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Orders Of The Day

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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Post Office Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

7.0 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The effect of this very short and simple Bill is to increase the maximum permitted number of members of the Post Office—the Board, in other words—from 12 to 19, in each case excluding the chairman. In all other respects, the formal structure of the Post Office will remain unchanged.

The purpose of this increase in the size of the Board is to enable the Government to give effect to agreed proposals from the Post Office and the Council of Post Office Unions for an experiment in industrial democracy in the Post Office. I should like to describe the history of these proposals.

In 1974 the Government asked the management and unions of the Post Office to produce proposals for the extension of industrial democracy in the Post Office. Following on from this initiative, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), invited the Post Office and unions to a tripartite meeting last July to discuss the way forward. At that meeting it was agreed that the Post Office and its unions would get together to negotiate agreed proposals for an experiment in industrial democracy in the Post Office. After a great deal of hard work, they submitted their proposals in the form of a joint report earlier this year. I have placed copies of this report in the Library of the House.

It is right that we should pay tribute to all those in the Post Office, management and workers' representatives alike, who have taken part in formulating the proposals. The Post Office and its unions have a long history of forward-looking and effective consultation procedures, and this is one of the factors which weighed heavily with the Government in considering the prospects for an experiment in industrial democracy in their industry.

The proposals recommend that there should be an experiment in industrial democracy in the Post Office, lasting for two years. Progress will then be reviewed with an entirely open mind by the Post Office, the unions and the Government.

The key feature of the proposals is an enlarged Board, consisting of equal numbers of full-time executive members and employee members, with a smaller number of independent members. The joint report recommended that on this basis the number of seats should be 16, with six management, six employee and four independent members. The chairman would be independent of the three groups unless his functions were designated not only as those of chairman but as including a specific and titular executive management role. In that situation the chairman would be counted as one of the management group.

The Government welcome these proposals as a constructive and well thought out arrangement for extending industrial democracy in the Post Office. We have studied the proposals with care, and have also taken into account the strong feeling in favour of a consumer presence on the Board. At the same time, we have been anxious to ensure that the overall structure of the Board leaves room for an adequate blend of experience.

After further consultation with the interested parties, the Government have accepted the joint report, but have concluded that there would be advantage in adjusting the proposed size of the Board from 16 to 19 members. This would mean that the composition of the Board for the experimental period would be seven management members with full-time executive responsibilities, seven members from the work force, and five part-time members independent of these two groups.

Two of the independent members should be persons specifically experienced in consumer affairs and able to speak from a consumer viewpoint. This will allow for adequate employee membership, while also providing a strong element of independent membership. The proposed new arrangement cannot be accommodated within the present statutory maximum of 12 members of the Post Office. That is why this Bill is needed.

As the House will be aware, the Post Office Act 1969 confers the power of appointment of the members of the Post Office on the Secretary of State after consultation with the Chairman. This will remain the position for all members of the Post Office for the duration of the experiment, if the House approves the Bill.

All members, once appointed, will have the same statutory duties as now, and will share full corporate responsibility for running the Post Office. The appointments of the seven executive members will be made, as now, primarily on the basis of general management ability and, where appropriate, of individual skill and experience in more specialised management functions, such as finance and personnel.

For the seven worker directors, I shall invite nominations from the Council of Post Office Unions. The unions will agree arrangements for allocating these seven seats among themselves, and the unions will choose their nominees by the same machinery which is used for the election of national officials.

In accepting these arrangements as appropriate for the Post Office I have had very much in mind the high degree of union membership in the Post Office—well over 90 per cent.—and the fact that the great majority of Post Office employees are members of unions with no membership outside the Post Office.

I shall not be obliged to accept union nominations put to me, though I should expect normally to be able to do so, and I shall be willing in cases of difficulty to consult the union concerned.

In choosing the five independent members I shall bear in mind the need to ensure that this group of members is genuinely independent of the other two groups. My main concern will be to provide the Board with a wide range of skill and experience from outside the Post Office.

I have explained the importance which we attach to adequate consumer experience on the Board. I shall, of course, consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection on the appointment of the two members with consumer experience, though it would not be in accordance with normal practice to provide for such consultation in the Bill.

In appointing the five independents I shall be ready to consider nominations from management and unions in the Post Office, though I would not confine my consideration to such nominations and would not be bound by them.

I would also take account of any objections which I judge to be reasonable from management or unions to proposed appointments. I would expect that objections would be raised only exceptionally to independent candidates, and the final decision will, of course, be mine.

All members of the Board, to whichever category they are appointed, will share full corporate responsibility for running the Post Office and will be expected to play their full part as Board members. There will be no restricted category of membership.

The proposals agreed between the Post Office and the unions have been submitted and have been accepted as being an experiment suitable to the particular circumstances of the Post Office. This is in line with our policy of encouraging the development by agreement—and I emphasise that it is by agreement—of forms of industrial democracy appropriate to the particular circumstances of individual organisations.

May I revert to what the right hon. Gentleman was saying about the independent members? I think he said that he would give the right to management and the trade unions to raise objections. Can he enlarge on that point? Can he say in what circumstances he would think it proper for management and unions to pass comment on the suitability of proposed independent candidates for the Board?

In the present circumstances, with the present Board, I am required to consult the Chairman of the Corporation about appointments, and, of course, I have done so ever since taking office. I am not suggesting that, within the context of this experiment, it will be possible or may be necessary for the Corporation, through its management members, and, equally, for the union members, to raise points about individual members. I do not think that it is possible to cover every contingency and to suggest that they could

There is some confusion on this matter. If the individuals are not acceptable to the Secretary of State or not acceptable to the Chairman of the Post Office, does the Secretary of State have the final say, or does the Chairman?

I have the final say on all appointments within the context of this experiment.

The experiment is in line with general Government policy on encouraging the development of industrial democracy by agreement.

The Post Office is the largest business in the country, and it has a long history of good industrial relations and progressive and responsible attitudes on the part of both management and unions. All those who have been associated with this experiment are keenly aware of the Post Office's ability to make a success of the next two years, and there is no doubt that if the experiment is a success it will have a considerable influence on the whole future of industrial democracy in Britain. This experiment will be closely watched by both the champions and enemies of industrial democracy.

raise this or that objection. It is part of the agreement, which, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman has considered if he has obtained a copy of it. I would not be bound by the objection and I would still, if necessary, go ahead with the appointment. That is part of the consultation process that I envisage.

I should like to extend what I believe to be well-deserved congratulations to the Post Office management and unions on producing agreed proposals for the experiment and to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for his skilful chairmanship of the tripartite meetings. They have devoted much time and effort to this important matter over the past two years, but they recognise that the making and acceptance of these proposals is only a beginning. The real test will be to make the experiment work.

