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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Supreme Court of Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Representation of the People

Question agreed to.



Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'-- [Mr. Dowd.]

Hon. Members: Object.

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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

(1) this House approves the First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC 47); and
(2) the Resolution of 5th June 1996 on the Language of Parliamentary Proceedings be amended accordingly by inserting, after the word 'Wales,', the words 'and at Westminster in respect of Select Committees'.--[Mr. Dowd.]

Hon. Members: Object.

5 Feb 2001 : Column 772

Unsolicited Mail

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Dowd.]

10.25 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I am grateful to have this opportunity to raise the important matter of unsolicited mail. Members of political parties--that is most of us in the House--may have occasion to use unsolicited mail over the next few months, but I wish to refer to something that has a rather more malign intent than most of the material that is produced by political parties.

It may seem to most of us that 8 February will be an ordinary parliamentary day. We will discuss the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill--which has its merits, but it is certainly nothing out of the ordinary. However, anyone in the position of my constituent, Mr. K. Bond of Castle Cary, who received a letter some weeks ago from an Eva Damus, clairvoyant, medium and astrologer, might take a much more serious view about the prospects for that day. That is the date on which Mrs. Eva Damus believes that she needs to undertake a grand mystic ceremony on behalf of Mr. Bond and the many thousands of other people to whom she has written. She must do that because those people are

Curiously enough, that negative circle can be lifted by the application of a mere £20 to the account of Eva Damus and the placing of a few magnets around the home. It is curious that not only has she discovered that dark secret by extensive work on a person's birth and personality chart, but has managed to do so without knowing the date of birth of the person involved. One is requested to send that information with the £20 should one be foolish enough to respond to the request.

The subject would be funny if it were not so serious. Many people take the receipt of such a letter extremely seriously; they would consider it a genuine threat. The letters are all the more insidious because they are so carefully personalised. The recipient is named throughout the letter, and the letter's heading states:

It leaves me speechless that people can prey on vulnerable people in the way that the organisations that send out such letters do. Mr. Bond was absolutely right to draw this letter to my attention, and it was one of the reasons--if not the only one--why I sought this debate.

Once I had secured this debate, I was overwhelmed by colleagues who have told me that their constituents have received similar material through their letter boxes. To give one example, a letter from a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) purports to be a payment validation for a sum of £200,000. It appears on an official looking form that is clearly designed to mimic a Government document; it looks very like a pension slip. It asks only for the recipient to send what it calls an actuation fee of £16. The money can be sent as cash, or by cheque or postal order. It is only when we turn over the document and read the small print that we realise that all that is on offer is a draw, albeit one with a £16 entry fee. Even if the letter is not a criminal deception, it is certainly a scam that it is intended to deceive and is something that we could do without.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) gave me another bundle of letters this morning. By coincidence, she received the letters today from a constituent of hers, Mrs. Margaret Treacher, to whom they have been sent during the past week or so from places throughout the world. They come from Australia, Singapore, Canada and other places. Some of them appear to originate in Britain. All of them purportedly bear the good news that their recipient has won a cash prize, but they are junk mail that is designed to extract money under false pretences. If the letters do not ask for a cheque by return of post for so-called validation, they request that recipients ring a premium number that will keep them on the line for a number of minutes, very expensively, in order to receive a paltry prize such as a Biro. Curiously, some people seem to be identified as potential victims of such material and receive not one or two such requests, but dozens.

Other scams have been conducted through the post. A favourite is the letters originating in west Africa. They come principally from Nigeria and ask people for money to unlock supposed capital that would, they claim, otherwise be held in trust or in a west African company. They are, of course, nonsense and if one were foolish enough to send the money, it would never be seen again.

I believe that such scams are a serious problem for all our constituents and that the House and the Government would do well to deal with them. I have corresponded on the matter with the Post Office and with the Office of Fair Trading. The Post Office supports the mailing preference system and has what it calls the door-to-door scheme, which enables people to opt out of unwanted material by ensuring that it is taken by the postman. However, I believe that the Post Office could do a lot more to deal with letters that originate from outside this country, pass through the Mailsort system and often use London post office box numbers--a practice that appears to give them a vestige of respectability.

I am, however, disappointed by some of the responses that I have received. There is a clear suggestion that the marketing exercise in question is fairly profitable for the Post Office, and that it is not anxious to intervene if it can help it. Although Royal Mail accepts the need to deal with mailing that infringes legislation or advertising codes, it states in its letter to me that it

Fair enough; I do not expect Royal Mail to be aware of the contents of every letter that passes through the mail system.

However, some of the mailings can be clearly identified from previous experience. What action is taken if such mail is identified or brought to Royal Mail's attention? It states:

However, it goes on to state that it would

It further states:

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