HL Deb 19 May 1981 vol 420 cc896-941

House again in Committee.

Clause 66 [Exclusive privilege of the Post Office with respect to the conveyance etc. of letters]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 144: Page 55, line 24, leave out from ("addressee") to end of line 26.

The noble Lord said: The deletion of this subsection would ensure that the delivery of hard copy transmitted by British Telecom as part of an electronic mail service would be covered by the postal monopoly unless, of course, a licence was issued by the Secretary of State under the provisions of Clause 68. The important point here is that there is no need for the Government to take a decision about this matter now. I think it would be preferable to monitor developments and take such suitable action later, if such action is required. For example, supposing it was decided that it would be desirable for the hard copy to be delivered either by British Telecom staff or by some private operator, there would be power under Clause 68 for the Secretary of State to grant a licence specifically for that purpose. So to that extent subsection (5)(c) is really unnecessary.

However, there are more serious arguments against this particular proposal as well, for it clips away at the basic letter monopoly, potentially damaging the viability of the letter service. There is no question of the Post Office gaining the monopoly of electronic mail at all stages of its progress through the system, if only because transmission by electronic means lies fairly and squarely within the monopoly of British Telecom under Clause 12 of the Bill. For transmission the Post Office is likely to be dependent on British Telecom purchasing the service from them by paying for circuits just like any other licensee. Effectively therefore the issue is restricted to whether the Post Office should have the exclusive privilege of delivering the hard copy element of electronic mail.

The Bill defines a letter as a communication in written form directed to a specific person or address and relating to the personal, private or business affairs of the sender or the addressee. The majority of electronic mail hard copy will meet these three criteria. The Post Office itself has a unique and ubiquitous delivery network which is ideally tailored for the delivery of these items to any address in the country without the need for an additional infrastructure—an important consideration in an era of resource considerations.

The Post Office anticipates that electronic mail in hard copy form will form a growing proportion of letter mail in the future and indeed will become a significant proportion of the total mail. For example, electricity bills could be printed by computer and sent over the wire for printing, enveloping and delivery by the relevant local mechanised letter office; and if there is no monopoly on delivery then there is a considerable longer-term risk of the Post Office losing this kind of traffic to operators who will cream off the profitable routes and deliver in major centres, but leave the Post Office with the statutory obligation to serve, as it were, the Highlands and Islands, so in fact increasing its unit costs. The Post Office has the right to some protection for its basic traffic, otherwise the whole fabric of the postal service is potentially at risk.

This subsection as it stands makes the assumption that the Government are thinking of electronic mail hard copy as a premium service involving relatively few high-speed, high-cost messages. That may indeed be so at first, but it is far from being the longer-term pattern foreseen by the Post Office. Indeed, a recent report by the Science Policy Research Unit, commissioned by the Union of Communications Workers, predicts a huge growth in electronic mail, directly affecting the postal traffic. In particular, the report highlights the growth of communicating word processors; basically that is typewriters with visual display units that can store and edit texts of facsimile, like remote photocopying enabling a document to be electronically scanned and transmitted to a distant location over the telephone network and there printed out as a hard copy and a view data which links the telephone and the television set to provide an information service.

Electronic mail will be used particularly on a business-to-business basis and the review makes various forecasts about its impacts. It concludes by predicting a loss of postal traffic of 25 per cent. as a result of electronic mail by the end of this decade. This in turn could lead to a loss of about some 35,000 jobs in the postal service. Therefore, as your Lordships will appreciate, it is vital to the Post Office that it shall continue to have the monoply for the delivery of hard copy from electronic mail services. So this amendment, which will cost the Government very little and is strongly supported by the Post Office Board, is an important one, and there does not really seem to be the need for this particular subsection in any case. I beg to move.

The Earl of Gowrie

When amendments are very close to those moved in another place we try to look at them afresh and to consider them absolutely on their own merits. I have looked at the amendment and I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said. Nevertheless, I am afraid that I have not heard anything which makes me feel that the line taken by my honourable friend the Minister of State in another place should substantially be altered. The noble Lord has argued that the Post Office already has a comprehensive delivery network throughout the country and that resources would be duplicated if rival delivery services for electronic mail were to be established; but surely the very fact that the Post Office has the delivery network should give them a huge head start over any potential competitiors. One wonders what they are fussing about. Furthermore, the noble Lord has argued that the Post Office will lose some 25 per cent. of its traffic if the monopoly is not extended in this way; but I do not believe that this need be the case. The Post Office should not fear this competition when it is in a position to meet it.

The noble Lord has also argued that the exclusion of hard copy electronic mail from the Post Office monopoly is unnecessary at present because if the service proves to be inadequate, then the Secretary of State could use his powers under Clause 68 or Clause 69 to license private operators or to suspend the monopoly entirely in this respect. Certainly that is true in theory, but while it is true in theory I am afraid, as I have said before, that if the Post Office is given the monopoly in this field now, it is quite likely that private operators will be deterred from setting up in this type of electronic mail business, and we shall therefore never reach the point where the Post Office service may in fact be judged to be adequate or inadequate.

This is an issue which we have considered very carefully and at great length, and I must say that I remain firmly of the view—and it is an essential principle of the Bill—that to give the Post Office a monopoly of delivery over hard copy electronic mail could have a very damaging effect on the growth and development of this extremely important new form of communication. Therefore, I would ask the Committee to resist the amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I thank the noble Earl for his response to my amendment. I shall read closely what he has said in Hansard and then later decide whether to return to it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 agreed to.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones moved Amendment No. 145: After Clause 66, insert the following new clause:

("Interception of mail

.—(1) A person who—

  1. (a) intentionally intercepts the contents of the mail carried by the Post Office;
  2. (b) instigates any person engaged in the business of the Post Office to intercept the mail; or
  3. (c) discloses the contents of any mail intercepted under paragraph (a) or (b) above.
unless acting in obedience to a warrant issued pursuant to the following provisions of this section, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both.

(2) Proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) above shall not be instituted in England or Wales except by or with the consent of the Attorney-General, or in Northern Ireland except by or with the consent of the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland.

(3) No person shall be guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above as respects any act done by him whilst engaged in the business of the Post Office.

(4) The Secretary of State may, on the application of a chief officer of police or the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, issue a warrant for the interception and disclosure of the mail if he is satisfied that—

  1. (a) it would assist in the detection of a serious offence;
  2. (b) normal methods of investigation have been tried and have failed or from the nature of things are unlikely to succeed if tried; and
  3. (c) there is good reason to think that the interception would result in a conviction for that offence.

In this subsection "serious offence" means—

  1. (i) an offence for which a person not previously convicted could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years; or
  2. (ii) an offence in which either a large number of people is involved or there is good reason to apprehend the use of violence.

(5) The Secretary of State may, on the application of a chief officer of police or the Director-General of the Security Service issue a warrant for the interception and disclosure of the mail if he is satisfied that—

  1. (a) it would assist in the detection of a major terrorist or espionage activity giving rise to external or internal danger to the defence of the Realm; and
  2. (b) normal methods of investigation have been tried and have failed or from the nature of things are unlikely to succeed if tried.

(6) An application for a warrant under this section shall be made in writing and shall specify—

  1. (a) the person whose mail it is sought to intercept; and
  2. (b) the facts and circumstances in support of the application;
but the Secretary of State may allow any information required under paragraph (b) above to be provided orally and not in writing in respect of an application for a warrant under subsection (5) above.

(7) Except in a case of emergency, any warrant under this section shall be issued only under the hand of the Secretary of State; and, in any such case, shall be confirmed under his hand as soon as reasonably practicable after issue.

(8) In this section "intercept" includes the doing of any act designed to enable an interception to take place, and "intercepts", "intercepted" and "interception" shall be construed accordingly.").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment runs parallel to Amendment No. 123 which we discussed and upon which a Division took place. Much the same principles apply in the consideration of this amendment as applied to Amendment No. 123. It is a very important amendment in that it deals with the interception of mail, the right to open private letters between citizens, and as much of a serious invasion of privacy as telephone tapping. The techniques available are very considerable. Interception of mail, opening of letters, curiously enough has not excited anything like as much concern or arousal of public interest as telephone tapping. Whether that is because fewer people know about the fact that letters of citizens are opened than know about telephone tapping, I do not know. The extent of it is not very clear either, and it may well be that I may be able to persuade whoever is to reply, perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to give us some indication of how extensive the practice is.

It was said by one of my honourable friends in another place that the figure for mail interception is enormous; that was the adjective he used; and that half a dozen agencies, apparently called "requesting agencies", have a right to demand interception of mail. I do not know whether this is true or not, but it would be helpful if we could have some light thrown upon this by the noble Earl.

Then, the means for carrying out interception of letters and the techniques that are now available, of course, need not make and do not make apparent the fact that the letters have been opened. There are various ingenious devices like rays and carbon lights that can apparently show through envelopes and can record letters. So that here again the possibility of abuse and the instruments for making abuse possible are considerable, although clearly access by those who seek to intervene is obviously much more complicated and more difficult than it is in regard to tapping telephones. If the noble Earl is in a position to enlighten the Committee about the extent of this, I think it could well reassure the public.

So far as the clause is concerned, it seeks once again to give a statutory basis to the right to open the citizens' letters. The present legal position is, in my submission, as uncertain as it is in the case of telephone tapping. Here again we may well find ourselves, when we are arraigned before the European Court of Human Rights, to be in breach of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, which includes among its provisions in express terms the protection of the privacy of correspondence. It reads: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence". Once again it would indeed be unfortunate if we found ourselves arraigned and found wanting before that body.

I cannot help recollecting, when I was on the Woolsack, the alarming warnings that were given to me that we might have been in breach of the Convention in regard to the closed shop. This is a much more public and probable, or possible at any rate, field for infringement of rights than the limited aspect of the closed shop.

A great deal was made by the noble Earl, in his speech on Amendment No. 123, of the value of the safeguard provided by the monitoring of my noble and learned friend Lord Diplock, the value of which of course I do not under estimate, within the sphere in which it operates. But there is no Diplock monitoring of letters, as I understand it, no equivalent monitoring to see that this is done in accordance with the tests, within the limitations that are set out in the undertakings and the description of what is done by the Home Secretary in the field of telephonic communication.

What we have done in the new clause which I am moving is once again to set out a strong penalty for those who intercept letters without authority, or instigate persons to do so, or disclose the contents of wrongly intercepted mail. Then we give again the safeguard of the Attorney General in respect of the bringing of proceedings, and then set out the circumstances in which the Secretary of State should properly and within the law issue warrants for the interception and disclosure of mail. As I say, they still enable him to do so—as he himself says is his purpose, and I have no doubt it is—to assist in the detection of serious offences; as a last resort measure; and when there is good reason to think it will result in a conviction.

Then in subsection (5), as in the case of Amendment No. 123, there are set out the circumstances in which on the application of a chief officer of police or the Director-General of the Security Service a warrant can lawfully be issued to intercept mail—when, it would assist in the detection of a major terrorist or espionage activity giving rise to external or internal danger to the defence of the Realm".

Then it sets out the procedure for the application for the warrant to be made in writing, et cetera. We have been careful there once again merely to set out what the Home Secretary says is his practice in this field. To put it into statutory form will certainly strengthen his position if he is arraigned in the European Court, or indeed if he is brought before the courts of this country. I beg to move.

The Earl of Gowrie

I must confess that in some respects the noble and learned Lord, not for the first time—and I am sure not for the last—has bowled me out because I had not really anticipated that this particular amendment would be moved. The reason is that almost everything—indeed, I think everything—that I said in our debate on Amendment No. 123 applies to the interception of mail. It is certainly my advice that there is no, as it were, class distinction as between interception of mail and telephonic interception.

