|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is it not the case that Royal Mail anticipates that it will reduce its losses by some £90 million a year by switching from rail to road? Would it not be wrong to interfere with such a wise commercial judgment?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the figure of £90 million is the total savings from the total transport review. Transferring rail services to road will save about £25 million which is a substantial amount of money. It is a commercial decision for Royal Mail to take rather than the Government.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the situation not complicated by the incidence of VAT which is payable on rail freight but not on road movements by Royal Mail? Of the saving of £25 million, how much is accounted for by VAT?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as the noble Lord asked that question on a previous occasion, this time I can give him the answer. The £25 million saving would come down to £19.5 million. It would nevertheless still be a very substantial saving. It arises because VAT is not paid on stamps. Therefore, VAT cannot be recovered from the railways. I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting that we should charge VAT on stamps as a way of solving the problem.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, what has to happen before the Government acknowledge that such a decision is of major public interest and is much broader than purely a commercial cost matter?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in the past 25 years during which I have had any connection with
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords
Lord Renton: My Lords, will it be borne in mind
The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is the turn of this side.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that a number of my noble friends are perplexed by the answers that he is giving on this particular matter. What is the point of Labour Members of Parliament and Labour activists knocking on doors up and down the land and assuring people that we intend to move freight from road to rail when we are totally incapable of intervening on this occasion when the public utility is owned by the taxpayer? It is owned by us. We are the shareholders.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the amount of mail as a total percentage of freight is very small; it is about half of 1 per cent. The Secretary of State sets social and environmental targets against which Postcomm measures performance. However, as I suggested, in this particular case it is not at all clear that continuing with the rail freight operation is environmentally the best solution.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister said that it was correct not to intervene in a commercial decision, but has he seen discussion in the newspapers of proposals for a heavy congestion charge on the motorways? Up to 50p per mile is mentioned. As we are moving into an age of charges for transport on roads, what will happen then? Will the Post Office do its sums again and decide that it ought to go back to rail?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, the situation is that about 70 per cent of the future network connectionsthat is, the journeys that take placewill take place between 6.30 in the evening and 3 o'clock in the morning, when congestion is not a major issue.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, I assume that the Minister will be aware that, on these Benches at least, there is great concern about these proposals. For example, how on earth will the situation be dealt with at Christmas time, when some 150 extra trains are brought into play to deal with the Christmas surge? Does he think that that can be handled by road, or maybe by air as well? It seems absurd.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is very difficultwhich is why it has been such a disaster in the pastfor Ministers and civil servants to try to control the operational arrangements of an industry of
Lord Renton: My Lords, will it be borne in mind that Royal Mail has always, so far, delivered first-class mail promptly? Will the Minister ensure that that continues?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clear service targets are laid down by Postcomm, and it is the job of Postcomm to measure the performance of Royal Mail against those. In looking at the action plans of Royal Mail, it will take into account whether, in its judgment, they will lead to the service standards that it has laid down.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Post Office meeting its performance targets at present? Two cheques have gone missing from my mail in the past three weeks?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Lord has had that particular problem, but I do not think it is relevant to the Question that we are considering.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the production of the September dossier. There was no attempt to override the judgment of the chairman at any point in the process. Intelligence was not inserted; neither was it exaggerated at the instruction of Ministers or special advisers. The Government welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee's conclusion on this point.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is not quite answering the Question. Did the Joint Intelligence Committee have sight of either version of the dossier? When the noble and learned Lord has answered that, perhaps he will go on to a further underlying question; namely, whether anything has been done to reassure the troops in Iraq, who must be rather upset by the squabble that is going on, which no one is going to win and in which everyone may come off a loser. Not only that, but will he, first, congratulate them on the achievement of getting rid of
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, on the latter point, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. Our troops in Iraq are carrying out their professional duties with their usual skill and calm attachment to duty. Going back to the Question, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the production of the dossier. I have authority to tell your Lordships that I believe the dossier was published on 24th September. On 23rd Septemberif we want to go to responsibility for the contentsthe chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was actually at the printers checking the proofs.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House recall that some of us questioned whether or not the evidence presented in those dossiers at the time justified the conclusions that were reached? Does he also recall that, after the Falklands Warwhere there was much less questioning of the intelligence provided to the government beforehandthe government accepted that a judicial inquiry would clear the air? Do we not now need something that will very much clear the air?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, clearing the air is usefully done by attending to fact, not assertion. There has been a vast amount of false assertion put forward herenot necessarily knowing it to be false at the time, but without the grace to recognise that false assertions having been made, an apology might well be in order.
I go, if I may, to one or two conclusions of the FAC:
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee is now conducting an investigation into this matter? Would it not be sensible to await the outcome?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page