The various Post Office unions will be putting the proposals for the experiment, as modified in discussion with the Government, to their annual conferences in the next few weeks. I hope that they will receive full endorsement, and that the unions will enable their members to participate in the experiment and share in electing members to the board.

Has the Secretary of State thought through the implications of what will happen should a situation arise in which trade union members of the Board are at loggerheads with their opposite numbers in management over some industrial matter? What would happen if they were unable to reconcile this, and it led to industrial action? In these circumstances what would be the position of trade union members on the Board?

I apologise if the hon. Member has not had time to look at the agreed proposals that were placed in the Library this morning. That kind of situation was envisaged in the discussions that took place between the Post Office Corporation and the unions. They accepted full corporate responsibility as members of the Board. They will not engage in discussions about factors the hon. Member has described, although there will be a procedure for reporting back to their conferences. I cannot point to the particular section in the agreement without taking up too much time, but no doubt my hon. Friend will point this out when he winds up. While one cannot cover every contingency—we are breaking new ground here—this was a factor, because it was an obvious one, that was taken into consideration in discussions on whether the experiment should go ahead. I am not trying to evade or avoid the hon. Member's question. I hope that he will accept that this matter was considered at some length.

I want to bring my speech to a close as this is a short debate and other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that what we are proposing will get the full endorsement of all concerned.

The Government, for their part, have moved quickly to introduce this Bill, which is essential to put the experiment into operation. All being well, and with the good will of all concerned, and of the Opposition in Committee, I hope that appointments can be made as soon as practicable after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I hope that the House will give this experiment an opportunity to go ahead and succeed, and that hon. Members will support the proposals.

7.16 p.m.

There are two interesting features in this Bill. The first is that it is a one-clause Bill, which is unusual. But when it is short on words it is long on significance. I do not think that anyone should be misled by the fact that it is so short. It is extremely important.

Another reason why the Bill commands our attention is that it is the first eccentric gasp of life from the Lib-Lab consultative committee. Here we have the bright fruits of the alliance. We have been waiting with bated breath for the results that will stiffen the sinews and make the blood run quicker through the veins of the Liberal workers in the trenches.

However, I was disappointed with the results because I thought that we would get something more than a bit more State patronage. The hills have been in labour but they have produced only the smallest brown mouse.

I do not think that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the Lib-Lab pact has made the Post Office the guinea-pig of the Bullock Report. The seeds were planted long before the pact.

My hon. Friend is quite right but it is true that the original proposals that the Government had in mind and to which the Secretary of State referred, were modified in the light of the discussions with the Liberals. The intention has been and is to use the Post Office as an experiment in industrial democracy.

There are some curious features in the Bill. Despite this we would wish to give it a Second Reading, and I commend it to my hon. Friends. Some people may feel that at best it will make little difference and that it runs risks. I hope that such sceptics will be confounded and that the Bill will prove a success.

There have been differences between the two sides of the House over the implementation of the Bullock Report. Conservatives accept that it is right that employees should be given a say over matters affecting their lives, such as those relating to investment, takeovers and new plant. We see that primarily in terms of improving the efficiency of industry and meeting the aspirations of people.

I do not go along with the more extreme rhetoric from the Labour Benches comparing the extension of industrial democracy with the extension of the franchise. The analogy is misleading, not least because the extension of the franchise was not confined to trade union members.

Another significant difference between us and the Government on this matter is that we fear that the Government might use the Bullock Report as an opportunity to impose one particular system of worker participation on industry as a whole. At least that is not happening in this situation. This is a one-off Bill, and it is not being imposed by law. The details were worked out within the Post Office and what we are being presented with today is essentially an enabling Bill for the enlargement of the Board to allow the experiment to be carried out.

One perhaps ought to make the point that although no solution is being imposed by law, one suspects that a certain amount of pressure has been put on the Post Office to conduct the experiment—pressure from the trade unions on the Government—I suspect that the management in the Post Office has not been quite as enthusiastic as the trade union side.

One ought to recognise that there are risks in conducting this experiment. The Post Office, as Ministers constantly remind us, is a very important part of the economy of this country. It is one of the largest corporations in the world. It is the largest in this country and the largest in Europe. It is larger than many corporations in the United States. It is a difficult enough corporation to run, one might say, without being an experiment for the private sector.

Although we recognise and, indeed, support the arguments against imposing worker participation by law, in some ways I think it is extraordinary that we have been given so little detail until this moment of the way in which the agreements are to operate. We seem to be presented with a blank document, a blank cheque, to Mr. Jackson, guaranteed by the most unlikely of guarantors, the Liberal Party.

There are many details in the scheme which still seem to be unclear and still seem to be in need of greater clarification. There is to be a code of practice for the directors. Will this code of practice actually be made public? Will Parliament, as well as the conferences of the trade unions, have an opportunity to approve that code of practice? Has the scheme actually been approved by all the negotiating parties, all the people involved in the Post Office unions, including the associate members of COPOU? Another area which seems to be left largely grey is that neither side has yet committed itself to what should happen at the local or regional level. For these reasons, it seems that we are presented with a blank document—not so much a half-baked scheme as one that has hardly been in the oven at all.

In many ways, too, the proposals differ from those put forward in the Bullock Report. It is unclear, for example, how far the Post Office Board is to correspond to a unitary board, because there are references in the original document—the study group between COPOU and the Post Office—to the relationship between the management board and the Board of the Post Office being altered. Will the Board conform to what the Bullock Report saw as being a unitary board?

It appears that COPOU itself is not the same as the joint representative committee that was envisaged in the Bullock Report. There are, I believe, eight unions in all in the Post Office. They are not all members of COPOU. Some are associate members, as I have mentioned earlier, and it is extremely important that they should be fully consulted and give their agreement to what is proposed.

Most important of all, there is no evidence that the work force in general has been asked or consulted about whether it wishes to have worker-directors at all. In the Bullock Report it was specified that there ought to be a firm-wide, or corporation-wide ballot on whether people wanted to have the principle of worker-directors at all.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the union people being elected. That had not been clear in the documents we had had so far until today, and I have not seen any document placed in the Library this morning.

But one knows that there is a difference between the procedures being followed here and those actually proposed in the Bullock Report, where it was suggested that no scheme ought to be implemented until it had been triggered by a firm-wide ballot.