However, I can give the noble and learned Lord some information. The statistics on the interception of mail were, in fact, in the Home Secretary's White Paper—not the Diplock Report. Therefore, they are available. As regards the question whether Lord Diplock's remit covers mail, I would imagine that it does do so, but I would have to consult the Home Office about that. If I may, I shall write to the noble and learned Lord about that matter if that would be satisfactory to him. However, on the general issues, the Government's position on the interception of mail is the same as their position on bugging. I went into that in some detail and with care when we dealt with Amendment No. 123.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

I would not be discourteous in saying that that answer is less than adequate. Indeed, it hardly touches on nine out of 10 of the points that I raised. However, I certainly did not intend to bowl out the noble Earl. I am not a very good bowler anyway, and he is a very good batsman. Perhaps I should have given the noble Earl greater notice. I am not sure that I am at fault but, in all the circumstances and in view of the fact that, without criticising him, I must say that he has not been able to deal with the points I have raised, I shall not divide the Committee. We have had a Division on the question of the main principles.

Nevertheless, it may well be that I shall return to the matter on Report, by which time the noble Earl will certainly not be bowled out and may—indeed, I hope that he will—have answers to the serious questions that I have raised and which cause concern to the public. In those circumstances and in the light of—I shall not call it a threat—my expectation to raise the matter again, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 67 [General classes of acts not infringing the postal privilege]:

8.23 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie moved Amendment No. 146A: Page 56, line 2, leave out ("the sender") and insert ("either correspondent").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 146A. Clause 67(1)(c) exempts from infringement of the monopoly the conveyance and delivery of a letter by a messenger sent for the purpose by the sender. This amendment which replaces Amendment No. 146 extends this exemption and allows the addressee of a letter also to send a messenger for the purpose of collecting that letter from the sender. Representations have been made to my honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry in particular from small businesses that an amendment on these lines should be made. I believe that it is a sensible amendment which removes a certain amount of illogicality in the present position which would, for instance, allow me to send a messenger with a letter direct to the addressee—that is to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—but would not allow me to send that same messenger to pick up a letter addressed to me from the person sending it—again, let us say from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.

This amendment should also be seen in the light of our proposed amendment to Clause 67(1)(i), which would put an employee in a broadly similar position with respect to mail addressed to the group in which he is employed, and I think that it is logical to treat the messenger on a similar basis.

The expression "correspondent" is the subject of Government Amendment No. 156, which inserts into Clause 67(3) the following definition: 'correspondent', in relation to a letter, means the sender or the addressee". Thus the words being inserted by my amendment, "either correspondent", cover both sender and addressee. This is modest, sensible and practical and I hope that the Committee will accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Amendment No. 147: Page 56, line 3, leave out paragraph (d).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move amendment No. 147. This is the first of my amendments to Clause 67, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in speaking to the last amendment spoke of a number of the ensuing amendments which we have tabled to Clause 67. Clause 67 deals with the general classes of act not infringing the postal privilege. Our intention in tabling these various amendments to Clause 67 was to restore the position as it was under the 1953 Act. In fact, I note that our last amendment to this particular clause has attracted the support of the noble Earl, so I am glad that we have his agreement in that respect at any rate.

In view of the fact that a number of the amendments tabled by the noble Earl this evening are effectively amending provisions which I shall propose to delete, probably the best way to make progress—and I am anxious to make progress—is to return basically to our reaction to the amendments moved by the noble Earl after they have been incorporated into the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

I should like to raise just one point on this particular paragraph. Why should it be limited to an aircraft only and not a ship as well? I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister when replying could answer that point.

Lord Trefgarne

Let me deal first with the point made by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. The purpose of the special exemption for "air couriers", as they are called, was to enable them to carry on their business. I must confess that we were not originally convinced that they would not be able to do so because of certain intentions which we had in mind in respect of a general suspension of the monopoly as regards express mail. However, we responded to pressure from the air courier companies and, as their business is strictly related to the carriage of express mail by aircraft, "aircraft" were included in the Bill and there was no need, as far as we could see, to include "ships" which were certainly not used for express mail purposes.

Returning to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as your Lordships may recall, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced last year that he intends to derogate the postal monopoly in respect of time-sensitive/valuable mail—that is to say, express mail. This derogation will be carried out by means of a suspension of the monopoly under Clause 69. We had intended that the activities of air couriers in this country, to which the noble Lord referred, should be covered, as I said in answer to my noble friend, by that general suspension. However, after receiving a number of representations from the air couriers, my honourable friend the Minister of State decided that there were arguments for putting something more definite in the statute, and he therefore accepted the amendment which inserted this new exemption during the Committee stage in another place.

The amendment would allow an air courier to take mail to an aircraft for onward conveyance out of the country by that aircraft. I must, therefore, emphasise that this exemption will have no more effect on the Post Office monopoly than will the general express mail suspension. It is true that, under the general suspension, carriers of express or time-sensitive mail will be required to charge £1 per item, but I am sure that air couriers would, in virtually every case, charge more than that in any event.

I think that the noble Lord is unduly alarmed by the effect on the Post Office of this new provision, which I do not think will have any greater effect on the Post Office than the general suspension for express mail, to which I have referred. I hope that this will set the mind of the noble Lord at rest.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

As I indicated when I moved this amendment, I do not at this stage intend to press it to a Division, but I shall take another look at the whole structure of Clause 67 after it has incorporated the various amendments which are being moved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 147A not moved.]

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 148: Page 56, line 14, leave out ("addressee") and insert ("addressees").

The noble Lord said: With the Committee's permission, I should like to move Amendment No. 148 and speak to Amendment No. 150. These are two purely drafting amendments. Clause 67(1)(f) and (h) both refer to the conveyance of letters, in the plural. The two amendments that I propose make it clear that these letters, in the plural, may be delivered to more than one addressee. This is a simple and. I hope, fairly straightforward drafting change. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)

Before I call the next amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 149 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 150 or 151.

[Amendment No. 149 not moved.]

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 150: Page 56, line 25, leave out ("addressee") and insert ("addressees").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before I call the next amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 150A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 151.

Lord Morris moved Amendment No. 150A:

Page 56, line 27, leave out paragraph (i) and insert— ("(i) The sending, conveying and delivery of business letters by means of a person or a number of persons who are associated in business with the senders or the recipients or by a body corporate which is a member of the same group as the senders or the recipients, and the collection of such letters for that purpose.").

The noble Lord said: As your Lordships are aware, subsection (1), inter alio, permits the delivery of a letter by a person in the same group as the sender. However, this freedom is limited to conveyance and delivery by one natural person. I believe that this subsection should provide for the conveyance and delivery by a number of persons in, for example, the chain, alternatively, by a corporate body which is in the same group as the sender.

As currently drawn, the exception contained in Clause 67 does not permit the collection of letters by a person for delivery to a collect catalogue, mail order company. Thus, a person delivering letters to a mail order agent or a customer on behalf of a mail order company, cannot collect any return correspondence from that person. I have a suspicion that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Gowrie, Amendment No. 151–and I may have completely missed this—covers this point. So, I shall not develop the point, but simply ask whether my surmise is correct as regards that. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

I can confirm that my noble friend's fear, which he described, was covered by the earlier amendment of my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I must also add that there are two further difficulties in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Morris, but in the light of my first assurance, I hope that in any event he will not want to proceed further.

Lord Morris

I wish only to express delight. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.35 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie moved Amendment No. 151: Page 56, line 27, leave out from (."of") to ("letters") in line 29 and insert ("letters by a person who has a business interest in those letters, and the collection of").

The noble Earl said: I am afraid that imperfect paper control is being evidenced because I had anticipated a much longer debate over the last amendment. Of course, I congratulate my noble friend on his brevity, even if it has left me somewhat confused.

This group of amendments—and if I may, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 153, 156, 157 and 158—has been tabled primarily to meet a point presented to Ministers by the Mail Order Traders' Association, but it also contains some drafting changes to meet some particular concerns which have been expressed to us by the Post Office. These are two separate issues which I shall take in turn.

On the first point, the mail order traders have expressed concern that the provisions contained in the Bill in Clause 67(1)(i) concerning the delivery of letters by persons "associated in business" with the sender would not allow them to carry on their business as they have done for many years, as it would not allow them to use their employees to pick up letters from persons other than those with whom they were associated in business. I understand that employees of mail order companies pick up letters from such "other persons" notably those who act as agents for the companies in the field.

When this point was discussed in another place, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said that he would consider whether it was possible to make an amendment of this nature, and he promised to consult the Post Office. Since then my colleagues have considered this question very carefully, and it has indeed been discussed with the Post Office, and we have come to the conclusion that it would be right to make these amendments in order to clarify the position for the mail order traders. Now it is true that the wording of the amendments does not limit this particular exemption only to the activities of the mail order traders, and the Post Office has expressed very considerable concern that there could be serious inroads on the volume of their letter traffic. However, we consider that it would in practice be illogical not to allow an employee of any company to pick up letters addressed to his employer from third parties when he will be able to deliver letters to those third parties themselves. We therefore accept that a proportion of the letter mail could be at risk, but we do not believe that in practice there will be any large-scale erosion of the Post Office's traffic just because, as in the case of Amendment No. 146A which we have just discussed, these amendments will not allow an employee of company A, delivering letters to third party companies B and C, to deliver letters between B and C. He will only be able to pick up letters addressed to his employer or another company in the same group as his employer. Thus, the amendments will not permit the setting up of full-scale private delivery services between completely separate companies. That is the kind of thing that could create an inroad into the postal monopoly, and that we have rejected altogether.

I also mentioned that these amendments contain some drafting amendments to take account of certain Post Office worries, and in this respect the amendments have been agreed with them. Their concern was that under Clause 67(1)(i), taken with Clause 67(3), it would have been possible for employees of a group of companies to set up their own private delivery service for their own business letters rather than only business letters referring to the business of their employer or another company in the same group as their employer. This was clearly not our intention and these drafting amendments, contained in Amendments Nos. 151 and 153, make it quite clear that the letters being conveyed, delivered and collected, must relate to the business affairs of the company whose employee is actually delivering or picking up the letters, or to the business affairs of another company in the same group as the first company. The term "group" is defined by Amendment No. 151 to mean: a body corporate and all of its wholly owned subsidiaries taken together". I am afraid that I have not been using the language of the Areopagitica. This is a complicated set of amendments, and I have had to take care to explain their exact intent. I commend these amendments despite the rigidity of their phrasing.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 152: Page 56, line 31, after ("another") insert ("or from a bank to a government department").

The noble Lord said: I hope it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I also speak to Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 and also to part of Amendment No. 157 to which my noble friend the Minister spoke a little earlier. What I shall have to say is relevant to all of these amendments. All of these amendments have been agreed with the existing Post Office. They make drafting changes to the exemption from the monopoly for what are bound to be in Clause 67(3) and described as "banking instruments". Naturally enough, these banking instruments tend to pass between banks. All four of the amendments are necessary to ensure that all the documents which currently pass through the banks' clearing system are covered by the definition "banking instrument" which we shall find in Clause 67(3).

In particular it has been drawn to the Government's attention that certain things called warrants issued by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue and also by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise and by the Department of National Savings pass through the clearing system. These are not covered by the definition of banking instrument as it now stands in Clause 67(3).

