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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Johnson: I am sorry, but I am not giving way. This position is closed to interventions.

If Conservative Members had listened to the Select Committee, the Post Office could have had the commercial and financial freedom that it needs, instead of the seven years of stagnation that they condemned it to when they were in government.

Once we got away from the speech of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, the points raised by other Members were all extremely sound. We will be appointing a regulator, and we advertised two months ago. The regulator will be in place from 1 April. There will be a commission of five people--the postal services commission which, as its first job, will be asked to look at where the monopoly limits should be.

The speeches by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and others were sound. For a party that is supposedly concerned about rural services, the Conservatives did not mention a word about the universal service obligation. When it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Twickenham, there was a groan--[Interruption.] I apologise--it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. However, there was a groan from Conservative Back Benchers when the hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned it.

The universal service obligation and the uniform tariff guarantees people in rural communities the same input into, and access to, postal services--irrespective of where they live, and no matter how remote and rural. The point of the monopoly is not that monopolies are a good thing. The monopoly is there to ensure that the universal service can be provided at the uniform tariff, because the Post Office needs volume going through to guarantee that service. If the monopoly level came down to a level that would jeopardise the universal service obligation, it would be a serious blow to rural services in this country.

Having listened to the Select Committee and others, we are saying that, if the postal services commission says that reducing the monopoly to 50p will jeopardise the USO and that it should be 60p, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it cannot be put back in again. Once the monopoly limit is changed, we cannot take it up again. It is sensible to say to the postal services commission that it should decide on the level. It may be 50p--it may be lower, it may be higher.

8 Dec 1999 : Column 954

We have guaranteed the universal service obligation for the first time in the White Paper, and we will guarantee it in legislation. It is important that we protect that. It does not mean that the Government have decided that there is no case for liberalisation. It does mean that the regulator will do its job first before we take that any further.

Mr. Llwyd: I mentioned the universal service obligation earlier. From what the Minister has said, he appears to presume that the regulator is bound to lower the level. Is that the case?

Mr. Johnson: No. We have told the regulator that they must set the monopoly limit at a level--

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the French Government have announced that they will ignore the representations of the British Government--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to approach me with the problem that he wishes to raise. My advice is that it is not related to the debate before us and that he would do better to wait until we have had the Division to raise what he considers to be an important point of order. We must get this debate out of the way first.

Sir George Young: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand your ruling, but I was anxious that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have time to come to the House at 11.30 to make a statement. He has just appeared on "Newsnight", and he owes the House an explanation of his failure--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Order. Let me reply to the point of order. There is no point in shouting at me. I have given the right hon. Gentleman good advice and I suggest that he takes it.

Mr. Johnson: We will remit the issue to the Postal Service Commission, which will make the decision on the basis that the universal service obligation at a uniform tariff--those are two different things--must be protected. In the meantime, we have laid the revocation order that we are debating tonight. The order is necessary to ensure that the outcome of the Commission's review is not prejudged. The Government have accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, and it would be wrong simultaneously to press ahead with a cut in the monopoly.

The Government remain committed to greater competition in postal markets because it is an essential component in ensuring that the Post Office is successful in the new environment it faces. Together with better regulation and new commercial freedoms, greater competition through liberalisation is necessary to ensure that the Post Office is sufficiently challenged to achieve its objective of being a world class company. The revocation of the order reducing the monopoly to 50p results directly from our acceptance that, in that important area, there would be benefit in the new regulator also considering the issue before final decisions are made.

Developments will not happen quite as quickly as the Select Committee envisaged. It suggested that the regulator might be in office in the autumn. That would

8 Dec 1999 : Column 955

have been impossible. Our intention is that they should start work next spring. We are doing some preliminary work so that, as soon as they are appointed, they can make the issue their first priority. Some delay is a necessary consequence of the Government's acceptance of the Select Committee's advice, but, as the delay is likely to extend only to a matter of months, that added period of consideration is something that the House should welcome. It will of course be for the commission to tell us what time scale it can work to, but I am confident that it will do an excellent job with a reasonable time scale.

An overriding duty on the commission is to promote the delivery of the universal service obligation. In essence, that is what the debate tonight is about. It is vital that all customers, wherever they work or live in the UK, should be assured of a world class level of postal services.

Mr. Gibb: Does the Minister remember writing in his response to the Select Committee report:

Mr. Johnson: I do remember writing that. The point is what the Postal Services Commission, which we are appointing as the independent regulator, thinks. It will be its job to decide those issues. I remind the Conservatives that that was their policy in 1992. They did nothing about it in five years and then raised it tonight in a debate on a revocation order. I have listened carefully to the arguments made in this debate, but I remain convinced of the need for the order. We are providing action on the Post Office where previously there was inertia. We are providing protection where there was previously decline and we are providing innovation where there was previously ineptitude. I hope that the House will oppose the motion and support the order.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 17 (2) (Delegated Legislation (negative procedure) and Order [1 December].

The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 306.

Division No. 16
[11.30 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Heald, Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Randall, John
Robertson, Laurence
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shepherd, Richard
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tredinnick, David
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Keith Simpson and
Mrs. Eleanor Laing.


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Cable, Dr Vincent
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keetch, Paul
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Welsh, Andrew
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

8 Dec 1999 : Column 958

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the French Government have announced that they will ignore the representations of the British Government and will persist with the unlawful ban on British beef. Have you received a request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has just made an ineffective appearance on "Newsnight", to come to the House to explain his and the Prime Minister's complete failure to protect British farming interests in Europe?

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