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Lord Borrie: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, has made a powerful case which needs an answer. I naturally prick up my ears when I hear the phrase "distortion of competition" and there appears to be a legitimate concern. However, because both the noble Baroness and I are so keen to hear the answer, I shall not stand further in the way of the Committee hearing the Minister's response.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Customs have no wish to impose undue financial or administrative burdens on anyone or distort competition. However, it must be recognised that the nature of the business and the type of traffic of a particular postal operator in the future may be very different from traditional postal traffic as currently handled by the Royal Mail and Parcelforce. For example, a good proportion of international postal packages are gifts between family members where delivery is not usually time critical. There is a big difference between this and regular commercial traffic paying a premium rate for speedy delivery.

Operators might well be upset if Customs decided to treat the two types of traffic in exactly the same way. Customs must have the freedom to vary the arrangements to meet the needs of the traffic and to deal with the different risks posed.

This is an international issue. A study by the World Customs Organisation, the Universal Postal Union and the International Express Carriers Conference is currently being undertaken to compare the procedures for postal and express carrier traffic. We need to await the outcome of that study.

Furthermore, it is not at all clear that there is unfair treatment and that a competitive advantage is being given to the Post Office. Express parcel operators have a major advantage in terms of speed of clearance. Their packages are cleared automatically unless Customs decide to examine particular items. Customs clearance is nearly always achieved within one hour. At postal depots dealing with Post Office mail, clearance of chargeable packages normally takes several hours and can take up to two or three days.

However, the subject is one of importance and we would not want to be unfair. Perhaps, therefore, I may take these detailed points away, discuss them with the Customs and Excise and write to the noble Baroness as soon as possible.

The Earl of Caithness: Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, will the Minister take his

15 Jun 2000 : Column 1821

answer a little further? He said that a report is being prepared and that we should await the outcome. When is the outcome due? If it is after the passing of the Bill, perhaps we should get on with the report now.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I cannot give a time. The work is being undertaken, but I was not suggesting that it would provide the answer. I was saying merely that it is an international problem and that there are differences between the two classes of business. For that reason, I believe that we should treat them differently. Whether the treatment given was fair was the issue I took away from the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and it is that about which I shall speak to Customs and Excise: as to whether the current system appears to be fair.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, for his support of my amendment, and the support of my noble friend, requiring an answer from the review which is taking place. I am grateful for the answer and am satisfied that the noble Lord will take it up with Customs and Excise to find out why this is happening. It is to be hoped that that will resolve the problem. If not, of course, I can bring the matter back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 105:


    Page 62, line 29, after ("concerned") insert ("and in England and Wales and Northern Ireland may be so recovered").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 103, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 104 agreed to.

Clause 105 [Conditions of transit of postal packets]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 106 to 109:


    Page 63, line 27, leave out ("if necessary,").


    Page 63, line 27, leave out ("in the post office").


    Page 63, line 29, at end insert—


("( ) destroy or otherwise dispose of the packet.").
Page 63, line 29, at end insert—


("( ) Subsection (1) is without prejudice to any other powers which the postal operator may have in relation to the packet (whether under the terms and conditions applicable to its transmission by post or otherwise).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 105, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 106 to 108 agreed to.

15 Jun 2000 : Column 1822

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 110 to 112.


    After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—

("Postal and money orders
EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY IN RELATION TO POSTAL AND MONEY ORDERS

.—(1) No proceedings shall lie or, in Scotland, be competent against the Post Office company for any loss or damage as a result of—
(a) a refusal by the Post Office company to pay a postal or money order which has been issued by it or a foreign postal administration, or
(b) a delay by the Post Office company in paying any such order.
(2) Where a postal or money order issued by the Post Office company is presented for payment in the United Kingdom by a banker to whom it has been delivered for collection, payment of the order to the banker discharges it.
(3) Where a relevant uncrossed order issued by the Post Office company is presented for payment in the United Kingdom otherwise than by a banker to whom it has been delivered for collection, payment of the order to the person by whom it is presented discharges it.
(4) A postal or money order issued by the Post Office company is discharged by the payment of the order outside the United Kingdom in accordance with arrangements made by the Post Office company in that regard.
(5) Where a postal or money order issued by a foreign postal administration is paid by the Post Office company to a banker to whom it has been delivered for collection on behalf of a person other than the true owner of the order, the Post Office company shall not be liable to the true owner of the order by reason of having paid it to the banker.
(6) Where a relevant uncrossed order issued by a foreign postal administration is presented to the Post Office company for payment otherwise than by a banker to whom it has been delivered for collection or the true owner of the order, payment of the order by the Post Office company to the person presenting it shall not make the Post Office company liable to the true owner of the order.
(7) Any person acting as a banker in the United Kingdom who, in collecting in that capacity for any principal, has received payment from the Post Office company in respect of any postal order, or any document purporting to be a postal order, shall not incur liability to anyone except the principal by reason of having received the payment or having held or presented the order or document for payment.
(8) Subsection (7) does not relieve any principal for whom any such order or document has been so held or presented of any liability in respect of his possession of the order or document or of the proceeds of the order or document.
(9) In this section "relevant uncrossed order" means—
(a) an uncrossed postal or money order which—
(i) is expressed to be payable to a person specified or described in the order, and
(ii) is signed by or on behalf of that person or purports to be so signed, or
(b) an uncrossed postal order which is not expressed to be payable to a person specified or described in the order.
(10) In this section and section (Recoupment of losses on wrongly paid money orders) "banker" includes a body which carries on the business of banking.").

15 Jun 2000 : Column 1823


After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—

SCHEMES IN RELATION TO POSTAL AND MONEY ORDERS

(" .—(1) The Post Office company shall not issue postal or money orders otherwise than in accordance with a scheme under this section.
(2) The Post Office company may make a scheme under this section in relation to—
(a) the issue by it of postal or money orders,
(b) other services provided by it in connection with postal or money orders (whether orders issued by it or otherwise).
(3) A scheme under this section is a scheme for determining any or all of the following (so far as not otherwise agreed)—
(a) the charges which are to be imposed in respect of the services concerned,
(b) the other terms and conditions which are to be applicable to the services concerned, and
(c) procedures for dealing with the complaints of persons who use the services concerned.
(4) A scheme under this section may, in particular—
(a) adopt such system for the determination of the charges and other terms and conditions as the Post Office company considers appropriate (including determining them itself subject to any conditions and limitations provided for in the scheme),
(b) provide for the non-payment by the Post Office company after the end of a specified period, except on satisfaction of specified conditions, of a postal or money order issued by that company or a foreign postal administration,
(c) specify the manner in which, time and place at which and person by whom the charges are to be paid.
(5) No provision may be made in any scheme under this section—
(a) for limiting the liability of the Post Office company for loss or damage, or
(b) for amending the rules of law relating to evidence.
(6) A scheme under this section shall come into force on such day as is specified in the scheme; but no day earlier than the day after that on which the scheme has been published in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes shall be so specified.
(7) A scheme under this section may—
(a) make different provision for different cases or classes of case determined by, or in accordance with, the provisions of the scheme,
(b) modify any previous scheme made under this section.
(8) Any charge payable by virtue of this section may be recovered by the Post Office company and in England and Wales and Northern Ireland may be so recovered as a civil debt due to it.
(9) The production of a copy of any of the Gazettes mentioned in subsection (6) which purports to contain a scheme under this section shall be conclusive evidence in all legal proceedings of that scheme.
(10) The Secretary of State may by order modify this section.").
After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—


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