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Baroness Miller of Hendon

moved Amendment No. 18:

("( ) Licence fees paid pursuant to subsection (2) shall be applied only for the purposes of enabling the Commission to perform its duties under sections 11 to 14 of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: As the marginal note makes quite clear, Clause 13 relates to conditions and other provisions in licences. The amendment I am asking the Committee to consider was not considered in another place.

Clause 13(2) quite rightly provides for the commission to be able to charge for the grant of a licence. Obviously the cost of this will be not merely the cost of typing the physical piece of paper but will entail the work of investigating the applicant, the legal expenses of drafting and negotiating the licence, future renewal of licences, supervision of the licensee and a contribution towards the infrastructure costs of the commission. I do not believe that there can be any argument with any of that.

I am even prepared to assume the inference of the word "reasonable" as an adjectival qualification of the fees. I should have been inclined to include that word as an amendment, but my experience of the major Bills I have debated on behalf of the Opposition in your Lordships' House is that asking for the word "reasonable" to be included anywhere produces a Pavlovian reaction on the part of the Government and the response that the use of the word is "unnecessary". We have had that reaction tonight, although it was nothing to do with the word "reasonable". As if this Government or any of its agencies could in any way ever be unreasonable.

Amendment No. 18 seeks to restrict the use to which the commission may put the licence fees that it charges to the cost of its licensing functions. Whatever those costs are, that is fine, but that is what the fees should be used for. In other words, the licence fees that it charges should be restricted to its actual licensing functions. What must not happen is for the commission to charge more than the actual cost and then to use the surplus money for other purposes. I shall not speculate on what those other purposes might be. One could be some form of self-advertising, such as has been indulged in by the Independent Television Commission, or a campaign like that of the Milk Marketing Board--not "Drinka pinta milka day", but "Post a piece of mail a day". I am sure that there are many fertile minds in the commission who could find a use for the excess funds. In fact, to adapt a well known proverb, "The devil does find work for idle hands".

The amendment follows the precedent set in the Broadcasting Act 1990 as to the use of licence fees payable under that Act. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give that some consideration. I beg to move.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey:

I have a slight problem with the wording of the amendment. I am still not sure, having heard the noble Baroness, what the intention of the amendment is. She may be able to help me when she replies. We think that it is intended to restrict the ability of the commission to collecting licence fees only for the purpose of performing its duties under Clauses 11 to 14. That may be what she said. However, the effect of the amendment is to allow the licence fee to be collected according to the terms of the licence, but to restrict the use to which the licence fee can be put to the performance of duties under Clauses 11 to 14. It does not matter very much because I can see that the intent behind the amendment is good. The intent is to get an assurance from us that the licence fee is not a form of taxation. I can give the noble Baroness that assurance.

The clause, as drafted, allows the commission to recover its costs in line with normal practice. Perhaps I may give the example of the utilities sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, quoted one piece of legislation as a precedent, but I should like to quote as precedents the Electricity Act 1989, the Water Industry Act 1991 and the Gas Act 1995, which were passed by the previous government and drafted in much the same way as this clause. The clause allows the commission to recover its costs in line with normal practice. Therefore, "licence fee" can include the costs not just of administering the licence in its crudest form--that is dealt with in Clauses 11 to 14 of the Bill-- but also the associated costs of regulation that the commission must bear; for example, Clause 15 is about references to the Competition Commission. Clearly, that is a cost which the postal services commission will have to incur. It seems to us entirely proper that these costs, or, for example, the costs of monitoring international development for their potential impact on the universal service, should be paid for out of the licence fee.

The amendment would prevent the commission in effect from carrying out those functions. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon:

I shall certainly read carefully what the Minister has said. It is interesting that he referred to Clause 15 and said that if the commission was too closely restricted in what it could do with the licence fee it would pre-empt the costs that would be involved in referring matters to the Competition Commission. I think that that is interesting because Clause 15 is a brand new clause that had to be included in the Bill because of the discussions in the other place, but the actual wording of the clause regarding the costs of the licence was already there. However, I accept what the Minister is saying. I shall read his words carefully in case I am still not happy. But it may be that he has managed to give me some small comfort. I take pleasure in withdrawing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon

moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 9, line 17, at end insert--

("(2A) Every licence granted for the provision of a universal postal service shall contain an express provision prohibiting the licencee from imposing any condition (save as provided in subsection (2B)) on the addressee of mail and in particular (without limiting the effect of this subsection)--
(a) requiring the addressee to provide a receptacle for the receipt of mail anywhere other than at the main door of the building to which the mail is addressed; and
(b) in the case of a building in multiple occupation, requiring the installation of individual postal boxes in the lobby or elsewhere.
(2B) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2A) a licencee shall be entitled to impose reasonable conditions on the manner and place of delivery where there is any hazard to the postal worker required to make the delivery.").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendment No. 19 is to require the commission, by law, to impose a condition on the licensed holders of universal service licences. That condition is to prevent licence holders from requiring householders, or others, to install a postbox at the front boundary of a property, or, in the case of a block of flats or offices, having to install banks of letter boxes in the entrance lobby of a building. In the case of, say, farmhouses, the building may be some distance from the highway. Even in a town the front door and the letter box may be at the end of a long drive, up a steep flight of steps, or both, as I can personally attest to, as I am sure can many Members of the Committee, after 30 years of canvassing and leaflet delivery.

If it is thought fanciful that a licence holder would try to impose such a condition as a means of reducing the cost of making deliveries, perhaps I may tell the Committee what has happened in my own borough, and, I suspect, in most people's boroughs. Despite the statutory obligation on the local council to remove household refuse, several years ago my council insisted that refuse was placed in the so-called wheelie bins, which have to be positioned precisely at the boundary otherwise the rubbish is not collected. Either the street has to be cluttered up with unsightly refuse bins or we have the job of lugging the wheelie bins from the back of the house on collection days. In some roads that looks absolutely appalling. It is also a not so subtle way of rationing the amount of refuse that a householder can require to be collected, because the council takes away only what you have managed to put into the bin.

I do not think that it is beyond the realms of possibility that it will eventually occur to licence holders that, since labour is the largest part of their costs, they could save a great deal of money if the postman did not even have to step off the roadway in order to deliver mail. If the box was right there at the edge of the street it would save time, be quicker and so forth. I say nothing of the risks of theft and vandalism if letter boxes are sited at the front gate.

My proposed new subsection (2B) in Clause 13 is intended to ensure that the licensee is not required to send his postmen and postwomen to hazardous addresses such as building sites, or, more usually, to

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where there are ferocious dogs. It is possible that the Minister will tell us that under Clause 13(3) it really is a matter for the commission to decide on the conditions in the licences. But I am not sure that that is right. Clause 4 of the Bill sets out certain minimum requirements for the provision of a universal postal service, as the Minister told us on several occasions when dealing with all our Clause 4 amendments. That clause, drafted by the Government, sets a precedent for statutory guidance on the conditions to be included in licences. The Post Office itself has been able to perform its functions of providing a universal pre-paid delivery service for 160 years--160 years next month-- without imposing any conditions such as are addressed by this amendment. Amendment No. 19 simply ensures that the addressees of mail shall not be put to expense or run security risks in order to receive their letters merely to enhance the profits of licence holders. I beg to move.

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