§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Bowles.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.924
§ Clause 2 [The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications]:
§ LORD BOWLES moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 3, line 7, at end insert—
("( ) In consequence of subsection (3) above—
Minister of Posts and Telecommunications—£8,500",
and immediately before the entry (under the heading "Parliamentary Secretaries") relating to the Ministry of Power there shall be inserted the following entry—
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications—£3,750")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment, arising out of Clause 2(3). The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 contains a provision for the reprinting of that Act, as amended from time to time by any other Act. As Clause 2(3)(a) does not make any verbal amendment of the text of the 1957 Act, it would not, on its own, without the proposed Amendment, afford sufficient authority to alter the text when the 1957 Act is reprinted. The proposed Amendment also makes an amendment to the text of the Ministerial Salaries Consolidation Act 1965, consequential upon Clause 2(3)(b). I beg to move.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I agree of course with the views which the noble Lord has put forward. This Amendment is only drafting and clearly designed to put right an oversight at an earlier stage of the Bill. But it gives me an opportunity of correcting an oversight on my part at an earlier stage of the Bill. The point I want to raise is short and uncontroversial and should have been raised, I am afraid, on the Motion, That the clause stand part at Committee stage. The Post Office, as it is now, is responsible for the marine radio communication service. As your Lordships know, this service, which has to be world-wide, is responsible, first, for the 925 preservation, safety and care of the distressed at sea and, secondly, for dealing with ordinary commercial and social business at sea. It is a vital service. There has always been important cooperation between shipowners and the marine department of the G.P.O., which is still rather quaintly called the Telegraph and Wireless Section.
I should like to pay tribute to the old G.P.O. for the stout-hearted and conscientious work they put into this extremely important duty. The Section is concerned not only with the day-to-day operation of this service but also with future plans; and I need not emphasise how important future planning is, how complex it has become and how technical it is going to become in the future. In the past, the planners and operators have always come from the same department of the G.P.O. This has enabled them to have full consultation and co-operation between the shipowners and the G.P.O.
What I should like from the noble Lord this afternoon, if I may have it, is an assurance that we shall have the same co-operation when the new organisation is set up, because there is one anxiety in the minds of the Chamber of Shipping, who have asked me to raise this matter in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I think we all know that if we have an important job to be done, it is always wise to give it to a busy man. But there may be in the new organisation quite a number of busy men and we are a little anxious lest this task, which has been carried out so satisfactorily in the past, may in the new organisation fall between two or three stools. I should like to emphasise that the department is a very small one compared with the G.P.O. as it now stands and with the new organisation, and there is a real fear that it may get lost in the new organisation. I should like to express to the Minister the hope that in the new organisation these operators and planners in the old Section can maintain their identity and that the problems with which they have dealt so satisfactorily in the past will still remain concentrated in their expert hands.
These are the anxieties I should like to put before your Lordships in discussing this Amendment, which deals with the salary of the new Minister in charge. There is no better way in which he could start earning it than by assuring himself that the old Service, which brought so 926 much credit to the Post Office and has been so warmly appreciated by the Merchant Marine, should continue unimpaired.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for having given me notice that he was going to raise this matter. I can assure him that there is no present intention to change the structure of the organisation within the Post Office which is responsible for radio communications with ships at sea, for the inspection of ships' radio equipment and for the examination of ships' radio operators. After vesting day, the G.P.O. will conduct ship inspections and examine operators on behalf of the Government, but this change in the legal position will not affect the management of these functions nor will it effect the expert knowledge of those who direct them within the Post Office. The new Post Office will of course try to develop, not weaken, expertise and we also expect that the present friendly relations will continue.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [General Duty of the Post Office]:
LORD AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 9, line 32, leave out ("impracticable or").
The noble Lord said: This small Amendment to Clause 9, which lays down the general duty of the Post Office, is an Amendment to the saving words in brackets in the first subsection, where it says
(save in so far as the Post Office … considers the provision thereof impracticable or not reasonably practicable)".
§ What do we mean? Do we mean "impracticable" or "not reasonably practicable"? If we mean "not reasonably practicable", surely "impracticable" is covered. Let us try to be as precise as we can in the Statutes. Let us not clutter the Statutes with unnecessary words. Let us not give the impression that Parliament is dithering and cannot quite make up its mind whether it means "practicable" or really means "not reasonably practicable". I beg to move.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I feel that I ought to say something about this Amendment, because it was primarily at 927 my instigation that Clause 9(1) was amended on Committee stage, notwithstanding the fact that my Amendment left in the Bill the words, "impracticable or not reasonably impracticable" to which the noble Lord is now objecting. It seems to me inconceivable that the Government have used a phrase of this length, if it does not mean something more than just "not reasonably practicable." I am fortified in this doubt, if one can be fortified in a doubt, by something which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said this afternoon in replying to an Amendment on the Education (Scotland) Bill. I am not sure that I have his words exactly, but he said something like this: Parliament does not generally put into a Bill words which are not necessary for the purpose. I should think that unless the Government can assure the House that the words "impracticable or", which the noble Lord wants to remove, do achieve something or mean something that the clause did not mean without them, your Lordships would he wise to accept the noble Lord's Amendment.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for help from an unexpected quarter. He has given the exact reason I would have given myself. The truth is that the two phrases in this context have different meanings and they are both necessary. For instance, there might be cases in which it would be quite impossible in practice to provide an adequate letter or telephone service. In other cases, it might be possible to provide service but the cost of doing so, owing to technical difficulties, would make it out of all proportion. This is a small point, but it makes the Bill clearer and we should very much prefer to keep in both phrases.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I am obliged for that answer. If it really makes the Bill clearer, I should be the last person who would want to press the Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 9, line 34, at end insert—
("( ) It shall also be the duty of the Post Office to provide any person with goods, ser-
vices and facilities of the like quality, in the like manner and on the like terms in and on which it makes them available to any other person.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment concerns a rather weightier matter. It is a proposed new subsection to make sure that every customer of the Post Office, whoever he may be, will be treated equally and impartially. I imagine your Lordships will feel that the Post Office does this in any event. However, there is one example which shows that this is not always so. I see the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, is here, and he will probably know already the example that I am going to quote. I have referred to the matter twice at Question Time, and therefore I do not propose to go into it at any length now.
§ The fact is that until the great Post Office reforms of last September there was a valuable concession on the postage of newspapers. Anyone who posted a newspaper had to pay only the second-class postage rate but received first-class service. Today that still applies if you are a newspaper publisher or a newsagent. But if you are an ordinary member of the public—if you are Mrs. Bloggs wanting to post a copy of the local paper to your son serving in the Army away from home—if you want first-class service you have to pay nearly double the postage. So the position is that before the Post Office will give you a service for sending newspapers by post it wants to know who you are. I think that is basically wrong for a big, monopolistic, State trading corporation; and furthermore, I should have thought that it was absolutely rotten socialism. I should have thought it was absolutely vital, and stuck out a mile, that everybody who deals with the Post Office—and of course everybody has to deal with the Post Office—should know that he will get equal treatment on exactly the same terms as everybody else, and that in no case should it depend upon who a person is before the Post Office is prepared to decide the terms upon which it will give him service. The purpose of the Amendment is to secure equality for all users of the Post Office. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, I feel great sympathy with the idea behind the noble Lord's Amendment, especially as he 929 offers it to us in the spirit of Socialism. The thing is that we are giving monopolistic powers to this great new corporation, and we want to be sure, as he does, that they are not misused. Equally, we are setting up the Post Office to serve the community, as a whole, and we must ensure within reason that it gives equal service to everybody. The Amendment however, goes too far to be practical. It places an obligation on the Post Office to treat all its customers in the same way. I am quite sure that this is not the noble Lord's intention, but in fact if this were to happen it would militate against progress and experimentation generally.
It would mean, for instance, that we could not introduce experimentally in a particular area a new kind of telephone or a new kind of cable, because we should not be able to give this probably improved service to all the other users. I could even take the more extreme example that in the future it could prevent the Post Office from giving the new subscriber dialling telephone service, because we could not do it everywhere at once. At the moment, only 3 per cent. of the country is without it, and I am sure the noble Lord would not wish to penalise the remaining 97 per cent., which is what his Amendment would dc. Further, on questions like the waiting list for telephone users, in some cases it is impossible technically to treat everybody alike. In others, the Post Office must reserve a priority list—for instance, for doctors. This again, would be impossible if this Amendment were agreed to.
