when we are totally incapable of intervening on this occasion when the public utility is owned by the taxpayer? It is owned by us. We are the shareholders.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the amount of mail as a total percentage of freight is very small; it is about half of 1 per cent. The Secretary of State sets social and environmental targets against which Postcomm measures performance. However, as I suggested, in this particular case it is not at all clear that continuing with the rail freight operation is environmentally the best solution.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister said that it was correct not to intervene in a commercial decision, but has he seen discussion in the newspapers of proposals for a heavy congestion charge on the motorways? Up to 50p per mile is mentioned. As we are moving into an age of charges for transport on roads, what will happen then? Will the Post Office do its sums again and decide that it ought to go back to rail?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, the situation is that about 70 per cent of the future network connections—that is, the journeys that take place—will take place between 6.30 in the evening and 3 o'clock in the morning, when congestion is not a major issue.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, I assume that the Minister will be aware that, on these Benches at least, there is great concern about these proposals. For example, how on earth will the situation be dealt with at Christmas time, when some 150 extra trains are brought into play to deal with the Christmas surge? Does he think that that can be handled by road, or maybe by air as well? It seems absurd.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is very difficult—which is why it has been such a disaster in the past—for Ministers and civil servants to try to control the operational arrangements of an industry of

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this scale and complexity. It is simply not possible, nor do I think it desirable, for us to start imposing our judgment on how those operational services are run, at Christmas or at any other time.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will it be borne in mind that Royal Mail has always, so far, delivered first-class mail promptly? Will the Minister ensure that that continues?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clear service targets are laid down by Postcomm, and it is the job of Postcomm to measure the performance of Royal Mail against those. In looking at the action plans of Royal Mail, it will take into account whether, in its judgment, they will lead to the service standards that it has laid down.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Post Office meeting its performance targets at present? Two cheques have gone missing from my mail in the past three weeks?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Lord has had that particular problem, but I do not think it is relevant to the Question that we are considering.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

2.53 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent the Joint Intelligence Committee was consulted on the contents of the dossier on weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the production of the September dossier. There was no attempt to override the judgment of the chairman at any point in the process. Intelligence was not inserted; neither was it exaggerated at the instruction of Ministers or special advisers. The Government welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee's conclusion on this point.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is not quite answering the Question. Did the Joint Intelligence Committee have sight of either version of the dossier? When the noble and learned Lord has answered that, perhaps he will go on to a further underlying question; namely, whether anything has been done to reassure the troops in Iraq, who must be rather upset by the squabble that is going on, which no one is going to win and in which everyone may come off a loser. Not only that, but will he, first, congratulate them on the achievement of getting rid of

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Saddam and, secondly, will he make sure that they are given some clue as to what they are going to do next and how long they will be in Iraq?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, on the latter point, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. Our troops in Iraq are carrying out their professional duties with their usual skill and calm attachment to duty. Going back to the Question, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the production of the dossier. I have authority to tell your Lordships that I believe the dossier was published on 24th September. On 23rd September—if we want to go to responsibility for the contents—the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was actually at the printers checking the proofs.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House recall that some of us questioned whether or not the evidence presented in those dossiers at the time justified the conclusions that were reached? Does he also recall that, after the Falklands War—where there was much less questioning of the intelligence provided to the government beforehand—the government accepted that a judicial inquiry would clear the air? Do we not now need something that will very much clear the air?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, clearing the air is usefully done by attending to fact, not assertion. There has been a vast amount of false assertion put forward here—not necessarily knowing it to be false at the time, but without the grace to recognise that false assertions having been made, an apology might well be in order.

I go, if I may, to one or two conclusions of the FAC:


    "We conclude that Alastair Campbell did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45 minutes claim in the September dossier".


    "We conclude"—

this is conclusion 14, found at paragraph 86—


    "that the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available, although as we have already stated we have concerns about the emphasis given to some of them. We further conclude that, in the absence of reliable evidence that intelligence personnel have either complained about or sought to distance themselves from the content of the dossier, allegations of politically inspired meddling cannot credibly be established".

So we are waiting, I imagine, for an apology.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee is now conducting an investigation into this matter? Would it not be sensible to await the outcome?


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