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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there are pressures on those providing services, whether in the public or the private sector. However, I do not think anyone would think it acceptable for us to abrogate responsibility for ensuring that standards in private placements are of an adequate quality, especially when--as the noble Lord, Lord Laming, reminded us--many of those placements are commissioned and paid for by local authorities.

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The Post Office

3 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to privatise the Post Office, or any part of its operations.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Statement on the Post Office made by Peter Mandelson on 7th December last made it clear that at present wholesale privatisation would not be a realistic option. It would take a long time to introduce, cause massive uncertainty and diminish the chance of immediate reform. Further details on the full package of reforms will be announced in the White Paper on Post Office reform which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry expects to publish tomorrow.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his, as usual, courteous and helpful reply--although I am sure he will admit that on this occasion it was not very informative. Perhaps the Minister can assure the House of one matter which surely is not affected by any Statement on the Post Office. Will he reaffirm the undertaking that it will remain the Government's policy for the rest of this Parliament that there will continue to be one universal rate of postage, with daily collections and deliveries at no extra charge for remote rural areas?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I always try to be courteous to the House. However, if I am informative, I apologise. I have no intention whatever of being informative when a Statement is being made tomorrow--and that applies to the noble Baroness's second question.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I should declare an interest in that I am a national honorary life member of the Union of Communication Workers. Does my noble friend accept that there is absolutely no commitment in the Labour Party manifesto, on which we were elected to power on 1st May 1997, to privatise the Post Office or any part of it? Does he further accept that all the statements made between the 1st May 1997 and today have indicated that there is no intention to privatise any part of the Post Office? Can my noble friend assure me that that will continue to be the position of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in my first Answer I quoted directly from the Statement made by Peter Mandelson on 7th December, which was that at present wholesale privatisation would not be a realistic option. That remains the position.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, without revealing the details of any Statement which may or may not be made tomorrow, or of the White Paper which is to be published tomorrow, can the Minister say whether consideration has been given to changing the

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Telecommunications Act so that the Post Office can not only, as now, receive items by electronic means, but also dispatch them by the same electronic means?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that may or may not be one of the issues which will be covered in the White Paper tomorrow.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the question of ownership of the Post Office is perhaps less relevant than the question of whether the Post Office can operate as a fully fledged commercial operation? Since the last Statement by his colleague in another place, is he satisfied that the Post Office has the power to have the appropriate pay structure in place to operate on an international scale, as it clearly seeks to do? Does he accept that there is inadequate transparency in the operations of the Post Office, in particular with regard to the prices that are being paid for international acquisitions?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord may think that; I cannot possibly comment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, whatever gloss the Minister puts on it either today or tomorrow in the Statement, is not the creation of a plc with share capital the first step on the route to privatisation? Before the noble Lord dismisses that question, perhaps he will discuss the matter with his noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury, who will confirm that that is the way BP was privatised. Are we not right in thinking that the Post Office will join the Tote, air traffic control and BNFL on the list of Labour's privatisations now that it is a convert to privatisation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to make any assumptions he likes about tomorrow's White Paper and Statement; I shall not add to his speculation.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, does not the noble Lord accept that the question I asked was whether consideration has been given to a particular area of Post Office activity, not what the result of that consideration will be?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, subject to the Statement made on the 7th December, consideration is given to all options.

Lord Monson: My Lords, given that first-class letters habitually take two days to cross London and that correctly addressed letters are being delivered to the wrong addresses with increasing frequency, can the Minister say what steps are being taken to improve Post Office efficiency?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if that question is relevant to the original Question, I shall not answer it.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, in view of the White Paper being published tomorrow, I realise how difficult it is to

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ask the Minister a question. None the less, does he agree that the Post Office has performed extremely well in recent years? Does he further agree that this area has become a competitive market, with other post offices around the world building their businesses? Whatever may or may not be in the White Paper, is it not desirable that the Post Office in Britain should be put in the same position?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not at all difficult either to answer or to fail to answer these questions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in his first statement; the Post Office has done a good job.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, does not the Minister concede that what he has told the House this afternoon is in direct contrast to what the Prime Minister said yesterday?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think he dealt with this.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, can my noble friend explain what he means by "no wholesale privatisation"? What does the word "wholesale" mean in that context?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if I have said anything new, it was entirely unintentional. The words "wholesale privatisation" were spoken by Peter Mandelson on 7th December. I assume "wholesale" means the whole of the range of Post Office services. My noble friend could have asked that question on 7th December.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 4.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on Libya.

Greater London Authority Bill

3.8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 237 [Appointment of members by the Mayor]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 326C:

Page 129, line 28, leave out ("Mayor of London") and insert ("Greater London Authority").

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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 326C, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 326D, 327, 328A, 330A, 353 and 354, all of which stand in my name and the names of my noble friends.

I and many of my noble friends have battered our heads against the wall of the Government in an attempt to increase the authority of the assembly and to involve it more in the activities of the Greater London Authority. In this particular instance we are doing so in relation to the appointment of the board of the London Development Agency, but I should perhaps advert to the basic problem as I do not expect to get a hopeful or optimistic answer from the Minister on this particular issue. I should say to him at this stage that I am minded to attempt a different approach to the problem. That will be after the Committee stage has been completed because we have gone past the parts of the Bill to which my remarks apply.

The problem arises because the Government have borrowed a part of American practice. The terminology that goes with that practice is somewhat in conflict with the terminology that goes with standard English practice. In standard English practice the authority is a democratically elected one--and across the United Kingdom that happens to be the council.

The difficulty that we have in relation to the Greater London Authority is that there appear to be two authorities: one is the mayor and the other is, in English practice, the assembly. We have bashed our heads against that problem on many occasions. It seems that a resolution will be brought about by amending the Bill elsewhere. A satisfactory solution might be found by making it clear that the Greater London Authority is in fact the mayor, and he has an assembly alongside for convenience to provide some monitoring and supervision in regard to what he is doing.

To return to Amendment No. 326C, the problem with the appointment of the whole of the board of the London Development Agency being entirely in the hands of the mayor is that it concentrates power too strongly into one pair of hands without there being adequate power for the decisions to be monitored and checked in advance. We believe that that is wrong. We believe that there should be more people involved than simply the mayor in a matter as important as the appointment of the board of the London Development Agency. Therefore, we have suggested a change in the wording to leave out "Mayor of London" and insert "Greater London Authority". According to Clause 2, the Greater London Authority will consist of the mayor and the assembly. The amendment is consistent with that. I beg to move.

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