We have given a great deal of thought to this matter. The noble Lord will remember that under Clause 11(4) the Minister is given power to intervene if he thinks that the Post Office is showing undue preference or is exercising undue discrimination in this kind of situation. We have, as I say, given it a great deal of thought, and in fact we strengthened Clause 11(4) in another place. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are very much alive to precisely this kind of situation. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Baroness has made out a fairly good case for saying that 930 Lord Airedale's Amendment goes rather too far, but she did not tell us the Government's view on the particular matter with which he is concerned: the posting of newspapers overseas by private individuals. I wonder whether she would be good enough to enlighten the House on the Government's view on this fairly simple matter, because it might help the House as a whole, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, to consider whether to put down a more limited Amendment on Third Reading.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, that detailed point was dealt with on a previous occasion, and I should not like to confuse the matter by giving a further explanation which I have not got, word for word, in brief form. As I say, it has been dealt with previously, and the principle remains the same. If the Amendment went through, it would go much further than I believe even the noble Lord himself wishes.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, may I, with respect, interrupt the noble Baroness for the moment? I do not think that anything has even been said in previous proceedings on this Bill in this House about newspapers.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, the point was in fact dealt with by supplementary question and answer in this House. My noble friend Lord Bowles says he thinks it was dealt with also on an Unstarred Question. However, I can find out and let the noble Lord know.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, can the noble Baroness say when discussion at Question Time or by means of an Unstarred Question was to be taken as a debate on a substantive Amendment in this House?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene here. The noble Lord knows quite well that we are always anxious to give all the information that it is possible to give. The details of this matter have been discussed on occasions when I think the noble Lord has not been present, but there are other noble Lords in the House who will confirm that the answer to this question is recorded in Hansard. It was dealt with at 931 greater length by my noble friend Lord Bowles on an Unstarred Question. If the noble Lord wants a detailed answer, we can get it, but it will delay the proceedings. I suggest that it would be in the interests of the House if we wrote to the noble Lord at some length giving him by letter all the information that he wants.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. This is an important matter of precedent. I hope it will not be regarded as a precedent that any debate in this House may be read in substitution for debating clauses and Amendments on a substantive Bill before the House. I should be grateful to the Leader of the House or his Deputy for an assurance on this point.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, no assurance is needed but if it is, I readily give it. The only precedent that I think we ought to establish is that, so far as possible, we should proceed with the utmost expedition.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to what my noble friend Lord Newton has said. We are dealing with this Bill on Report stage, and I think that, before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, if that is his intention, there are many of us here who feel that after further studying the matter and what has been said, looking to the future, it might be wise to discuss it again at a later stage.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I seem to have started something. I think that probably my best course is to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment and to try to draft a new Amendment, in a more limited sphere, to try to rivet Parliament's attention upon this quite extraordinary state of affairs: that before the Post Office will send a newspaper by post for you, before they will tell you the terms on which they will send it, they want to know who you are. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.932
§ Clause 13 [Restriction of the carrying on by the Post Office and its subsidiaries of certain activities]:
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE moved Amendment No. 4:
Leave out Clause 13 and insert the following new clause:
.—(1) The approval of the Minister shall be requisite to the carrying on by the Post Office or any of its subsidiaries of activities consisting in the construction, manufacture or production, for the relevant purpose, of things of any kind to an extent substantially greater than that to which the Postmaster General constructed, manufactured or produced for the coresponding purpose, things of that kind during the period beginning with the 1st April 1961 and ending with the day immediately preceding the appointed day, and it shall similarly he requisite before the Post Office or a subsidiary of it constructs, manufacturers or produces, to a substantial extent for the relevant purpose, things of a kind that the Postmaster General did not construct, manufacture or produce for the coresponding purpose during that period.
(2) The approval of the Minister shall be requisite to the carrying on by the Post Office or any of its subsidiaries of activities consisting in the construction, manufacture, production or purchase for supply to outside persons of things for use by such persons otherwise than in connection with a service provided by the Post Office or any of its subsidiaries.
(3) The Minister shall publish, in such manner as he thinks fit, particulars of any approval given under the last foregoing subsection by him, and shall send them to the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.
(4) The Minister may grant an authorisation under this section free from conditions, or subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, or he may refuse it, and he may after consultation with the Post Office and with the approval of the Treasury, direct the Post Office to make to him granting, under subsection (1) or (2) above, an authorisation to manufacture or purchase articles for the relevant purpose, a report in respect of each accounting year as to such matters as may he specified concerning the manufacture or purchase in that year by the Post Office or any of its subsidiaries of such articles and the Minister shall lay a copy of every such report before each House of Parliament.
(5) In determining, for the purposes of this section, the extent of the manufacture or purchase of articles of any kind, the Minister shall apply such criteria (whether it be value or cost or price or quantity or some other criteria of whatever nature) or such combination of criteria as may appear to him suitable in all the circumstances.
(6) In this section—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name and those of my noble friends. As your Lordships will be aware, Clause 7 of the Bill grants considerable powers to the Post Office, and Clause 13 is the important clause which modifies or restricts the generality of the powers granted under Clause 7. On the Committee stage we attempted to amend Clause 13, but we were not really satisfied with the Amendments that we proposed. After further consideration of the subject noble Lords on this side of your Lordships' House thought it best to offer your Lordships a new clause in substitution for the existing Clause 13, rather than to try to amend Clause 13 as it stands in the Bill.
§ Clause 13 has an interesting history. The Clause 13 that was originally in the Bill in another place provided, in the opinion of our colleagues in the other place, a satisfactory state of affairs. During the passage of the Bill through another place, however, a second and, in our view, less satisfactory Clause 13 was substituted for it. The purpose of our Amendment is to review what has happened so far in the progress of the Bill and to offer your Lordships a new Clause 13 which, in our opinion, combines the advantages of both Clause 13, Mark I, so to speak, and Clause 13, Mark II. I will endeavour to explain this new clause to your Lordships. I shall try not to be too long, but it is, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will agree, a very important clause, and merits a certain amount of time being spent on it.
§ Clause 13, Mark I, had the following effects: it stipulated that the authorisation of the Minister would be required before the Post Office could do certain things under its powers under Clause 7. These were categorised as follows. First of all, the authorisation of the Minister was required before the Post Office could manufacture for itself, or for other people, to an extent greater than heretofore, anything connected with its own business.934
§ Secondly, the authorisation of the Minister was required for the manufacture for itself or for others to an extent greater than it had been doing hitherto, things not connected with its business. Thirdly, the authorisation of the Minister would be required for the purchase for supply to others things not connected with its own Post Office business.
§ Furthermore, the Minister could make his own conditions before granting such authorisation, or authorisations, and he could direct that accounts be kept of these activities and be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Clause 13, Mark II, was offered to the Members of another place on the grounds that it was simpler and shorter. In actual fact, the second edition of Clause 13 altered the position very substantially. The Clause 13 which we now have in the Bill lays down that the Post Office has only to consult with the Minister before manufacturing for itself, or for others, to a greater extent than hitherto, things connected with its business. That is consultation only; it does not require authorisation.
§ The authorisation of the Minister is necessary before the Post Office manufactures for itself, or for others, things not connected with its business. So that part remains unchanged. It is indicated in the revised version of Clause 13 that when the Minister issues such authorisation he shall inform the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. But—and this is a retrograde move in our view—instead of the obligation to present accounts, the Post Office will merely have to conduct itself as a commercial enterprise. If one compares the two clauses, it is clear that all the real safeguards of the first edition have been omitted from the second edition of the clause. In the debate in another place a spokesman for the Government claimed that these powers were only reserve powers in case the suppliers were unable to provide equipment at the price the Post Office was willing and felt able to pay. The Minister went on to say that it would usually be cheaper to go to the existing suppliers, but there was always the possibility that they might form a monopoly, and then reduce services.
§ If that was the only reason for the change, the original Clause 13 would serve quite well. So what was the real 935 purpose behind the change? The Post Office could manufacture wherever necessary, providing it had gained the authorisation of the Minister, and whenever such an activity was reasonable surely the Minister would give this authorisation. In answer to the argument that there was a danger of monopoly conditions prevailing, I would point out that the Government could then refer such a monopoly to the Monopolies Commission; or, if there was a restrictive agreement between the manufacturers as to their supply to the Post Office, there are powers under restrictive practices legislation to deal with the situation. So in our view, the original Clause 13 gave all that was required for the Post Office, while giving the Minister control, and it also gave safeguards for industry which, rightly in my view, felt that it might well be subjected in the future to unfair competition and cross-subsidisation by the Post Office of its various activities.
§ That is by way of background in presenting to your Lordships our new Clause 13 this afternoon. We have tried to combine the best of the two previous clauses. The authorisation of the Minister is required before the Post Office manufactures anything for itself, or for anyone else, or for any purpose to an extent greater than hitherto. The Minister, in our new clause, shall send particulars, in the same way as in the present Government clause, to the C.B.I. and T.U.C. The Minister may require accounts to be kept as in the original clause. I have tried to keep a somewhat complicated subject as straightforward as possible. I hope very much that the spokesman for Her Majesty's Government will feel able to accept our clause in its new form. I beg to move.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, described this as an important Amendment, and of course it is. It deals with a very important aspect of the Bill. The noble Lord said that he wanted to know what was the real purpose of the change which took place in the Report stage in another place. I am only concerned as to the real purpose of the change in the Amendment which the noble Lord circulated but did not move on Committee stage, and this Amendment. I am sorry 936 that the noble Lord did not move his first Amendment, and has replaced it with this Amendment. I thought the earlier Amendment was a really exquisitely economic piece of amending, whereas here we have a cumbersome clause proposed in its place. If for no other reason, I hope that we shall agree this afternoon not to accept this Amendment, because it is such a bad piece of drafting. While the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, has been away we have been trying very hard in this House to improve the wording of the Bill, and some of his noble friends now sitting beside him and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, have made notable contributions to that improvement. And now the noble Lord comes along with what I was going to call a "hutch-potch of an Amendment", an amalgam of various clauses.
