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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Amendment No. 128 means that any amendment made to subordinate legislation by virtue of Schedule 8 to the Bill, such as the amendments to the VAT regulations 1995, does not prejudice the ability to make future changes to that subordinate legislation under existing powers. Therefore, it refers to an amendment, of which Schedule 8 almost entirely comprises.

Lord Skelmersdale: Given what the Minister and I have said, and given the fact that at any point any amending order can be made to a previous order, why is the amendment necessary? I do not understand.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: It is necessary in order to ensure that the ability to make future changes is not prejudiced. It is limited in that way.

Lord Skelmersdale: Why should it prejudice? I do not understand.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Perhaps I may take that point away and write to the noble Lord about it or return to it at the Report stage.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clause 83 [Interfering with the mail: postal operators]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendments Nos. 74 and 75:

("(b) intentionally opens").
>Page 49, line 39, at end insert—

("(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the delaying or opening of a postal packet or the opening of a mail-bag under the authority of—
(a) this Act or any other enactment (including, in particular, in pursuance of a warrant issued under any other enactment), or
(b) any directly applicable Community provision.
(1B) Subsection (1) does not apply to the delaying or opening of a postal packet in accordance with any terms and conditions applicable to its transmission by post.
(1C) Subsection (1) does not apply to the delaying of a postal packet as a result of industrial action in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.

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(1D) In subsection (1C) "trade dispute" has the meaning given by section 244 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 or Article 127 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1995; and the reference to industrial action shall be construed in accordance with that Act or (as the case may be) that Order.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 83, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 84 [Interfering with the mail: general]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendments Nos. 76 to 78:

    Page 50, line 5, after ("or") insert—

("(b) intentionally opens").
Page 50, line 5, at end insert—

("( ) Subsections (1A) to (1D) of section 83 apply to subsection (1) above as they apply to subsection (1) of that section.").
Page 50, line 8, at end insert—

("( ) Subsections (1A) and (1B) of section 83 (so far as they relate to the opening of postal packets) apply to subsection (2) above as they apply to subsection (1) of that section.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 84, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 79:

    After Clause 84, insert the following new clause—


(" . In sections 83 and 84 "reasonable excuse" includes intentionally delaying or opening a postal packet in the course of its transmission by post—
(a) pursuant to a request from any constable or the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, or
(b) if a person reasonably suspects that the postal packet contains goods which may be illegal.").

The noble Baroness said: An identical amendment to this was tabled before the Committee of the other place by my honourable friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire.

The Minister for Competition indicated that he accepted that this Bill might need further clarification as to what constituted reasonable excuse, but as he considered that the drafting of this particular amendment needed some improvement my honourable friend withdrew it against the Minister's promise to consider the issue carefully with a view to making amendments on Report. On Report and at Third Reading the Minister said that he would have been delighted to have come to Report stage with the required amendment because we need one. He then apologised for not having the amendment ready at that stage. He said that they would do so in another place.

Before the Government tabled their long-awaited amendments, (Amendments Nos. 74 and 76) which were agreed to a few moments ago, the Bill provided no guidance as to what would constitute a reasonable excuse. I agree that the Government's amendments that we have just dealt with do go a long way towards meeting our concerns and adopting the constructive amendment put down by my honourable friend in the other place. However, I feel that our amendment improves and clarifies the Bill still further.

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Due to the technical nature of the provisions of Amendment No. 75, commercial operators may still not be entirely clear what would be the scope of their responsibilities and powers. What would they do if they thought that a packet contained, for example, a bomb or drugs or pornographic material? The current provision could lead to considerable uncertainty until the matter came before a court, which is clearly undesirable.

The proposed amendment would provide additional guidance as to what might be a reasonable excuse without limiting the court's power to extend the definition. The amendment would reduce the risk to some slight extent that a postal operator's actions, however well intentioned, might be considered unlawful.

I hope that the Government will accept my amendment as a constructive addition to the very necessary provision that they brought forward and added to the Bill, at our suggestion, much earlier during its passage. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I understand that in the other place an amendment similar to this sparked a useful discussion over these clauses. The Government promised to bring forward amendments to clarify what would be a "reasonable excuse" for the purposes of Clauses 83 and 84 and they have now done so. These are Amendments Nos. 74 to 78 and they have already been approved. They take care of the position of any constable or the Commissioners of Customs and Excise that are mentioned in this amendment.

