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Utilities Bill

3.36 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order: Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clause 2, Schedule 2, Clause 3, Schedule 3, Clauses 4 to 51, Schedule 4, Clause 52, Schedule 5, Clauses 53 to 107, Schedules 6 to 8, Clauses 108 and 109.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question Motion agreed to.

Trustee Bill [H.L.]

3.37 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to notify the House that, having been informed of the purport of the Trustee Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interests so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, as I indicated on Report, it has become necessary to introduce amendments at this late stage to take into account the coming into force of the Cathedrals Measure 1999 since the original publication of this Bill. I was grateful on that occasion to the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Goodhart, for their generous indications that they were unlikely to find fault with them.

The provisions of the 1999 Measure are brought into force through some rather complex transitional provisions which mean, in effect, that the investment powers under the Cathedrals Measure 1963, which

29 Jun 2000 : Column 1071

before the coming into force of the 1999 Measure applied to all cathedrals, will continue to have effect in respect of cathedrals which do not, for the time being, attract the provisions of the 1999 Measure. Once a cathedral attracts the 1999 provisions, the 1963 provisions will cease to have effect in relation to that cathedral. This group of four amendments sets out to achieve that end in respect of the powers of investment granted to cathedral bodies which, under both Measures, are derived from the 1961 Trustee Investments Act. With your Lordships' leave, I shall speak to these four amendments together.

Amendment No. 1 simply removes from Part III of Schedule 2 the amendment which was originally to be made to the 1963 Measure. Amendment No. 2 makes an amendment to the 1999 Measure, substantially similar to that removed by the Government's first amendment today, substituting the general power of investment in this Bill for the powers in the Trustee Investments Act 1961.

Amendment No. 3 makes provision such that for as long as the 1963 Measure continues to apply to any cathedral, the powers of investment that derive from it shall be the general power of investment under this Bill. Amendment No. 4 is entirely consequential and adds to Part II of Schedule 4 the details of the repeal carried out by Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am happy to tell the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that my lengthy researches into the Cathedrals Measures of 1963 and 1999 have convinced me that these amendments are wholly appropriate.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kingsland has also indicated his agreement to this amendment. I am happy to agree.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a question. I am the High Steward of Norwich Cathedral but I was not aware of these Measures. Will the noble and learned Lord be kind enough to say how they will affect Norwich Cathedral?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as always, I shall be happy to correspond with the noble Earl and to give him the guidance that he seeks--at no cost to himself.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 4:

    Page 27, line 19, at end insert--

("The Cathedrals Measure 1999 (No. 1)
. In section 16 (cathedral moneys: investment powers, etc.), in subsection (1)--
(a) for paragraph (c) substitute--
"(c) power to invest in any investments in which trustees may invest under the general power of investment in section 3 of the Trustee Act 2000 (as restricted by sections 4 and 5 of that Act),", and.

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(b) omit the words from "and the powers" to the end of the subsection.").

    Page 28, line 19, at end insert--

("The Cathedrals Measure 1963 (No. 2)
. While section 21 of the Cathedrals Measure 1963 (investment powers, etc. of capitular bodies) continues to apply in relation to any cathedral, that section shall have effect as if--
(a) in subsection (1), for paragraph (c) and the words from "and the powers" to the end of the subsection there were substituted--
"(c) power to invest in any investments in which trustees may invest under the general power of investment in section 3 of the Trustee Act 2000 (as restricted by sections 4 and 5 of that Act).", and.
(b) in subsection (5), for "subsections (2) and (3) of section six of the Trustee Investments Act 1961" there were substituted "section 5 of the Trustee Act 2000".").

    Page 29, line 31, at end insert--

    ("1999 No. 1. The Cathedrals Measure 1999. In section 16(1), the words from "and the powers" to the end of the subsection.")

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to these amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, perhaps I may ask for your indulgence to make a very brief statement. As a Member of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee I am exposed, if that is the word, to all Bills which come to your Lordships' House. This encourages me to make one comparative comment. The Bill, which I hope will pass shortly, is fairly short, well focused and quite clear. It is a Bill which reduces burdens rather than adds new ones. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been not only courteous throughout the passage of the Bill, but he and his department were ready to listen and to engage in open discussion. The amendments moved were not afterthoughts or remedies of bad drafting, but the result of debate--and they were produced on time. The result is that some of us are left with a feeling of considerable satisfaction. I am, certainly, and I participated throughout.

I want to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for reminding us that such sentiments are possible at the end of the debate on a Bill. I wonder whether he will find it possible to inform some of his ministerial colleagues of this practice.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord is very kind. He has succeeded in cheering me up. I shall draw his words to the attention of my colleagues.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons

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Postal Services Bill

3.43 p.m.

Report received.

Schedule 2 [The Consumer Council for Postal Services]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 79, line 30, at end insert--

(" . A regional committee shall establish adequate procedures to enable representations to be made to it by all users or recipients of postal services, including members of the public and businesses, and to examine and report to the Council on matters of concern to them.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment which I am bringing forward at this late stage--for which I ask the indulgence of the House--because of a problem that has only just been brought to my attention.

At a time when the rural postal network is under threat from increasing use of automatic credit transfers, when the Royal Mail is failing to meet its service quality targets, when it is under the great pressure of losing revenue from the new competition generated by this Bill, from e-mail and from fax, the well-established Post Office advisory committees, known as POUNC, are being abolished and replaced by a new consumer council for postal services.

The regulator, the new postal services commission and the new consumer council will have considerable powers and duties to supervise both the Post Office and any other licensees. The new consumers council is proposing to disband the 140 locally-based voluntary committees that have existed since the 1960s and to replace them with paid regional committees.

These new arrangements give rise to several concerns. First, the increase in cost. Local Post Office advisory committees established by POUNC currently cost £650,000 per year to run. The new consumer council and its regional committees are estimated to cost around £2.5 million per year. That is an increase of 450 per cent.

The second concern is that it replaces volunteers with professional, paid members, which may not always be an advantage. This is because grass roots input from a large and diverse number of consumers--750, I believe--is being replaced by a handful of paid individuals. The current volunteers are drawn from a cross-section of business and private users and voluntary organisations.

Thirdly, and most important of all, although the new regional committees will be larger--and, presumably, more powerful and influential--the disadvantage is that there will be a loss of local contacts and local knowledge of local problems; for example, closures and relocation of post offices, siting of letter boxes, local delivery and collection problems, and so on.

I also wonder whether this could possibly be the thin edge of the wedge, leading to adverse effects and even the abolition of the local telecommunications advisory

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committees, which have a similar role in telecoms and which, in most cases, share members, staff, resources and funding with the local Post Office advisory committees.

This modest amendment does nothing to reduce the powers and duties of the commission, or of the consumer council or of any of the regional sub-committees that the council establishes under Clause 54(4). But they are too remote. All that the amendment seeks to ensure is that there is local access to enable local people to raise local problems--and to raise them locally rather than in some distant office. I beg to move.

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