So far as I can see, it is compounded of bits of the original Clause 13, parts of the clause which was put in the Bill at the Report stage in another place; and of course he has included in it the gist of the Amendment which he circulated but did not move at our Committee stage. As the noble Lord knows, I have great admiration for him I have great admiration for his capacity; I have great admiration for his knowledge of engineering. But as an engineer he really has done a bad job of putting all these bits and pieces together. They do not even achieve the object that he sets out to achieve. But I think it probably would be better, leaving that aside, to say that we understand the purpose behind this bad piece of drafting. I suggest to your Lordships that we ought not accept the purpose which lies behind the Amendment.
The Bill as now drafted gives the proposed new public Corporation powers to manufacture the equipment which it needs in the same way as the Postmaster General now enjoys powers. If anything, the powers proposed in the present Bill restrict the ability of the new Post Office to manufacture as compared with the powers which the Postmaster General now enjoys. Subsection (1) of the present clause requires that the Post Office must consult the Minister before increasing the scale or widening the scope of its internal manufacturing activities; and by "internal manufacturing", of course, we mean the manufacture of those items required for its own use or for use of its customers in connection with the services 937 which it provides. Subsection (2) of Clause 13, as the noble Lord said, requires the Post Office to obtain the Minister's approval before it undertakes manufacture other than internal manufacture.
I should have thought that these were reasonable provisions. I cannot see that there is any likelihood of anything being done to the detriment of the nation or the customers of the Post Office, or indeed to those who now supply the Post Office with the bulk of its requirements. There is no present intention of increasing the manufacturing capacity of the Post Office. If the capacity was to be increased then clearly additional capital expenditure would be required, and not only does the Minister need to be consulted before that capital becomes available but he has to approve the capital programme. The noble Lord himself said that there was no obligation to provide accounts as to how money might be spent, but he was quite wrong. Of course there is no such provision in Clause 13, but he has overlooked competely Clause 11(10), where it says there shall be adequate accounting. What other safeguards can the noble Lord reasonably want?
The real trouble here, I fear (I hope I am not being unduly offensive), is that the noble Lord is not being reasonable. The truth is, I nut to the noble Lord (I was almost going to say "my noble friend"), that when we move on to a discussion as between the public sector and the private sector there are some people who drop sweet reason and pick up prejudice; and this is really what is behind this new clause which the noble Lords puts forward.
In the discussions which we have had on Committee stage, and in which the noble Lord did not take part, his noble friends made a great case against monopoly, against any threat of bureaucracy, and in favour of the protection of the consumer. I had great sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord. Lord Newton, and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on these matters, although I thought on occasions they were mistaken in the solutions which they sought to apply. But I certainly think that those objectves were sound objectives, while here the noble Lord is not concerned to guard against bureaucracy; 938 he wants to increase it. He wants to have all the decisions reached by the Post Office Board raked over and decided again by another lot of officials in another public body. He does not want protection against monopoly. He seeks here to make it more difficult for the Post Office to guard itself against any monopoly situation which might arise in the manufacture of the equipment on which it depends. The noble Lord is not here concerned to fight for the customers of the Post Office. He is manifestly more concerned with the interests of those who sell, or who seek to sell, directly or indirectly, the equipment upon which the customers of the Post Office depend for their service.
Here we are dealing with a field in which the demand for new equipment is going to increase at a time when suppliers of equipment are tending to decrease. An enormous new field is opening up in this equipment. We have seen—and, for all I know, we shall very likely see in the future—mergers amalgamating the concerns which make this equipment. In this situation it seems right for the Post Office to have these reserve powers. As things now are, there are extremely satisfactory relationships between the Post Office and its suppliers. I have every reason to believe that, now that the old bulk supply agreements have gone and been replaced by another arrangement, those relationships will continue to be satisfactory. But if in the future, when the demand of the Post Office for new equipment expands in the immense way in which we expect it to expand, it cannot get the right equipment at a fair price and at the right time, it needs these reserve powers to enable it to plan ahead efficiently and speedily for self-supply on selected items.
If the noble Lord's Amendment were accepted it would be less possible for the Post Office to protect the interests of the nation which it serves; it would subject this new organisation to detailed bureaucratic control or, conceivably, politically slanted interference from the Minister of the day. I submit to your Lordships that there is every protection in the clause as it now stands to prevent the Board from acting in any perverse way or spending public money to subsidise the manufacture of articles which could more efficiently be produced by outside 939 manufacturing concerns. I trust that the general sense of the House, which has expressed itself against unnecessary, inefficient, detailed controls, will support the view that this Amendment, unsatisfactorily worded anyhow, is both unnecessary and contrary to the best interests of the customers of the Post Office.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I want to say only one or two things with reference to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about the drafting of this Amendment. The noble Lord knows perfectly well, as does everyone in this House, that the ordinary private Member either of this House or of another place hardly every manages to draft a long Amendment which is acceptable to the Government of the day, whoever that Government are. I particularly thought it rather unwelcome that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, should complain about the drafting of this Amendment since at the Committee stage of this Bill, some 15 days ago, the Government asked the House to accept a vast number of purely drafting Amendments, and they are going to do the same again this afternoon. And, for all I know, they may be coming forward with more drafting Amendments on the Third Reading of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, repeated to-day something that he said to me on the Committee stage when I was moving an Amendment to Clause 26: that the Amendment does not even achieve what it seeks to do. I am more satisfied now than I was in Committee stage that my particular Amendment did achieve what it set out to do, and I am further prepared to have quite a substantial bet with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that the Post Office now thinks so, too.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, as apparently no other noble Lords wish to speak on this Amendment, I should like to make just one or two points. We have had no explanation as to why the Government departed from the stand which they made so bravely in Clause 13, "Mark I", and proceeded to the watered-down version of "Mark II". All we are doing is to give the Government the opportunity of going back to their much better first thoughts.
940 If our drafting is not impeccable, I am content to rely on my noble friend Lord Newton and what he has said about drafting and the difficulties thereof, which are very clearly shown by the drafting Amendments which we are to take later to-day.
As to the relationship between the public sector and the private sector, our view is that it is a one way traffic. It is always the public sector that is enlarging itself at the expense of the private sector; it never goes the other way. The public sector never relinquishes any of its activities and returns them to private enterprise or to the private sector. That is why we fight these cases over and over again, because it is a one way traffic, and we do not approve of that one way traffic. We shall always do what we can, both here and in another place, to try to limit the ever-growing proportion of the public sector to the economy as a whole.
I would say to the noble Lord that we shall look carefully at what he has said in regard to this Amendment, and I hope that, for his part, he will look at the original Clause 13, to see whether it would not be better to introduce that into the Bill before we finally part with it on Third Reading. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his generous remarks about my abilities, such as they are, and some of my frailties, such as failing to be present when the Bill was discussed at an earlier stage. As he twice referred to this I think I am entitled to say that I was——
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I was recovering from private enterprise by having a holiday. But I would make the point to the noble Lord that my diary is littered with dates that had to be crossed out, and all those crossings out were "Post Office Bill to-day?". I think that no fewer than five changes were made in the official timetable for this Bill through your Lordships' House, and there came a time when I said, "Enough is enough. I shall remain on holiday for the earlier stage". That is the sole reason why I was away, and if the noble Lord had kept to his original timetable I should have been here for it. In the meantime, I will beg leave to withdraw this Amendment if the noble 941 Lord will give an assurance that he will look at the suggestion I have made to him.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if the noble Lord is going to speak about his diary I am bound to tell him that his case there is even weaker than his Amendment. Certain changes were made——
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I was going to say that there were changes in the days set down for the Second Reading of the Post Office Bill, but they were changes, as I understood it, designed to enable the noble Lord to attend. However we kept putting it back, again and again, and eventually we had to proceed without him. I can assure the noble Lord that nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to take the previous stage of this Bill while he was here. As for the assurance for which he asked—and that is the real reason why I rose to speak—I fear that I can give him no assurance at all on that count. The Bill was changed by the Government on Report stage in another place because they were convinced by the arguments that were made that such a change was in the interests of the general public. They having made that decision, it is quite impossible for them to go back on it. Therefore I am afraid that if I gave the noble Lord an assurance it would be an empty one.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I did beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I may not have been granted that leave.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 16 [Vesting in the Post Office of property, rights and liabilities generally]:
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 19, line 24, at end insert—
("( ) All estates and interests in land in the Channel Islands which, immediately before
that day, are vested in Her Majesty, being estates and interests in land then occupied or used, in whole or in part, by the Postmaster General or (for, or in connection with. the exercise and performance of any of the Postmaster General's functions) by an officer or servant of the Crown;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is designed to ensure that interests in land in the Channel Islands held by the Crown for the purposes of the functions of the Postmaster General will vest in the Post Office. Clause 16(1)(a) was drafted on the assumption that all land, whether freehold or leasehold, acquired for the purposes of the Postmaster General's functions is vested in the Postmaster General and held in trust for Her Majesty under the Post Office Act 1953, Section 46. It has been discovered that owing to the peculiarity of local taw certain land in the Channel Islands purchased by the Postmaster General is vested in Her Majesty and not in the Postmaster General in trust for Her Majesty. The Amendment is needed to ensure that such land will vest in the Post Office on the appointed day.