This particular point is now covered by Amendment No. 154, and this also adds to the definition "banking instrument" some other kinds of documents which pass through the clearing system. These particular documents were not previously covered. Examples of them which the Committee might be interested to note include bills of exchange, promissory notes, postal orders and money orders. All of these are now covered under the definition "banking instrument". Furthermore, we have now been informed that warrants not only pass between banks but are also returned by the banks to the department that issued them. It has therefore been necessary to amend the exemption in Clause 67(1)(j) to make this possible, by allowing banking instruments to pass between banks and between a bank and a Government department. The term "Government department" is defined in Amendment No. 157. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 56, line 39, at end insert— ("(2A) For the purposes of paragraph (i) of subsection (1) a person has a business interest in a letter if, and only if—

  1. (a) he is employed by one of the correspondents or by a member of the same group as one of the correspondents and the letter relates to the business affairs of that correspondent; or
  2. (b) he and one of the correspondents are employed by the same person or by different members of the same group and the letter relates to the business affairs of that person or, as the case maybe, the employer of that correspondent.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 154:

Page 57, line 13, at end insert— ("(aa) any document issued by a public officer which is intended to enable a person to obtain payment from a government department of the sum mentioned in the document; (ab) any bill of exchange not falling within paragraph (a) or (aa) or any promissory note; (ac) any postal order or money order;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 155: Page 57, line 16, after ("items") insert ("or any copy of an item").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 156:

Page 57, line 17, at end insert— (""correspondent ", in relation to a letter, means the sender or the addressee;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 157:

Page 57, line 21, at end insert— (""government department" includes any Minister of the Crown and any Northern Ireland department; group" means a body corporate and all of its wholly owned subsidiaries taken together;").

The noble Lord said: This is the last in the series of four amendments to which I spoke, and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 158: Page 57, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: I am glad to know that, for once, I am moving an amendment that will be accepted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 67, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 68 [Savings for things done under a licence]:

Lord Glenamara moved Amendment No. 159: Page 57, leave out from beginning of line 39 to ("the") in line 40 and insert ("A licence may, with the consent of, or in accordance with the terms of a general authority given by, the Secretary of State, be granted by").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to discuss Amendments Nos. 165, 166, 167 and 168.

Lord Trefgarne

If the noble Lord will allow me, may I suggest that it would be appropriate to consider Amendments Nos. 172, 173, 174 and 175 at the same time?

Lord Glenamara

We shall see. When we discussed Clause 15, which is the sister clause to Clause 68, I described it as the heart of the Bill. This clause is also the heart of the Bill; this Bill has two hearts, or perhaps a split heart, because this is the clause which, from the postal side, empowers the Minister to grant licences which derogate from the postal monopoly. These are licences defined in any way the Minister chooses, to do anything whatsoever which falls within the postal monopoly. The licences can be for any period of time. The power of the Post Office to grant licences under Clause 3 of the 1953 Act falls.

Clause 68 contains extremely sweeeping powers allowing the Secretary of State to promote extensive privatisation. Like the word "liberalisation", I think that "privatisation" is a horrible word which has come into general use nowadays. This clause would promote extensive privatisation of any of the services within Clause 66(1). It is under this clause that the Secretary of State plans to encourage express services, document exchange services, and charities to deliver their own mail. Together the derogation stated under Clause 67 and the likely ones under Clause 68 would immediately cause the Post Office to lose 1 to 2 per cent. of its mail traffic. The Post Office can ill-afford to lose 2 per cent. of its mail traffic. The Post Office in Britain, as elsewhere, is one of the most labour-intensive industries in the economy. It has problems enough without losing any of its revenue.

I do not know whether noble Lords noticed, but earlier in our debate, when we were discussing the pension fund, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke (who I believe is no longer with us) said that telecommunication workers were on to a winner but postal workers were on to a loser. I take it that by that he meant the postal business is scarcely viable. Certainly it cannot afford to lose 2 per cent. of its mail traffic.

Again, the Secretary of State is here taking exorbitant powers as he did on the telecommunications side in Clause 15, and because licences can be granted by him at any time Clause 68 hangs like tht sword of Damocles over the Post Office. There is an additional and very important point; there is no provision whatever for monitoring the licences which the Secretary of State issues. The Government can grant a licence and yet it has not set any curbs or any method of regulating the private companies to which the Secretary of State grants licences. What an extraordinary state of affairs that is. There are strict controls governing the provision of Post Office letter services, and in the matter of tariffs, the Government and the Post Office Users' Council have clear and definite roles to play.

When the noble Lord replies I would like him to say whether, in the event of a licence being granted to someone to carry part of the mail, the Post Office Users' Council will have a role to play with regard to that company. There are also very strict operational safeguards applied to the Post Office. The Post Office is subject to the most intense departmental interference. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, quoted the number of occasions on which the present Secretary of State has interfered in the running of the Post Office under this Government, compared with interference by the previous Government. In my own case the figures were four times under the previous Government and I think 24 times under the present Government.

The Post Office is subject to the most intense Government interference, and also of course to Parliamentary scrutiny of its operations. But the private companies who are going to get licences under this clause will be subject neither to departmental interference nor to Parliamentary scrutiny. However, I should like to make a suggestion, and I intend to convey it to the right quarter. I hope very much that one of the new Select Committees in the other place will step in and fill this gap and will monitor the companies to whom licences are given. I hope they will take up that proposal.

The most pernicious aspect of this clause is the absence of any realistic definition or limitation on the Secretary of State. If this is carried, the Secretary of State, or any subsequent Secretary of State so long as the Bill remains on the Statute Book, can license whatever takes his fancy. I may say that the strangest things take the fancy of the present Secretary of State. This clause amounts to privatisation by executive action. The Minister is asking for enabling powers to enable him to privatise whatever he likes in the Post Office. I wonder what the party opposite would say if a Labour Government introduced a general Bill to enable them to nationalise anything they liked. The Conservative Government, of course, are doing that in reverse.

May I make it clear, as it was made clear in another place, that when the Labour Party returns to power in two years' time, or whenever it is, we shall immediately call in for review all licences granted under this clause with the intention of revoking them? We shall not hesitate to use the same powers that the Conservative Government are taking to restore the monopoly and protect the Post Office system. Quite frankly, if I were a private operator I should think very hard indeed, very carefully, before taking up one of the Secretary of State's licences.

The purpose of our amendment is to preserve the status quo; to drop the Secretary of State from the power to give licences and to leave that with the Post Office as it is now. Only the Post Office would have the ability to grant licences. Surely that is the right thing to do. Why should the Government have the ability to chisel away at the monopoly, depriving the Post Office of its much-needed revenue by positively inciting all the cowboy firms in the country to grab their share of the profitable mail services?

Why should the Government interfere at all? In their manifesto they gave a specific promise—and have taken the trouble to get a copy of the paragraph in the Conservative Party manifesto of the last general election, which I intend to quote in a subsequent debate this evening. Let me read what they say in that paragraph, which is headed "Nationalisation". They say: We want to see those industries that remain nationalised running more successfully, and we will therefore interfere less with their management and set them a clearer financial discipline in which to work". They say "interfere less". Why should they interfere at all? Why interfere with the Post Office in this way and deprive it of much-needed revenue? All we are trying to do is to see that the Conservative Government keep that promise that they made in their manifesto, and do not interfere with the Post Office's monopoly to issue licences. I beg to move.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

In tabling these amendments the noble Lord is trying to take away all powers from the Secretary of State to make derogations from the postal monopoly, whether that be done through licensing under Clause 68 or suspension of the monopoly under Clause 69. As regards licensing, it appears that the noble Lord would wish to return to the status quo whereby only the Post Office would be able to issue licences for activities otherwise falling within the monopoly, albeit only on the authority of the Secretary of State. Then on suspensions of the monopoly he is suggesting that the Post Office itself should be given a power to end the monopoly.

However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that he wants to be able to make derogations from the monopoly, either generally or in respect of specific categories of mail, in situations where the Post Office is not providing a satisfactory service. Such a situation might arise in the event of industrial action in the Post Office, either in one particular area or throughout the country, resulting in a cessation or serious decline in service, or if, after due warning, the Post Office performance has been unsatisfactory for other reasons within its control or simply if it fails to meet demand for a particular letter service.

If the Secretary of State did not have these powers in Clauses 68 and 69, he would simply not be able to carry out his stated policy and thus ensure the best service to the customer. Even if he gave the Post Office a general authority to issue licences or suspend the monopoly, he would have no means of ensuring that they did so in the circumstances where he considered it to be appropriate.

It may be of some help to your Lordships if I describe briefly the way in which we envisage that these powers will be used. Above all, I should say that we have no intention of using these powers arbitrarily in such a way as seriously to damage the Post Office's interests. Indeed the powers may only be used after consultation with the Post Office and they will of course be given every opportunity to put forward their views. Furthermore, I do not envisage that the powers will be used frequently; what I do hope and expect is that the very existence of these powers will act as an incentive to the Post Office to provide an adequate service and thus obviate the need for their use. The powers should thus, when they are used and even when they are not, help to achieve our prime aim, which is the provision of the best possible postal service to the customer. However, we do have some plans for use of the powers as soon as the Bill is passed and my right honourable friend has announced these already: we intend to allow charities to deliver Christmas cards and document exchanges to transfer mail in bulk between themselves, and we intend to derogate time-sensitive/valuable (that is to say "express") mail from the monopoly, which is a matter I referred to a few moments ago. The first two derogations which I just mentioned will be carried out by means of the issuing of licences under Clause 68, and I should point out here that in each of these cases, charities and document exchanges, it will not be necessary for individuals to obtain separate licences; rather, the Secretary of State will issue a general licence covering a class of people.

The derogation in respect of express mail will, however, be carried out under the powers of suspension in Clause 69; in effect, the monopoly will be suspended in favour of any person wishing to run an express letter service subject to such conditions as may be set out in the suspending order; one such condition which we plan to impose is the minimum charge of £1 per letter carried. It is not possible to issue licences under Clause 68 for all persons, since that clause only allows the granting of licences to specific individuals or classes of person. In time it may be appropriate, after full consultation with the Post Office, to make further derogations from the monopoly, but these three are all we have planned for now.

In conclusion, therefore, I can repeat only that these powers must rest with the Secretary of State rather than the Post Office if he is to be able to carry out his policy of ensuring the best service to the customer by allowing others to provide letter services in situations where he considers it appropriate. In all cases the Post Office will be fully consulted. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the noble Lord will not wish to press his amendments.

When moving the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, asked some specific questions, first about POUNC, the Post Office Users' National Council. I nca tell him that POUNC will remain responsible, as the consultative body, with regard to the Post Office, but will not have a role to play in respect of any of the private companies who in due course are offering some of the services. As for monitoring, something may be said on that when we come to later amendments. Suffice it for me to say that at present we should not wish to impose on private companies new monitoring arrangements peculiar to them which were not in general applied to other commercial interests.

The noble Lord complained that we were seeking a provision to enable us to privatise, as he put it, anything we liked. Of course the Bill relates specifically to the Post Office, and the part we are discussing now is the postal services only. It has long been part of our policy, and was certainly included in past manifestos, that we should liberalise the monopoly in the postal services, and that is what the Bill is about.

Lord Glenamara

I fear that I did not note the additional amendments which the Minister said he wished to discuss. Would he tell me which they are?

Lord Trefgarne

We are dealing with Amendment No. 159. In addition, I suggested we might consider this discussion to be covering Amendments Nos. 165 and 168 inclusive and Amendments Nos. 172, 173, 174 and 175.

Lord Mottistone

I was distressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, issue threats as part of his speech. He seemed to feel that monopoly was sacrosanct and that monopoly controlled not only the Post Office but was the best way of handling things. He must have witnessed over the last 30 years that monopoly systems have not worked as efficiently as, I am sure, everybody hoped they would when they set them up in the first place. In fact, in general terms for all sorts of reasons the Post Office is not providing as good a service today as it did 30 years ago, so there is surely some justification for thinking there could be arguments for having some of the responsibilities of the Post Office freed—liberalised, as my noble friends call it—so that other people can take them up and at least provide some measure of competition against which the Post Office can measure its own performance.

