HL Deb 26 July 1951 vol 172 cc1315-7

3.14 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be reported to the House, without amendment?


Before the Bill is reported to the House I have one point to raise. During the Second Reading two days ago I referred to the matter of the negative Resolution procedure. Clause 1 (3) of the Bill, lays down that all regulations made under this Bill should be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. Whereas I and my noble friends are entirely in agreement that regulations dealing with conditions and terms should properly be dealt with in that way, we feel that regulations relating to charges would more properly be dealt with by the affirmative Resolution procedure. In certain circumstances, if the charges for telephones were ever raised, it might well be, in effect, equivalent to an increase in taxation which, by historic practice, requires the assent of Parliament. This point was raised in another place. The Postmaster-General showed considerable sympathy with it, but pointed out the great difficulty of having two sets of procedures in one Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Archibald, replying for the Government on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, said that his right honourable friend did not think he could meet us on this point. When I asked whether he would be good enough to refer back to his right honourable friend Lord Archibald said that he would, and that he would give us some information at this stage of the Bill.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity of making a statement on this point. As I promised on Second Reading, I have discussed the matter again with my right honourable friend the Postmaster-General. May I say, in the first place, that we do not accept the argument that charges for telephone services are in any way to be described as being in the nature of taxation? We believe that they are payments for services, in exactly the same way that payment of a railway fare is a payment for service, or payment of any other charge is a payment for service. My right honourable friend did, however, give very serious consideration again to the possibility that charges, or increases in charges, in particular, might be the subject of the affirmative Resolution pro- cedure. But one of the great difficulties that presents itself is to draw a clear line between charges and conditions.

Perhaps I may give one or two illustrations. A condition of service is that a normal time for a telephone call is three minutes. It would be possible to make a new condition that the time should be two minutes. That is, obviously, in practice and in fact, an increase in charge. But it could be done under the procedure for change of condition, and would be subject to the negative Resolution. Or, again, it may be normal in installing an instrument to supply a certain length of cord. By a change in condition, subject to negative Resolution, the length of cord might be reduced, which would again be, in reality, an increase in charge. There are so many practical difficulties in drawing a clear line between charges and conditions that it was felt there could not be two different procedures for these, but that there should be only the one procedure. Consideration was given to the question whether that procedure should be by the affirmative or negative Resolution, and for the reasons advanced by the Postmaster-General in another place, and which I repeated during the Second Reading debate in this House, it was felt that, to allow the necessary flexibility for so vast an organisation as this, the procedure should be by negative Resolution. That does, of course, give Parliament effective and greater control over the telephone service than it has hitherto had. I am sorry not to be able to meet the wishes of noble Lords opposite in this matter, but I indicated during the Second Reading debate that I was not optimistic of being able to do so. I can assure noble Lords that the matter has been very fully and thoroughly reconsidered, but the Postmaster-General feels unable to meet them.


I am obliged for the very careful consideration which the noble Lord has given to this point, and for his considerate and courteous answer to-day. I will not take the matter further.

House resumed: Bill reported without Amendment.

Then, Standing Order XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.