§ The Amendment does not in any way conflict with the possibility that the Channel Islands will take over responsibility for their own postal and telecommunications services, as referred to in Clause 87. If the take-over occurs the Post Office will sell its assets on the Islands to the States. Negotiations are already proceeding and the Amendment to Clause 16 is acceptable to the States. I beg to move.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question in connection with what he has said about Clause 87 and the ability of the Post Office, if the Channel Islands eventually get their own independent postal service, which I understand they want to have, then to sell the assets of the Post Office to the Channel Islands? Is there a specific provision in this Bill to enable those sales to take place? If not, can the noble Lord say under what provision or what Statute it will be permissible for the Post Office to sell the assets to the Channel Islands?
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I cannot do that on the spur of the moment, but I will write to the noble Lord and let him know.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I am much obliged for that but if it were possible that an Amendment was needed to this Bill it would not be sufficient for the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, to write and tell me.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, if the noble Lord will look at Clause 87 he may find it stated there, but at the moment I am marking time in order to get the information that the noble Lord wants, namely, is the power to transfer the Post Office assets in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in this Bill at all? I am advised that it is not necessary to have it in the Bill, and if the noble Lord will refer to Clause 7 he will see why.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, but I asked him whether the power was in the Bill and, if it was not in the Bill, whether it was necessary to have it in the Bill. That is all. He has given me the answer and I am much obliged to him.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD MOUNTEVANS moved a manuscript Amendment, No. 5A:
After Clause 23, insert the following new clause—
§ Amendment of s.3 of Post Office Act 1953
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for proposing this Amendment at rather a late stage, but this is non-controversial and is a drafting Amendment. It relates to Clause 23 [Exclusive privilege of the Post Office with respect to the conveyance, & c., of letters]. Newspapers are excluded from this privileged situation, but not periodicals, on the assumption, I think, in the earlier drafting that the term "newspapers" covered periodicals. Clause 23 brings into effect the old Section 3 of the Post Office Act which, in subsection (4), excludes newspapers from the exclusive privilege of conveyance by the Post Office. If your Lordships were willing, I would propose that subsection (4) should be amended to include, after the word "newspaper" the words "or a periodical", the reason for this being that a newspaper does not entirely cover all the periodicals. I beg to move.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I understand the concern of the noble Lord, but 944 I assure him that his concern is not well based. The worries that he has in this connection are unfounded. His difficulty arises from the fact that periodicals are not specifically mentioned in Section 3 of the Post Office Act 1953, and I suppose he fears from this that it might one day be argued by the Post Office that periodicals, unlike newspapers, are within the Post Office postal monopoly. But the words "newspaper" and "parcel" in Section 3(4) of the 1953 Act are used in a technical sense—equivalent to "things sent by newspaper or parcel post". They are descriptions of a particular kind of postal packet. A periodical is not a particular kind of postal packet, and the inclusion, therefore, under Section 3(4) would have been unnecessary and inappropriate. I am therefore advised that the Amendment the noble Lord proposes is not necessary.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 27 [Saving for things under licence]:
§ 4.40 p.m.
LORD HELSBY moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 29, line 37, leave out from beginning to ("either") in line 39 and insert "The Minister may grant a licence")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effect of this Amendment is to make the Minister directly responsible for licensing so that the grant of a licence or a refusal of one is his. Under Clause 27 as it stands the Post Office is the licensing authority, and although the consent of the Minister is required to the grant of a licence that consent is not required for the refusal of a licence or for the attaching of conditions to a licence. I would say at the outset that, so far as I am aware, no company with which I am associated has any interest in this matter, but I feel that I ought to go on to say that in my judgment the issues that arise here are of such a kind that any progressive company is very likely to be interested in the matter in future years, and to that extent I should declare a potential interest.
§ I suggest that there is a point of principle here. Surely it is right in principle that a Minister should be responsible for licences. As I said at the Committee stage 945 when B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. were set up nobody suggested that they should license the independent airlines; when the British Transport Commission was set up nobody suggested that they should license the independent commercial road vehicle operators. Surely it is proper that the Government of the day should take direct responsibility for this use of statutory monopolistic powers of great importance. Hitherto, we have recognised this, and I do not see any good ground for casting this salutary principle on one side in the case of the Post Office.
§ The argument of principle, powerful though it may be, is surely reinforced by practical considerations. To reach a fair appraisal of the licensing system we have to consider what the licences are for. They are licences to operate in the field of the Post Office monopoly of telecommunications as given to the Post Office by Clause 24 of the Bill. That monopoly goes very wide indeed. I do not object to that; I accept that it is in the broad national interest that at this stage development in the field of telecommunications in this country should be given leadership by the Post Office. But the fact remains that this is an enormously wide field, and there are no alternatives within it. This is not a matter of choice, like the choice between travelling by rail or road, or sea or air; like the choice, if it comes to fuel, between electricity, gas, coal and oil. In those fields monopoly is very much modified by the existence of choices. But the Post Office will have a more absolute monopoly than any other national corporation.
§ Moreover, the field which it covers is expanding rapidly, and I suggest that none of us can at this moment foretell all the directions in which it is likely to expand further. I will not take up the time of the House by going over the ground in detail. The monopoly of telecommunications covers, of course, not only the traditional areas of Post Office activity but many entirely new and developing fields. For instance, it covers the use of centrally placed computers linked with commercial offices by cable. Already the banks and many other large commercial concerns are beginning to develop systems of this kind. I do not believe that this raises a serious question of licensing, however, because for the most part the lines that connect these central computers 946 with offices will have to go across country, and in most cases it will not be practical for any private concern to get the necessary wayleaves, even if it wished to do so. In the foreseeable future I cannot see why any company in this position should not be content to use the services of the Post Office.
§ But if we turn from commerce to industry, I believe that the picture is rather different. In the industrial field the problem of wayleaves will not often arise, because generally the whole of the required telecommunication system will be within the area of an industrial plant on land belonging to the company concerned. In industry the trend is increasingly towards what laymen like me call "remote control" and what the experts I believe call "telecontrol", of plant and apparatus. The Post Office monopoly covers this, too. A modern oil refinery or petrochemical plant depends on highly sophisticated central control of processes reinforced by a constant flow of information from all parts of the plant, information which can be fed through a computer so designed that it will introduce any necessary adjustment as the process continues. This sort of remote control as it is now developing has nothing in common with the old switching on and switching off; it is a matter of highly complex programmes of operations involving interactions between different parts of a plant, possibly over a long period of time, and working out a cycle which will be completed without human intervention. In the engineering field, too, we are moving into an era when it will become commonplace for machine tools to be programmed to carry out intricate operations without intervention.
§ All this is what we mean by automation, and telecommunication is very surely the essence of it. None of us can tell at present just what all the developments may be. It may not be long, for instance, before the type-setting for the production of newspapers is done by computers which are connected to newspaper offices by cable. Hospitals are already talking of using computers for diagnosis, and I believe that before long they will use them, too, for the control of intensive care units. All we can be sure of now is that this process of development of the use of telecommunications in these automatic methods of control is 947 going to develop enormously in the general area of industry, and that our future as an industrial country will depend in no small small measure on these developments.
§ The question arises whether we want the Post Office invariably to deal with every sort of provision of this sort, in plants and factories up and down the whole country, so that, save in perhaps the most exceptional cases, no industrial enterprise, whether it be shipyard, refinery or factory, or whatever it may be, shall provide and own its own telecommunications system, even within the confines of its own property. We have to bear in mind that the cables that we are talking about are highly sophisticated devices. The day is past when communication cables were just strips of insulated copper wire. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, reminded us on the Committee stage of the Bill that there is a possibility of developing a single cable which will bring into our homes telephone, radio and television. I notice, however, that at the present moment there is not complete agreement among the experts about the design of this cable. The Post Office is pursuing one line of investigation and others, with support from European experts, are following another.
§ I am sure that the Post Office will always be at pains to remain as it has been in the past, in the forefront of development. There is at least a possibility that sometimes, in some particular application, in a plant or factory or hospital, an alternative to the Post Office system will have advantages. If so we should not, I think, rule out the possibility of a licence, unwilling though the Corporation itself might be to see that happen.
