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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this is not Committee stage. I asked the noble Baroness a specific question; I did not invite her to repeat her speech about the location of post offices. Why does she believe that the published draft regulations do not meet the proposal made in the amendment and that until adequate alternative facilities are in place people will not be able to obtain money by credit documents? Why does she believe that the regulations do not meet her concerns?
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I tabled the amendment because I would rather see the provisions on the face of the Bill. I know that they are contained in regulations and I do not see
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, am I therefore right to assume that the noble Baroness agrees that the issue is fully covered by the regulations and that we are merely arguing about its location?
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that intervention. I have taken one or two Bills through the House and I reckon that a provision in regulations does not have the same implication as on the face of a Bill. The noble Earl has made my point.
I do not want to argue the virtues of ACT over cash books, giros or order books. I suggest that the concerns of the noble Baroness are met in the regulations and the assurances given by the Paymaster General on 7th February 2002 in which he said that if accounts were not in place other methods would have to be found to ensure that the money reached the claimants. We have the power to deal with that.
I believe that the points raised in the amendment are fully addressed by the regulations and the assurance, and that the provisions should appropriately appear in regulations. It is not sensible to put such a level of detail on the face of the Bill. Provisions such as this have never appeared in any of the social security Bills I have handled and I do not believe this is the right time to start to try it.
We have been able to give assurances and there is no difference between us on policy. The only difference is where those assurances should be locatedin regulations or on the face of the Bill. I hope that as a result of that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said and I understand where she is coming from. However, as she would not earlier allow me to expand the reason for my concern perhaps this is the moment for me to do so. The payment must be made somewhere. The crux of the matter is whether it is to be made at a post office or whether other arrangements are to be made. The Minister may well scratch her head and be very cross and irritated by me, but I believe that those 70 people need to know that they will be able to obtain their money from somewhere. I do not mind where it is, but nowhere in the Bill is such an assurance given.
Today's Statement on Consignia only goes to show how fragile the position is. We all wish Consignia well and hope that it recovers and strengthens. We hope that more people will use the post offices, but, as the Minister said, half of those which closed had fewer than 70 customers a week. Where are those people expected to go in order to make their claims and obtain their money? I have not received a satisfactory answer. I am happy to give way to the Minister again if she can define the position more clearly. No, I presume that she does not wish to do so.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the reason I am not responding is that this is not a general debate on the future, location and services of post offices. I am trying to deal with an amendment at Report stage which relates to methods of payment at existing post offices. I have addressed my remarks to that and to the assurances on which the noble Baroness and the noble Earl have pressed me that we shall not go over to ACT across the board until we are confident that it is available to all who need to use it. What is more, the regulations go further. We say that in exceptional circumstances, even with ACT throughout the system, people will still be able to use other forms of access such as credit documents. That is what I am dealing with, the amendment on the Marshalled Listnot with a Second Reading debate about post offices and their location. That is why I have not responded to the noble Baroness's point about distance, location, as the crow flies, rural density, size of catchment area and so on. Those are entirely proper issues for another debate.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister. Sadly, she and I are obviously not going to have a meeting of minds. The issue is important and I care strongly about it. I do not mind if payment is not made at post offices, but I mind that we do not know how people are going to access their entitlement. I am very disappointed with the noble Baroness who is normally so conscientious. I seek to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.