One of the doubts that one must have about the scheme concerns its timing. Perhaps we have grown too used to the rather leisurely pace at which the business of Parliament is currently proceeding, but there are all sorts of inquiries going on in Whitehall, one understands, about worker participation. There are variout committees relating to worker participation in the public sector. According to Press reports, there is a committee in the Civil Service Department and one in the Department of the Environment. There is one that was being run by Mr. Lord, on industrial democracy generally in the public sector. He has now gone to greener pastures elsewhere, but what is happening to his report? Is it to be published? What has it said? How far does it fit in with what is proposed here?

Apart from those internal reports in Whitehall, there is also the Carter Report. We know from Press reports—or think we know—what is in the Carter Report, but why could not the Government have waited until the report was published and we had had a debate on it in the House, and the public at large had been able to digest it and gauge its reaction to it? After all, the Carter Committee considered the question of worker participation and took some very good evidence from the Post Office Engineering Union about worker participation in the Post Office.

It is widely rumoured that the report will recommend that the corporation should be split into two parts. Will that be made easier by making a premature decision now on worker representation on a joint board? As I was driving here for this debate tonight, I heard Mr. Jackson himself saying how very strongly he was opposed to any proposals in the Carter Report to split the corporation into two. How easy will it be to implement those proposals—if they exist—if we have this scheme implemented now? Will it be easy to implement any reduction in manning, which may be recommended by the report? It seems to me that it would have been wiser to wait for the report to be published and for people to gauge their reaction to it.

With regard to the scheme itself, there are three criteria by which one should judge what the Secretary of State said today. First, will the proposals ensure the accountability of the Post Office? Secondly, will they speed up the introduction of change within the Post Office? Thirdly, and most important of all, will they result in improved services to the customers?

It is when one examines the proposals by these criteria that one must have some doubts. Consider first the fact that there seems to be a tremendous blurring of responsibility by some of the proposals. In answer to an intervention the Secretary of State tried to deal with one point which interested me. Under the 1969 Act he has the last word on the appointment of Board directors, but unions at the same time are to be able to nominate them. Will the Secretary of State really be able to reject someone if the unions suggest a person whom he thinks unsuitable? I hope that he has very firmly said that that is the case.

But the more important question to which I should like to refer is whether we can be sure that all the directors of the Board will have the same obligations and responsibilities. It would be a real tragedy if these proposals resulted in seven-a-side football, with five linesmen and a referee. Are they all to take the same obligations? Are they all to have the same responsibility? the Secretary of State touched on this today and said "Yes", but that is not entirely born out by the joint study group report of the Council of Post Office Unions and the Post Office.

When talking about the attitude of the unions and their position, the report said that the union members
"would not be ' mandated ' by the unions but they would need to report back to their ' constituencies ', possibly at Annual Conferences and more frequently to Executive Councils. To this end the parties accept that a general understanding or agreed code of practice would be necessary".
The report went on to
"envisage that such union nominees would discuss at a meeting of the Board… the general nature and extent of reports back; that while they could not be expected to defend publicly a Board decision which was at variance with their unions' policy, they would refrain in public from taking such decisions".
It seems to me that it will not lead to the smooth operation of a board to have members of it who are not to undertake to defend the decisions of that board in public. If all they have to do is to maintain silence—if that is the most that can be expected of them—all a member of the Board has to do is to say "No comment" and it will be as plain as a pikestaff exactly what his attitude to a Board decision has been. Boards cannot work in that way, and that document is symptomatic of how it really will operate. It will ensure that the Board will be a forum for debate rather than for decision making.

The hon. Gentleman has quoted out of context in order to strengthen his argument. The hon. Gentleman was quoting from paragraph 13 of the document. He should have gone on to say, in pointing out the unions' responsibilities, that like all Board members, the union members would explain the Board's reasons for decisions—including any with which they might disagree. That goes much further than the hon. Gentleman suggested. The members will not be washing their hands of responsibility. That is fully explained in paragraph 13 when it is read from start to finish.

I am sorry that I did not read out the whole of that sentence, but I thought that I had read a long extract. The part to which the Secretary of State referred is more an expression of hope than anything else. Of course, Board members can formally undertake to convey what the rest of its members have given as their reasons for a particular decision, but if it is to work successfully it must operate on the same basis as the Cabinet. Members must have collective responsibility and abide by the decisions made. Despite what the Secretary of State has said and despite what is written in that document, the theory of Cabinet responsibility here is similar to that held by the Secretary of State for Energy and, quite rightly, it is rejected by the Prime Minister because it will not work. A board must abide by the collective decisions of that board.

There are also doubts about the size of the Board, although it could be said that there are private sector boards that are just as large. I note that Sir William Ryland has expressed doubts about its size. It is extremely important that its independent members really shoud be independent, and that the union nominees should be people who are listened to on the ground, people of experience and qualifications who can contribute to the Board. I hope that this will not be an excuse for "Buggins's turn next". The Secretary of State did not say anything about training or other facilities that might be available. I hope that there will be something that we can learn from this for the future and that the unions will provide good people, because nothing could do the scheme more good than the unions coming up with good people for the Board.

The main point is that it is not just participation at Board level that matters. Participation matters at all levels, and perhaps it is a pity that more has not been said about participation at regional and local level. I gather that is to be left until later. Participation at Board level will not work great changes just by itself. I noticed that the Minister of State, in an admirable speech the other day, referred to worker participation as unleashing a great reservoir of enthusiasm and talent in the Post Office. All these "bound Prometheians" will not come forward to contribute to the Post Office simply because we enlarge the Board. Something must happen at a lower level as well.

The test to which the greatest attention will be paid is how much having union representatives on the Board will enable the Post Office to speed up modernisation and change. Those who are sceptical about the scheme fear that it may lead to bargaining power being brought into the board room and that there will therefore be less change, not more. In that sense, what happens in the Post Office will be a good test for worker participation generally.

When we receive the Carter Report we shall have a more balanced and authoritative view of overmanning in the Post Office, but I shall be surprised if the report does not confirm some of the things that have been said about overmanning and union practices in the past.

We know the difficulties that have been experienced in the past in introducing mechanised sorting, and how the Post Office has been compelled by union attitudes to pay what many consider to be a high price for its introduction. It is due to that resistance that for long periods up-to-date and expensive machinery has been lying about unused, under plastic sheets. Meanwhile, productivity has declined. Throughput per man in the mail has declined by 12½ per cent. since 1970. That is the equivalent of a penny on a letter.

I make no apology for mentioning union attitudes. I am not for a moment suggesting that everything that is wrong in the Post Office is the fault of union attitudes, but we are here talking about the extension of union power and responsibilities. It is therefore legitimate to discuss how that power has been used in the past and how it will be used in the future.

