HC Deb 06 April 1962 vol 657 cc853-8

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered,

12.44 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I beg to move. That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The background of the Bill is that in February of last year the minimum fee for registered letters was raised from 1s. to 1s. 6d., perhaps because—although I have no special knowledge of this—the registered letter service was at that time losing rather more than £2½ million a year. At the same time, the recorded delivery service was introduced. That was a new service. The fee is 6d. and the letters, except that their posting and delivery is recorded, are treated in exactly the same way as ordinary letters. Receipts are given of posting and delivery. The object is merely to have that record, and the service is not intended to be used for the transmission of valuables through the post.

The public quickly showed appreciation of the service, and its use rose from 17,000 letters a day last February to 34,000 a day by the end of last year, and its use is still increasing. Its usefulness is limited at present because many Statutes lay down that important notices, etc., which have to be delivered in pursuance of the objects of the Statute, must be delivered by registered post. Both in England and Scotland the courts have held that the recorded delivery service cannot be regarded as adequate or as a substitution of the registered post.

The new scope of recorded delivery was quickly noticed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams). In March of last year, when the Post Office Bill was going through the House, he and his hon. Friends moved a new Clause designed to permit the use of this service in place of the registered letter service, and hon. Members on both sides supported it.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General had to turn down the new Clause because the Post Office at that time was not sure of the full implications. It had not had time to consult fully the interests involved as to what might be its effect. The hon. Member for Openshaw therefore withdrew his new Clause, an undertaking having been given by the Assistant Postmaster-General that the matter would again be looked into and that something would be done as soon as the necessary consultations had taken place. The Bill represents what is being done about it.

Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General very much regrets that owing to a constituency engagement in the bleak far North where she lives she is unable to be present today.

Inquiries were necessary in order to discover the exact implications if the recorded delivery service were to be introduced in substitution of, or to be used together with, the registered letter service. As a result, it was found that there are 100 public Statutes which specify the registered post for the delivery of certain documents with which those Statutes deal. Every Government Department that was consulted wanted to have the recorded delivery service as an alternative to the registered post, and this happy unanimity has allowed the introduction of this small "blanket" Bill to affect the change.

There were some minor drafting Amendments in Committee, but I think that our chief anxiety was whether the consultations with other interests to make sure that no one would be jeopardised had been sufficiently extensive. It is, perhaps, necessary for me to make clear that this Bill amends all previous Acts passed in the sense that it permits—it does not compel—the recorded delivery service to be used instead of the registered post where the latter is specified in the original Act. The Bill therefore means that in relation to all Acts—public, local or private—the recorded delivery service can be used as an alternative to the registered post. The Bill is, of course, permissive only.

The consultations have been quite extensive. As I have already said, all Government Departments have been consulted, and they all wish this change to be made. There has been consultation with all the bodies representing local authorities, and this change is supported by the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association and by the Ministry of Housing in regard to its responsibilities for local Acts. It is also supported by the Church Assembly and the Lord Chancellor's Office, which has an interest in Private Acts of Parliament. Thus, I think it is fair to say that the consultation has been extremely extensive.

The Bill gives the Postmaster-General power to make an Order to make the Measure apply to a Private or Local Act to which it does not now apply. The purpose of this power—in Clause 1 (3)—is to ensure that if it is found that the Bill does not bite, or if it is doubtful that it will apply to a Private or Local Act, the Minister can cure that defect by Order. In that case the matter will have been brought to his attention by the parties interested in the local or private Act concerned. Naturally, there will be consultation with those parties and, of course, the Order will be debatable in the House.

So hon. Members can be quite certain that no one's rights are being taken away and that no one will be prejudiced by the Measure. It is a permissive Bill. It is designed to alter the law in no substantial way, and it is certainly not designed to take away the rights of any citizen. Its purpose is merely to keep pace with modern Post Office procedures and to provide a quicker, easier and cheaper service for many purposes which the public at one time could only discharge by using registered post.

As I say, no one will be prejudiced. The Bill has been blessed by the local authority organisations, the bureaucratic machine in the main Ministries by the law in the shape of the Lord Chancellor and by the Church in the shape of the Church Assembly. Last but by no means least, it has also been blessed by the hon. Member for Openshaw. I hope that the House will now give it its blessing and send it on its way.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) on his luck and competence both on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee. We have indeed made excellent progress with this valuable little Measure.

