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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I find this amendment rather surprising given that it has been a longstanding practice that all overseas letters are exempt from the reserved area. Clause 7(2)(d) simply updates the position that has existed for many years that all outward bound overseas letters are exempt from the reserved area. In previous legislation the exemption referred to carriage via an aircraft out of the United Kingdom, but it was also interpreted by the Post Office as applying to mail carried by sea as well as through the Channel Tunnel in more recent times.

The Government received representations from the competitors to the Post Office for overseas letters and consulted the Post Office on this change. I can see nothing objectionable in this provision and ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Skelmersdale:

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have been educated this afternoon and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 5, line 47, at end insert--

("(q) the conveyance and delivery of election addresses").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 16 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 17. Clause 7 contains a series of exceptions from the restrictions on the provision of postal services contained in Clause 6. Surprisingly, election addresses are not directly included in this list.

An election address is defined in Amendment No. 17 as,

    "a communication provided for by section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983".

Therefore there is no possibility of confusion there.

Election addresses are currently delivered by the Post Office. I thought at first that they might be covered by stretching the meaning of Clause 7(2)(c), but even if the Post Office could be described as a "messenger", election addresses are not delivered singly unless there is only one elector in a house. Much as it would like us to think it is, the Post Office could not claim to be

    "a personal friend of the sender",

as described in Clause 7(2)(b). Therefore I suggest that election addresses are not covered in that clause.

It might be argued that an election address is not a letter. However, as election addresses these days usually contain a facsimile letter which begins with the words, "Dear elector" and ends with the words "Yours sincerely"--if the people concerned are desperate to get your vote they are even more polite--I believe that they constitute letters.

However, this simple, non-controversial and certainly non-destructive amendment, which the Minister need not be frightened of, would put the matter beyond doubt and beyond argument. It would enable carriers other than the Post Office to tender for this business in the appropriate way. I hope that the Government will accept it as a wholly constructive contribution to the Bill. I sense from across the Dispatch Box that the Minister would like to please me in respect of a measure that would not harm the Bill. This amendment might well be that measure. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas:

I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten me on a couple of related aspects of this clause. If he wishes, I shall address these matters at the clause stand part stage, but they are close enough to what my noble friend seeks for me to introduce them into this debate.

As I understand it, the kind of activities which would ordinarily take place now by way of people distributing letters and circulars on behalf of clubs, societies or political parties of which they are

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members, or businesses which are touting for business, will be permitted under this clause but, in the second case, they will be limited generally to occasions where such letters are not personalised.

Clause 7(1)(c) states:

    "the conveyance and delivery of a single letter by a messenger".

I take it that that means that a messenger can carry a large number of messages but only one for each person--in other words, a messenger can be sent to deliver a press announcement to 150 different addresses and provided that only one was delivered to each person, or perhaps delivered to each address, that would be all right. Or are we really trying to put motor-cycle messengers out of business entirely by saying that they can carry only one letter on their pillion at any time?

I do not see where in the clause is the mechanism for the delivery of press announcements or for the delivery, for example, of letters from a local Conservative association to its members by people who cannot be considered as "friends" under subsection (2)(b); or for some larger club, when it has membership correspondence to send out, getting its members to do the deliveries rather than paying postage. I should like an assurance from the Minister that that is allowed under this clause, and perhaps he could show me where.

So far as concerns commercial deliveries, as far as I can see, the ordinary stuffing of leaflets through a door is clearly no problem because the correspondence is not addressed in a particular way; but if anything is personalised by a business--suppose, for instance, it had gone through the electoral register for names and addresses and so on--that correspondence would be caught and covered. That seems fair enough to me.

But perhaps the Minister can tell me what would happen if I, as a company, generate a circular and provide it to a direct mail organisation to carry out the personalisation and make the delivery. Under the terms of Clause 117, is that letter--which has come from and been created by the direct mail organisation, although it contains no mention of the organisation's existence--their letter; or is it my letter, in which case, as I have had nothing to do with sticking the address on it, can I be said to be the sender? Does that kind of disconnection from the function of addressing and creating the letter allow someone to get round the inhibitions in this clause?

Viscount Goschen:

I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that there is some very vague drafting contained within this clause. However, having said that, the Government or the draftsmen have clearly gone to considerable lengths to try to include every eventuality with a number of derogations.

As to the points addressed by the amendments, I hope that the Minister will be able to give my noble friend Lady Miller some satisfaction in connection with the delivery of election addresses. We know that there has been a certain reluctance on the part of the Government in this House to facilitate the delivery of election addresses. But we now know that the

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Government have had a change of heart--which is, of course, entirely welcome because we believe in putting such matters to the people as well as possible.

Further to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas, subsection (2)(i) contains the words,

    "the conveyance and delivery of letters by a person who has a business in those letters".

I, too, am interested in where the difference lies. Where a company employs an agent, does that agent still have a business interest in those letters? Clearly an agent does have an interest of some kind because it is being paid to perform that function. But I feel that the wording of that paragraph is open to abuse and I should welcome clarification from the Minister on that point.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville:

I do not think that the amendment is either destructive or controversial; it is simply unnecessary in this context.

As the noble Baroness is probably aware, this Bill was amended in another place to ensure that the one free postal communication provided for by Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 would continue to be provided free of charge by a universal service provider. Given that Section 91 of the 1983 Act provides for only one communication, and that it will continue to be provided for free, I am not sure what purpose could be served by this amendment.

Presently, where candidates want to send more than one postal communication during an election, they must pay normal postage. While I can see some advantage in them being able to put out this service to competitive tender, I cannot see what the justification would be for politicians being able to do so when equally, if not more, important communications from, for example, health authorities, charity appeals and so on were subject to normal postage.

Clause 7(2)(c) is not designed to allow the conveyance of more than an individual letter. Leaflets not addressed to an individual are not covered. Direct mail falling within the limits of the reserved area would be a letter and therefore would be covered. The noble Lord gave a number of specific examples and I shall be happy to write to him on those points.

With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon:

The Minister said that he felt that the amendment was unnecessary. I often respond that if it is not necessary, it does not matter if it goes in; and if it goes in, it does not matter because it is not necessary. The noble Lord could have humoured me. However, I am absolutely certain that I will find another occasion during the course of the evening when maybe on a non-controversial, non-destructive, simple amendment the noble Lord may choose to humour me. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clauses 8 to 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Licences: conditions and other provisions]:

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