HC Deb 12 May 1969 vol 783 cc1053-6
Mr. Peyton

I beg to move Amendment No. 74, in page 22, line 44, leave out paragraph (j).

The authorship of paragraph (j) is quite clearly in dispute between the Parliamentary draftsmen and Lewis Carroll. If Lewis Carroll has prior rights over this, it must have been because he had in mind the example of his own creature, Humpty Dumpty, who said that words must mean what he intended them to mean, otherwise they were useless.

I quote paragraph (j): rights and liabilities that subsist under such a contract entered into on behalf of the Crown as falls within subsection (1) of the next but one following section (it being assumed that subsection (2) thereof had been omitted).

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)


Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his support and the merriment which is the most kindly way of treating this sort of stuff.

I wonder whether one can be so bold as to ask the Minister a quite simple question. Why was the next but one following section not described by its own Christian name as Section 18 of the Act? That would seem to me to be a modest way of simplifying or slightly improving a fairly abominable literary situation.

I feel sure that I need not go on at length to deal with the Amendment and describe what subsection (2) of Clause 18 would do to paragraph (j) if Clause 18(2) were enabled to survive in respect of this subsection of Clause 16. That sentence makes at least as good sense as anything which is written here. I look forward with eagerness to hearing the Postmaster-General say that in another place he will make this important literary improvement.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) is obtaining a reputation for himself as a semantic vigilante. He is no mean figure at scrutinising the various subsections of the Bill. I congratulate him on unearthing some passages in it. I assure him, however, that the paragraph in question is correctly worded and that it would be inappropriate—indeed, unwise—for it to be deleted.

Paragraph (j) of subsection (2) of Clause 16 is concerned with a technical problem concerning the vesting arrangements for contracts. This subsection makes sure that there is no conflict between paragraph (f) of subsection (1) of Clause 16 and subsection (1) of Clause 18. If paragraph (j) were deleted, the two subsections would clash.

These vesting problems are very complex and the provisions concerned are very much a matter for experts. If the hon. Member would like me to do so, I will give him far more detail on the subject, but I hope that he will accept my assurance that subsection (2) is not—

Mr. Bence


Mr. Stonehouse

It is not theological, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) is saying from a seated position. It is extremely important in order to avoid a clash, which I have described, and which would happen between Clause 16(1)(f) and Clause 18(1).

I hope that, with that explanation, the hon. Member for Yeovil will feel that he has served his purpose.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)

I have not been quite able to follow the argument on the link between Clause 16(1)(f) and paragraph (e) of that subsection, which deals with contracts of the Minister of Public Building and Works and so on, and Clause 18(1) which deals with matters relating to patents. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could explain the link there and the conflicts that might arise there.

Mr. Stonehouse

If the House really wants me to give a fuller explanation, I will do so, of course.

Clause 16(2)(j) excepts from vesting in the Post Office, through the operation of subsection (1) of that Clause, rights enjoyed by the Crown with reference to the functions of the Postmaster-General and corresponding liabilities of the Crown. There are some contracts entered into by the Postmaster-General for Post Office purposes which contain incidental provisions conferring on the Crown generally, and not alone on the Postmaster-General, rights in respect of patents, inventions or registered designs. If these incidental provisions were allowed to vest in the new Post Office by virtue of Clause 16(1), the Crown would lose its rights under them.

Clause 18(1) therefore deals separately with these contracts, leaving the rights in the incidental provisions, and any corresponding liabilities to make payments for their use, vested in the Crown, but giving the Post Office the right to enjoy them concurrently with the Crown, subject to any corresponding liability for payment. Because these incidental Crown rights are not vested in the Post Office by Clause 18(1), Clause 16(2)(e) does not except them from Clause 16(1).

Therefore, if paragraph (j) were left out there would be a conflict between Clause 16(1)(f) which in terms would vest these rights in the Post Office, and Clause 18(1), which leaves the rights vested in the Crown.

I hope that that explanation will fully satisfy hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I think the right hon. Gentleman has answered a number of questions which were not actually asked. Perhaps he would answer one question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and which I did not hear answered, why the words the next but one following section (it being assumed that subsection (2) thereof had been omitted) are there. My hon. Friend said, why not call it by its "Christian name"? I think that this is the thing which has puzzled one most. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will have a look at the drafting of this between now and the Bill being in another place.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am always willing to look at drafting, but I would suggest that this form of words is sufficient identification of Clause 18(1) and therefore that as it fulfils its purpose of identification, that is sufficient to justify it.

Mr. Peyton

As the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to say he is prepared to look at the drafting—we can construe that, I hope, not too literally, but that he will look at the drafting—I am minded to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, if only as a tribute to the passionate conviction with which he delivered his last argument but one. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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