§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, yesterday in your Lordships' House there was under discussion the province of the Postmaster General's empire, which I think I might safely say was struck by a severe thunderstorm. The province to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to-day is one of calm prosperity. This is a Bill to deal with it, a Bill which was piloted through another place by the honourable Member for Stroud. It deals with a new service recently introduced by the Post Office called the recorded delivery service. This is a service which is cheaper than the old registered post, and it is felt to be more suitable for documents conveyed through the post. It is not suitable for sending your Lordships' family jewels, but most apt for the unpleasant and disagreeable forms, as well as the pleasant ones, which are now an essential part of both local and central Government.
If your Lordships wished to use this service, you would go into a post office with the letter to be posted, fill in an 419 orange form and pay a fee of 6d., as opposed to the 1s. 6d. to be paid for a registered letter. As a result of that, when the postman delivers the letter at the requisite address he notes down the fact, and it is kept in a file in case the information is wanted. If the sender wants to know that his letter has in fact been delivered, he can, either later or at the time when he posts it, fill in a further form, at the cost of another 6d., and he will be given by the Post Office the information that his letter has in fact been delivered. That is the same form as you fill up if you wish to know that a registered letter has been delivered.
This entails a saving for the sender and a saving for the Post Office. The registered post is at the moment run at a loss, and the more people that use the new recorded delivery service the better it will suit the Post Office and the less they will lose on their registered postal service. The chief reason for this is that letters under the recorded delivery scheme travel as ordinary mail; they are not kept in separate little packets or in special enclosures, or transferred from man to man with a signature required as they pass from one officer to another.
This is a useful service and, I believe, a popular one. Perhaps my noble friend, Lord St. Oswald, will be able to say how much it is used. But it is not quite as useful as it should be, because at the moment there are many Government Departments and local authorities who would like to take the opportunities it affords to perform just as efficient a service as does the registered post, but by Statute they are not allowed to do so. There are various Acts which deal with the service of notices on people by means of the post, and they all at the moment allow it to be done by post only if the registered post is used. Some of the Statutes require service only, and a certificate of posting is enough. Others allow it to be done by registered post, but require that the person to whom the notice was sent may show that the letter was not received by him, in which case the advice of delivery would be very useful to the sender. There are others where the person to whom the document has been sent can attempt to prove that 420 it has not been delivered. There again the advice of delivery is useful.
My Lords, this Bill has been set out in fact as a blanket measure to cover all the Acts of Parliament, both public and local, that can be found, although it does not deal with Statutory Instruments, which it has been felt should be more suitably dealt with by further Statutory Instruments to amend them. I think that this is in hand, and, again, perhaps my noble friend can say how this is getting on. Of course, the result of this Bill will not be that one has to use the new service. It will merely make it possible to do so if anybody wants to, thereby saving cost.
I think I ought briefly to explain the clauses of the Bill itself. The first clause provides for recorded delivery as a voluntary alternative to registered post. It also clears up one or two points supplementary to that. For instance, under the Law of Property Act there is a provision that service shall be deemed to be made at the time at which the registered letter would in the ordinary course be delivered. There again, the time will be equally valuable in the case of the recorded delivery service. The second subsection of Clause 1 brings in the Schedule, to which I shall come in a moment.
The third subsection gives the Postmaster General the power to make amendments to Local or Private Acts if it is found that they are in some unusual form, and the general "blanket" provisions do not cover them. This has been done because there has not been time to examine all the local Acts which refer to "registered post". Where this has to be done by means of an Order, subsection (4) of Clause 1 provides that the promoter of the local legislation shall be consulted, unless it is a very old Act and it is impossible to find out who in fact was the promoter. Subsection (5), gives a power to make these orders subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. Subsection (6) prevents the Bill from being construed as allowing anyone to use the recorded delivery service to post things for which the Post Office do not allow the service to be used. For instance, one could not send bank notes or coins, or any article worth more than £2, or bearer securities.
421 The rest of the Bill is merely clearing up the details that are involved. It looks very complicated, and I think perhaps I could run very briefly through it. Clause 2 deals with the enactments to which the Bill applies. There are, of course, the Public General Acts; there are also the Measures of the Church Assembly, which that Assembly has agreed should be covered by this Bill. Then there are the special provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Scheme, the revision and amendment of which is a very difficult and lengthy process, and it was felt better to do this in the Bill itself. Clause 2 (2) prevents the Post Office from being liable to suit for loss or damage in regard to the recorded delivery service, because anybody who wishes to send a truly valuable thing through the post ought still to use the registered post, where the Post Office are liable. Then there are various further points about the Northern Irish state of affairs. The Northern Irish Ministry of Finance have said, in regard to subsection (2) (c), that they will themselves promote legislation which will amend the provisions excepted from the Bill by this paragraph. Subsection (3) of Clause 2 provides for various alterations in the wording of enactments, and for the application of the Bill to Acts which confirm a Provisional Order or scheme.