However, we do not believe that it would be right to allow specific exclusion from committing an offence to persons generally, whether engaged in the business of a postal operator or not, who open postal packets because they suspect they contain goods which are illegal. There is already provision in Clause 105 for a postal operator to detain and open a postal packet if he knows or reasonably suspects that it is being sent in contravention of Clause 85 of the Bill, which would cover many illegal goods. As regards the public generally, I am not saying that there may not be cases where suspicion that the packet contains illegal goods would be regarded as a reasonable excuse for opening a packet, but it would depend on the circumstances of the individual case. This is already provided for in Clauses 83 and 84. However, this amendment would provide an easy defence to anyone who wished to open a postal packet. It would be difficult to prove that a person did not have a suspicion if that is what they claimed. The public has a right to expect that their postal packets will only be opened by responsible authorities or in exceptional circumstances. This amendment would threaten that. I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 85 and 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Prohibition on misleading descriptions]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 80:

    Page 51, line 23, at end insert (", or

(c) the words "Post Office" or any words, letters or marks which signify or imply or may reasonably lead the public to believe that any house or place is a post office operated by or with the sanction of the company nominated by the Secretary of State pursuant to section 62").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 81.

The system whereby the King's letters to his subjects were carried by relays of couriers was instituted as long ago as the 15th century. It was first organised on a regular basis in 1510, when Sir Brian Tuke was appointed as "Master of the King's Post". Please note the phrase "The King's Post".

In 1591 regulations were published confining the right to carry mail to authorised persons only. This developed into a monopoly in 1609 when it was decreed that only persons directly authorised by the Postmaster General could carry or deliver letters. The Postal Act 1635 confirmed the monopoly in 1609.

I interject here to say that I very much enjoyed doing the research and finding out so much more about the Post Office, when I decided to put down these amendments.

As a result of proposals put forward by Thomas Witherings, then the postmaster in charge of letters sent abroad, this royal postal service was made available to the public and a Post Office for Inland Letters was established.

Thomas Witherings organised a system of routes providing a weekly schedule for the larger cities, and twice weekly to Edinburgh.

"Common carriers" were still permitted to convey letters on routes not covered by the royal system. That monopoly of 1609 has existed until this present day, although it has been eroded in the past.

In 1660 the General Letter Office was established and later became the General Post Office, or the GPO. That event was celebrated by a special issue of stamps in 1960.

The ancient title of "Postmaster General", a high sounding but lowly ministerial office, was abolished in 1969. The office of Postmaster General was replaced by the Minister of Posts and Communications, whose functions were in turn transferred to the Secretary of State at the DTI. No doubt that is why the Minister is sitting opposite dealing with this Bill today.

Going back to the Act of 1660—or even the proclamation of 1635, or even earlier, to the 15th century—the Post Office must be regarded as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, government agency. At some stage during the 340 years since the 1660 Act—and I am very sorry to tell you that my researches have not discovered when—the service became known as

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"The Royal Mail", and, apart from using that name, the General Post Office was permitted to use the Crown and Royal Cypher.

The Post Office Act 1969, which was one of the many affecting the Post Office over the centuries, was the one which established the existing public corporation which this Bill will be replacing with the new plc.

The reason why I have troubled your Lordships with this long history is this: the 1969 Act was preceded by the inevitable White Paper. The White Paper contained the same provisions about the continued use of the words "Royal Mail", the Crown and the Royal Cypher, and the depiction of the Queen's head on postage stamps as appears at the end of the current White Paper.

The purpose of Amendment No. 80, is to ensure that the ancient title of "Post Office" should only be used by the new plc to be established under Section 62 of this Bill. It cannot be right that any new universal postal provider authorised by this Bill should attempt to describe itself as "the Post Office" or even "a post office" and thereby mislead the public into believing that they are the Post Office—the successor to 340 years of trading by the current Post Office and its predecessors.

Although the words prohibited by subsection (1) of Section 87 are the same as in previous legislation, they do not cover the situation that has never existed during all the centuries about which I have spoken. There were no other universal service providers apart from the General Post Office. But now there may very well be.

This amendment is intended to ensure that whatever happens to any new commercial universal providers or licensees, nobody will be able to confuse it with the new plc, the successor to a long line of public corporations.

Several times during the course of this Bill in the earlier stages I talked about a level playing field and the need to ensure that others coming into this market-place have the opportunity of it being a level playing field and talking about competition. But the fact remains that the Post Office is the Post Office; and I think in this particular regard it needs to ensure that it is the only body that can use that name.

