|Draft Postal Services Act 2000 (Determination of Turnover for Penalties) and (Consequential Modifications No. 1) Order 2001
Mr. Heath: I am not as familiar as the Minister with the arrangements, but will the High Court be able to make a judgment other than in terms of the facts of the infraction, whatever it may be? Surely the court could not set aside the penalty applied by the regulator, because that would be a matter not of law but of the regulator's opinion.
Mr. Johnson: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I am inaccurate, but as far as I am aware, section 36 of the Act ensures that a licensed operator fined by Postcomm can make an appeal both about why it is being fined and about the amount of the fine. He was right to say that 10 per cent. is set out in the Actsomething that we are not here to amend today. He referred also to second-class post. It is important for us to recognise that we are not talking about a situation in which the only postal services provider is the Post Office, although that is likely to be the case on 26 March when the licence will be agreed with Postcomm. Under the legislation, there could be other service providers in the licensed area, so the legislation and consequential amendments have to cater for that. There were only three references in the 2,000 amendments that we had to deal with to second-class post. That term is used specifically by the Post Office, although it may not be used by it in the future or by other organisations licensed to operate in the monopoly reserved area.
The hon. Gentleman's next point was that the consequential changes should have been included in the Act. That is unfair. We debated that in Committee many times, and it was a fairly minor issue in debates on the Floor of the House. We are discussing an organisation that was given a statute to operate a state postal service by proclamation of King Charles I from Bagshot in 1635. A great deal of legislation includes references to the Post Officethere are 2,000 references, most of which date not from 1635 but from 1837 onwards. It was a time-consuming and complex job for officials, who had not only to identify every consequential amendment but to consider how they would apply in the context of the Postal Services Act 2000. We all agreed that, after 10 years of stagnation, the Post Office needed to be given the commercial freedom to compete effectively. The best way to do business was to enact the legislation and introduce the consequential amendments as a separate order. That was the view of the House.
The hon. Gentleman's final point was about the term ``postmaster'' and the Representation of the People Act 1983. Postmasters disappeared from the Post Office in 1984. Every area used to have a head postmaster, but after the reorganisation of the Post Office, which started in 1984, the term ceased to exist. We are not talking about the sub-postmaster, who runs the corner post office, but the postmaster, who no longer exists. Assistant head postmasters no longer exist and neither do the 147 head postmasters' areas. In terms of the new regime, however, other people might operate in the licensed area who have involvement with the Representation of the People Act 1983 because they distribute election material. To continue using a term that does not even apply to the Post Office would have been a missed opportunity.
Mr. Heath: I wonder whether the Minister will satisfy me in relation to my other point about the two-year period and how that is dealt with in legislation. We are here to consider the detail of the order, and I should like an answer on that point before the Committee concludes.
Mr. Johnson: My inspiration has just arrived by first-class post. It advises me to consider the point and write to the hon. Gentleman. I am at a disadvantage because I thought that his point was the one that I answered in relation to the three-year limit and running into the second year. As a result of the consultation, we decided not to mess about with half-years.
Mr. Heath: My point is simply that a period of exactly two years is neither less than two years nor more than two years. I want to be satisfied that a clear precedent exists in law for including it in one or other of those categories.
Mr. Johnson: As the word ``law'' has been mentioned, I shall consider the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman.
The orders are sensible and will enable the Postal Services Act 2000 and the new Post Office company, when it comes into being on 26 March, to operate effectively for the benefit of the consumer, the organisation and postal service providers in general. I hope that the Committee will approve them.
Question put and agreed to.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 19 March 2001|