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My honourable friend the Member for Rutland and Melton proposed amendments to add the words "the European Community" after "United Kingdom". I shall explain in a few moments why he chose to use the words "European Community" rather than "European Union". At first the Minister responsible for competition in the other place rejected the amendment. He did so on the ground that "elsewhere" covers the European Community as well as the rest of the world. However, later in the same debate he relented. He said that a speech by my honourable friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire had almost made him change his mind. He said,
At a meeting I had with the Minister, which he kindly granted on Monday, it was suggested that the definition was to be found in the Interpretation Act 1978. After that meeting I scoured that Act line by line, not once but three times, the final time running down every page with a ruler. I simply could not find the definition. Perhaps it had been added to the text of that Bill by some later Bill; or perhaps, not being a lawyer, I have stupidly overlooked it anyway.
The point is that if I, actively looking where I was told to look, cannot readily find it, how can any other ordinary citizen be expected to do so? What is even more to the point, why should anyone wanting to consult the Act have to trawl through the statute book to discover what this provision means?
The words "European Community" and "European Union" are not ineffable phrases to be uttered only by the High Priest. I accept that there are Members on both sides of this Chamber and of the other place who can say them only through clenched teeth, but there is no reason why the Government should be so coy and leave an ambiguity in the Bill. They were not frightened to say exactly what they meant in the Explanatory Notes provided by the Department of Trade and Industry where it states:
Pursuant to EU legislation, it is Community institutions which undertake measures which relate to the single market, including the continuing review of postal services. My honourable friend insisted that he was not just engaging in what he called "techno-babble". He just wanted to ensure that the focus of the review and the collection of information entrusted to the commission was well directed. Indeed he could have gone further and pointed out that "European Community" was the phrase used in the Government's own notes to this clause that I have just referred to. All that I ask for is the addition of four little words. They will not bring down the whole edifice of this Bill. Superfluous or not, they will make it clearer to the man in the street and to this Peer at the Dispatch Box.
Earlier I mentioned to the Minister that I was surprised that he did not feel able to humour me on a simple, non-controversial amendment. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will feel able to humour me and accept these two amendments. I beg to move.
As a Member of the House--I am sure that there are many others in the Chamber at present--who is a member of one of the sub-committees of the European Union Committee (I sit on Sub-Committee B which considers energy, industry and transport), I am well aware that there is another draft directive from Brussels winging its way towards the committee office. Doubtless I shall consider it in due course.
My noble friend is quite right to say that, thanks to the activities of my honourable friend in another place, this Bill now belatedly refers to member states of the European Community. She rightly says that the technical term ought to be "European Union" but, none the less, some analogous words most certainly ought to be included in the Bill.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The term "member States" means member states of the European Communities. This is the legal interpretation of this phrase according to the Interpretation Act 1978. I may have inadvertently wasted some of the noble Baroness's time on this matter. That Act applies the definitions in the European Communities Act 1972. The definition of the term is to be found in Schedule 1. I hope that I can rather belatedly direct the Committee in the right direction.
I do not believe that many people on the Clapham Omnibus seek the definitions we are discussing. However, legislation should be interpreted by reference to the Interpretation Act. We have not defined this term because, where terms or expressions are defined in the Interpretation Act, they are not defined in the Bill. Under the Interpretation Act, the only definition of "member States" refers to member
I am sympathetic to the spirit of Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. However, I believe that we should adhere to the proper way of drafting this legislation. I therefore ask that Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 be withdrawn.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: It is very good of the Minister to be sympathetic towards me. However, I do not think that that is quite the same as humouring me. Having said that, I understand how interpretations and words have to be correct.
It is a great pity that I was referred to the Interpretation Act 1978. The noble Lord was right gently to apologise for wasting my time. Research facilities are available to the Opposition as they are to the Government. I am dealing with a large number of amendments and I think my time is extraordinarily precious; I regret having to go up and down three times--and with a ruler no less. In the end I could not believe that it was so impossible to find.
I accept from the Minister that the man on the Clapham omnibus will certainly not trawl through this Bill, the Interpretation Acts and so on; I understand that totally. Having received that information from the Minister, I gladly withdraw the amendment.
As the Minister knows, I was asked to table this amendment by the Periodical Publishers Association, of which I happen to be vice-president because of my previous activities as a publisher of engineering magazines, among other things.
It is a very mild amendment. It follows from conversations between the PPA and a variety of organisations, including the Ministry, the commission and other relevant bodies. Unfortunately, I was unable to speak at Second Reading--it would have saved some time today--but I wrote to the Minister stating more or less what I would have said had I spoken in the debate. I gave him to understand that I would very likely bring forward an amendment of this kind. My letter used the same words as I have put down tonight.
I am happy to say that I received an extremely courteous letter from the Minister, which did not surprise me. It dealt with my arguments and threw them into the long grass with considerable vigour. It pointed out that my amendment was not wanted. The
In any case, what is so terrible about being prescriptive? Is not that what governments are sometimes for? Are they not supposed to be prescriptive? Are they not quite often prescriptive? I understand the Minister's position on this occasion. It is one I have come across before when dealing with Ministers from whatever side of the House I happen to be sitting on at the time. The philosophy is quite simple. The Government--I should blame the Government rather than the Minister--are quite willing to be prescriptive when they want to be, but they are unwilling to be prescriptive when I want them to be. I know that argument; I have come across it many times.
Perhaps I may say something about the background which gives rise to this amendment. It derives from the activities of magazine publishers. Magazine publishing is very big business nowadays--much bigger than it was 20 or 30 years ago--and magazine publishers are important customers of the Post Office. In the region of 700 million magazines are posted every year--and mostly read, I suppose--which costs the industry approximately £250 million in postage. It is the Post Office's third largest revenue stream. That surprised me, but it seems to be the case. So the magazine industry is a very important customer.
Over the past 10 years the cost of deliveries by Royal Mail has risen from about a third of the non-editorial costs to about half. It is a substantial burden on the industry. The PPA believes that economies could be made which could possibly lead to a reduction in these rather heavy postage charges. It would like to see safeguards in the Bill such as would arise from my amendment.
The PPA has had discussions with officials of the commission, which appears to accept that comparisons between the charges of the Post Office and the charges of other deliverers should be made. The commission stated:
So the commission is happy with the amendment; I am happy with the amendment; the PPA is happy with the amendment; and I am quite sure that the Minister, having had time to think it over, will also be happy with the amendment.