Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I can understand the sentiments behind these amendments to require the council to set up a committee for England on the same basis as the committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, I am not convinced that that is the right approach.

Essentially this is about discretion. The issue is about being prescriptive about duties, but not necessarily about how they are carried out. Our approach in the Bill has been to give the council a clear set of statutory functions, but then to ensure that it has the flexibility and powers to organise itself in the way best suited to deliver the performance of those functions for which it will, after all, be accountable.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1343

We propose that the council will be given as much discretion in the matter of regional representation as we feel is possible. There is nothing in the Bill to stop the council having a single committee for England if that is what it wishes to do and it can convince those that it is required to consult that that is the right approach. In that connection, one should note that in the recent consultation not one of the responses suggested that there should be a committee for England. Preferences have been for a number of committees reporting to the council.

There are good reasons why there should be an exception to this discretion in the matter of setting up at least one committee for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and why the appointment of chairman will be made by the Secretary of State. The recent history of having three separate national councils for those countries should not be completely set aside. Notwithstanding the reserved status of postal matters, there are clear present political reasons why there should be a committee for each of these countries. As was pointed out, it is not necessarily true that the service is the same. The case of a hurricane having a different effect in different parts of the country is an extreme example of different performances.

Lord Skelmersdale: It was meant to be.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: But it illustrates very well the point that there may be great differences in regional matters and that in this respect people may think in terms of regional performance.

From a practical point of view, England is a larger country than the others and representation by a number of committees for different areas within England may be more appropriate than a single regional committee.

Clause 54 gives the council an explicit regional function. The council must have regard to the needs of users of relevant postal services, including in particular the interests of users in different areas. Clause 54 also requires the council to maintain at least one office in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at which users of relevant postal services may apply for information. The office of the council will be in England, in London. We believe that the clause as it stands gives appropriate discretion to the council to decide what the arrangements should be for England but still ensures that there is sufficient protection for users in different areas.

The amendment which provides for an Internet site shows a proper regard for modern communications methods. However, I do not feel that it is necessary. As I made clear previously, I believe that the methods of communication should be left to the council so that it uses what is appropriate at the time.

I am not certain that there is a reference in the Bill to Scotland as a region. I believe that the reference in subsection (5) is to a regional committee rather than to Scotland as a region. If that is not the case, I am sure that the matter will be corrected. On that basis, I do not believe that the amendments would improve the clause and I suggest that they are withdrawn.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1344

9.45 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: I wish to ask a quick question before we proceed further. Because the committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland come under the heading of "shall" and those that come within England, be it one or more committees, come under "may", can the Minister provide a strong explanation as to why there definitely "shall" be such committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but there only "may" be one for England? I understand that there may be one or more, but should not the clause state "shall" be one or more committees or a sub-division of those committees?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I believe that in the case of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there was essentially agreement that there should be a council for each of those regions. However, in the case of England, it was by no means clear whether there should be a committee for England or a series of regional committees. On the whole, there was some feeling that there should be regional committees rather than a national committee.

Viscount Goschen: I hate to take up the time of the Committee and to be boring on this matter, but should it not be "shall"; that is, we should have one or the other? The Minister said that it should not be "shall" because we have not yet made up our minds whether there should be one committee or a sub-division of a number of committees for England. However, by his argument, there should be at least one committee.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: This is obviously a matter about which there is some feeling. On that basis, I shall take it away for consideration. I believe that the intention was that it would be one way or the other. However, as there is a feeling that we should make it more clear, I shall certainly consider the matter further.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: The reference to the Scottish committee must make clear that it is a national committee.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will look at the matter again. Under those circumstances, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 51 to 53 not moved.]

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Annual and other reports: the Council]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendments Nos. 54 to 57:

    Page 35, line 7, leave out ("arrange for") and insert ("publish").

    Page 35, line 7, leave out ("to be published").

    Page 35, line 10, leave out ("arrange for") and insert ("publish").

    Page 35, line 10, leave out ("to be published").

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1345

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [Power of the Council to investigate other matters]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 58:

    Page 36, leave out line 2.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 58, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 59. The first amendment is technical and removes an unnecessary definition of public post offices from Clause 57(1)(b). As Clause 42 defines public post offices for the whole of the Bill, that definition also bites on this clause, making the reference to Clause 42 in this clause redundant.

The second amendment removes the requirement on the council to give notice of its intention to carry out an investigation under Clause 57 to the commission and the Secretary of State. That was considered to be unduly onerous and impractical as it would require notification, whatever the scale of the investigation. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 59:

    Page 36, line 3, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 57, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 58 to 60 agreed to.

Clause 61 [Forward work programmes]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 60:

    Page 38, line 42, after ("or") insert ("(as the case may be)").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment to make clear that each notice about the forward look programmes required by Clause 61 cannot be published by either the council or the commission but that each must publish a notice relating to its own draft programme. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 62 [Transfer of property etc. to nominated company.]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 39, line 8, at end insert--

("( ) Prior to the nomination of any company by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall publish an order to be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament setting out the contents of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of such company and the other details required to be filed with the Registrar of Companies on the incorporation of a new company.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 61, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 62. These two amendments relate to the incorporation of

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1346

the proposed new public limited company, which will take over the Post Office corporation and its assets. Amendment No. 61 simply requires Parliament to see in advance the proposed memorandum and articles of association of the new company, as well as the details that have to be filed at the Companies Registry on the incorporation of a new company--such matters as the proposed registered office; annual accounting date; nominal capital, and the amount to be issued; directors, secretary and so forth. None of that is confidential because it will be a matter of public record open to anyone prepared to pay the search fee once the company is on the register.

The Government will be the sole shareholder of the company. They hold the share or shares in trust for the nation. It is only right that as the de facto owners of the company, its representatives in Parliament should have advance knowledge and possibly some input into the corporate structure of their company. That especially applies to the memorandum and articles of association which are traditionally regarded as the contract between the company and its shareholders.

Amendment No. 62 arises because of the curious wording which the Government have inserted at Clause 62(3):

    "The Secretary of State shall consult the Post Office before nominating a company for the purposes of this section".

What does the Post Office have to say about the company to which it is about to be sold? I use the word "sold" loosely, but in effect it is a sale. The new company gets the Post Office as a going concern and the owner, the state, gets shares in the new company. That is a common commercial transaction. There is even a special form for filing at the Companies Registry when shares are issued for a consideration other than cash. I refer, for example, to the going concern: the assets and goodwill of a business just about to be incorporated as a limited company, as in this case.

At a meeting with the Minister and his officials, I inquired what the consultation would be about and no one could tell me. I accept that "consultation" is a nebulous operation. However, having carefully listened to what the consultee has had to say, the Government can go off and do whatever they intended to do in any case, subject to the constraints of a potential judicial review if they are behaving too unreasonably. But if there is a consultation between the Post Office and the Government, surely it should not be in secret. Surely, Parliament is entitled to know the nature of the negotiations or discussions between the two sides?

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1347

I have expressly excluded in my amendment matters involving commercial confidentiality. Ministers are frequently coming to Parliament to report on the outcome of various negotiations into which they have entered on behalf of the Government. There is no reason why Parliament should not be kept informed about those mysterious consultations. If precedent is followed, they will be leaked to the media anyway. This matter is important. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page