Throughout the entire world there is only one post office per country. Whatever any new competitor may choose to call itself, and any of its public offices, there is and can be only one Post Office.

Amendment No. 81 creates three new offences in addition to those contained in subsection (4). I have to say in passing that the scale of penalty contained in the current subsection (5) is derisory considering the vast amounts of money involved and the size of businesses that may be committing the offences. Offences under Clause 84 carry penalties at level 5. Perhaps the Minister will tell us the reason for the distinction so that we can consider that before the next stage of the Bill.

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The three new offences are separate and distinct. The first prohibits the use of the words "Royal Mail" and/or the Royal Cypher without the consent of Her Majesty. It will be recalled that in the White Paper from which I have just quoted it was necessary for Her Majesty to give her express consent for the present Post Office corporation when it was created in 1969 to continue to use the words and devices. She has just graciously agreed that the privileges shall be granted to the new plc. I am certain that the Minister will tell us that the prohibition is unnecessary because it is already not lawful, for some reason or other, to do so. I do not need to say that "I suspect" the noble Lord will tell me that although I always hope that by using that phrase it might persuade the Minister to reply using a word other than "unnecessary".

However, when we realise that overseas corporations may be involved in the provision of postal services, and when we see recent events of Internet piracy, I do not think that it is unreasonable to spell out a specific offence in relation to postal services without a potential offender having to scour the statute books to find out that his actions may be unlawful. Whether or not it is necessary, spelling out a specific offence can do no harm.

The second offence involves the prohibition of any universal postal provider other than the new Post Office plc issuing postage stamps. The White Paper says:

    "A depiction of [Her Majesty's] head should continue to appear on all stamps issued by the Royal Mail".

I am sure that I shall be accused of being unduly suspicious, but I want the Bill to make it clear that no one except the new plc, the successor to the Royal Mail, will issue any postage stamps. Collecting postage stamps has been a world-wide hobby, I imagine from close to 6th June 1840 when the first adhesive stamps were issued. It is now a considerable source of funds to post offices, and hence governments around the world issue large numbers of stamps to collectors. Those are stamps for which the post office concerned never has to deliver a service because the expensive slips of paper are forever put away in albums.

However, more and more, national post offices are taking advantage of this source of funds by issuing new commemorative stamps to celebrate events of often considerable inconsequence; or on themes such as flowers, animals and so on. Some countries derive a large part of their national income from these issues. Our own Post Office is not immune from this practice, or that of changing colours at frequent intervals. All of that is bad enough, but it is by now a well established method of raising funds.

The subsection prevents any universal provider, other than the Post Office corporation from issuing postage stamps to collect its fees in advance. It will debase British stamps out of all recognition and turn us, philatelically speaking, into—it is a slight exaggeration—another banana republic.

There is another even more important reason. On 1st July 1878 what is now known as the Universal Postal Union was established by treaty. It provides for

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a uniform framework of rules and procedures for the exchange of international mails. This includes a basic consideration such as which post office has what share of the stamp paid for in which country. There is no need for me to go into details of a complex commercial arrangement. It is sufficient to say that the arrangement is between the official post offices—that is, the agencies—of sovereign states. It does not include courier services. I do not say that in any derogatory sense because there are world-class services whose efficiency matches some national post offices, and may be better. I cannot imagine what the post office of, let us say, Albania might want to do when faced with an envelope franked by an ordinary commercial concern.

That brings me to the final offence created by the amendment. The monarch's effigy currently appears on every postage stamp and will continue to do so after the passing of the Bill. This country is unique throughout the world as being the country which invented the postage stamp. The name of the country does not appear on our stamps. The monarch's effigy is the sole indication that this country is the country of origin. Are we to lose that privilege because some commercial company decides to issue its own stamps? Alternatively, is the monarch's effigy to go on as a kind of royal endorsement to what, after all, will be nothing but an advertisement for a commercial concern?

I have taken some time on the amendments because I believe that despite the Government's foresight, on which I congratulate them, in discussing these matters with Her Majesty, there is a serious omission in the Bill in the Government's failure to deal with what are practical aspects of the Government's plan drastically to re-organise a major and vital public service.

I believe that these amendments do no more than strengthen the Bill and help produce greater clarity, close potential loopholes and help to secure objectives which I believe both sides of the Chamber desire to achieve for the new post office. I beg to move.

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