To round off an argument by saying, "When we get back into power we shall reverse the whole thing and call in"—"revoke" was the word I think the noble Lord used—"all the licences", is no way to run the country. We must experiment, not get stuck the way we always have been; we must experiment and try new things. Let us do that in the way the Bill is trying to do it, with relatively small amounts of the business; 2 per cent., the noble Lord was talking about, and that is reasonable. If the whole thing was being run on the basis of, say, 60 per cent., that would be a different matter.

We must get ourselves out of the mould into which we have been cast and try experiments in all sorts of directions. This is one of the bold ways in which it is being done, though in my view it is being done in too mild a style. Let us hope the Secretary of State in due course does more rather than less than my noble friend was saying. Let us not get stuck with the thought that monopoly is the only answer. I implore noble Lords opposite to cast off the great shibboleth of imagination in which they have cast themselves. Let them look widely and think about new things. They should stop bothering about the past and acknowledge the errors of their ways, and then perhaps we can get a new picture in this world.

Lord Underhill

What the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said may sound very nice to him. He talks about experimenting, but let us see what the Bills says. It gives full powers to suspend or give away any service carried out by the Post Office. Therefore, the noble Lord should not just talk about powers to experiment. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said there was no intention to use the powers arbitrarily. Where is that said in the Bill? We may have a Secretary of State who will not use the powers in an arbitrary way, but once the powers are on the statute book they will be there for any Secretary of State to use.

The noble Lord then said they would not be used frequently. That is not said in the Bill. Very importantly, he said three activities were planned "for now", which must mean he is contemplating the possibility of conducting further experiments and innovations which, in the end, will destroy the present Post Office system. It is all very well to be told that things will be done "after consultation with the Post Office", but what if the Post Office says, "If one of these activities is taken away, it will imperil our service"? Will the Secretary of State listen to that, or will he say, "The powers are in the Bill and I am going ahead irrespective of what the Post Office says"?

I see noble Lords opposite smiling at what Lam saying. I agree that the Post Office had rather fallen down two or three years ago, but it has pulled itself back and is innovating new services itself. It is based on a system which has spread throughout the world, yet we are one of the few countries which want to mess about with our Post Office in this way. Once services are started to be taken away, what will be the result? The only services that people will want to take are those which make a profit. As I asked on Second Reading: Who will want to deliver in the Highlands and Islands? The answer is, only the Post Office, which is built on a national system with common services. I remind noble Lords opposite that while words may sound all very well, they must look at what is actually in the Bill and the powers being given to the Secretary of State. They will see that the Bill gives him power to take anything away from the Post Office and destroy the whole of the services.

Lord Brookes

I sense the sadness that the Committee may be about to divide on this issue. For many of us here, and for many outside, that will be a matter of real regret. To most of us the Post Office is a commendable institution, well established and historically well run, with the occasional hiccup here and there; something which renders a great corporate service to us, something which, through the postman (who to many of us is a cheery friend) is a necessary symbol and part of our lives. To hear it cast in terms of something which is to be lightly and readily disregarded by any Government, whether of the Right, the Left, or the centre, is I think a measure of exaggeration of anything that any of us would believe would happen or is likely to happen in real life.

In short, if the Post Office is as good in the future as it has been in our history, it will survive on its own merit. If it ceases to be so good, then against that contingent risk it should not require the defence of special privilege, which should be accorded to no monopoly. I think it sad that in a nation which I think always regrets retrospective legislation we should tonight have heard condemned to instant death any future opportunism, efficiency and effectively pursued to serve the cause of the public, and should have been told that a future Labour Government would kill it, regardless of its quality, its merits, or the necessity for its existence. I particularly deplore that coming from the Front Bench opposite, from a noble Lord who is elegant in mind, and I am sure in purpose, too, and I hope that he will not press harsh thoughts of this kind at this stage in our discussions.

Lord Ponsonby of Sholbrede

I had not intended to intervene in the debate on Amendment No. 159, but since the debate is covering also Amendments Nos. 173, 174 and 175, I feel I should now state yet again that the point of the latter amendments—to which my noble friend Lord Glenamara did not speak when he moved Amendment No. 159—is to restore to the Post Office the sole right that it has at present to lift the monopoly, to restore the status quo under the 1953 Act. As the Committee will realise, we and the Post Office regard this as a vital issue. Bearing in mind the discussion on previous clauses, the Committee will appreciate how vital it is that the basic letter monopoly is preserved. What is at stake is whether or not the Post Office is able to manage its own business.

There is no conceivable justification for giving the Secretary of State carte blanche to suspend the monopoly as and when he chooses. What is especially curious is that he already has power, under Clause 66, to grant licences if he wants to erode or suspend the monopoly. Now, under these partiular clauses, he wishes to have dictatorial powers. Besides being unacceptable in principle, that could have a damaging effect on the management and industrial relations in the Post Office.

In the light of the more ample powers taken by the Secretary of State under Clause 66 (on licences), it is evident that this proposal is about using a stick to beat the workers in the Post Office. It is about blackmailing the Post Office workers not to take industrial action. We object in principle to the Secretary of State using the threat of lifting the monopoly to deny Post Office workers the rights that other workers have. It is for that reason that I support the latter amendments in the series of amendments that we are now discussing.

Lord Glenamara

First, I should like to say a few words about the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I am becoming very tired of being accused of issuing threats or spreading alarm and despondency. This is the third time that this has happened in the debate. I have been a parliamentarian for a very long time. I have not been in your Lordships' House for so very long, but I have been in the Palace of Westminster for very many years, and as long as I am a parliamentarian I shall regard it as part of my duty in opposition to point out to the public the probable effects of Government actions, policy and legislation. That is my job in opposition. So I hope that noble Lords will not accuse me of spreading alarm and despondency or issuing threats.

I believe that when one is a member of a party it is equally important, where one is able to do so, as I am, with great clarity, to tell the public what a future Government of my own party would do—and I have done that absolutely clearly. The noble Lord, Lord Brookes, did not listen to what I said, and I hope he will do me the honour of reading what I said, tomorrow.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said that the Post Office was not as good as it was 20 or 30 years ago. I quite agree with him; it is not. But can he tell me a Post Office in the world which is? Has he any experience of the American Post Office, the Canadian Post Office, the French Post Office or the German Post Office?

Lord Mottistone

I have some experience of the American Post Office, which has consistently been inferior to ours and is today; but I do not think its standard has changed much over the last 30 years. I do not know for what reason—at least, I have my own ideas but I would not advance them at this stage—but the standard of our Post Office back in the 1950s was infinitely superior to what it is now. The American Post Office, which is worse, has been pretty consistent; and I would say the same of the French Post Office.

Lord Glenamara

The noble Lord confirms what I said; the American Post Office could not get any worse. It is one of the most inefficient Post Offices in the world, with all its mechanisation. I would say this, as I did on Second Reading: I believe that with all its faults the British Post Office is probably the most efficient Post Office in the western world. I do not know anything about Post Offices in the eastern world, but certainly it is in the western world—with all its faults. Of course, its difficulties arise from the fact that it is a very labour-intensive industry, with all the problems which that nowadays involves. That is the trouble. Certain things can be mechanised, but no machine can take the letters round and push them through the letter-boxes. They must employ a great many people, and that is the cause of the difficulties.

The noble Lord said that we should all become brave innovators. I listened carefully to what he said, but that bears no relationship to the way Conservative Governments act. This Bill has nothing whatever to do with innovation. The whole purpose of this Bill is to provide still more pickings for private enterprise; that is what this Bill is about.

I should like to thank the noble Lord who replied from the Front Bench, Lord Trefgarne, for giving more information about the Government's intention on licences, but I am very sorry and sad about what he said on the question of POUNC. He confirmed that it is not going to have any function in relation to licensees. But why not? If they are carrying out part of the functions which the Post Office are carrying out now, why should not the Post Office Users' Council monitor their operations which are at present done by the Post Office, as well as monitoring the operations of the Post Office itself?

Then the noble Lord said that the companies to whom licences are given will not be monitored, but the Post Office will be monitored. It will be monitored by the Users' Council; it will be monitored by the Secretary of State; and it will be monitored, and not half monitored, by a Select Committee in another place. But none of those three things will apply to its competitors, who are exactly on all fours with the Government's proposals on telecommunications. This is not fair competition; it is grossly unfair competition. British Telecom is going to be subjected to unfair competition; the new Post Office Corporation is going to be subjected to unfair competition. I think our points of view are irreconcilable on this, but, with Clause 15, we regard this as the core, the centre, of the whole Bill, and I would advise my noble friends to press this to a Division.

9.18 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 159) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 57.

Blease, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. McNair, L.
Brockway, L. Molloy, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Collison, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Glenamara, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stone, L.
Jeger, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Listowel, E. Underhill, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Winstanley, L.
Abinger, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hatherton, L.
Auckland, L. Henley, L.
Avon, E. Holderness, L.
Belstead, L. Inglewood, L.
Bessborough, E. Kemsley, V.
Broadbridge, L. Long, V.
Brookeborough, V. Lyell, L. [Teller.]
Brookes, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Margadale, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Marley, L.
Caithness, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cockfield, L. Morris, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Mottistone, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cranbrook, E. O'Hagan, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orkney, E.
Digby, L. Rankeillour, L.
Donegall, M. Redesdale, L.
Ellenborough, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sharples, B.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fortescue, E. Stradbroke, E.
Gainford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Swinton, E.
Gisborough, L. Trefgarne, L.
Glendevon, L. Trumpington, B.
Gowrie, E. Vivian, L.
Gridley, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.26 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 160: Page 57, line 40, leave out from beginning to ("for") in line 42.

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 160, I am also addressing my remarks to Amendments Nos. 161, 162, 163, 164, 169, 170, 171 and 172. This clause, as drafted, empowers the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Post Office, to grant licences for the doing of things falling within the postal monopoly. We have already debated the desirability of transferring this licensing power which currently resides with the Post Office to the Secretary of State and it is not my intention, in moving this amendment and the following amendments, to re-open that issue.

My concern here is rather the extent of the powers which it is proposed to confer on the Secretary of State. They are couched in the very widest of terms. For example, it is left open to him if he wishes to grant licences which are unconditional and irrevocable. He can set conditions and provide for revocation; but the clause is silent on the mechanics of the revocation procedure where the conditions are flouted by licensees.

The Secretary of State can grant a licence to persons of a class, the definition of which may be framed by reference to any circumstances whatever. Anybody who falls within that class, however dubious his character, can take advantage of such a licence since there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to ensure that people or organisations that he licenses are fit to run the postal service. Moreover, a class licence, if revocable, can only be revoked against the whole class. Surely, the deterrent of revocation should exist for cases of flagrant abuse of a licence; but the deterrent can be meaningful and effective only if it can be applied to the individuals who warrant it.

I believe that these are serious defects. My belief is not founded on mere hypothesis. There is an example in recent history of the Post Office which points at least to the need for some measure of control over the appointment of licensees and the desirability for some check on their activities. I refer of course to the Post Office strike in 1971. At that time the Post Office exercised its existing powers to licence others to handle mail. Experience showed that while some operators gave a reasonably good if necessarily limited service, others appeared to be more concerned with the selling of philatelic items than with the carrying of letters, and they also fell far short of the standard which the public expects. Indeed, when the strike was over, there were a number of instances of licensed operators dumping—or at least attempting to dump—on the Post Office mail which they had not delivered, and some of this mail dated back several weeks. Post Office managers at that time were too heavily committed to coping with the effects of the strike to be able to vet or monitor these operators; but the need to do so quickly became apparent.

I am convinced that consumer interests demand that we should not ignore the lessons of history. I do not believe that it is sufficient, as some may argue, to leave this to market forces. Of course, if a tailor makes a bad suit for a customer one changes one's tailor. But we are talking here about the carriage of mail, and when we find out that mistakes have occurred there is no remedy and an important letter has gone astray; so the market force argument is going to be small consolation to those members of the public who, on the strength of an operator's claim that he is licensed by Her Majesty's Government, may have entrusted their mail to a villain or to an incompetent operator.