Nor is this simply a question of economics and efficiency. Political matters are involved. I had intended to refer in passing to the evidence that the unions were anxious to repeal some of the statutory obligations of the Post Office—particularly Section 58 of the Post Office Act 1953, but as I drove here tonight I heard on the radio that the Government and the unions are now talking about this very thing and, according to Mr. Jackson, there is a chance that that section of the Act will be repealed. We have considerable reservations and regrets about that. The postal service should not be the subject of regional or national whims, or political interference in any way.

In the last analysis, this experiment will be judged by the results and on whether there is any improvement in the postal service. Unfortunately it will be extremely difficult for people to measure the results, because we do not receive the information that we ought to have about the efficiency of the Post Office. Indeed, the unions have been obstructive and have tried to prevent more information being made available to the users of the postal services. I cannot see any reason why we should not have the figures relating to output per man, and per man hour. That is the way in which we can judge the efficiency of the Post Office. The fact that the Post Office is able to borrow all the money that it wants, to put up its prices, and is a monopoly, is all the more argument why we should be entitled to such detailed information in order to judge its performance.

It is no use the Government complaining—as the Minister of State has sometimes done—that the critics of the Post Office are confined to columnists in The Times or the Sir Herbert Gussets of this world. In a previous incarnation, when the Minister of State was in the Opposition Benches, he complained that whenever he took up his telephone all that he could obtain was a high-pitched whine.

That was the responsibility not of the Post Office but of the PBX system in the House.

My impression was that the hon. Gentleman was talking about the telephone service generally and about the telephone in his own home.

In the absence of statistics about the performance of the Post Office, people will judge the service by their own experience and they will judge this experience by the results achieved. We want to know whether the experiment will do anything to rectify the situation in which 7,000 first-class letters are late every day, that prevents a telex being installed in South London in less than three to six months, and in which automatic telexes in this country cost five to six limes more than they do in the United States.

There is public dissatisfaction with the services and a feeling that as costs go up the services are not improving—far from it. I hope that the critics of the scheme are confounded. I wish the Board well, and I hope that we shall be able to see a real improvement in the performance of the corporation, but I do not think that it is any use pretending that people are watching the experiment other than very critically.

7.40 p.m.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill and on the agreement they have brought to the House which has been reached between the Post Office and the unions concerned. It will be warmly welcomed by the union members and in the Labour Party, where many people have been expressing concern for some time about the lack of democracy in the public sector. They will be watching with close interest to see how the experiment in the Post Office works with a view, if it is successful, to a possible extension on similar lines to other public corporations.

I rebut the suggestion of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) that the proposal has come to light only as a result of the Bullock Report. The House knows of my association with one of the Post Office unions, and I know that the unions have been pressing for more than 30 years to have a voice in the shaping of the decisions that affect their members' lives. The remarkable degree of consultation which takes place within the Post Office and which is a response to the pressure is testimony of that fact.

The general secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers said at the union's conference today that his members are anxious and eager to have the opportunity that this experiment in industrial democracy will provide to have a say and to take part in the shaping of the decisions that affect them. I agree with him that the worker-directors of that union and others will work in the interests of the community as well as in the interests of workers within the industry. I also agree with him that they will be working for greater efficiency and an extension of the usefulness of the services provided.

The unions will expect the new Post Office Board to have a better track record than we have seen in the past, and I think that all those who participate in the scheme will share that wish. The Post Office workers have a great and positive contribution to make in these matters. They have developed the finest and most effective joint consultative machinery one could hope for in an industry of this size. They are ready for the logical extension of that machinery into this experiment.

I am connected with the Civil and Public Services Association, which, in backing the experiment and giving it full-hearted support, would like certain assurances, some of which have been referred to already. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) referred to extending this democracy to local and regional level. We are all anxious that the experiment should not take place only at the top level at Board meetings in Post Office headquarters in Howland Street that are totally removed from workers in the North of Scotland, Manchester, Liverpool, the North-East, Devon or other parts of the country.

We hope that the experiment will, as the agreement seems to indicate, link with similar developments at regional and local level. I should like an assurance from the Minister that there will be immediate moves to introduce such participation.

The CPSA feels strongly and made clear in its evidence to the Carter Committee that certain changes are necessary in the structure of the Post Office. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that any change, such as splitting the Post Office into two parts as has been widely discussed, will not be obstructed as a result of the new structure of the Board agreed between the unions and the Post Office. I hope also that we may have an assurance that the new structure will not be used to change or impede the present collective bargaining procedures that have been worked out as a result of sometimes painful discussions over the years. Much has been achieved and there is the best of relationships between the management and the unions in the Post Office. It is to be hoped that this can be continued along with the present collective bargaining procedures.

The House may be interested to know that the CPSA has decided that if it has a representative on the Board he or she will not be involved in the collective bargaining process with the Post Office and will not be able to vote on Post Office issues within the union. He or she will be able to take part in any discussions, but will not be able to vote.

I have also had a long association with the co-operative movement, which, as a consumer organisation, is closely interested in the experiment from the consumer's point of view. It is interested in the appointment of outside directors to the Post Office Board.

The report of the National Consumer Council on consumer machinery in public sector enterprises came down in favour of representation on the boards from users' councils. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection has yet to give his opinion, but an opportunity has arisen for the practical testing of that suggestion in the Post Office experiment. The Post Office Users' National Council is broadly based and is representative of large and small users of the services. I believe that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) once served on the council, which has more experience of commenting on services and charges than has almost any other body in the public sector. I suggest that the Minister should consider the POUNC as one source of names for the independent people on the Board.

It is important to have persons with business experience. The Post Office is a business and it will be important for the reconstituted Board to achieve commercial success. We must get the right blend of commercial and ordinary domestice user represented on the Board so that a strong consumer view is being pressed. The reconciliation of good results with consumer satisfaction remains the greatest factor challenging public sector enterprises. The trinity concept enshrined in the agreement that has been reached of management, worker and consumer directors is worthy of our encouragement. I hope that the House will give it its support by giving the Bill a Second Reading

7.51 p.m.

The first consequence of the Bill, if, as Liberals hope, it is carried, will be that for the first time the great British Post Office, one of our finest national institutions, will have a real board in the full sense of the term, rather than being governed by a series of field-marshals with their successive retinues of junior officers. That is surely greatly to be welcomed.

At this time of impending national celebration it is to be noted with what a blaze of truly symbolic pageantry the old Post Office régime appears to be departing. It is announcing to the nation that it has managed, without being aware of it at the time, to amass more than £100 million of excess profit. It did not know that this was accruing until the balances were struck at the end of the period.

