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Lord Clarke of Hampstead: Perhaps I may be somewhat pedantic. If this amendment were carried, the Christmas pressure period in the Post Office would be thrown into chaos because in some years one Sunday has to be used and in some years two Sundays are used to clear the mail. I also declare an interest, and I apologise for not doing so earlier.

Lord Monson: I see one other slight problem. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, uses the phrase "bank holiday" whereas the definition in Clause 117 uses "public holiday". Most public holidays are bank holidays but it is conceivable that a one-off occasion occurs where the Government may declare a public holiday in honour of some anniversary which is not a bank holiday. It would obviously be desirable, if this amendment goes any further, for the words "bank holiday" to be changed to "public holiday".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am very much relieved by what the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has said because my brief tells me to say that his amendment is entirely unnecessary, a definition already being provided in Clause 117. I thought that he was under the illusion that his amendment would strengthen the provisions of the Bill, but since he recognises that it does not, it simply brings the amendment forward from Clause 117 to Clause 4. I think therefore that we are on all fours except as to where it is appropriate to have the full definition of a "working day."

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: I should have risen before the Minister.

Amendment No. 5 refers to page 2, line 26. Line 26 of the Bill states:

    "at least one delivery of relevant postal packets is made every working day."

My noble friend referred to Clause 117 which states:

    "'working day' means--

    "(a) in relation to the collection and delivery of letters, any day which is not a Sunday or a public Holiday".

I take note of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about a public holiday or bank holiday. Paragraph (b) states:

    "in relation to the collection and delivery of postal packets other than letters, any day which is not a Saturday, a Sunday or a public holiday".

Amendment No. 4 refers to postal packets. Therefore the amendment is necessary because the provision is not in the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for anticipating what I shall say. As we are all agreed, the purpose underlying Amendments Nos. 5 and 8 is to require that deliveries and collections are made every day except Sundays and bank holidays for all postal packets whether parcels or letters; or, to be precise, whether or not they are letters.

In relation to letters, other than bringing forward the full definition, the amendment is unnecessary. The meaning of "working day" is defined in Clause 117. It provides that in relation to letters "working day" means any day which is not a Sunday or a public holiday. That is unchanged.

In relation to parcels and packets, "working day" means any day which is not a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday. The universal service standard is to provide a five-day parcel service and a six-day letter service. The effect of the amendments would be to bring the requirement for deliveries and collections for parcels and packets into line with that for letters.

This is not in accordance with the European directive on postal services, which requires as a minimum one collection and one delivery every working day on no fewer than five days a week. The minimum standard is met in the requirements we impose for both letters and parcels. But for letters we have gone one step further. It is an element of gold-plating. We require a Saturday collection and delivery. Those requirements are in line with the current practice of the Post Office. The Post Office and other postal operators are free to deliver on other days if there is demand for it. As my noble friend Lord Clarke said, in the Christmas period one has to deliver on Sundays. I used to earn a little pocket money as a schoolboy doing that in the Christmas period.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: I hope that a schoolboy was never employed by the Post Office. I hope that it was a student.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It was as a schoolboy--probably breaking the law. Do not tell the head postmaster in Beaconsfield!

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The Post Office and other operators are free to deliver on other days if there is a demand. As I think will be well known, Parcelforce does not guarantee a Saturday delivery but it does deliver on a Saturday.

I turn to Amendment No. 6 which makes an additional requirement. I understand that it was not spoken to but it is grouped with Amendment No. 5.

Lord Skelmersdale: Amendment No. 6 is grouped with Amendment No. 5 but it has not been spoken to. There is, of course, nothing to stop the Minister speaking to it in advance of anything any other noble Lord may say.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, or the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to speak to it now and I can then respond.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister will be pleased to hear that my speech will be brief.

I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 together. They modify the requirement for daily collections and deliveries, by providing that they should be before midday, especially for businesses depending on their mail. There is nothing more frustrating than to wait for the post to arrive. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. Although the noble Baroness is not in her place at present, no doubt she will read Hansard tomorrow. She spoke of the frustration involved when domestic mail arrives the third, fourth or even fifth day after collection. In business that is more than frustrating. It is not only time consuming, it costs money. That is important because such post may be more critical than domestic post.

However, in common with a large part of the population, many Members of the Committee leave, as I do, before the domestic mail arrives. My office does not expect to receive the mail until about 11.30. That is late when people want to start work on it. That is why we have tabled Amendments Nos. 6 and 9.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Where I live in Scotland, post is not delivered until after 1 p.m. and often after 2 p.m. Under the Bill, will the operators be obliged to deliver at an earlier time? I do not know how they would manage to do so in a remote district such as Upperglen.

Also, there appears to be no reference to collections on Sunday. Will Sunday collections cease?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Let me make it clear, as I did in my response to Amendment No. 4, that there is no intention that there should be any deterioration in quality of service as a result of the Bill. In Clause 4 we are discussing the minimum obligation which is set down in the European Union postal services Directive. If in parts of Scotland that means that there is a single collection and single delivery--I understand that in any remote area that could be after midday--I think that that meets the minimum requirements. As to the

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actual service requirements which will be the subject of the licence, that is a matter for negotiation between the commission and the Post Office company. We shall have to see how successful they are in securing improvements in services which noble Lords around the Chamber have demanded so eloquently.

I have a slight nostalgia for the Financial Services and Markets Bill. At least no one understood that Bill so they could not intervene from personal knowledge. On this Bill it is clear that everyone has personal knowledge and hard luck stories and it is entirely proper that I should listen to them.

Perhaps I may respond to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. The effect would be that at least one delivery should be by midday and that, under Amendment No. 9, there should be at least one collection of postal packets each working day. The problem is that that is irrespective of what is best for customers. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and I have exchanged experiences of small business operators on many occasions. In my experience the most important factor was to receive the first post early in the morning, by 8 a.m. or 8.30. Whether the subsequent post arrived at 11 a.m., 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. was a secondary consideration. There is no specific benefit on insisting on collections before midday. For some customers an evening collection might be more appropriate than a midday collection. Delivery by midday is no use to a business which needs its mail, as mine used to do, by not later than 8.30 in the morning.

In Clause 4 we have set out the minimum standards. The commission will work to secure higher standards. I suggest that the amendments which go beyond the European directive are inappropriate. I hope that noble Lords will not press them.

Lord Skelmersdale: I, for one, am extremely flattered that the Minister prepared such a long answer to an amendment which both he and I admit is unnecessary. I thank him for that.

The Minister did not refer the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, to Clause 4(1)(a) of the Bill which states that,

    "except in such geographical conditions or other circumstances as the Commission considers to be exceptional"

--that presumably covers the example the noble Lady gave--the provisions will be the norm across the country. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, rather disturbed me. He referred to deliveries on Sundays during the Christmas period, which happen from time to time, and which we welcome. From a rapid glance at the Bill while he was speaking, it appears that they are not covered by the Bill. Will the Minister check that because that would be in all our interests? Unless the Minister wishes to respond now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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