Therefore, what these amendments standing in my name and that of my noble friend seek to do is to introduce some basic devices into the clause which will protect the public from the risk that potentially unscrupulous and grossly incompetent operators will be licensed without any check to carry mail. Let me emphasise that the devices I am advocating are quite basic. The improvement I seek is modest. There is a good case for maintaining that it should be incumbent on the Secretary of State, having granted licences, to monitor the performance of licensees and subject them to the same rigorous scrutiny as will no doubt continue to be applied to the Post Office. But I am not pressing for that and I am conscious of the need to keep any machinery simple.

Essentially the amendments seek to enable the Secretary of State, instead of licensing all persons of a class indiscriminately, to state his intention to grant individual licences to persons of a class who satisfy him that they are fit and proper persons to hold a licence, to require him to maintain a register open to public inspection which records details of licences granted and to whom, and contains references to the services licensed. They will require the Secretary of State to impose on all licensees the condition that each item of mail bears an endorsement identifying the licensee, and they will set out the specific circumstances in which the Secretary of State may revoke licences.

I should have explained why I consider that the Secretary of State should interest himself in the bona fides seeking a licence, and I should now like briefly to speak to the other changes which I have described. In the clause as drafted, a licence can be to persons of a class as well as to a particular person. However, as I said earlier, once the Secretary of State has issued a licence to a person of a class he would have no idea at all who was taking advantage of it; nor would the public.

The amendments will ensure that the Secretary of State not only keeps a record of those who are entitled to carry on licensed activities, but that he also makes that record available for public inspection. I do not think that such requirements will impose intolerable burdens on him or his department. What I have in mind is quite simply that all licensed carriers of mail will endorse on each item their name and licence number.

Despite the use of the word "written" in the amendment I am proposing—that is new subsection (2A)(e)—I envisage the use of a stamped impression, and the Interpretation Act 1978 will permit this. This is not unreasonable. We all now take it for granted that each letter carried by the Post Office carries an invitation—whether that is a stamp, a franking mark or a printed impression—that the Post Office service is being used. I can see every reason why, in a competitive situation, every carrier should be identifiable in this way. Otherwise, how will the public know to whom to complain or, indeed, which carrier to recommend, in the light of the service which they have been given by a particular operator. On the question of the revocation of licences, the amendments impose what, I suggest, are very reasonable criteria for helping the Secretary of State to decide whether or not to revoke a licence.

Those are the modest objectives of these amendments. Unfortunately, in turning those objectives into draft legislation, it has been necessary for the amendments to be couched in rather more lengthy terms than, ideally, one would wish. But I should not want to lay myself open to the charge that the legal and practical implications of what I am seeking to do have not been thought out in full; they have been and the amendments demonstrate that. There are no hidden catches.

It might, of course, be argued that, as the Government have said that they do not envisage that they will use their licensing powers frequently, it is unnecessary to have even the minimum machinery that I have suggested. But the Government have, after all, already declared their intention of using the Secretary of State's powers as soon as the Bill is enacted to grant general licences to cover the different classes of person. The classes suggested were charities to deliver Christmas cards, document exchanges and the transfer of mail in bulk. In my view, however much or little the Government may exercise their powers, the public have the right, first, to know the extent to which they are actually being exercised; and, secondly, to be assured that the persons to whom Government licences are granted are fit persons, who will honestly and speedily deliver mail entrusted to them. These criteria apply just as much to the delivery of Christmas cards, and the book tokens, record tokens and postal orders that will undoubtedly be enclosed with them, as to any other class of mail. For all these reasons, I commend this series of amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Greenwood of Rossendale)

If your Lordships agree, we shall discuss with this amendment, Amendments Nos. 161, 162, 163, 164, 169, 170, 171 and 172.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

I have, as always, listened most carefully to the noble Lord's explanation of this long and complicated set of amendments, and I understand him to be saying that these are really modest and reasonable requests. However, I must say that it seems to me that their effects would be far from modest, in terms of the bureaucracy needed to administer them. The noble Lord said that it was a grave error for the Bill not to include any express provisions laying conditions on persons who operate private letter services under a licence issued under Clause 68, but we do not believe that such detailed provisions are necessary in primary legislation.

Clause 68(1) empowers the Secretary of State to impose any conditions at all in the licence, thus giving him the necessary flexibility to fit each situation. Any person operating under a licence who breaks those particular conditions will be in breach of the postal monopoly and thus guilty of an offence. Moreover, I must point out that any customer who has a complaint against a private operator will be able to take up his complaint in the courts, should he so wish. I do not, therefore, believe that it is right to suggest that we are abandoning the poor gullible customer to his fate. The powers are there to impose such conditions as are appropriate. And, of course, the Post Office has to be consulted before any licence is issued and will no doubt put forward its views on the matter.

But I must resist these amendments for another reason as well. As I said, I believe that the effect of the noble Lord's amendments would be to set up a whole new bureaucratic licensing system within the Department of Industry, and this is something which we expressly wish to avoid. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said clearly on several occasions that in the two areas in which he intends to issue licences—the delivery of Christmas cards by charities and the bulk transfer of mail between document exchanges—those licences will be issued to a class of persons and that it will not be necessary for each person who intends to take advantage of that licence to apply for his own individually. At present we have no plans to grant any other licences, but should we do so I expect that those other licences will also be general in nature. Thus, although I appreciate the noble Lord's sentiments and the spirit in which he has proposed these amendments, I must resist them because I believe that they are both unnecessary and impracticable.

Finally, may I point out that even when private operators have been licensed to run particular letter services the final decision as to who should be entrusted with his mail lies with the customer. He will of course always be able to choose the Post Office if he is not prepared to trust the alternatives.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I find that reply by the noble Lord not at all satisfactory. I have in mind that what is not provided for in any way in his reply is how somebody who receives a communication—a Christmas card, shall we say—which is grossly delayed in its delivery is to know to whom to complain. One part of my amendment would have made it easy for such a complaint to be lodged. The noble Lord might be able to be more helpful to your Lordships if he could indicate what sort of conditions would attach to the granting of a licence. Would there be some of the sorts of conditions which I think I indicated should be attached to the granting of a licence in the series of amendments which I moved?

Lord Winstanley

Before the noble Lord responds to that point, may I raise another to which I hope he may be able to respond at the same time. I do not necessarily support this group of amendments as a whole; I accept part of what the noble Lord said in reply with regard to unnecessary bureaucracy, controls and so on. The narrow point with which I am concerned is that it is a fact, as the noble Lord knows very well, that the Post Office Act relieves the Post Office of any common law liability in respect of any damage done or any loss, however caused, to anything carried through the post. They have complete relief from common law liability. One cannot sue the Post Office for negligence with regard to the mail, although we know that the Post Office have now introduced both their own code of practice and certain methods of compensation.

I think that in reply the noble Lord made it utterly clear that the issue of a licence for some kind of limited carriage of mail did not carry with it immunity from the common law. He made it clear that it would be perfectly possible for anybody who suffe[...] loss through negligence or any other cause as a result of the carriage of something by a licensee to have a common law remedy through the courts.

With regard to the question of Christmas cards being sent by a charity and being delayed in the mail, I cannot regard that as such a distressing loss or delay that the ordinary citizen would want to go to the courts. However, the possibility of licensing might extend much more widely in the future. I know that the examples which the noble Lord has given are very restricted, but in future there might possibly be a licensee whose work was more comprehensive and perhaps of more significance, in whose case loss could be of real concern to an individual. It is absolutely clear that then there should always be some readily available way whereby the person who has suffered such loss can identify the person against whom he may have to bring some kind of common law action. On that narrow part of the noble Lord's group of amendments, perhaps one might hear a little more from the noble Lord in reply.

Perhaps he could say whether or not things which are carried in some future situation by some future licensee should be required to carry some kind of identifying message so that those who are concerned about damage, loss or whatever would know to whom they must make application.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am not thinking about anything so extravagant as the noble Lord suggested, such as a legal action about the late receipt of a Christmas card. Surely the point here is that there may be a number of charities who involve themselves in (shall we say?) the delivery of Christmas cards, and as somebody who receives Christmas cards unfranked, with no identification, falling continuously through one's letter box in the pre-Christmas and also the post-Christmas period, one will be very interested to know in fact what sort of service is being given by the various organisations and charities who are doing this and who in fact they are. I really cannot see the problem of identification marks being put by the carrier on to the particular class of mail which is being delivered.

Lord Trefgarne

I think the noble Lord is quite right to point his finger at all sorts of things which it might be appropriate for licensees to do, such as, for example, putting their name and address, and possibly also the telephone number, on the communications which they handle, but I do not think that what the noble Lord is proposing is appropriate for primary legislation like this. This is just the sort of thing that perhaps ought to be imposed in certain cases as a condition of the licence that is issued.

As I have said, the Post Office will of course be consulted before these licences are issued and I have no doubt that they will wish to suggest to the Secretary of State just these sort of conditions. I think this argument applies to the rather limited services which we are at present contemplating, and equally to the more comprehensive services which might perhaps come one day and which worried the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, rather more. The conditions which will be attached to the licences are to be considered in each and every case. I am certain that conditions which are appropriate for one licence might not be appropriate for another, and the views of the Post Office will be taken into account in arriving at a decision as to exactly what conditions are to be imposed in any particular case. I hope that explanation is helpful and that the noble Lord will not wish to take the matter further.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is always very helpful to your Lordships, and indeed I am mindful that in earlier debates on other legislation this year there were matters which were not suitable for primary legislation and he was able to help your Lordships considerably by placing in the Library certain details—and what particularly comes to mind is the articles of association of companies which it was proposed to set up. So your Lordships were able to see what the noble Lord and his department had in mind in regard to particular items of legislation. I think it would be very useful to your Lordships if the noble Lord could place in the Library before Report stage the sort of conditions which would attach to the issuing of a licence.

Lord Trefgarne

I am afraid I am not in a position to give an undertaking to do that, but I will undertake to see whether there is any more information that I can give to the noble Lord on this matter by means of private communication between now and the next stage of the Bill; and then, if the noble Lord is not satisfied, he can raise the matter again on another occasion.

Lord Morris

I believe I can be of assistance to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. I have always believed the Christmas mail was carried by Santa Claus.

Lord Winstanley

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his assistance, but before we finish with these matters, as I suspect we are about to do, would the noble Lord give an absolutely categorical assurance that there is no question at any time of a licence to the licensee carrying with it the legal immunity which is at present enjoyed by the Post Office under the Post Office Act?

Lord Trefgarne

As I understand it—and without considering the matter further I would have to qualify the assurance—the noble Lord's understanding of this matter is correct. If I am wrong, I will write to the noble Lord and let him know.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

In view of the noble Lord's remarks and his promise to be as helpful as he can in letting your Lordships know by one means or another the sort of conditions he would envisage attaching to the licence, I do not intend to press this amendment this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 161 to 172 not moved.]

Clause 68 agreed to.

Clause 69 [Suspension of the postal privilege]:

[Amendment No. 173 not moved.]

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 173A:

Page 58, line 34, at end insert— ("(1A) For the purposes of an order made under this section, any definition of a class of letters may be framed by reference to any circumstances whatever.").

The noble Lord said: This is a brief amendment which we believe does fit into this clause. I hope I may make a brief explanation of its necessity. The Committee may know that Clause 69(1) empowers the Secretary of State to suspend the postal monopoly for such period and to such extent as he may specify. The Secretary of State has already said that he may use this power to suspend the monopoly entirely, or merely in respect of a particular geographical area, or alternatively in respect of a particular class of letters. In one special case, he intends to use the power to suspend the monopoly in respect of time-sensitive or valuable—in short, express—letters, and he has said that he will require all carriers of such letters to charge a minimum fee of £1 per item.