Elevating the Post Office's rule of thumb to a great maxim of State, it is now to distribute the excess with a lack of discrimination that has not been equalled since a general baptised the whole of his army with a hosepipe. It appears to be oblivious of the immensely different needs and circumstances of the different people who are each to receive the £7 Jubilee bonus, and oblivious of the 7,000 jobs that are estimated to have been lost by the excessive prices that have put telephones out of reach of so many people during the period of the excess profit, and oblivious of the fact that the worst-hit people have now gone off the telephone, having been forced to abandon it before the qualifying date for the £7.

When we contemplate that situation it is surely high time that there should be a fairly radical experiment in a new form of control of this great national institution. I believe that the experimental Board, with the zeal that is kindled by the new prospects, will work as a board. There will be no question that it will be content to receive on a Sunday afternoon from a dispatch rider the papers for the meeting to be held on the next day, the Monday. Its members will be keen to get down to things and to demand a standard of information that I am afraid the Post Office is not at present equipped, accountancy-wise, to provide for its directors.

There will be a revolution in the financial establishment of the Post Office to comply with the requirements of the new Board. It is also welcome to Liberal Members that we should be proceeding at last in this place by way of experiment rather than by forcing doctrinaire methods on great national institutions, only to have them repealed when the electoral pendulum swings. As the Secretary of State has made clear, the experiment is to be carried out with the agreement of the representatives who speak for 95 per cent. of those who will be involved.

It is no secret that this measure has been the subject of a modest amount of pre-legislation consultation. Alas, that consultation has taken place between only two parties. We wish that it could have been consultation between all the various parties in the House. We hope that eventually measures of this sort will have a large degree of all-party consultation before they are laid before the House. At any rate, a start has been made, and I shall refer to that briefly in a moment.

The only minus in the Liberal assessment so far is that the House, alas, does not have the Carter Report available for the purposes of this debate. It appears to have missed the opportunity by a whisker. The report would not have served to quash the experiment, but it might conceivably have altered the shape of it. Given the information that has been provided by the free Press about the report, the official channels seemingly having been very sluggish, we grasp to some extent the heroic task that the union members and independent members have agreed to take on by engaging in responsibility for the Post Office at this precarious time in its fortunes. I wish that the House had before it the Carter Report and its recommendations for this debate.

As has been emphasised in total contradiction to the interjection of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), who, having made his interjection, promptly fled, the experiment has nothing whatever to do with Bullock. Any suggestion that this is in some way a sprat to catch a mackerel in respect of shapes and forms of worker participation is nonsense.

Liberal Members believe that the Government were right to treat this as a matter of urgency. New modes of communication are rapidly coming into force throughout the developed world. They are not likely to reduce the need for a letter service but they are likely greatly to reduce the demand for it, which will pose tremendous problems for our Post Office.

The Post Office now has to seek its staff from an entirely new generation, which is totally unwilling, for the most part, to accept the old regimentation on which the Post Office has traditionally worked. The wholly centralised régime is in urgent need of remodelling if there is not to be a breakdown. In those circumstances it seemed wise to bring together all the various parties involved to share responsibility. At the very lowest level, if people find themselves lost on a barren moor in fog, with the traditional landmarks out of sight, the best thing to do is to huddle together for warmth for a period so as to survive. However, I believe that this enterprise can represent rather more than that.

It is no secret that when these proposals reached the Lib-Lab consultation committee there was no specific provision for consumer representatives among the 16 members—the membership then proposed by the Government. The Government advanced an argument that we believe had some merit. It cannot be denied that everybody on the Board must, by definition, be a Post Office consumer. That is manifestly true. We hope that that fact will be borne in mind when the appointments are made.

If the total membership of the Board is to be kept within reasonable bounds there can be only two places for the ordinary private consumer. This creates the great problem of representing the needs of the big user, who represents very great profit to the Post Office and without whom it would be non-viable. We hope that that type of user will be represented by at least one of the other independent members. If the Government are seeking, for example, a representative of retailing or modern business methods, or both, it should not be difficult to ensure that such a person is capable of representing the needs of very large users of the Post Office.

We urge upon the Government the provision of an extra independent member so that there may be two members on the Board who will be there for no other reason than their specific familiarity with consumer affairs. We were thinking of the ordinary private consumer, who, except in times of special urgency, has no organised lobby acting on his behalf and has no access to any space in the newspapers to advertise his grievance. He should be represented where the knowledge and power really lie.

I pay tribute to the zeal of the Post Office Users' National Council under Lord Peddie, which neither receives sufficient information nor has adequate attention paid to its recommendations to be effectively representative of the consumer. If one wants evidence one needs to go no further than Lord Peddie's letter in The Times of today, in which he makes clear that his council was pushed and bullied into accepting the £7 refund. The present consumer body is therefore toothless.

We welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that the new Bill will provide two directors who are specifically appointed for their familiarity with consumer affairs and who will therefore be held accountable by the consumers.

I conclude my remarks by explaining how members of the Liberal Party believe that members of the new Board should be appointed. Just as the wholly unwarranted old-time secrecy about JPs and all the mystery that surrounded that has been swept away by the newspapers carrying an intimation at least once a year that a particular clerk will be pleased to receive suggestions for membership of the Bench, we hope that through the National Consumer Council the consumer representative appointments on the Board will be advertised. That will mean that anyone can submit his application or that anyone may submit the name of another person. Such advertising would mean that the widest range of people would be considered. I understand that the British Airports Authority advertises for its consumer membership. I have already mentioned the parallel of appointments of justices of the peace.

We believe that the experiment will help to promote the likely recommendations of the Carter Committee. We believe that the hundreds of thousands of concerned users of the Post Office can expect a most promising two years of debate and discussion, which we hope will result in major legislation from a radical Government by about 1979–80. In the meantime, we shall watch the experiment with hawk-like care.

8.4 p.m.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. For a short time I worked in the Treasury and was particularly involved with the Post Office. In principle, I believe that worker-directors in the Post Office, nationalised industries and other major industries are a good idea. As a journalist I spent some time in Germany looking at how the system worked there. I was impressed by communications in the workers' councils in Germany and the way in which disputes were defused before they got out of control, as they sometimes do in this country.

I am less convinced that we should have worker-directors in all companies, because for companies of a certain size that would involve major changes in company legislation. In principle it is a good idea. It is sad that it has taken so long for this country to realise the implications of the idea, particularly in view of our entry into the European Community, where the wisdom of some degree of worker participation is recognised.