Clause 3 declares that the Bill will apply, unlike the policy provision, to Acts of United Kingdom Parliament which extend to Northern Ireland, but subsection (2) saves the power of the Parliament of Northern Ireland to amend a Bill in so far as it applies to them. Then there is what seems to me to be a most recondite measure, but, of course, one that is very necessary, which applies to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. There are, I am assured, words in this subsection which do bring in the difficult problem of the Bishop of Sodor and Man and any Suffragan that he may have. It seems to me that this is the sort of point which explains why your Lordships never seem to be able to put down a satisfactory Amendment that passes the rigours of the Government draftsmen.
The Schedule is ancillary and straightforward. It explains the way the Act will work and covers all the small points 422 that can be thought of. The last three paragraphs of this Schedule deal with specific Acts, which would not otherwise be covered because of the wording in them. In case your Lordships are curious, the Citation Amendment (Scotland) Act is, so far as I understand it, something to do with subpœnas, except that in Scotland they are called citations. I think the other two paragraphs speak for themselves.
My Lords, that is an explanation of this Bill. I would re-emphasise that it is only a voluntary measure. If people wish to use this good, new service they will now be able to do so, and they will be able to prove to the satisfaction of the courts that they have properly served notices by means of its use, whereas before that was not possible. It has been agreed with the Government Departments, with the Association of Municipal Corporations and with the County Councils' Association. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Crook (who I believe did mention at an earlier stage last year that this was a desirable point), is also satisfied with the contents of the Bill; and it was in fact promised in March of last year. Meanwhile, the necessary examination and consultations have gone on and it is a comparatively simple Bill that results. Nevertheless, I think that it will be an extremely handy one. It will save a lot of public money, and I hope that your Lord-Ships will approve of it. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, as the noble Viscount said, my noble friend Lord Crook had hoped to say a few words on this Bill entirely commending it, and saying that we on this side are entirely in agreement. In view of the lateness of the hour, I do not think your Lordships would expect anything further to be said from this side.
§ 7.45 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross on the very clear distillation of the provisions and purpose of this Bill which we have just imbibed. The Government welcome the Bill and are most grateful to the noble Viscount for presenting it 423 to your Lordships. You will be interested to know that considerable use is already being made of the recorded delivery service, and that postings of recorded delivery packets are now running at the rate of about 9 million a year. This Bill will contribute to the further growth of the service by enabling people to use it, instead of the more expensive registered post which in many cases is at present obligatory for the service of documents by post.
The noble Lord, Lord Crook, who was, I know, to have spoken to-day, but gave me his explanation for enforced absence, alluded to this matter in the debate on the Second Reading of the Post Office Bill in this House on March 9 last year. He said then that he understood the Postmaster-General had discovered some 50 Statutes which specified the use of registered post for sending documents. Your Lordships' will be interested to know, I think, that this number finally reached 100. The noble Lord, whose interest in this Bill we on this side of your Lordships' House greatly welcome, will also see—if he reads the Record of this debate—that, in answering a Question by him on July 24 last year, I said there was general agreement among Government Departments that recorded delivery could be made an alternative to registration "save in a few exceptional cases". That phrase was inserted out of political caution. In this case I was being overcautious, however, and he will be glad to know that there are now no exceptions to the general agreement. There has thus been full consultation with the Government Departments concerned with enactments amended by the Bill, and the Bill has their agreement.
The Bill also has the support of the Associations which represent local authorities—the County Counails' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. This is important, because the Bill applies to local Acts. It is also important, because local authorities are much concerned With the notices and documents due to be sent under the Public General Acts which the Bill will amend. Indeed, local authorities and their representatives were among the first to press last year for 424 amending legislation which would enable them to use the new service.
The Bill deals in the main with Statutes, and your Lordships may wonder what is being done to amend provisions about use of registered post contained in subordinate legislation. Such legislation can, of course, be amended by further subordinate legislation, and the Departments responsible have already made a good deal of progress with the necessary changes. As one instance, your Lordships will have noticed that the Standing Orders for Private Business in your Lordships' House were amended on March 29 last year.
The passage of the Bill will, of course, as my noble friend has said, enable much greater use to be made of the recorded delivery service; and this, in turn, will happily add to the savings mentioned by my noble friend, which the public and the Post Office have already derived from the new service. With two such desirable results, it is not perhaps surprising that the Bill has had such a generous measure of support from all quarters, and I have no hesitation in commending it to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.