There have been doubts expressed to us that the clause as drafted may not have allowed this particular suspension of the monopoly. The purpose of the amendment that I am moving is to make it quite plain that any of these doubts as to the meaning of the word "extent" are resolved in favour of the widest possible interpretation. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 174 and 175 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 69, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Winstanley

Before we finally decide that very weighty matter, I understand it is possible that the noble Lord the Minister might have further comments to make on matters which arose under this clause and the earlier clause, further information which he might be in a position to give to your Lordships' Committee.

Lord Trefgarne

Under an earlier amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, asked me whether certain privatised services would enjoy any exemption from liability as do existing postal services. I am now able to give the noble Lord a categorical assurance that they will not enjoy any such immunity.

Clause 69, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 70 [The Post Office to be subject to limited liability in respect of certain inland packets]:

9.55 p.m.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 176: Page 59, line 28, at end insert ("at the time when they are posted").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 176. Clause 70 amends the law in relation to the Post Office's liability for loss of or damage to letters and other postal packets. I hope that it may be of some assistance to your Lordships if I explain, albeit briefly, that the effect of this particular clause is to allow the Post Office to accept legal liability for loss of or damage to a wider range of postal packets than it is able to do at present. As a result, the arbitration procedures in the code of practice can now be binding on the Post Office and, indeed, the Post Office have accepted that they will be legally bound by the findings of the arbitrator. I believe that the Committee will welcome this improvement in the rights of customers and especially the rights of customers of the Post Office.

Turning to the details of this particular amendment, I point out that, since its effect is not immediately obvious from Clause 70(3), I hope that I may be able to explain the resulting wording in Section 30(4) of the 1969 Act as it would be amended by Clause 70(3) of the Bill before us tonight. It would read as follows: The Post Office shall not be liable under this section in respect of a packet of any description unless any such conditions as are required by a scheme under Section 29 of this Act to be complied with in relation to packets of that description at the time when they are posted have been complied with in the case of the packet". The effect of the amendment is to put beyond any doubt at all that the Post Office can only impose conditions requiring particular things to be done relating to the time before the packet is posted. For instance, the Post Office will be able to require a customer to obtain a certificate of posting before they undertake the conveyance and delivery of a postal packet; they will not, however, be able to make production of the certificate a pre-condition of their being liable for loss of or damage to the packet. Of course a court would be able to accept other evidence that the certificate had been obtained, for instance, from eyewitnesses who were present. The addition of the words in the amendment emphasises that the Post Office will be in a similar position to other suppliers of services, and I hope that the Committee will agree that that is the right policy. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 176A:

Page 60, line 12, at end insert— ("(8) This section shall come into operation on the appointed day.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 176A. The purpose of this particular amendment is to ensure that the clause takes effect on the appointed day rather than, as at present drafted in the Bill, at Royal Assent. Of course we would accept that this means that the new régime of liability will not come into force until a little later than otherwise would have been the case, but this, I am afraid, is necessary because of a number of legal complications.

Clause 70 modifies Section 30 of the Post Office Act, and Section 30 sets out the liability imposed on the Post Office in connection with the carriage of registered mail. This power is also to be extended to cover other categories of mail. But the Post Office will not be able to publish a new scheme containing its terms and conditions of service compatible with the modified Section 30 until the Bill before us tonight is enacted. Since it would not be possible in practice for this scheme to be published immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent, if only because the exact date might not be known very long in advance, there will be a danger of a hiatus when the law has been changed but the Post Office scheme has not yet been changed to correspond with it.

I am sure that the Committee will agree that such a hiatus would be undesirable and this problem can be avoided by delaying the coming into force of Clause 70 until some time after Royal Assent, as Section 13 of the Interpretation Act will allow the Post Office to publish its scheme after Royal Assent but before Clause 70 takes effect. I am afraid that this is a little complicated, but I have made it as clear as I can. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 70, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 71 and 72 agreed to.

Clause 73 [Borrowing powers of the Post Office and its wholly owned subsidiaries]:

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 176B: Page 61, line 28, leave out ("with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of the Treasury").

The noble Lord said: We have now arrived at Clause 73, an important clause dealing with the borrowing powers of the Post Office and its wholly-owned subsidiaries. In view of the long debate that we had last night on an amendment initiated by myself in relation to Clause 26, I move this amendment, No. 176B, by way of a probing amendment in order to ascertain the views of the Government in relation to the Post Office and whether or not they are similar to those that they held last night in relation to the borrowing powers of Telecom.

With the leave of the Committee, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 176C. On these Benches we believe—as I hope I made clear last night—that the quicker we get rid of the odd PSBR rule, the better for British Telecom and the Post Office. In view of the massive investment involved, we consider that British Telecom and the Post Office should be free to find their own money for capital investment in the private market.

Last night the amendment that I initiated concerned the powers of British Telecom to raise money tempor- arily by way of overdraft or otherwise. I submitted that it would be proper to delete from that clause the words that British Telecom should only borrow temporarily: with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of the Treasury". At that stage in relation to British Telecom the Government said that even for temporary borrowing the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of the Treasury were needed. Therefore, my amendment failed. But Amendment No. 176C is concerned with the powers of the Post Office to borrow otherwise than by way of temporary loan. In my submission the Post Office, for the purpose of borrowing otherwise than by way of temporary loan, should be free to go to the market and, therefore, Amendment No. 176C is directed to removing from subsection (2)(b) the words: with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of the Treasury

I do not know whether the Government are differentiating between the borrowing powers which are necessary for British Telecom and those which are necessary for the Post Office. I anticipate that the Government will take the same view, but because of the importance of the matter I think that it should be made clear to the Committee whether or not the Government have any difference of view as to the borrowing powers of the Post Office as against those of British Telecom. Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 176B.

The Earl of Gowrie

I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that the position as between British Telecom and the Post Office is identical.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am obliged for that categoric assurance that the position with regard to the borrowing powers of the Post Office is the same as it is for British Telecom in relation to temporary loans as well as to long-term loans. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving that positive assurance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 176C not moved.]

Clause 73 agreed to.

Clause 74 agreed to.

Clause 75 [The Post Office's accounts and audit thereof]:

10.6 p.m.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 177: Page 64, line 14, after ("has") insert ("after consultation with the Post Office and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 76 to 78 agreed to.

Clause 79 [Powers of Treasury to dispose etc. of the shares of Cable and Wireless Limited]:

Lord Glenamara moved Amendment No. 178:

Page 67, line 4, after ("State") insert ("and the Chairman of Cable and Wireless Limited").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to discuss Amendments Nos. 179 and 182. I shall say most of what I have to say when speaking to Clause 79 and will move the other amendments very briefly. This is a very bad Bill indeed. It is a Bill that is going to do great harm to the telecommunications system, to the postal services, to subscribers in rural areas, and to electronics manufacturers. The proposal in Clause 79 is in a category of its own. This proposal is sheer, crass stupidity. One of my honourable friends in the other place described this clause as "industrial sabotage". It is worse than that; it is sabotage of an important British national interest. I am intensely proud of being British. The people of this little island have contributed so much to the forward march of mankind. They have created vast new countries and have given those countries enduring constitutions, our language, our skills, and our laws. They have built great ports, great cities, great railways and great roads on almost every continent. I believe that no nation has done so much for mankind and for civilisation.

Whatever one may think about imperialism and empires, the British Imperial era did exist. One of the good things that emerged from that era was that we built up a worldwide system of telecommunications, often under the pressure of events. For example, the line from the United Kingdom to India was created very quickly as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan by the British in India. It was done without any reference to London because that would have taken too long. The system was built up throughout the Empire initially by submarine telegraph cables, by the ancestor of a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Pender. In a very few years a girdle of submarine cables was thrown around the earth. In the early decades of this century that was followed by the new radio links to the Commonwealth and the Empire, and then sensibly the two came together to form Imperial Communications Limited.

Just as the Roman Empire left behind a network of roads, some of which are still in use today, the British Empire left a legacy of a vast network of Commonwealth communications. It exists today partly as a system of submarine telephone cables with enormous capacity—some carrying up to 5,000 telephone conversations simultaneously—and partly as a system of earth stations and satellites. Your Lordships may not know it but this whole vast network of Commonwealth communications is co-ordinated in the Commonwealth Communications Financial Organisation. The indebtedness of one country to another is co-ordinated through the Commonwealth Telecommunications Financial Organisation.

Of course the largest self-governing Commonwealth countries now own and run their own international telecommunications, but within the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. But the smaller Commonwealth countries, and those which are still colonial territories—and there are still one or two of them—have their international communications run with great skill and competence by Cable and Wireless, who have provided satellite earth stations in many small countries round the world and given them worldwide telecommunication links which are as good as those of major developed countries. To give only two examples: Gambia, which everybody knows now was the home of Kunte Kinte, now has an earth station and is in satellite contact with the rest of the world. So has Belize on the other side of the Atlantic. Two small countries and Cable and Wireless have given them first-rate telecommunications.

This is a major contribution to the economies of these developing countries: a really major contribution. As I pointed out in the Second Reading debate, Cable and Wireless do this also for non-Commonwealth countries. Bahrain, for example, certainly has the best telecommunications between Europe and Hong Kong, and probably one of the best systems in the world. In the case of Bahrain both the internal telephone system and the external telecommunications are provided by Cable and Wireless. I have driven in a car along the street in Bahrain and dialled a number in London and got through in a few minutes. You can do that from a motor-car in Bahrain. All that is provided by Cable and Wireless.

I also pointed out in the Second Reading debate how many newly independent countries in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific rely on, and trust, Cable and Wireless for their external telecommunications. Our naval influence in these areas may have gone but this vital British influence remains, thanks to this wholly-owned British company. Apart from the fact that Cable and Wireless have woven a web of tremendously worthwhile and lucrative British influence around the globe, they are our most consistently successful publicly-owned industry.

It is all this—and I have explained this at great length because very little is known about Cable and Wireless in this country—that the Government are putting at risk. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to believe that that is not rhetoric. They are putting this at risk in order to get a one-off payment to the Exchequer—if ever there was an example of eating the seed corn this is it; Cable and Wireless have paid £10 million in dividend this year and a vast amount of tax—and in order to provide more pickings for private investors. I do not know how many thousands of listed securities there are on the London Stock Exchange, but in order to provide one more they have to savage this successful, excellent British company.

Now why will it be put at risk by what the Government are proposing? First of all I believe there is great danger of it falling into foreign hands. I shall not discuss that now because it comes up on another amendment. Secondly, I believe that it could lead to the disintegration of Cable and Wireless. It certainly could lead to the disintegration of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, which is a bit of the Commonwealth that really works; a mechanism which functions very well indeed: one of the most successful aspects of it.

A great deal more information should be given to the Committee by the noble Earl about the Government's consultations with Governments of countries where Cable and Wireless operates. How many Governments, for example, in the Government's view are now likely to nationalise Cable and Wireless operations in their countries? How many? In particular, I should like him to tell us—and I asked him during the Second Reading debate, but he did not tell us—about the two territories where Cable and Wireless earn about 80 per cent. of their profits; Hong Kong and Bahrain. What about the partial nationalisation there? Is it not a fact in Hong Kong that the price of Hong Kong's acquiescence in this is that they are insisting that a joint company be established in Hong Kong consisting of Cable and Wireless and the Hong Kong Government? At the present time of course all the Hong Kong profits of Cable and Wireless are remitted to London. If that happens, what will happen to the profit in Hong Kong? The whole of it will not be remitted to London. A good deal of it will go to the Hong Kong Government if the Government become a major shareholder. Is that the price of their acquiescence in this plan, and does it mean a major reduction of Cable and Wireless profit from there? Is it a fact that similar arrangements are being discussed in Bahrain and that they too will insist on something like this Hong Kong pattern of a joint company between the Bahrain Government and Cable and Wireless?