It is important to see the Post Office in the wider context. It is just over a year since the Carter Committee was set up. Lord Wall, a former deputy chairman and Government supporter, expressed his concern about the scheme. On 20th April he said:
"To have taken this major decision before the Carter report is published and the future of Bullock has been decided looks unwise as well as discourteous. I am certainly not against having trade unionists or workers on the Post Office Board, but I believe that the Board needs some really top-rate business people as well. This hasty decision can hardly help."
The Post Office Review Committee, which apart from the 1966–67 Select Committee inquiry is the first thorough investigation into the Post Office since the Bridgeman/Gardner Reports of the late 1920s and early 1930s, was specifically asked
"to examine the performance and main features of the organisation of the Post Office and its use of its resources and assets; and to consider whether any changes would better enable it to perform its functions under the Post Office Act, 1968."
The unions gave evidence to the review committee about worker participation at board level. As the issue is apparently to be decided without the committee's views, that evidence now seems irrelevant. In evidence, the Post Office Engineering Union suggested the establishment of an executibe board
"appointed by and answerable to a management board".
That idea has considerable merit. It is regrettable that we are to proceed with this measure without the Carter Committee's evaluation of it.

The way in which the scheme has been evolved appears to be the negation of the democratic ideals that it seeks to serve. At no time did the Government.

Post Office management or unions actively involve user organisations in their discussions.

The hon. Member may care to know that I have discussed this matter both with Lord Peddie and with Mr. Michael Young. Both have wished the experiment well. Lord Peddie has done so verbally and I have a letter from Mr. Young expressing enthusiasm, particularly about the consumer voice on the Board.

I am delighted to hear that. Customers should surely have the same rights as people who work in the Post Office, especially in view of the monopoly which the Post Office has.

If the new arrangements are to be as beneficial as the Government argue, why did they not involve independent bodies such as the Mail Users' Association and the Telephone Users' Association? Only lately have consumers secured more than a token representation in the discussions.

Much has been said about the new-style Board. Statements about what it is intended to achieve have not been forthcoming. Before embarking on the experiment we should be quite clear about what we expect of it, otherwise in two years' time it will be assessed in terms of dogma rather than performance.

This type of experiment cannot be conducted with scientific precision, but we can set a series of tests by which it may be judged. There are four broad areas in which the new Board must perform if the experiment is to lay any claim to success. Those areas are the improving of the introduction of change, speedy response to change by employees, customers and management, improvement of the accountability of the Post Office, and improvement of customer relations. Performance in each of those areas has been poor and particularly disappointing under the present corporation status. Even so, no detailed statements of how they are to be improved have come from the unions or the Government.

Is this a scheme to improve the operation of the Post Office, or is it merely a means of extending Government and union patronage? The impression seems to be that the Board will be too big and that it will be constructed for conflict rather than for co-operation, and for debate rather than decision-making. The majority of Board members will have no defined responsibility so far as one can see, and there seems to be very little indication that they will be selected on the basis of ability. For the union representatives we shall have to rely on whoever their systems of patronage throw up. If the unions really mean this experiment to work, they surely ought to be prepared to give up some of their best people to serve on the Board.

However, it must be recognised that the unions too have their own establishment "worthies". The Post Office is a major sector of the British economy and mediocrity flourishes in it, although not in all the State industries. There seems to be some disquieting evidence to hand of the unions' conduct. They are apparently seeking to have Section 58 of the Post Office Act 1953 altered. It is that section which establishes the principle of the inviolability of the mail.

The unions have in part been responsible for the delays in the postal mechanisation programme and seem to attach too high a price to its introduction. The agreement with the Post Office of a lead-in payment of £1·15p and 20p advanced savings is costing about £10 million a year. Moreover, the further agreement is costing half to the unions and half to the Post Office itself.

The limiting of coding desk operations to higher-grade postmen will further increase costs. The selection of members for the Post Office Users' National Council leaves much to be desired. Most of the Post Office business is provided by a small percentage of users. These users carry the uneconomic services and the general user, yet this segment is grossly under-represented in POUNC, where more knowledge of Post Office affairs is clearly needed.

The haphazard method of selection is well illustrated by the fact that no member of the Mail Users' Association has a seat on POUNC, yet a similar method is to be used to select the independent Board members. My argument is that the Post Office, like many other nationalised industries, is insufficiently accountable on a month-to-month or quarterly basis. Evidence of this was highlighted in the NEDO Report "A study of United Kingdom Nationalised Industries", which drew attention to the inadequacy of annual reports and accounts.

In America large companies are monitored on a quarterly basis. This surely is most important if people are to follow what is happening and what is going on on a continuing basis. It would greatly help a judgment of the experiment if the Post Office produced an interim report—something that every public company does. Also, a more comprehensive set of key indicators is surely needed. For instance, we need to know about output per man, increases in productivity and so on.

I would make a special plea for a change in the present arrangements for the collection of mail. The abolition of the late collections of mail in this great city and other major cities throughout the country has proved expensive for the consumer. I know that this point has been made many times before in the House and in another place, but I cannot believe that it costs eight times as much, or whatever the figure is, to collect a letter at 9 o'clock in London on a weekday evening or to collect a letter on a Sunday evening. The diminution of services has been a great disservice to the consumer in this country. The argument is that we cannot afford this service, which used to exist and which was particularly valuable to professional people. But the Post Office could perhaps arrange for a surcharge to enable one to post a letter at such times.

As far as I know, the only place in London where one can post a letter in the middle of the night is the post office at Leicester Square. The argument is that the Post Office cannot afford to do these things, but perhaps we could be allowed the privilege of spending three or four times as much to post a letter and have it collected on a weekday night or on a Sunday afternoon.

8.15 p.m.

I shall not follow the last remarks of the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Cockcroft) when talking about the existing service of the Post Office, but it would be interesting to find what the workers' representatives on the Board would say on matters such as Sunday collections.

I join with other hon. Members who have given a general welcome to the Bill and I congratulate the Minister of Stale for the discussions that he has had with the various trade union organisations involved. I also pay tribute to the success of the Department in bringing forward this one-clause Bill. I am sure that many hon. Members welcome the move towards shorter Bills and that the Minister of State, when thinking about the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, wished that he could have found an appropriate clause to bring before the House.

This Bill is a historic decision and it is pleasing that one has condensed it to one clause. The Government could easily have said "We have set up the Royal Commission under Lord Bullock to look into the whole question of industrial democracy and, therefore, we should not proceed on this question but wait for that document and the White Paper" There would have been considerable temptation to wait until the outcome of Carter, which was set up to look at the Post Office, but that would have been a way of postponing doing something about this matter.