My hon. Friend used the phrase "No one's rights will be prejudiced." I would add that many members of the public will have a considerable cash saving as a result of the Bill. If hon. Members can help people to save a shilling here and there we are then performing a valuable service. Although it is a modest Bill, it performs a very real service to the public. I hope that the Post Office will give adequate publicity to the proper functions of this service, because I have received one—and only one—constituency case, and I dare say that other hon. Members will have heard of cases, of a man who did not quite understand the purpose of the recorded delivery service. Some people fall into the mistake of thinking that it is a sort of second-class registered service. My unfortunate constituent was foolish enough—and he admits this—to put some money into a recorded delivery service letter and he lost it. He admits that he was foolish, but at the same time he feels that perhaps the Post Office had not made know sufficiently widely the purpose of the service.

The hon. Member for Stroud said that a large number of letters are already being sent by the new service. I understand that the number is running at the rate of over 40,000 a day. I hope, therefore, that the Post Office will give the service proper attention and publicity.

12.57 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), I too welcome the Bill. One of the things it may do is to decrease the amount of work the Post Office must do to register letters, many of which could easily go by this new service. I join with my hon. Friend in hoping that the Post Office will give it great publicity.

An important and useful service known as "Proof of Posting" is very little known about, even in the Post Office. I understand that this service is not encouraged by the Post Office, and I hope, therefore, that the service with which the Bill deals will be adequately publicised. Naturally, the fate of the "Proof of Posting" service could be the same for the recorded delivery service if it is not publicised in the right way.

I join in welcoming the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) on having introduced this useful and helpful Measure. I hope that it will not only be useful to the public, but will result in general economies and reduce the amount of traffic which now goes by registered post.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I support the Third Reading of this Bill with considerable pleasure because I have been associated with it from the time the Post Office Bill was first before the House. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) said, my hon. Friends and I put forward two Amendments in February, 1961, asking that this kind of thing should be done. As he also said, the Assistant Postmaster-General was not then able to accept our suggestion.

Since then, however, the necessary inquiries have been made and certainly they have been much more intricate than I anticipated they would have to be when I first mooted the suggestion. I am now reasonably satisfied that all the legal difficulties have been anticipated and overcome and I am certain that, as a result of the rather brief Committee stage, one or two improvements have been made to the Bill. Apart from drafting improvements, there has been a reasonably major improvement regarding consultation when Parliament seeks to amend local or private Acts.

I took a firm stand that when a private or public Bill is interfered with by the House there should be close consultation with the people concerned. I am glad that an Amendment to that effect has been accepted. The hon. Member for Stroud and I certainly went pot-holing through many of the legal intricacies of the Bill in Committee. I think we came out fairly well unscathed and undamaged after that experience and I wholeheartedly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on rendering this assistance to the Post Office without undue delay.

There has been too much delay already and the Post Office has lost a considerable amount of money because of it. I appreciate that a great dead of it was unavoidable because of the research that had to be done. Those inquiries having been made, I feel satisfied that we have now overcome most of the difficulties and that there will be no legal handicaps or hurdles which the Bill must now overcome.

The Assistant Postmaster-General informed me that she would not be present for this discussion, so perhaps I might take her place and say a word or two more. In the first place, hon. Members will have read this interesting Post Office leaflet which I have in my hand, and I have no doubt that they will tell their constituents to read it. It looks to me as if it covers fairly well the services with which the Bill deals, and if hon. Members can bring it to the notice of the public I have no doubt that the Posit Office will be very grateful.

As to the comment about the proof of posting arrangement not being widely known in the Post Office, I should not think that suggestion is strictly correct. That sort of arrangement had been connected with the Post Office for a good many years. Proof of posting was established at least forty years ago. However, if there are any difficulties in the mind of the public, I trust that something will be done to put matters right.

With those few comments, and again thanking the hon. Member for Stroud for his services—I thought he did very well in dealing with many of the legal intricacies of the Bill—on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House I support the Third Reading of this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.