I do not want to be misunderstood, but in some respects—I felt this acutely when I was its chairman—Cable and Wireless is rather like a house of cards; it depends for its stability on the most sensitive political handling both by Government and by the company itself. I am afraid that the crude commercialism of this Government and their approach to the company is absolutely alien to Cable and Wireless, to its history and to its careful and sensitive mode of operation. Specifically, may I have a reply to the point on Amendment No. 182: has the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation agreed to this by resolution? I ask that because, if this happens, it will be the only non-Government organisation in the whole Commonwealth to be in the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. I should therefore like to know if they have agreed to it by resolution. I beg to move.

10.17 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

I am sure that all noble Lords on this side of the Committee are no less proud about being British than the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. Again, as so often—and we must accept this as a difference of view—he tends in our view to try to confuse nationally-owned assets with national assets, and we do not necessarily make that connection. There is no reason why privatising a company or selling Government holdings in that company should make it any less or any more successful. The questions of the ownership of shares do not seem to me to be the integrally important thing about the direction of such a company.

The noble Lord treated us to a historical perspective very clearly and interestingly about the history of this company in terms of the British Empire. He will be just as aware, however, that the British Empire started life as a mercantile and commercial enterprise, and there is no reason why the commercial activities of Cable and Wireless should not be, if anything, strengthened by the proposals we are seeking to make.

All of us have different bees in the bonnet or different ideologies or doctrines. My own, and I do not mind declaring it, is that modern Governments. including my own, are obsessed by the ownership of assets. There is no reason I can see for Governments as organisations to own any assets or shares at all. It does not seem to do them much good, and if I had my way there would be a far more rapid and greater programme of privati sation, and I hope that my noble and right honourable friends will slowly and surely come round to my point of view.

We made it clear in a Statement on 9th March that the decision to dispose of part of the Government's current shareholding in Cable and Wireless was taken with the full knowledge and agreement of the court of directors. We recognise that the size of the Government's shareholding is an important factor in the company's commercial activities and in particular in its relations with overseas Governments, for whom it provides telecommunications services. There can be no doubt that the Government, and indeed any Government, would wish to consult the chairman of the company before selling any shares. I appreciate therefore the motive of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, in the first amendment, but I do not see that it is necessary. In any case, as it stands, the amendment is open to the objection that it imposes a statutory obligation on the Treasury, rather than on the Secretary of State, who is in fact responsible for the company and who should therefore be responsible for carrying out consultation on any decision by the Government to sell shares.

Turning to Amendment No. 182, I would say that I appreciate and indeed share the concern expressed by the noble Lord about the connection between Cable and Wireless and the Commonwealth, and I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that the Government did not make a final decision about selling shares in the company without taking close account of the formal relations as they exist.

Reference has been made to the fact that after the last war Cable and Wireless's operations were taken into public ownership in the United Kingdom and in some Commonwealth countries as a result of Commonwealth initiative. It might help the Committee if briefly I say why the circumstances today are very different and why, therefore, it would be quite inappropriate for the British Government to be obliged to ask the CTO to agree any proposal to sell shares in Cable and Wireless, as is proposed in the amendment.

The Commonwealth Conference resolution of 1945, which led to nationalisation of the company, was passed when Cable and Wireless owned and operated all the facilities and services which comprised the Commonwealth's international telecommunications network. After the disruption of the war some Commonwealth Governments—those of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia—felt that they would be better able to protect their vital communications links if they took over the operations themselves. Nationalisation of the company's operations in those countries and in the United Kingdom was accepted and embodied in the Commonwealth Telegraphs Agreement in 1948, and a Commonwealth Telegraphs Board was set up to administer the operating agreements signed between the partner Governments, their national operating bodies, and the board itself. Other Commonwealth countries joined this organisation in subsequent years and Cable and Wireless would have been a signatory as a national operating body in some of those countries.

However, the arrangement was replaced in 1966 by the existing Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (the CTO), following another Commonwealth Conference. The CTO is not in itself a decision-making body. Its constitution provides for Government meetings at an official level. The conference convenes at 3-yearly intervals and all independent Commonwealth Governments are eligible to take part. Neither Cable and Wireless itself, nor its overseas operations, have anything official to do with the conference. The council is composed of representatives of Governments who are partners in the collaborative financial arrangements of the CTO. As with the conference, Cable and Wireless has no formal status in the Council. The company simply provides telecommunications services under franchises on behalf of some of the partner Governments. The British Government's representative on the council is an official of the British Post Office. He also acts as the representative on the council on behalf of a dozen British overseas territories and associated states with some of which Cable and Wireless has franchise agreements.

I can assure the Committee that the present relationship between Cable and Wireless and the CTO has been examined very carefully. There is no legal obligation to consult the organisation about our policies vis-à-vis Cable and Wireless, and I believe that we are no longer under any moral obligation to do so. The nature of the company's Commonwealth connection is now quite different from what it was in 1945. That is not to say we would deny that the services provided by the company are still a significant part of the international network between many countries with past or present associations with the Commonwealth; for example, by the very nature of its services Cable and Wireless happens to be closely involved with the CTO's financial arrangements, which come under the CTO Council's responsibilities. Out of courtesy to the CTO and its member Governments arrangements were made to notify the organisation before the decision to sell shares last March.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, asked me one or two specific questions. My advice is that protection from foreign control will be contained, as it is now in the articles of association. Cable and Wireless is not a member of the CTFA and therefore cannot affect the CTFA's future. None of the overseas Governments has in fact objected to the sale of shares; and the Hong Kong licence was in any case due for renegotiation. I hope that noble Lords will be persuaded that the Government undertook all necessary overseas consultations before the final decision to sell shares in Cable and Wireless, and would always consult in the event of further disposals. I therefore hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, presses his amendment the Committee will reject it.

10.26 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

Perhaps I might intervene before the noble Lord replies. I qualified as a naval signal officer in 1944–45, and had dealings thereafter with Cable and Wireless for many years, with the greatest possible regard throughout all those years for the high quality of Cable and Wireless. The only point I should like to make is that at the time I qualified Cable and Wireless was an independent company, before its nationalisation. It was of a very high quality then. Indeed, a lot of the historical facts which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, gave us, which I entirely agree with, came about before the nationalisation in 1946.

At Second Reading the noble Lord rather implied that this was a new move to denationalise something in some regard—and obviously not wholly, in view of what my noble friend Lord Gowrie has just said. It is not; it is a reversion to what it was before, and it probably is not a full reversion to what it was then. We must not get worried about the quality which this great company has maintained through both its private existence, when it built itself up (which is significant in itself), and the time when it had to be nationalised. It may be that this suited the other countries of the Commonwealth, but that is a matter of which the Navy was not aware.

But this is not something which need affect the efficiency of this great company in any way at all; and I should have thought that there was every other reason, such as my noble friend has so very eloquently put to us, why there should be changes. We should march with the times; we should not be pinned back to 1946. We should look forward and see how we can develop. We should give Cable and Wireless a chance to get better, rather than stay stuck. I should have thought that, really, the noble Lord, in the best interests of Cable and Wireless, which he obviously served well, would do as well not to proceed with this amendment or with any of the others.

Lord Kennet

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has, as he often does, enlivened the debate by introducing some general principles by reference to which the particular issue before the Committee may be judged. They were two. His first principle was that the distinction between national assets and nationally-owned assets was a false one, and should not be taken account of in this matter. At this point I think he was drawing a picture somewhat akin to the Japanese economy and saying that we should go in that direction: if it is British it does not matter whether it is public or private.

His second principle was that it makes no difference to the commercial success of an entreprise whether it is publicly owned or privately owned. If I misunderstood him I apologise, but I think that is what he was saying, that intrinsically it should not make any difference to the success of an enterprise whether it is privately or publicly owned, as an abstract proposition. He then passed, thirdly, to express a hope, which I took to be a personal one, expressed by one Minister among many, that his own Government would go faster towards the privatisation of commercial enterprises. I have this question for him, assuming I have summed up his two general propositions correctly. In those circumstances, why does he hope that privatisation will go yet faster than it is going?

The Earl of Gowrie

I think it is a little wide of the amendment but that is perhaps my fault for introducing at this late hour some general principles; but the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was good enough to be interested in my principles, so I had better qualify a little what he said. Other things being equal, there are great advantages in commercial enterprises being denationalised and being private. The qualification exists where there are defence considerations or where there are security implications or the rest. What I think would illuminate the noble Lord most about my position which he is kind enough to be interested in, is if he looked at the interesting debate in this Committee that took place yesterday on the problems created by the ability of public sector corporations to borrow money. I argued then that one of the central political debates in this economy which cut across party lines at the present time was on the problem of the funding and financing of Government debt. As I say, other things being equal, privatised companies are able to go on to the money markets with much more independence than if they remain in the public sector. That is one of the reasons—and there are others if one likes to adduce them all—why I would like more privatising done, much though I dislike the particular word.

Lord Glenamara

I do not intend to press these amendments to a Division because they are three technical points. I should point out to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that he has a number of inaccuracies in his brief. Looking at the balance sheet of C and W he will see whether C and W is involved in the CTFO. It is. it receives all its payments from Commonwealth countries via the CTFO. They are technical points. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 179 not moved.]

Lord Glenamara moved Amendment No. 180: Page 67, line 4, after ("time") insert ("not earlier than 1st day of January 1985").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is obvious. The Government have no electoral mandate of any kind for doing this. The purpose of the amendment is to defer implementation until after the general election. Earlier I said that I had taken the trouble to obtain a page of the Conservative Party manifesto. It says that they will sell back to private ownership the recently nationalised aerospace and shipbuilding concerns; they will sell shares in the National Freight Corporation to the general public and relax the Traffic Commissioner Licensing Regulations. They are the only specific denationalisation proposals mentioned.

I take it that the public who want to know what Conservative candidates will do about nationalisation will look at the paragraph of the manifesto headed "Nationalisation". There is no mention of Cable and Wireless; they have no mandate whatever to do what they are doing to this company. I do not believe that the electors imagine for a moment that they will be foolish enough or doctrinaire enough to sell off our most successful publicly-owned company—and this enables them to sell off the entire 100-million shares.

If this amendment is agreed—and I intend to press it to a Division—the Labour Party will state in terms—and this is the second time I have said what the next Labour Government will do—in the next general election that they will not use the powers provided in Clause 79 to dispose of the shares. This will give the electors in the next general election the chance to find out what Cable and Wireless is, what it does, what it stands for in the world, and how much it is contributing annually to the Exchequer in tax and dividends. They can question candidates at the general election about it, make their views known and arrive at their own decisions. Nothing could be more sensible or democratic than that. Therefore, I beg to move this amendment deferring the selling of any shares in Cable and Wireless until not earlier than 1st January 1985.

The Earl of Gowrie

Given the premises on which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has pursued his arguments and defended his amendments, I am not surprised or in any way shocked at this one. I think that it is a little bit disingenuous to think that anybody in the public was really left in the dark about the fact that the policies under which the Government fought the last election included substantial measures of privatisation. If electoral manifestoes spelt out every clause of every Bill that was liable to be brought before the House they would be less read than they are.

I can tell the noble Lord that it is the Government's intention to achieve our objective of selling some of our shares in Cable and Wireless, subject of course to obtaining the necessary powers in this Bill, well before the next general election. I have no doubt that by the time that comes along the noble Lord's amendment will be redundant, and I suggest, as a result, that he does not pursue it tonight.

Lord Glenamara

The noble Earl did not tell me whether he told his electors that he intended to denationalise Cable and Wireless or whether he knows any Conservative candidate who mentioned Cable and Wireless in the election. However, I certainly intend to press the amendment to a Division.

10.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 180) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 46.

