Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I gather that the defence industry is grateful for the noble Lord’s efforts to include defence equipment in the MoU that is, as I understand it, being negotiated between our Government and the Iraqi Government. However, I have talked with the Defence Manufacturers Association and it believes that there is a particular problem with the translation and language aspect, particularly for our

27 Apr 2009 : Column 8

smaller defence-equipment exporting companies. Is there any possibility of reinvolving for mutual benefit the Iraqis who were interpreters for our forces, some of whom were brought out of Iraq?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that we have included representatives of this sector in many of UKTI’s activities. Indeed, on my recent visit to Iraq, I was accompanied in the business delegation that I led by a number of company representatives from this sector. In answer to the noble Lord’s specific question on translators, he makes an important and interesting suggestion. I will look into it and I will write to him.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the questions always asked by people who might buy British defence equipment is whether it is being used by the British forces? That is why the link between DSO and the Ministry of Defence was so essential in the past. It is very difficult to get that link working when it is in another department.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord’s point, and I am sure that the link is an important one. However, the link has not been lost in DSO’s movement from the MoD to UKTI. I think that a rather well integrated and seamless operation is still being mounted. I will personally take an interest in this to ensure that that seamless operation is maintained in the future, as it has been in the past.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, can the Minister indicate whether Iraq is a designated area for support from ECGD for any contracts that are won by British companies?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, that issue was raised during my business delegation visit to Iraq and I am following it up. There is some resistance in view of the considerable risks involved. However, I think that it would be a great shame if through the absence of ECGD cover we were to lose important commercial opportunities which would be of as great a benefit to the Iraqi people and their commercial objectives as they would be to our businesses in this country.

Gulf War Illnesses


2.59 pm

Asked By Lord Craig of Radley

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government made it clear on 10 March (Official Report, cols. 1055-57) that they would await the findings of the United States Institute of Medicine review of the Research Advisory Committee report. The Institute of Medicine plans to produce its report in February 2010.

27 Apr 2009 : Column 9

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but my understanding from the chairman of the Research Advisory Committee was that the Institute of Medicine was not going to call for the report to be reviewed by it. In view of what the Minister has said, will he give the House an assurance that, once that reference has taken place, they will speedily find a conclusion to this dreadful problem that has run on for so long?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the whole House knows of the important work that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has done for Gulf War veterans, but I find it difficult to give an assurance that I can secure closure, given the efforts that the Government have made so far. I have said that we expect a report from the Institute of Medicine in February 2010, but it is difficult to see in what way that will change what we are doing for these veterans. They are being treated under what we believe to be fair procedures for addressing the disablement they are suffering.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I have a non-pecuniary interest as a member of the Royal British Legion Gulf War Group. Will the Minister give a fuller explanation for why no one from his department attended the symposium in the House on 24 March on this important research work? He will be aware that first of all it was said that no invitations were received and then, in a Written Answer to me on 20 April, it was said that there was too short notice. However, I have in my hand two letters sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and to the Veterans Minister, dated 20 and 27 February, long before the symposium took place. Is it any wonder that veterans in the British Army feel that their service for this country is undervalued and their illnesses are not fully understood, because of the way that the ministry seems to treat all these issues?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I refute the suggestion that we do not look after our veterans or take a serious interest in this issue. The Ministry of Defence’s policy is to attend symposiums like this one, and we would have been delighted to attend. The noble Lord may have in his hand letters of a particular date, but the Under-Secretary of State for Veterans, Kevan Jones, received an invitation in his office three days before the event took place and was already committed to another long-standing engagement overseas, while the private office of my noble friend Lady Taylor did not receive an invitation.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what the Government are doing to help the veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War? Would it not be possible to consider giving some form of ex gratia payment to these brave ex-service men and women?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we have provided help for these individuals under the appropriate policies. They receive pensions for the level of disablement, and those pensions can be reviewed if the disablement increases. We have introduced policies in Command Paper 7424, The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. It would be fundamentally wrong to treat veterans