§ I do not argue in favour of licences to all comers on demand. In my submission, the case is simply that there will have to be some licensing, and the maintenance of a sound and flexible licensing policy is going to become immensely important and it will be immensely difficult. As a commercial organisation, the Post Office will naturally want to keep all the business it can. If, in spite of that, the Post Office is satisfied that a licence ought to be granted, I do not suppose that the Minister will offer dissent. On the other hand, like any other monopoly, the Post Office might be unwilling to grant a 948 licence. For that reason, it seems to me that the present position in the clause as it stands, under which the Minister's approval is not necessary to refuse them a licence, is completely topsy-turvy. This is just the point where the Minister's approval should be required.
§ I would not suggest for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Hall, and his colleagues at the new Post Office, will be incapable of taking an enlightened view of the national interest. Surely, at the end of the day that is not properly their function. Their function is to make the Post Office a thoroughly efficient and effective commercial enterprise. After all, that, in essence, is why we are changing the present Government Department into a Corporation, so that it shall become a commercial enterprise. Surely the right course here is to make the Minister directly responsible for licensing.
§ Before I sit down, may I refer briefly to the form of the Amendment. It is put down in the simplest possible way, to reflect the case that I have been putting. But I hold no brief for the particular form of words. If it were thought preferable to say that the licences should be issued by or on behalf of the Minister, I should be entirely happy. If it were thought better to say, "after consultation with the Post Office", I should be entirely happy. Even, indeed, if it were said that for presentational reasons the Post Office should remain the licensing authority, though the Minister would be made responsible for giving his consent to the refusal as well as to the grant of licences and the conditions in licences where such conditions were inserted, that, too, I would think acceptable, though I confess that I would regard it as a second best. All that I urge—and I urge it with all the strength I can—is that the Government should accept the principle of ministerial responsibility in the field of this major monopoly. I beg to move.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, before the Amendment is put, may I ask the noble Lord a question so that I do not lose my right to make a speech on his Amendment at a later stage in the debate? I hope I am in order in doing this. I wonder whether the noble Lord can enlighten me on one point, because I am sure he has studied 949 the relevant clauses, Clauses 24 to 27, most carefully. He referred to the sophisticated method of telecontrol and remote control, and to the new types of cable. But how far down does the monopoly go? Does it go to simple wires and simple methods of activating machinery or motors by means of a simple electric cable? Does the monopoly go so far as, for example, the thermostatic control in the central heating system of a domestic house? Because if the monopoly indeed goes as far as that, it is surely most important for the Minister to be the final adjudicator as to whether the Post Office should install such devices.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I am not sure that I should attempt to answer that question. It goes into the definition of what systems are forthe conveyance, through the agency of electric, magnetic, electro-magnetic, electrochemicaland so on as set out in Clause 24. I think it covers the lot.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, could be a little patient it may be that my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies can help him.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords. I have no interest in this Bill, and I have but little knowledge of the many detailed points that it contains. But this particular clause is one that has attracted my attention. I certainly have not such a great knowledge as the noble Lord, Lord Helsby. I thought I understood the clause perfectly until he had spoken, and then I realised that my knowledge has distinct limits. The simple point that I make is that the Bill gives a broad monopoly in telecommunications to the Post Office. Clause 27 also provides that licences may be issued to persons or organisations who wish for a facility that is contrary to the general monopoly. This means, presumably, that licences may be issued to persons or organisations who wish to compete with the Post Office in a defined sphere. But then we find that the Post Office is itself to be the deciding power in granting those licences, and that it is to be the chooser and judge of its own competitors. That seems to me to be entirely wrong.
950 For that simple reason I heartily support the noble Lord's Amendment.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I should have thought that the Post Office would welcome the licensing being in the hands of the Minister. That would protect the Post Office, if it refuses a licence, from the charge that it was jealous of an inroad into its own monopoly. The Post Office could then say, "Well, this licence was not granted by us but by the Minister, who was quite impartial, and no charge can be brought against the Post Office itself of jealously safeguarding the monopoly."
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, has given us a quite fascinating account of the great complexities of the telecommunications industry, and he is of course quite right when he says that this is a matter of principle. The noble Lord himself told us that he accepts the case for a telecommunications monopoly, but if his Amendment is accepted the Minister will be able to erode that exclusive privilege of the monopoly by licensing other systems. I think I must make it plain once again that it is the Government's intention that Parliament should entrench the Post Office's monopoly rights in the Act itself, and this is why it is, as the noble Lord said, a matter of principle. At it stands the Bill reproduces in a modernised form the present situation, which is that the country's principal provider of telecommunications services has the exclusive right to provide such services, with certain exceptions. Broadly speaking, in almost all respects the Post Office is to enjoy the same monopoly privileges as my right honourable friend the Postmaster General and his predecessors have exercised for a hundred years, the only main exception being overseas telecommunications.
I think we probably all know that the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment has been a distinguished civil servant, and I think his worry is that there is a difference in principle between a monopoly enjoyed by the Crown and one enjoyed by a statutory authority. But in fact these arguments all ignore the fundamental question of whether there should be a principal national provider of telecommunications or not; and 951 [Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe.] the Government feel strongly that there should be. The telecommunications industry is very complicated, as the noble Lord amply demonstrated to us, but I feel that he is labouring under a misapprehension. I think that his worry about the internal business in an industry is completely covered by Clause 25(2), which says:In the case of a business carried on by a person, the said privilege is not infringed by the running, for the purposes of that business, of a system …and so on. I think he has slightly misunderstood the principles of this clause. Most of the arguments—and indeed the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge—were the same one of principle, and I am afraid that must emphasise again that the Government must insist on keeping the exclusive privileges for the Post Office.
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has referred to the possibility that people might say that the Post Office was jealously withholding other licences. In fact, of course, the Post Office already grants many forms of licences and will continue to do so. So I do not think that that point is likely to arise.
The noble Lord, Lord Helsby, said that this was a monopoly like all other monopolies. But, my Lords, it is not. The Post Office is an enormous industry in itself; it employs thousands of millions of pounds worth of investment, has hundreds of thousands of employees; and the essential difference about it is that it has laid upon it certain very serious public duties. And this is really the key to the situation. The noble Lord was assuming perhaps purely commercial ends for the Post Office, but in fact under Clause 9 it hasto meet the social, industrial, and commercial needs of the British Islandsas a whole. It is right that it should have this duty imposed upon it, but it is equally right that in the public interest the finances of the national communications service should be protected against the creaming-off of revenue from lucrative services by people who do not have to carry the duties of the Post Office; and this is what this clause is all about. The Amendment would create a situation in which the Post Office no longer had any true monopoly rights conferred by Parlia- 952 ment, and for this reason we must resist it. I believe it to be essential that there should be a single operating authority, with exclusive privileges conferred by Parliament, and of course there can be no question that this authority should be the Post Office. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will do no such thing, because, having listened carefully to the noble Baroness and her explanation, I am more than ever convinced of the soundness of the noble Lord's Amendment. To suggest that if the Post Office failed to have this monopoly private enterprises would lucratively cream off the best services is ridiculous, because the licensing power would be in the hands of the Minister, and the Minister would not allow that state of affairs to happen. Therefore it is only right that the Minister should license, rather than the Post Office, to ensure that the Post Office does not unreasonably withhold licences. I know of no other case in the British economy where the body, not being a Government Department, has the monopoly operating rights and at the same time has the power to refuse licences to other people. The licensing authority should certainly be separate from the monopoly operating authority.
I quite understand what the noble Baroness says about the importance of maintaining the Post Office monopoly. In one of the clauses the Post Office can renounce that monopoly to the extent of its own wishing by granting licences, but what we are concerned with is where the Post Office may unreasonably withhold these licences and there is no appeal against this. Nor can the Minister do anything, because all the Minister can do is to acquiesce in the granting of such licences as the Post Office may care to provide.
To talk of the large sums of capital and big responsibilities of the Post Office and so on is, in my view, an irrelevant argument which does nothing to breach the principle which the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, made so eloquently in his speech. Other enterprises are of great size and capital intensity; B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have never had the right to grant or 953 withhold licences to private operators. There might have been a very different story for civil aviation private activities if those Corporations had had such rights, and I am sure they would very much have liked to have them, but the then Labour Government never gave them that exclusivity, reserving the licensing rights to themselves, and rightly so. I could give other examples if I had the time. I am not convinced by the noble Baroness and I hope noble Lords in all parts of the House will support the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, in his stand on a very important principle.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask a question of the noble Baroness who spoke for the Government, before I speak for the last time. I was not clear whether she was rejecting on behalf of the Government what I called the "second best"; that is to say, maintaining the Post Office as the licensing authority but providing that the Minister would not only have to give his consent to the grant of a licence as at present, but also for the refusal of one or for the attachment of conditions to one.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, what my noble friend said is that this Bill provides that a monopoly shall be vested in the Post Office Board. As my right honourable friend said in another place, "a monopoly is a monopoly"; and the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, really cannot have it two ways. He says he agrees that there is value in a monopoly and that it is appropriate to have a monopoly in this case. But if you give a monopoly you must have the courage to stand by your convictions, and you do not give a monopoly to a Board unless you are convinced that it is a responsible body around which there are adequate controls and that within those controls the Board will use its monopoly rights to the advantage of the nation generally. That we have decided. That is what the Second Reading was about, that is what the other clauses are about, and that is what we mean when we say that this new Board should be given a monopoly. I feel that the noble Lord, with his Civil Service background, is showing a commendable and understandable pride in the Civil Service and in Ministerial Departments, but that it is clouding a little his feeling about the responsibility 954 which can be shown by a public corporation, such as the proposed new Post Office.
