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Clause 67

Help for Disadvantaged Groups of Electricity Customers

Lords amendment: No. 95, in page 66, line 35, leave out ("1989 Act") and insert ("Electricity Act 1989")

Mrs. Liddell: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 96 and 148.

Mrs. Liddell: These are technical amendments which are necessary to provide that clause 67 commences at Royal Assent. Clause 67 gives the Secretary of State

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powers to change electricity licences to implement the new electricity trading arrangements in England and Wales. Commencement at Royal Assent is essential so that the powers can be used in time to bring the new trading arrangements into effect in the autumn. The planned start date for the new arrangements is 21 November this year.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 96 to 143 agreed to.

Clause 103

Transfer to Authority and Council of functions, property etc.

Lords amendment: No. 144, in page 108, line 36, leave out ("and in Part I of the 1986") and insert
("which are defined in section 48 or 66 of the 1986 Act or used in Part I of that")

Dr. Howells: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 145 to 147 and 149.

Dr. Howells: Amendments Nos. 144 and 145 make the drafting of clause 103 slightly more transparent and user-friendly--and it needs it. The amendments assist the reader by inserting into the clause specific references to the interpretation sections in part I and part III of each of the existing Acts.

Amendment No. 146 has the effect that section 46 of the Gas Act 1986 applies to the Utilities Bill. This amendment is needed because the Bill itself does not contain any provisions as to the manner of such service.

Amendment No. 147 clarifies the scope of the Secretary of State's power under clause 106 to make transitional and consequential provisions concerned with the coming into force of this Bill. The amendment makes it clear that the power to modify any enactment for that purpose extends to Acts passed and subordinate legislation made in the present parliamentary Session. Amendment No. 149 makes provision that a commencement order made by the Secretary of State may contain transitional provisions and savings relating to the provisions being brought into force by the order.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [one with Special Entry].

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Postal Services Bill

Lords amendments considered.

7.26 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I draw the House's attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 33, 34, 124, 125, 149 and 154. If the House agrees to any of these Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 4

Provision of a postal service: meaning.

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 32, leave out from beginning to ("are") in line 33 and insert
("a service of conveying relevant postal packets from one place to another by post and the incidental services of receiving, collecting, sorting and delivering such packets")

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Alan Johnson): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 30, 31, 44, 45, 49, 91, 92, 94, 101 and 126 to 132, No. 133 and amendment (a) thereto, and Nos. 134 to 140.

Mr. Johnson: This group of amendments relates to the rights given to universal service providers in connection with the provision of the universal service.

Amendments Nos. 1, 30, 31, 44, 45, 91, 92 and 94 are drafting amendments, which deal with the definitions of postal services, postal operator, post office, universal postal service and related consequential amendments.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): The Minister referred to amendment No. 31. Will he explain why it is considered necessary to remove the word "transports" and insert "conveys", as I am struggling to understand why it is worth taking up the time of the House to make such a footling little pedantic change?

Mr. Johnson: I will do my best to explain when I get to that amendment.

The amendments narrow the definition of postal services, postal operator and post office to prevent catching persons or places only involved in the provision of services related to postal services, such as the sale of stamps at a newsagent or the sale of envelopes by a stationer. They also ensure that those related services are only caught if they are provided in conjunction with the conveying, receiving, sorting, collecting and delivering of relevant postal packets.

Amendment No. 2 is intended to ensure that it will be possible to identify a universal service provider or providers in the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Bill in the event that the current requirement to notify the commission of their identity under the postal services directive lapses.

Amendment No. 101 is a minor, consequential amendment resulting from amendment No. 2 to the list of expressions in clause 1. Amendment No. 49 inserts a new

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clause into the Bill, which replaces the provisions in the Post Office Act 1953, to enable a universal service provider to require the owner or operator of a ship or aircraft to carry mailbags in connection with the provision of the universal service. It also provides for the transport tribunal--or, where relevant, the Department of Economic Development in Northern Ireland--to decide the level of remuneration where the remuneration for providing such a service cannot be agreed.

The clause proposed updates the 1953 Act provisions so that they apply to universal service providers and apply only in those areas where such provision is still thought to be justified; for example, where ships and aircraft are operating to places not readily accessible by road. On some air and sea routes, there may be a single provider. Unless the prices charged to universal service providers are reasonable, the cost of delivering postal packets to remote areas will increase and could threaten the maintenance of the universal service at a uniform tariff.

7.30 pm

Mr. Wilshire: On amendment No. 49, has the transport tribunal the power solely to deal with price, or can it deal with the length of time allowed for delivery? That is not a pedantic point: if there is no time limit, there will be problems, but a time limit would surely mean that passengers would have to be taken off transport in order to deliver the mail, which would be unfair.

Mr. Johnson: The tribunal's power relates only to price. The procedure is well tested and carries forward the provisions of the 1953 Act, with which there have been no such problems as those identified by the hon. Gentleman. We felt able to translate it to the Bill in its original form.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Can the Minister satisfy my curiosity about what happens when one of the universal Post Office people is told that he cannot put his mailbags on some mode of transport? What mechanism exists to resolve such a dispute?

Mr. Johnson: The point of the clause is that such transportation providers cannot say no. That would affect the Post Office's ability to provide a universal service. This provision relates to the costs of the service. Transporting the mail will be a requirement of the Act.

Amendment No. 133 addresses the legal authority relating to the installation of post boxes and postal pouch boxes in the street, which is unclear in the current legislation. The amendment puts universal service providers on the same basis as other statutory undertakers in relation to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 and reduces the unnecessary administrative burdens involved in installing postal apparatus.

Mr. Wilshire: Subsection (7) of amendment No. 133 states:

What does that mean when it comes to obtaining planning permission? The erection of a post box technically involves a structure. How will that be handled?

Mr. Johnson: At present, permission is not required for the construction of a pillar box, but is required for placing a post box in the street. The Bill will not change that.

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We must ensure that delays are not caused in the installation of postal pouch boxes, which are important to ensure that letters are delivered on time. Pouch boxes are secure receptacles from which postmen and postwomen collect additional mail sacks without returning to the delivery office. That enables health and safety legislation to be observed as well as responding to increasing volumes of mail. The alternative would be to deliver extra sacks to postmen by van, which would be environmentally undesirable.

The other amendments are minor drafting amendments to the compulsory acquisition and other land provisions in schedules 5 and 6.

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