I am glad that the Government are proceeding in the way that they are. I understand that the Liberal spokesman would like to claim some credit for their discussions with the Government. That is fair enough. They are doing something for the Government and they should be rewarded for it. But I would point out that workers' representatives within the Post Office is not a new idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) talked about 30 years. If we go back to the constitution of the Union of Post Office Workers we find that they were talking about that back in 1919. Not long after Sydney Webb wrote Clause 4 into the Labour Party constitution, which talked about common ownership and new means of production, distribution and exchange. Worker participation has been with the Post Office unions for a long time.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Sydney Webb. Does he recall that both Sydney and Beatrice Webb said that at least one-third of the members of the boards of nationalised industry should be representatives of the consumer?

Yes, I hope to come to that point. Both Sydney and Beatrice were strong co-operatives as well as Socialists, and recognised that in the running of efficient industries we should have Government and workers represented and that the consumer should have a voice. I shall come to that at a later stage.

I am glad that the Minister of State has already said that he has had discussions in this regard. What we are concerned with here is a sort of small Bullock, in the sense that we are dealing with the Post Office specifically. It is the heart of an industrial democracy. The failing in so many countries is that they tend to think of democracy is putting a cross on a paper and putting the paper in a ballot box every four or five years. We must realise that political democracy is something more than that. If we are to have genuine democracy, people should participate in the industries in which they are involved. Bullock will be dealing with this matter for the private sector.

Why are enterprises controlled in 1977 by shareholders' representatives? Why do those who give their lives to a company have no say in its running? Working people should be involved in decision making in the public and the private sectors. They often know what is wrong, but their voice cannot be raised directly in the board room. Their suggestions have to be passed on to Members of Parliament.

I hope that the Government will rapidly implement Bullock's main proposals and I am pleased that they have gone ahead with this small element. It is one thing for a Labour Government to say what should happen in the private sector, but they must practise what they preach in the public sector. That is being done in this Bill.

This is an experiment for only two years, so it has no bearing on whether the Carter Committee eventually recommends splitting postal services from telecommunications. I prefer the two sides to remain united. At the moment, posts are labour-intensive and telecommunications are highly mechanised. If they are split, prices will have to be greatly increased on the postal side because of labour costs and inflation or rising living standards, while, with new technology, telecommunications can make great savings. But unification is no argument against this experiment and I am glad that it is to go ahead.

I hope that consumers' representatives will be considered for the Board. The Minister said that he has had discussions with Lord Peddie of the Post Office Users' National Council and with Michael Young of the Consumer Council, both of whom have accepted the proposal. If both group and individual consumers are represented among those managing it, the Post Office will be administered better.

On the engineering side and in the Union of Post Office Workers there are people dedicated to the industry. When they are making efforts to create an efficient service, they are greatly displeased by back-biting complaints. That used to happen in the House. If a letter was delivered to the wrong address, or arrived three days late, hon. Members used to complain.

I am delighted that the Bill has only one clause. I am almost tempted to volunteer for the Committee. I hope that it has a speedy passage and that it moves to the other place even before Whitsun. It is a small Bill, but it represents a historic step. I hope that it is a first step on the long journey towards establishing industrial democracy.

8.26 p.m.

I should like to share with the House an experience that I had 10 days ago during polling in the GLC elections. It is relevant to the Bill.

While taking a taxi from one part of central London to another, I got into earnest conversation with the driver, who had no idea who or what I was. He said that he was an inhabitant of Tower Hamlets, and without probing his intentions too far I gathered that he intended to change his vote from Labour to Conservative. My interest was naturally aroused and I asked him why. He put it most graphically: "The Labour Party always makes two and two make three. The Tories always make two and two make five." He might have added, but did not, that the Liberals always make two and two make four—and look what has happened to them.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Tories make two and two make five—but five what? That is the important thing.

I am coming to that. The relevance of the story is that every enterprise, public or private, should be aiming, psychologically and in fact, to make two and two make five. In nationalised industries, particularly the Post Office, that should mean better service and meeting the needs of consumers rather than necessnarily making excess profits which have to be handed back in some dubious rebate.

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that that is much better than the Post Office being compelled by Act of Parliament to make losses, as it was under the Counter-Inflation Act for which he voted, which the taxpayer then had to compensate for with massive subsidies running into billions of pounds?

There is nothing between us on that. It is certainly not part of my argument that the Post Office is or is not making money—although it is clear that telephones make money while posts lose it. There are good reasons for that. My concern is with the main question: what is the purpose of the Bill? Surely it should be a way of improving the service to consumers and not simply of changing placings on the Board, unless that serves a useful purpose.

I am surprised to hear so much discussion about the need for consumers to be represented among these 18 or 19 extremely elevated gentlemen. As the co-founder of the Telephone Users' Association 12 years ago—an association which has never had any acknowledged recognition but which has had modest successes from time to time—I say, speaking solely for myself, that the last thing I would want is to be part of the Post Office Board, for the simple reason that I do not believe that a person can serve the interests of consumers from within as well as they can be served from without. Serving from without, a person is not hamstrung by being a party to decisions and, therefore, to compromises. Of course one would want to be consulted and to have one's views listened to, but no one would wish to be a party to compromises on behalf of the people whom he is trying to represent.

Every consumer organisation doing its job properly wants a totally uncompromising approach to the services offered to it. One of the things which distresses me most about the speeches we have heard so far has been the fact that there is greater concern about who is representing what than there is to know about the functions of the Board. I refer to such things as the question of making a profit, efficiency, whether risks should be taken with public money, and the unity of the Board and its ability to achieve its objectives, which must be the satisfaction of the needs of the consumer. There is also the question of expertise as well as many other factors. These are what we should be talking about.

I question whether the Government, in concerning themselves with seven of one, seven of another and five of a third category have given sufficient attention and emphasis, at least in their statements from the Dispatch Box, to the importance of the Board fulfilling its objective of meeting consumer requirements.

I leave aside the question whether the Carter Report will embarrass the Government because of its recommendation of a separation of posts and telecommunications. That seems to be a side issue, although it may explain the timing of this measure. I particularly want to see more accountability to the consumer and more responsibility towards him.

First and foremost, I pay a special tribute to the rank and file of the Post Office, those working not only in posts but in telecommunications. They are a band of people who, from my personal knowledge over the past 12 years, have contributed loyalty, kindness and a devotion to the service which in many cases reveals something not far short of a sense of vocation. I wish to be totally uninhibited in my compliments to these people. I cannot extend the compliments which I give to the staff to the system within which they work or, sometimes, to middle and senior management who control the activities of the staff. Here, I believe, is where the shortcomings lie.

If there is one particular criticism from which the Post Office cannot escape its share of guilt, it is the failure to be responsive to the flow of new ideas and to react sufficiently quickly to changes in public taste. This failure is a fault not so much of management but largely of the system. I do not believe that multiplying the number of directors who can pass the buck among themselves will in any way solve the problem. I want to consider one specific aspect of this new change, which is admittedly experimental. Many people will be concerned, having read the Press this morning, about the remarks made by the Lord President of the Council in his address to the Union of Post Office Workers.