The noble Lord, Lord Helsby, and the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, said that this was never done in the case of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. It is rather unfortunate that they should have picked on that example because, historically, there is a classic case where a monopoly was vested in B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. In effect they had a direct right to licence independent companies and they did it by the device of an associate agreement. Subsequently, Parliament changed the situation, but that was indeed the case in the first place.
There are two points which seem to worry certain noble Lords, and I think understandably. One is the fact that large scale industry is now developing very sophisticated means of communication for its own industrial and internal use. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, asked: where is the dividing line between those electronic communication systems which require a licence, and those which do not require a licence? The answer to that is that there is no dividing line so far as the sophistication of a piece of equipment is concerned. The division is between those systems which are employed within the industry for its own use, or within one factory or one home, and those which communicate between one person and another. No matter how sophisticated the equipment is, provided it is for the internal industrial use of a company no licence is required. So I think that fear does not arise.
There is then the fear which was expressed when we debated this earlier, that eventually in the future we shall have such new developments in this exciting field that it would be quite wrong to maintain the monopoly within the Post Office. I think I suggested on Committee stage, and I say it again, that if this possibility materialises, then in 1976 Parliament will in any case have the opportunity to consider the monopolies which are now granted to the B.B.C. and I.T.A. That will be the time to go into the whole question of the monopoly issue. Then, just as in the case of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., it may well be that the Government of the day will have to make certain changes. But the changes will be so important 955 that Parliament as a whole should look at them, and should decide what should take place.
In the meantime, it is the view of another place, it has been the view of this House so far, and it is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, that we should vest in the Post Office Board a monopoly of these telecommunications systems. If the Board wishes, for good technical reasons, to give a licence to breach its monopoly, then it is entitled to do so and I think we should be well advised to leave the Bill like that. I do not think we should accept the noble Lord's Amendment, which he has put forward very persuasively, but which to a large extent was based on a misunderstanding of the situation, as I think he will agree.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, may I put a question for clarification? Why is it that the Minister is brought in to prevent the monopoly granting a licence, since it cannot grant a licence without the consent of the Minister, but is kept out of the matter when it refuses a licence? It seems to me that there is a point of principle here, and I cannot understand why, if the Minister is brought in in one direction, he is not brought in the other direction.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if I may answer the noble Lord, by leave of the House, I quite agree that the Minister has the power of veto but cannot compel the issue of a licence. The reason for that, I suppose, is to meet fears that the Post Office may behave unreasonably in some respects. If the noble Lord had put down an Amendment to query that, I should have thought he would have had a good case and a better case than the other way round.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I think the noble Lord said that the reason for this provision being in the Bill was that the Post Office might act unreasonably—presumably, unreasonably in the interests of the Post Office. But surely it is important that the Post Office should not be allowed to act unreasonably from the point of view of some other interest, which might have a perfectly legitimate reason for asking for a licence. Also, may I ask the noble Lord this question, which seems to me to be important? If 956 anybody feels that he has been inequitably used as a result of a decision by the Post Office Corporation, will he have no right of appeal through his Member of Parliament, in Parliament, against the decision, with the Minister being answerable for the decision of the Post Office? Also will he have no right of appeal for his Member of Parliament to bring the matter before the Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Commissioner, if he feels aggrieved at the decision of the Post Office?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, again by leave of the House, may I say that we are getting into very complicated waters. In the first place, I did not say that the Minister had power to veto the granting of a licence in order to protect the Post Office. I meant that the Minister should have power to veto a licence, if, in his judgment, by breaching the monopoly provisions the Post Office was going against the duties placed upon it by this Bill to provide a service. There is the overriding power of the Minister in that case, although, as I confessed to the noble Lord opposite, I think there would be a great field for argument here. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, then went on to ask whether an aggrieved applicant would have a right to approach his Member of Parliament. We went into this question in a good deal of depth on Second Reading, and, indeed, during the Committee stage, and I do not think I ought to go into it all again. We are giving this power to a public authority because we believe that to be a better and more efficient way of discharging the responsibility and providing a better service.
When that decision is taken—and Parliament is taking that decision—then certain consequences follow. One of those consequences is that one cannot raise detailed matters on the Floor of the House. On the other hand, there are opportunities for ventilating a grievance, and I went into them at an earlier stage. For example, it would be perfectly possible for a Member of Parliament to take up a matter with the Chairman of the new Corporation. There is also the Users' Council and various other ways in which a matter can he raised. Furthermore, the report of the Post Office will be subject to discussion later in the House. But, strictly, the answer is that 957 such a matter cannot be raised by a Member of Parliament. As regards the position of the Ombudsman, that is a point on which I should take some advice, but I should have thought there might be a ease if it were disputed whether the Post Office were acting according to the Act of Parliament which set them up.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I am grateful for the explanation, that where a telecommunications system is concerned solely with the business of a certain firm, the provisos at the end of Clause 25(2) have the effect of taking it outside the monopoly. That is a considerable comfort to me. But, my Lords, this deals with only part of what I have called the point of principle, and I confess that I am in real difficulty about that. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government suggested that my background as a civil servant might be partly responsible: that I have an exaggerated idea of the benefits of superintendence by a Departmental machine. I assure him that that is not so.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I must interpose there. I did not say that. I said that the noble Lord probably had a less high regard than was possible for a public corporation set up outside a Ministerial Department.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I appreciate that; but the real point, I think, has now emerged quite clearly. It is that what is in question is the position not of any Department but of Parliament. The difference between the chairman of a commercial corporation and a Minister is that the latter is answerable to Parliament and the former is not. Moreover, the former may be a Member of this House, but if so he is prevented by our own Rules from speaking on the subject of his chairmanship.
The Minister said, if I understood him rightly, that a monopoly sometimes ceased to be a monopoly if there was a question of a Minister being answerable to this or the other House, to Parliament, for the way in which it worked. That is
§ surely a very strange doctrine. I should have thought that where a statutory monopoly was given, it was a matter of principle that some Minister should be answerable to Parliament for the use of those statutory powers. It is a principle that we have followed in every other field and it is a principle which the Government have half followed in this field, for they are making the Post Office answerable to the Minister for part of this licensing power. They are making the Post Office answerable to him for the grant of licences but, for some reason, not for the refusal. What precisely is the difference in principle? Why not make him answerable throughout?
§ Surely, wherever the law has to deal with the monopolist in this country its concern is that he shall not unreasonably restrict business by refusing licences. A great deal of patent law is given up to preventing the unreasonable refusal of licences; and the Monopolies Commission, when it investigates a monopolist's use of his position, is much concerned to see to what extent the position is held rigidly within a narrow confine which allows no competition. If we are to intervene at all, it should not be on the side of ensuring that the Minister can stop the Corporation from giving licences, but rather on the side of seeing to it, equally at least, if not more than the other, that he can ask them to give a licence if it seems to be in the national interest.
§ My Lords, I should be tempted to withdraw this Amendment if the Government had shown any sign of willingness to meet the point, possibly by some means different from that which the Amendment itself has suggested, and even now I should be very willing to withdraw it on being given the slightest hope of that sort. But I fear that the point of principle is such that I ought not to withdraw it otherwise.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 85; Not-Contents, 51.959
|Airedale, L.||Audley, Bs.||Bessborough, E.|
|Albemarle, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Bethell, L.|
|Alport, L.||Belstead, L.||Bourne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Berkeley, Bs.||Brecon, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Gridley, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Hankey, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L. [Teller.]|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Helsby, L. [Teller.]||Sackville, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Henley, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Denham, L.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||St. Helens, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Salisbury, M.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Ilford, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Dudley, L.||Inglewood, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Dundee, E.||Jessel, L.||Silsoe, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Killearn, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Lambert, V.||Strang, L.|
|Elton, L.||Listowel, E.||Strange, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||MacAndrew, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Mersey, V.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Foley, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Mountevans, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Garner, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Newton, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Addison, V.||Henderson, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Annan, L.||Heycock, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hill of Wivenhoe, L.||Royle, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Hughes, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Brockway, L.||Hurcomb, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Burden, L.||Kennet, L.||Scrota, Bs.|
|Chalfont, L.||Leatherland, L.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Champion, L.||Lindgren, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||Silkin, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||McLeavy, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Maelor, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Mitchison, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||Moyle, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Phillips, Bs.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Plummer, Bs.||Taylor of Mansfield. L.|
|Granville of Eye, L.||Popplewell, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 29 [Exclusion of liability of the Post Office, its officers and servants, in relation to posts and telecommunications.]:
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 32, line 15, at end insert—
("( ) No person engaged in or about the carriage of mail and no Officer, Servant, Agent or Sub-Contractor of such person shall he subject except at the suit of the Post Office to any civil liability for any loss or damage in the case of which liability of the Post Office therefore is excluded by subsection (1) of this section.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7. I must apologise to your Lordships for raising this matter for the first time at so late a stage in the evolution of this Bill, but the injustice which it seeks to put right 960 was brought to my attention only last week. It may seem illogical at first sight that after putting down an Amendment at the Committee stage to curtail the immunity of the Post Office my noble friends and I should now ask the House to accept an Amendment which extends that immunity beyond the Post Office and its direct employees. But I hope to convince your Lordships that if the Post Office is to continue to have the immunity it now enjoys it would be grossly unfair not to allow those who are acting for the Post Office to have it too.