27 Apr 2009 : Column 10

from the Gulf War with these conditions and these levels of disablement differently from veterans of any other operation who had a similar level of disablement.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend knows of my high regard and respect for him and will recall this House having been told that, before addressing the implications of the inquiry’s findings for afflicted British veterans of the conflict, the MoD must await the outcome of the US Institute of Medicine’s review of its report. Can I now confirm that MPs and Peers have since been informed by the RAC, at the symposium held here in the Queen’s Robing Room on 24 March, that its findings are not being reviewed by the Institute of Medicine, and that this was made clear by the institute itself in a letter from its senior programme officer on 24 April?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we understand that, in its press release on 1 December last year, the IOM committed to considering this report. We have spoken with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which says that it has no plans to reissue or update its statement. My understanding is that the study will take place and will report in February next year, as I said.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, will the noble Lord at least agree that the MoD was directly responsible for both causes of Gulf War illness identified in the report? Should not that factor be borne in mind in seeking to reach agreement with the veterans now?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I shall certainly not agree any such blanket statement with a lawyer, as I should not survive long if I did. I repeat that the pensions that the individuals have are about levels of disability and are uniform for the same levels of disability. In 1997, this Government had a new start for these groups. They agreed to study the groups and to commit to research. All this has been done. Lots of money has been spent on the research and we are now concentrating on the rehabilitation of these veterans. We see no value in committing our own resources to further study of causation. Of course, if our friends in the US have new information, we shall consider it.

House of Lords: Conduct of Members


3.06 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I promised the House to update it on developments in the investigation into allegations made by the Sunday Times newspaper earlier this year against a number of Members of this House. I will continue to do so as appropriate.

Noble Lords may have seen media reports at the weekend and this morning purporting to reveal the conclusions of the inquiry into the investigations that has been carried out by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I am aware that these reports caused considerable concern to Members of this House. Like them, I utterly deplore such speculation and urge the media to resist repeating it until the process adopted by this House is complete.

27 Apr 2009 : Column 11

I make no comment on the accuracy or lack of accuracy of these reports. Both the House authorities and my office made it clear to the Sunday Times, which originated these reports, and to other media organisations that we would make no comment on such speculation and that the process of examining these allegations was not yet complete. While the process is under way, it is of course the case that the Members concerned are and remain full Members of this House. When the process is complete, the report of the Committee for Privileges and of the sub-committee will be published and available to Members and to the wider public, including the media. The House will then have the opportunity to debate the report. While this process is under way, I urge all sides, both within this House and beyond it, to refrain from speculation, whether in public or in private. Members of this House and the procedures of this House deserve nothing less.

Arrangement of Business


3.08 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Bach will repeat the Statement on prisons and probation at a convenient point around 4 pm. My noble friend Lord Darzi of Denham will then repeat the Statement on swine flu.

Postal Services Bill [HL]

Committee (5th Day)

3.09 pm

Clause 36 : Services within scope of the universal postal service

Amendment 89A

Moved by Lord Hunt of Wirral

89A: Clause 36, page 21, line 12, leave out “at an affordable price”

Lord Hunt of Wirral: In an earlier debate, on Amendment 84A, I touched on our concern that Ofcom would be able to extend its regulation by means of this clause into exempted services that are currently free from any regulation. With this amendment, I should like to focus in a little more detail on the provisions of Clause 36.

I confess that the clause takes a little time to understand, since it tries to set out what differences between the UPS and another service can be disregarded from an assessment of whether the service is sufficiently like the UPS to be regulated. As I understand it, the service under question can differ from the UPS by one of the criteria set out in subsection (1)(b) and still be considered within the scope. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would confirm that if the service differed in two respects—let us say, if under sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) it covered only a city and delivered on only five days a week—it would not then qualify as within the scope under subsection (1)(b).

27 Apr 2009 : Column 12

My confusion continues within subsection (1)(b)(iii), the drafting of which does not quite follow the related drafting within Clause 29(3). There, the phrase is an affordable price,

Here, it is drafted as,

I hope that the Secretary of State can explain this difference.

There is also the matter of there being two criteria within a single sub-paragraph: that of a uniform tariff and that of affordability. Does a service qualify as within scope if it offers a uniform tariff at a much higher price than Royal Mail, or if it offers an affordable set of zonal tariffs? Or can it offer both high prices and zonal pricing and still qualify under this sub-paragraph?

I am not convinced that a service offering a uniform but much more expensive tariff should qualify as within scope. Price is a key element in assessing competitiveness and cannot be disregarded as justifiably as, for example, the question of whether the service covers the entire United Kingdom.

There is also the question of what qualifies as “affordable”. Does the Secretary of State intend this sub-paragraph to relate directly to the price offered by Royal Mail under Clause 29, despite the difference in drafting? How much more expensive does the tariff have to be to count as non-affordable?

Subsection (1)(b) seems capable of being interpreted in many different ways. I hope that the Government mean it to signify that only services that differ from the universal postal service in a single, non-critical way become eligible. If that is the case, the drafting could be made much clearer to signify it. I therefore beg to move.