Blease, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Shackleton, L.
Glenamara, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Jeger, B. Stone, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Underhill, L.
White, B.
McNair, L. Winstanley, L.
Molloy, L.
Abinger, L. Donegall, M.
Avon, E. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Belstead, L. Ferrers, E.
Broadbridge, L. Fortescue, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Gainford, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Caithness, E. Gisborough, L.
Cockfield, L. Glendevon, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Gowrie, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Cranbrook, E. Hatherton, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Holderness, L.
Kemsley, V. O'Hagan, L.
Long, V. Redesdale, L.
Lyell, L. [Teller.] Renton, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Margadale, L. Sharples, B.
Marley, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Stradbroke, E.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Swinton, E.
Morris, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mottistone, L. Trumpington, B.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Vivian, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

10.44 p.m.

Lord Glenamara moved Amendment No. 181: Page 67, line 4, after ("dispose") insert ("to any citizen or citizens of the United Kingdom or to any company or companies which are completely controlled by a citizen or citizens of the United Kingdom").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment, if I may, I should like to discuss Amendments Nos. 183 and 184. The purpose of these amendments is to call attention to the first of the two dangers I mentioned when moving previous amendments—namely, that Cable and Wireless may, if the shares are sold, fall into foreign hands. I know the Government have said they intend to sell only up to 49 per cent. of the shares; but I point out that this Bill empowers the Government to sell all the shares in Cable and Wireless and to do so without any further reference to Parliament. Does anybody really believe that, with a monetarist Chancellor of the Exchequer of the kind we have now, the Secretary of State for Industry will not have his arm twisted over the next three years? Of course he will: quite well.

So the 49 per cent. announcement is no safeguard against the company falling into foreign hands. Of course, when the company is put on the market it is possible to ensure that the shares do not go to foreign nationals but, in a free market and particularly in the EEC, Cable and Wireless shares could end up in the hands of a subsidiary of a French company, a German company, an Italian company, a United States company or any other foreign company, and there is nothing anybody can do about it.

From what Ministers said on Second Reading, the Government do not intend, even initially when the shares are floated, to ensure that they are sold only to British nationals. I realise at once that because of the nature of Cable and Wireless there is a dilemma here. I myself urged the Government some time ago, if they were going to sell these shares, to give some preferential allocation to the employees of the company, and I am glad that they agreed to do that. On the other hand, the majority of employees of Cable and Wireless are not United Kingdom citizens; they are nationals of the overseas countries where the company operates, and this is the problem. O[...] really has to consider where the balance of advantage [...] to everybody concerned.

Should everyone, United Kingdom and overseas staff, be allowed a preferential allocation when the shares are sold, with the near certainty that Cable and Wireless will fall into foreign ownership? Or should there be a preferential allocation of shares in this United Kingdom company only to United Kingdom nationals, with, one would hope, much less chance that it would fall into foreign hands? Neither of these alternatives is entirely satisfactory. But that is how it is, I am afraid, in Government, in business and in life. It is a choice of the more satisfactory of two unsatisfactory alternatives.

But I myself have no doubt about what my choice would be. I would risk being charged with unfairness—and I do not think the charge would be made, knowing Cable and Wireless's national staffs—in order to keep Cable and Wireless in British hands, because that would be in the best interests of all the staff, United Kingdom and overseas. So the overseas national staffs of Cable and Wireless might lose out in the preferential right to buy shares initially, but their security would be much more likely to be assured; and they are reasonable people who, I am certain, would accept this, if it were put to them. So I believe that the Government are making a great mistake in selling the shares initially to foreign nationals. I feel that they should be confined to British nationals, which I believe—I cannot be certain—would help the company to remain in British hands. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If your Lordships agree, we will discuss Amendments Nos. 183 and 184 with this amendment.

The Earl of Gowrie

These amendments would, in any case, be insufficient to achieve the end of trying to prohibit any shareholding in Cable and Wireless by foreigners, since they would not control trading in new issues of capital. Leaving that aside, it is well-known that trade in company shares is a notoriously difficult thing to regulate altogether. I can, of course, understand the noble Lord's desire that Cable and Wireless should remain British; it is a successful company and a valuable national asset. But to prohibit any foreign shareholding would be quite inappropriate for a company like Cable and Wireless. The noble Lord himself made the good point about employees' share participating schemes, which he would wish to have—and I would—and it would be quite extraordinary if employees of the company were prohibited from employee participation simply because they were foreign nationals. That would he an astonishingly illiberal form of provision for so famously international a company.

Of course, there is a great difficulty in trying to define in a few lines of statute the necessarily complex provisions required to prevent foreign control of the company. Part II of the Industry Act 1975 runs to 10 sections and seven pages alone. But the question of foreign shareholding will, as Cable and Wireless themselves have recognised, continue to be a matter appropriate for the articles of association of the company which will need to be reviewed before the sale of any shares. This is in line with precedent—for example, British Aerospace. In addition to the fact that the Government are remaining a majority shareholder, the noble Lord's anxieties are not well placed. I would therefore ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Glenamara

T do not intend to press these amendments to a Division. I think that the Government are wrong. They are making a great mistake and running a very great danger. I do not think it matters what is written into the articles of association. This could happen. As the noble Earl himself said, it is notoriously difficult to control this situation, particularly in the EEC. However, we shall watch very carefully indeed what happens to the shares of Cable and Wireless. I hope the Government will take any steps which are available to them—I am grateful for what the noble Earl said about re-writing the articles of association—to safeguard the position.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 182, 183 and 184 not moved.]

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Extended application of the Telegraph Acts]:

On Question, Whether Clause 80 shall stand part of the Bill?

10.52 p.m.

Lord Morris

Clause 80 extends the definition of "telegraph" as contained in the Telegraph Act 1963. As the definition of "telegraph" in that Act is the peg upon which every single piece of legislation in this field is hung, I think it is very important to know, in a few words, what the effect of this clause is. I could go banging on about this for a very long time, taking your Lordships through the history of the Telegraph Acts from 1863 to the present day, but I do not wish to do so at this late hour.

Lord Trefgarne

Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that we are not to be given the history of the telegraphs since heaven knows when! My noble friend has asked about the purpose of the clause. The original wording of Section 3 of the Telegraph Act 1863 defined "telegraph" in terms only of wires, which are usually made of metal. This was in keeping with the technology of the time. But British Telecommunications are now using optical fibre cables which are made of glass. The new definition of "telegraph" therefore includes optical fibres and therefore ensures that all the legislation covering telegraphs and telegraph works or wires extends to the new optical fibre cables.

I hope your Lordships will agree that this is a sensible change.

Clause 80 agreed to.

Clauses 81 to 87 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 88 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [General transitional provisions]:

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 185: Page 110, line 8, leave out ("Part I") and insert ("this Act").

The noble Lord said: This is a minor technical amendment. It corrects a slip in the drafting. It ensures that the transitional provision contained in paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 will apply wherever changes are made in any part of the Bill, not just in Part I. I hope this amendment is acceptable to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendments Nos. 186 and 187:

Page 111, line 1, after ("years") insert ("or that year")

Page 111, line 6, leave out ("and third") and insert ("third and fourth").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I move these two amendments together. These again are two technical and minor amendments to the transitional provisions of the Bill. They take into account the definition of the words "accounting year". I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 188:

Page 111, line 42, at end insert— ("(2) Any charges fixed under any such scheme, so far as so relating, shall have effect as fixed under a scheme made under section 20. (3) A scheme made under section 20 which is to come into effect on the appointed day may revoke or amend any such scheme as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (1).").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment covering the transition from the Post Office to British Telecom. It ensures that there is continuity in any schemes which contain the conditions under which the telephone service is supplied. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendments Nos. 189 and 190:

Page 112, line 6, at beginning insert— ("(1) Sections 26(3), 27(2), 73(3) and 74(2) shall have effect as if—

  1. (a) any money borrowed by the Post Office the liability to repay which is transferred to the Corporation by this Act were money borrowed by the Corporation and not by the Post Office;
  2. (b) any sums issued by the Treasury in fulfilment of a guarantee under section 38 of the 1969 Act, being sums the liability to repay which is so transferred, were sums issued by the Treasury in fulfilment of a guarantee under section 29 and not a guarantee under the said section 38; and
  3. (c) so much of the debt assumed by the Post Office under section 33 of the 1969 Act as is so transferred (in this paragraph referred to as "the Corporation's assumed debt") were money borrowed by the Corporation and not part of the debt assumed by the Post Office.

Page 112, line 11, at end insert— ("(3) The rate of interest on the Corporation's assumed debt and the date from which interest is to begin to accrue, the arrangements for paying off the principal of the said debt and the other terms of the said debt shall be such as the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury, may from time to time determine; and different rates and dates may be determined under this sub-paragraph with respect to different portions of the said debt. (4) The Secretary of State shall give notice in writing to the Corporation of any determination under sub-paragraph (3). (5) Any sums received by the Secretary of State by way of interest on, or repayment of, the Corporation's assumed debt shall be paid into the National Loans Fund.").

The noble Lord said: These are consequential upon the vast list of amendments that I moved, I think it was on the first day of our deliberations on Committee stage—what we might call the "Mottistone amendments", since my noble friend was able to remind me of the group earlier today. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 191: Page 112, line 15, after ("shall") insert ("so far as so relating").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 192: Page 112, line 20, after ("shall") insert ("so far as so relating").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 193:

Page 112, line 21, at end insert— ("(2) Section 53(1) shall have effect as if any sum due to the Post Office before the appointed day under the provisions of a scheme made under section 28 of the 1969 Act, being a sum the right to recover which is transferred to the Corporation by this Act, were a sum due to the Corporation under the provisions of a scheme made under section 20.").

The noble Lord said: This is a consequential amendment upon an earlier amendment moved on the first day of Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 89 [Repeals and savings]:

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 194:

Page 74, line 15, at end insert— ("(2A) Notwithstanding the repeal by this section of the said Act of 1961, the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 and the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1921 shall continue to have effect with the amendments made by Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1961.").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 89, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Enactments repealed]:

Lord Lyell moved Amendment No. 195: Page 129, line 22, column 3, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 26.

The noble Lord said: This is another technical amendment which follows an earlier amendment which we discussed on the second day of the Committee stage. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lyell moved Amendments Nos. 196 and 197:

Page 130, line 11, column 3, after ("Schedule 4") insert ("in paragraph 2(1), in the Table, the entry relating to section 3 of the 1953 Act and")

Page 130, line 50, at end insert—

("1968 c. 60 The Theft Act 1968. In Schedule 2, in Part I, paragraph 8.").

The noble Lord said: I think it convenient to move Amendments Nos. 196 and 197 together and I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 199 and 200. These four amendments add some additional repeals of enactments which, to the surprise of your Lordships, will be either spent or will become so after the creation of British Telecom. I hope that would suffice as an explanation this evening. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Morris moved Amendment No. 198: Page 131, line 8, after ("(b)") insert ("(c)").

The noble Lord said: I believe, no doubt wrongly, that if this amendment were not to pass, the limitation of liability not of British Telecom but of the Post Office with regard to failure, interruption, suspension or restriction of its telecommunications service would be retained in the law. I fail to see the necessity of that as I was firmly under the impression that the intention of the Bill was to split the telecommunications from the postal service of the Post Office. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

I hope my noble friend will not seek a long and detailed explanation of this. We went into the principle of this matter at an earlier stage of the Bill, and I hope my noble friend will be satisfied with the explanation I gave at that time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lyell moved Amendments Nos. 199 and 200:

Page 131, line 35, at end insert—

("1974 c. 8 The Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Act 1974. In Schedule 2, paragraph 4.").

Page 131, line 37, column 3, at end insert ("In Schedule 4, paragraph 5.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to these two amendments earlier. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 199 and 200.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 90 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.