§ The reasons for this Amendment are as follows. If a letter or a parcel should be damaged, destroyed or lost while in the hands of the Post Office or its employees its owner cannot sue the Post Office for the financial loss that he thus incurs. They are protected by the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. The new Corporation will continue to be protected by 961 Clause 29 of this Bill. This is reasonable, as the Post Office has no means of knowing whether a particular package is of great financial value or of none. If the Post Office were to be held responsible for the value of packages entrusted to it, there would have to be some system of differential charges to offset any higher risk that it might have to bear. Any such system would entail a great deal of nuisance to the general public and an expensive organisation to the Post Office. All things considered, it is better in this respect that the Post Office should be immune, that the general public should know it and take care of the risks themselves accordingly.
§ It is very often necessary, however, particularly where the destination is outside the United Kingdom, for mail to be handled by people who are not direct employees of the Post Office. Every master of a ship, for instance, is compelled by the Post Office Act 1953 to receive on board his ship every mail bag tendered to him by an officer of the Post Office and to deliver it to its destination. If it is reasonable for the Post Office to have immunity against liability it is also reasonable for others who handle mail to have the same immunity, or at least a measure of it. The Post Office has recognised this by agreeing a liability clause with the shipowners under which the liability to the Post Office of the owner of each ship is limited to £1 per uninsured package and £2 per registered package, subject to an overall limit of £1,000 per voyage. So far so good.
§ This equitable arrangement between the Post Office and the shipowners was set at nought in 1967 by a case in the High Court which did not involve a ship at all, the case of Moukataff v. B.O.A.C. Mr. Moukataff sent £20,000 in notes abroad by air mail in four registered packages. At some stage during the flight, the packages were lost. It was no good Mr. Moukataff suing the Post Office, because the Post Office was immune. So he sued instead the airline concerned. He won his case. This has become case law, and shipowners, as well as the airlines, are now advised in similar circumstances that their wisest course of action is to pay up with good grace. The sender of a missing package cannot sue the Post Office; the Post Office cannot sue the shipowners; but the 962 sender can by-pass the Post Office and sue the shipowner direct.
§ Let us suppose that a package containing £10,000 worth of diamonds is being sent abroad. It can travel on the same ship in two different ways. The sender can take it to the shipping company and ask them to carry it for him. They can, if they wish, refuse to do so. But if they agree to carry it, their liability is limited by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1924 to £100—unless they are signatories to the Gold Clause Agreement, in which case it goes up to £200. If the sender wants the company to take the responsibility for the full value he will have to pay accordingly. Both parties know what their liabilities are and can insure against them.
§ If, however, the sender puts his package in the post, and it travels in a mail bag in the same ship, the shipping company cannot refuse to take it. They are responsible for the whole of its value, yet they do not know what that value is and cannot insure against it. They get paid for the job only such remuneration as the Postmaster General thinks fit; and the Postmaster General has no more idea than has the shipping company as to the value of a particular mail bag. Even if the sender insures for the full value outside the Post Office the shipping company are still liable for the full value to the insurance company. The liability of the shipowners is, therefore, unlimited and, as your Lordships know, except in the case of a third-party motor policy you cannot insure against unlimited liability.
§ The Amendment I am now moving would put the position back to what it was thought to be before the case of Moukataff v. B.O.A.C., and would give to anyone carrying mail the same immunity that he would have were he a direct employee of the Post Office. It is drafted to include other forms of transport besides shipping—airlines, for instance—because that was thought to be fair. Airlines can refuse to carry mail if they think that the risks involved are too great, whereas shipowners cannot. On the other hand, the experience of the airlines since Moukataff has been more unfortunate than that of the shipowners. This Amendment is strongly supported by the Chamber of Shipping and I should be very surprised if B.E.A., 963 B.O.A.C., or the Board of British Rail were to take any great exception to it.
§ The Amendment may be drafted too widely, or the drafting may be faulty. A great deal of trouble has been taken over it, but in my experience an Amendment drafted by even the most learned counsel seldom meets the exacting requirements of the Government draftsmen; and should that be so in this case, if Her Majesty's Government will accept the principle behind the Amendment, I shall be happy to withdraw it so that the right wording may be put into the Bill on Third Reading.
§ Your Lordships are being asked in this Bill to extend to the new Corporation the immunity conferred on the Post Office by the Crown Proceedings Act. The anomaly that I have explained to your Lordships arises from a legal decision, which was not foreseen when the Crown Proceedings Act was drafted, in a case that would not have been heard were it not for that Act. If the Post Office and its employees are immune, it is grossly unfair that others who are, in fact if not in law, employees of the Post Office should not only be deprived of the same immunity but should also have to bear the full brunt of any legal proceedings that would, were it not for that immunity, have been directed at the Post Office. I submit to your Lordships that it would not be right to pass on this immunity to the Corporation without putting right the injustice that arises from it. I beg to move.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lord's Amendment is certainly an interesting one, and it has been argued with persuasion and force. Nevertheless, I hope I shall be able to persuade your Lordships that it would not be appropriate to give effect to it in the context of this Bill, or at this stage in your Lordships' consideration of it. This Bill seeks to convert the Post Office from a Government Department to a public Corporation. It is true that it makes certain other changes, but these are all consequential upon the Bill's main purpose; and the exemptions from liability to which the noble Lord has referred, and which are conferred by Clauses 29 and 30, are in broad those which presently apply in the field of 964 Post Office operations. No basic change is made by the Bill regarding the liability of the Post Office and its contractors.
While it is not for me to lay down the law to your Lordships, I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Denham, say that the decision in Moukataff came as a surprise, and that the purpose of this Amendment was to put the position back to what it was thought to be before Moukataff. I do not know who thought the position was what the noble Lord told us he thought it was, but certainly I should not myself have been surprised at the decision in Moukataff's case.
On the other hand, the Amendment opens up a much wider vista than that presented by the exemptions under Clauses 29 and 30, because it relates to general law governing the liability of carriers. It is no part of the object of this Bill to impinge upon that field, however close at first sight it may appear to be to Post Office matters. I think it has been accepted in your Lordships' consideration of it, and by the consideration given to it in another place, that the Bill concentrates upon the main topic of the change in status. Surely, my Lords, to launch out from this main topic into a much wider field would involve a quite radical change in our approach to the Bill. I should be the last to discourage your Lordships from embarking upon a radical change in any field, but in the context of this Bill and this particular matter I venture to suggest that acceptance of this Amendment might well give us bad law.
The exemption which the Post Office is to have has always existed and has been justified on special grounds—those to which the noble Lord himself referred. But we should surely wish to think very carefully indeed before extending that exemption to others. One has always to remember that it is not only shipowners, and the Post Office, and transport undertakings, who are concerned, but also members of the public who would be deprived of their existing legal rights were this Amendment effected. Certainly I should have thought, and I am sure your Lordships will agree, that before anything so radical as this in the whole field of law governing the liability of carriers was embarked on, consultation with those affected would normally be regarded as essential; and, of course, 965 no such consultation has taken place. Accordingly, while I agree that the matter is one which it was proper to raise, and which merits some consideration, I suggest that this is not the right occasion for us to reach a conclusion upon the matter of the liability of carriers other than the Post Office.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down—I shall reply to his speech later—can he tell us if this is not the right occasion, what is the right occasion, and when do Her Majesty's Government intend to rectify this unfairness?
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My Lords, I am not, of course, committing Her Majesty's Government to accepting the view that it is necessary to rectify the position. As this Bill will leave it, the position, in the Government's view, will be the same as it has been ever since the Post Office was established in its present form. The matter is no doubt one which can be given consideration, but I cannot commit the Government as to what would be the proper time to do it. The noble Lord is looking surprised. I must say that I am a little surprised that this issue was not raised at an earlier stage of the Bill when, of course, full consideration could have been given to it.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I do not understand this argument about opening a wide field of liability for carriers. This Amendment is very limited. It is about persons engaged in the carriage of mail and has nothing to do with the general liability of carriers.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I was going to make that same point, in addition one or two others. It is putting up a sheer smokescreen to say that we are invoking the general law applying to carriers. We are doing no such thing. All the Amendment seeks to do is to put right an injustice which, although it has been in existence for a long time, has only recently assumed severe proportions—namely, that the unfortunate carrier is compelled to carry a bag of the contents and the value of the contents of which he has no knowledge, and can be given no knowledge by the Post Office and its officials, and in the event of the loss of the bag or part of the contents, he can be sued for virtually an unlimited sum of money.
