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Viscount Goschen: Before the noble Baroness puts her intentions regarding her amendments to the Committee, perhaps the Minister can help me on an entirely related point. My noble friend has correctly highlighted the issue of transparency in terms of providing information on any deals that may be done by the Post Office.

Essentially, we are talking about a privatisation, possibly of a piece of the Post Office, a share swap, or whatever. It will involve the transfer of public equity to the private sector. That is generally considered to be

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1360

privatisation. In other circumstances, generally if the Government seek to privatise a state asset a competitive process must be undertaken, for example by advertisement in the Official Journal and so on. I understand that the process involves giving a fair opportunity to other bodies that may wish to purchase assets from the Government. Given that we are talking about the transfer of a statutory corporation to a plc, albeit one that is wholly-owned by the Government, can the Minister explain why apparently that privatisation process does not require the same statutory process that applies to any other privatisation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: In this case we are not talking about a privatisation which would involve a completely different process. Here we are considering a very limited situation in which there may be a share swap to further the interests of the Post Office in commercial situations. I believe that that is more comparable with an acquisition or merger between two private sector companies. For that reason, both the noble Baroness and I referred to the commercial market and the listing regulations which would apply in those situations. It is not a privatisation in any commercial sense.

Viscount Goschen: Am I mistaken, therefore, in understanding that the Bill permits the disposal of specific assets of the Post Office, not necessarily those involved in a share swap; in other words, that the payment may be in cash rather than equity?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: As I explained, there is a very clear set of circumstances in which there is simply an ability to undertake what is effectively a merger or acquisition. That arises in the case of a share swap, not in a situation where shares are sold in the market for cash.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am disappointed by the reply of the Minister. My understanding is that one of the main purposes of the Bill is to bring more competition into the marketplace, which requires other companies to come in as licensees in due course in particular areas. My understanding--perhaps I am just dim--is that other public limited companies must follow the normal rules of the Stock Exchange and disclose what is necessary and appropriate. The Minister says that that puts the Post Office at a disadvantage. I suggest that if the Post Office is exempt from doing what other companies have to do, it is not a level playing field. It is rather late in the evening and I do not want to go on ad nauseam. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

10.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 69) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 5; Not-Contents, 24.

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Division No. 2


Goschen, V.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Miller of Hendon, B.
Northbrook, L. [Teller]
Wilcox, B.


Amos, B.
Bach, L.
Berkeley, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Dearing, L.
Desai, L.
Elder, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. [Teller]
Gilbert, L.
Grenfell, L.
Harrison, L.
Howells of St Davids, B.
Lea of Crondall, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Mishcon, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sharman, L.
Simon, V.
Whitty, L.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 1362

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 57 I declare the Question not decided and, pursuant to the Standing Order, the House will now resume.

House resumed.

Alliance & Leicester Group Treasury plc (Transfer) Bill [H.L.]

Reported from the Unopposed Bill Committee with amendments.

        House adjourned at twelve minutes before eleven o'clock.

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