3.15 pm

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Mandelson): Clause 36 sets out when a service is within the scope of the universal service. First, a service within the scope of the universal service is one that falls within the description of a service set out in the universal postal service order made by Ofcom under Clause 29, as set out in subsection (1)(a). Secondly, it is a service which would fall within the description of a service set out in the universal postal service order, but which does not meet some of the minimum requirements of a universal service: collection and delivery are not provided on each of the days required under Clause 29, or the service is not provided throughout the UK, or the service is not provided at an affordable uniform price. This is set out in subsection (1)(b). Finally, a service is also within the scope of the universal postal service if Ofcom believes that it is interchangeable, from the users’ point of view, with one set out in the universal postal service order. This is set out in subsection (1)(c).

The effect of the specific amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is to remove “affordable” from the characteristics of a service which can be put aside when deciding whether a service falls within the meaning of,

27 Apr 2009 : Column 13

On its own, Amendment 89A would mean that a service that is the same as a service set out in the universal postal service order, but is provided at an unaffordable tariff, may not fall within the scope of the universal service, unless it were caught by Clause 36(1)(c)—that is, if it could still be viewed as interchangeable with a service in the universal service order. Then it would still fall within the scope of the universal service. Since it is arguable that a service provider would not provide unaffordable services, this amendment may in practice achieve very little. However, what it does is to introduce substantial uncertainty and, therefore, scope for dispute over where the regulatory line is drawn, which is likely to make regulation more expensive in practice.

Crucially, along with the other amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on Clause 36, this amendment could weaken the protection of consumers. A key reason behind Clause 36 is to protect users by enabling Ofcom to impose conditions, and requirements to contribute to any possible compensation fund, on providers which provide services which could undermine the provision of the universal service through, for example, offering competing services which cherry pick the most lucrative parts of the universal service. A first-class, uniform priced letter service provided only in London would be an example.

Noble Lords might be of the view that this clause offers Ofcom too much discretion, but it must not be taken out of context. It is right that Ofcom has the tools available to secure the provision of the universal service. There are sufficient mechanisms in place in the Bill to make sure that Ofcom will use these tools only where necessary to meet its statutory duty.

On the noble Lord’s first question, the service is within scope if it does not meet one or more of the minimum requirements. In view of this, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: The purpose of the amendment was really to draw out of the Government what the Secretary of State has just said, so at least we know where we are. I am concerned, as are others on these Benches, that we may be extending the jurisdiction of Ofcom into exempted services that are currently free from any regulation at all. That is a worry. Therefore, I completely agree with the Secretary of State that we have to be clearer, which was really the purport of the amendment—not to introduce uncertainty but to bring about a situation in which the drafting could be made considerably clearer. However, I shall carefully reflect on all the points that the Secretary of State has made and, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89A withdrawn.

Amendment 89B

Moved by Lord Hunt of Wirral

89B: Clause 36, page 21, line 14, leave out “or” and insert “and”

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Having dealt with paragraph (b), I turn to the interaction between that paragraph and paragraph (c). Paragraph (b) sets more or less objective

27 Apr 2009 : Column 14

criteria on which a service falls within the scope. Paragraph (c) allows Ofcom to assess whether a service falls within the scope on the basis of its interchangeability. Our next group of amendments looks at the basis on which it makes that assessment, so I shall leave my concerns about that until then. However, the current drafting appears to ensure that a service must be considered as within the scope if it fulfils paragraph (b), even if Ofcom does not consider it interchangeable. It is entirely automatic; even if Ofcom does not think that it is interchangeable—perhaps the service operates only one day a week—this clause requires Ofcom to consider it as within scope. I cannot believe that that is the Government’s intention, and I look forward to reassurance from the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Lord Mandelson: I have already explained what Clause 36 does: it sets out when a service is within the scope of the universal service. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require services to meet both subsection (1)(b) and subsection (1)(c) to be within the scope of the universal service. Services would have to be both those which would fall within the description of the universal service but for the fact that they do not include specific minimum characteristics and services considered by Ofcom to be interchangeable with universal postal services from the point of view of users.

In consequence, this amendment would restrict which services can fall within the scope of the universal service. In turn, it would restrict Ofcom’s ability to impose regulatory conditions on postal operators. As we discussed earlier, the main purpose behind Clause 36—indeed the main purpose behind the whole of Part 3—is to protect the universal postal service. This amendment could weaken this protection because regulatory requirements whose purpose is to protect the provision of the universal service can be imposed only on postal operators providing services within the scope of the universal service. These requirements are general universal service conditions under Clause 37, recovery of administrative charges incurred by Ofcom under Clause 38 and sharing of the burden of universal service obligations under Clause 40.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page