966 We are told that this matter cannot be dealt with in this Bill. I should have thought that it was essentially a matter that ought to be dealt with in the Bill, and that we should take this opportunity of rectifying an injustice. The noble and learned Lord suggested that we should have regard to the general public. But in this matter it is the carriers, the shipowners and airlines, who are the general public, because they are the people who are being adversely affected. The actual transmitters of the article—a packet of diamonds or pound notes, as in the Moukataff case—have perfectly sound alternatives. They could have elected to send their goods by a means whereby the goods could have been insured and the general public would have been already protected. It is merely a legal device by the legal profession to get round the Post Office legislation and to sue the person, who for the time being is virtually a compulsory employee of the Post Office, because if he is a shipowner he is apparently compelled to take the mail.
Here again I should have thought that this was something which warranted attention. I was not aware that shipowners were compelled to carry mail. I thought that it was a matter of a contract, which they could win for the carrying of mail, and that once a shipowner obtains a contract part of the contract is that he has to take all mail as offered. But if the matter is as serious as it appears to be becoming, now that the Moukataff case has established the precedent, the Post Office might well find a reluctance on the part of the shipowners to accept mail contracts in the future. It might even lead to collective action on the part of all shipowners.
I think that, late though the time may be for consideration of this matter, we might be doing the Post Office a valuable service if we were to accept this Amendment, or one as redrafted by the Government, and thus avoid the real possibility that in future shipowners might say, "No, thank you" to mail contracts; "not on those terms." I urge the noble and learned Lord, and the Government as a whole, to reconsider this important issue of principle, and even at this late stage of the Bill—and I admit that it is late—do justice to those who are at present having a most unjust state of affairs forced upon them.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My Lords, if I may with leave of the House I would accept the correction of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, of my statement that this matter related to the general law covering the liabilities of carriers. I agree that this Amendment is restricted to carriers who are engaged in the carrying and handling of mail. Even so, the matter does have an impact upon the law in a very wide sense; and I am astonished to hear it suggested that over all these years these carriers whom this Amendment now seeks to exempt from liability have been suffering the kind of injustice to which noble Lords have referred.
I would certainly not wish it to be thought that anything I say was in the nature of a smokescreen to protect an injustice in the law. Certainly the decision in the Moukataff case did no more than lay down the law as it very obviously was. All the Amendment does is to deprive members of the public of legal rights which they have and which in the Government's view, there is no case for taking away. This is the position, and I would ask your Lordships not to support this Amendment to this Bill. It might well be that the wider issue could be considered in the future in a different context, and certainly the Government would be prepared to listen to any representations about this matter which noble Lords cared to make to them. But I think it is a little extravagant to suggest that in opposing this Amendment the Government are seeking to protect an injustice, since this is the first occasion throughout the whole course of the debate on this Bill—and indeed for many years before—on which I have heard it suggested that behind the existing law there is a serious and glaring injustice which ought to be put right.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I am a little bewildered by the noble Lord's reply. What I cannot quite make out from what he said is whether or not he accepts the fact that there is an undue hardship in this case. I tried very hard to find from what he said whether he agreed with this or whether he did not, or whether he thought this injustice should be rectified—at some time in the very distant future. I understood him to say that this was not the time and occasion to do it. He said that it was not appropriate to consider this matter on this Bill 968 or at this stage. I appreciate that it is a very late stage of the Bill, and I have apologised to your Lordships. I heard of this matter only last week, but the Post Office must have heard of this case as soon as it was decided, which was in 1967. The Post Office knows that there is this hardship.
All stages of Bills, in both Houses—and we go through many stages—are to make sure that before a Bill becomes law it has been considered in every aspect, and to make sure that no injustice like the one I suggest exists is allowed to slip through. If we are to go by the fact that at this late stage we cannot change the Bill, because it is too late to do so, even though there may be an injustice, what on earth are we doing here? We are all wasting our time. The noble Lord said that this produced no basic change in the Bill. He said that the Moukataff decision produced no basic change in the law; that it merely defined what the law is. I do not pretend to be learned in the law, but I understood that every High Court decision does just that—defines what the law is. I think that a considerable number of peope before the Moukataff decision did not realise that, whereas the Post Office was not liable, the shipping lines were.
In several other countries there is not this liability on the shipping lines. In Sweden there was a direct action in tort that was dismissed by the Supreme Court there in 1949. Swedish law, of course, is different from our law, but in Sweden there is not this injustice. In the United States, the best legal opinion seemed to think that the carrier is liable for his own negligence, but is not liable for the negligence of his employees unless he has been negligent in selecting them. In South Africa, people who carry mail for the Post Office have a direct immunity in statute.
Admittedly, we are adding nothing new to the immunity of the Post Office, but we are being asked to pass it on to the Corporation. Since the original immunity of the Post Office there has been the Moukataff decision, and since then there have been cases where people are by-passing the Post Office and suing the carrier direct. I cannot tell your Lordships of the case which I think supports this most because it is at the moment sub judice, but there is a case going on 969 at the moment where the insurance company, the goods having been insured outside, are suing the shipping line direct. If the insurance company win this case, all insurers who cover mail will, somewhat naturally, expect the shipping line to pay up.
I have been through what I consider are the injustices of this, and I do not propose to add to what I have said. However, I feel this very strongly. We are
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 46 [The Post Office to be liable, in certain cases, for part payment of pensions of certain former civil servants]:
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8. This is purely a drafting Amendment.Page 41, line 39, leave out ("the beginning of").—(Lord Bowles.)
§ being asked to pass on this immunity of the Post Office. There is an injustice that arises from this immunity, and I do not think we should pass on the injustice with the immunity.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents 72; Not-Contents 45.969
|Aberdare, L.||Exeter, M.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Ferrier, L.||Newton, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Fortescue, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Goschen, V.||Redmayne, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hawke, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Henley, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Sandys, L.|
|Byers, L.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Selkirk, E.|
|Carrington, L.||Ilford, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Chelmer, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Strange, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Killearn, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Teynham, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Daventry, V.||MacAndrew, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mersey, V.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Dundee, E.||Molson, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Dundonald, E.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Windlesham, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Addison, V.||Heycock, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Annan, L.||Hill of Wivenhoe, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Beswick, L.||Hilton of Upton, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Birk, Bs.||Hughes, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kennet, L.||Serota, Bs.|
|Bowles, L.||Leatherland, L.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Brockway, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.]||Shepherd, L.|
|Burden, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||Maelor, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Champion, L.||Mitchison, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Peddie, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Plummer, Bs.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Popplewell, L.||Walston, L.|
|Granville of Eye, L.||Raglan, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 66 [Harbour charges on mailbags]:
§ Clause 67 [Mail-bags not to be subject to control by harbour authorities]:
§ LORD BOWLES moved Amendments Nos. 9 and 10:
§ Page 57, line 20, leave out from ("mailbags") to end of line 22 and insert ("which, when in the United Kingdom, are in the charge of the Post Office").
§ Page 58, line 22, leave out from ("mailbags") to end of line 24 and insert ("which, when in the United Kingdom, are in the charge of the Post Office").971
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if we take Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 at the same time. This is another example of the effort which has been made by noble Lords in various parts of the House to improve the Bill, and it was suggested to me, in this case by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that the proposed Amendment was a much more agreeable form of words, and I was very glad to accept his proposal. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 132 [Extension of regulation-making power under section 52(2) of the
§ LORD BOWLES moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 90, line 44, at end insert—
(( ) This section shall extend to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is to rectify an omission. The Government Annuities Act 1929 extends to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and it is necessary that Clause 132, which amends that Act, should apply similarly. Clause 132 amends the powers to make regulations for savings bank annuities, and insurances in Section 52 of the Government Annuities Act 1929, and in particular it replaces the powers now vested in the Postmaster General to make regulations, "so far as his department is concerned". The National Debt Commissioners will, in effect, take over the Postmaster General's powers (which are repealed in Schedule 11) and make regulations for the annuities and insurance business handled through the Department for National Savings as they already do for similar business through the trustee savings banks. The authorities in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man acquiesce in this amendment of the clause. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 9 [General transitional powers]:
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12. This is a purely drafting Amendment.Page 196, line 37, leave out second ("of") and insert ("to").—(Lord Bowles.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.972
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, this also is a drafting correction. The reference to paragraph 2 is unnecessary. I beg to move.Page 197, line 15, leave out ("2 or").—(Lord Bowles.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 10 [Special transitional provisions with respect to patents for inventions and registered designs]:
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, Amendment No. 14 and the next Amendment may be taken together. These Amendments merely make grammatical corrections. I beg to move.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 203, line 21, leave out ("with") and insert ("to")
§ Page 210, line 18, leave out ("with") and insert ("to")—(Lord Bowles.)
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, are the Government quite sure that their first thoughts were not the best? The expression in the Bill is "corresponding with", and it is sought to change this to "corresponding to". The customers of the Post Office correspond with each other, do they not? They do not correspond to one another, do they?
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, no. The noble Lord and I correspond with one another, but this is corresponding to something else.
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.