Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 4 November 2003
[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]
Draft Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2003
The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2003.
May I start by saying how pleased I am to have your friendly and reassuring presence in the Chair, Mr Griffiths?
The draft order deals with a number of postal references in existing primary and secondary legislation and brings them in line with references and provisions in the Postal Services Act 2000. Those are the last legislative changes to implement the framework set out in the Act. The order is mainly legislative tidying-up.
Under the 2000 Act, the old statutory Post Office Corporation was dissolved following the transfer of the business, property, rights, liabilities, et cetera to the new plc company. Amendments in the order clear the way towards the dissolution of the old Post Office Corporation, removing references to it from legislation and thereby completing the implementation of the 2000 Act.
The 2000 Act contains provisions for making a dissolution order, as well as for orders to amend primary, secondary and local legislation consequential on the passing of the Act. One consequential modifications order, passed in 2001, amended postal references in primary and secondary legislation, and two local consequential modifications orders, the last of which came into force on 10 July 2003, amended local legislation.
The purpose of the draft order is to deal with issues that have been identified as requiring amendment after the earlier legislation came into force. A great deal of legislation includes references to the Post Office and postal services and I hope that the Committee may consider it understandable that some minor references were overlooked on earlier occasions. My Department is confident that the order, along with the Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications to Local Enactments) Order 2003, which recently came into force, will tidy up all the outstanding postal legislative references in statute. We do not plan to make any further consequential modification orders under the 2000 Act.
The draft order is largely technical. I draw the Committee's attention to article 2, which amends the Post Office Works Act 1959 and the Post Office Subway Act 1966. The effect is to construe references to the Post Office contained in those Acts as references
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to the ''Post Office company'', which is now of course known as Royal Mail Holdings plc. The article also allows for any function executable by the ''Post Office company'' under the Acts to be executable by any relevant subsidiary of that company. The amendments simply bring references to the old Post Office Corporation in line with what is now required under the Postal Services Act 2000 and facilitate that the relevant parts of the company can conduct their business. They are similar to amendments contained in article 2 of the recently in force Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications to Local Enactments) Order 2003.
Article 4 consists of transitional and saving provisions in respect of modifications made in schedules 1 and 2. It is appropriate that saving is given to cover any permission granted, annulments made or confirmations given by virtue of the entry referring to a universal service provider contained in schedule 4 of the Public Health Act 1961, and also to cover any outstanding offences under the Theft Acts or any repeal the draft order makes of a previous saving to a repeal. In accordance with common practice, amending those areas of statute without a saving would not be right, as any such changes would have a substantive effect on issues that were still live when the order came into force.
Schedule 1 modifies a few enactments as a result of provisions in the Postal Services Act 2000 to change postal references in those to bring them in line with that Act. These modifications are similar to those made in the first consequential modifications order. They deal with interpretations of the term ''mail bag'' in the Theft Act 1968 and the Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, replacing them with the new definition of ''mail bag'' in the 2000 Act. The order also changes the references made to ''the Post Office'' in section 139(3) of the Post Office Act 1969 to ensure that they relate to a universal service provider as defined in the 2000 Act. Now that there is the potential for more than one universal service provider, the reference should no longer refer solely to the ''Post Office company''.
Schedule 2 makes repeals that are needed to clear the way for the dissolution of the old corporation. Some are made in conjunction with amendments in schedule 1 and the saving provisions in article 4.
Finally, no one will be astonished to hear that I believe that the provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights. I commend the order to the Committee. [Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. That was a good five-minute introduction, and I trust that no more telephone calls will interrupt our proceedings.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Griffiths. Your attitude towards people who are so disgraceful as to bring cell phones into the Room is typically kind and generous. I do not know who it could have been.
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The Minister was especially self-deprecating in pointing out that this order, which is primarily a tidying-up exercise, may well be the last one to do so. Previous statutory instruments did not fully take into account the fact that the Post Office has changed into Royal Mail Holdings plc. I will not pursue the point that the Committee should have met before to consider this. I will, however, ask some questions. I intend to be brief because, as the Minister said, this is a tidying-up exercise.
The order will apply not only to Royal Mail Holdings plc, but to any universal service provider if the position changes. Will the Minister say what the ramifications will be if another universal service provider is made available and Royal Mail Holdings plc must share the provision of mail services throughout the United Kingdom, which it must do given the changes to the monopoly provision, or if Royal Mail Holdings plc changes its name again, or is restructured completely, or is taken over by another organisation? Obviously, there would have to be a change in legislation, but does the order anticipate that change?
The Minister mentioned the provision in schedule 1 to the Theft Act 1968, which gives the definition of ''mail bag'' and ''postal packet''. Does that refer to the theft of mailbags and postal packets by post office workers? If so, does it mean that that Act does not apply to post officer workers before the order is passed, or does it also apply to third parties who steal mailbags and postal packets? If the Act did not apply before, why did it not? I am sure that it must have done, otherwise this would have been quite an omission.
What is the Government's policy on the care of mailbags? I know of a number of incidences, in my constituency and others, when mailbags have been left temporarily in people's front gardens while the mail is delivered in that street. I would like the Minister to re-emphasise the integrity of the mailbag and its contents, and the duty of care that all postal workers have to the Royal Mail. Mailbags and packets should not be left in places where they could be liable to theft; they must be left in secure areas.
The explanatory memorandum is helpful, as always, and I compliment the officials who prepared it. It states:
''This Order makes the required amendments to primary and secondary legislation by dealing with the few remaining references to the Post Office corporation to make sure they now relate to the new plc company in the required way, or to make sure that they no longer stand in statute if their effect is no longer relevant and no longer needed.''
I recall the rather unhappy name change to Consignia, which we learned recently was the Government's idea, not the Post Office's. Another change would be most unfortunate. Will the Minister reassure the Committee that the order takes future changes into account? If another order were needed, it would duplicate all that we have done today.
Finally, the explanatory memorandum states:
''There are no identifiable costs to the public or to the Exchequer.''
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The Minister said that he thought that there could be a saving in costs. I may have misunderstood him and I wonder whether he would expand on that. Where does he see savings being made, and to what extent has he been able to quantify them?
Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): It is good that the Post Office is finally being given greater commercial freedom. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) spoke about the order's impacts and costs and I was reassured to find that there are none. I have never come across an order that has no costs or impacts. On that basis, I support the orderprovided that the Minister can assure me that our letters will be delivered in due time.
Mr. Timms: I think that I can provide the reassurances and additional information that the hon. Member for Lichfield has appropriately requested. The changes made by the Postal Services Act 2000 were meant to allow for the likelihood of there being another provider of the universal service, alongside or even instead of the Royal Mail. The aim is to future-proof legislation against that possibility. No further changes will be required to legislationat least, not in this contextshould that possibility materialise.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the previous and rather unhappy change of name to Consignia was the result of a Government decision. My understanding is that that was not the case; it was decided by the Post Office board. Legislation will not be needed should there be future changes because the legal name referred to in today's order and in the 2000 Act is ''the Post Office company'' and not a brand name or anything more specific.
The hon. Gentleman asked about mailbags. The Theft Act 1968 and the Theft (Northern Ireland) Act 1969 contain specific references to mailbags, and the order makes those references consistent. We must ensure that legislation deals appropriately with bags that may not necessarily be the property of Royal Mail, but would nevertheless count as mailbags because other organisations owned them.