I do not believe that anyone would quarrel with one point that the right hon. Gentleman made when he said, as reported in today's Press:
"It is the combination of individual vigilance, together with parliamentary vigilance and action, that is necessary to protect the freedoms of the people of this country."
That is what the right hon. Gentleman said in the context of making what appeared to me to be a commitment to legislate in the next Session to remove the provision in the 1953 Act which prevents Post Office workers from witholding the mails.

What concerns me about this is that we are now to see seven employee representatives, presumably drawn in the main from interested trade unions, sitting on the Board, and yet these self-same unions, the Union of Post Office Workers and the Post Office Engineering Union, have in one case in recent weeks used or attempted to use their industrial might for the sake of furthering a political matter—not an industrial matter.

If I may digress slightly, it might be of some interest to the House to know that my organisation received many telephone calls from telephone operators who were extremely unhappy about having to inquire of telephone callers, under the instruction that they received from their union, if they were making calls to South Africa, whether it was a life or death matter. This went completely against the grain with them, both as employees, with the traditions of service that I have mentioned, and as trade unionists. But if the situation in the near future is to be that trade unionists are to be part of management, how are they to reconcile the interests of a union that wants to use its industrial might not in any way to improve the terms and conditions of its members but for political reasons? How are these members of a trade union to reconcile the behaviour of the Union of Post Office Workers a few months ago —last October. I think—when Tom Jackson, the general secretary, said that he would go to prison rather than give in to the requirements of Section 58 of the 1953 Act, in a matter that had nothing to do with the interests of his own members but was only a sympathetic action in a matter that was highly dubious in the first place?

One wonders, therefore, how the dichotomy will be resolved on the part of the unions when they have representatives on the Board, particularly apropos of industrial disputes in which they are not interested or matters of a political nature.

The union-appointed directors will have to make a decision when they are appointed that they cannot in any way become involved in politically-motivated industrial action. Unless we can have an assurance from the Minister tonight that no such action by the union representatives on the Board will be permitted, it really will be a farce and a total waste of two years' experimental time.

8.39 p.m.

I was intrigued by the historic analysis from the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). He described the Bill as a small Bullock. I doubt whether anyone would call it a genuine Heffer at any rate.

The hon. Member spoke about the unitary Board, which he wanted to preserve, and went on to talk of the highly profitable telecommunications side—because it was capital-intensive and equipment-intensive—and the labour-intensive side of postal services. He said that if the Board were split it would inevitably mean more increases on the mail side and perhaps fewer increases or even reductions on the telecommunications side. What I think the hon. Member was doing—although he may not have intended to do it—was arguing for some form of cross-subsidy. That has never been accepted by either of the major parties in the House or, indeed, by anyone who has the interests of the Post Office at heart.

Before coming to my own observations on the Bill, I must say that I was very nearly put off it by the remarks of the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who opened by saying that he welcomed the Bill because it would be welcome to the Labour Party. I sometimes wonder, if a Bill is welcome to the Labour Party, whether it is welcome to anyone else. However, there is enough that is good in the Bill for me perhaps to overlook that mental aberration.

However, I cannot quite overlook some of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Cockcroft)—he is not in the Chamber at the moment—who spoke about the quality and nature of representation of the Post Office Users' National Council but complained that mail users were not represented on it. With great respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend has studied the matter. The Post Office Users' National Council embraces wide representation of all kinds—the CBI, the Mail Order Traders' Association, the co-operative movement, the British Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers Association and so on—and I reckon that those people are frequently better fitted to represent the consumer than are some of the mushroom organisations, self-appointed in many cases, which claim to speak for the consumer. I am sorry that my hon. Friend is not here. When the printers have finished their strike and we have Hansard again, he can attack me for what I have said.

I welcome the Bill in principle, and I declare my interest as the only Member of Parliament who has been and still is a member of POUNC. I have been a member since its inception in 1969–70. I was appointed by Mr. Stonehouse, and I have been reappointed by Ministers of both political parties, which at least shows some impartiality in Governments of all kinds.

Thanks almost entirely to Lord Peddie, POUNC has achieved a reputation which none of the other users' councils can even begin to touch. He has managed to get that body to work in a way which really represents consumers, and POUNC has been acknowledged on all sides as being about the only one of the statutory users' councils which has worked and has expressed strong views.

The Post Office Users' National Council has not been afraid to express views which may not have satisfied the Government of the day, whether the present Government or their predecessors. One of the issues on which POUNC felt, and still feels, that both Governments have been wrong is the monstrous way in which the Post Office pension fund has been deprived of the deficiency payment. In the long run this cannot be good commercial practice. POUNC, the unions and almost all others are united on the matter, and I believe that it is only one of the odd characters sitting at some desk in the Treasury who is saying "No". One of these days, I believe, the Treasury man will be walked over, and those who understand these matters may be allowed the bigger say.

I am concerned, however, about the timing of the Bill. We are told that the Secretary of State has the Carter Report. In this connection I shall quote from a letter on the question of industrial democracy, dated 3rd March, sent to the Secretary of State jointly by Lord Peddie and Michael Young:
"Just over a year ago, however, on the recommendation of the Post Office Users' National Council, the Government set up the Post Office Review Committee to undertake an independent and fundamental review of Post Office structure, organisation and services. That Committee expects to report by spring, and it would be a travesty if decisions on the future structure of the Post Office Board are taken before it has reported. Any decisions on the proposed two-year experiment are bound to exert a considerable and lasting influence on the future pattern of the Board's structure. On a matter of this importance, it is difficult to see why any decisions need to be taken before the Post Office Review Committee has reported or why users' interests should not be included in the discussions."
I acknowledge at once that, following receipt of that letter, the last few words were taken into account and consultations with users' organisations have taken place. But it still seems illogical that, when the report of this major review is about to see the light of day, the Government have brought forward their Bill.

As we all know, there is a fairly small amount of legislation in the pipeline, because the devolution Bill will not see the light of day, and there would have been plenty of time for this one-clause Bill to come after the Carter Report had been published. That is my major complaint today, that we have the Bill before us now and we have to try to consider the matter without Carter.

We recall that letter, which was signed jointly by Lord Peddie and Mr. Michael Young, but since then I have had talks with Lord Peddie and he has expressed great enthusiasm for this experiment. He was particularly pleased that a user voice was to be on the Board.

I had a meeting only a few days ago with Mr. Michael Young, as a result of which he has sent me a letter in which he says, among other things:
"I would like to say how very pleased we are that there will be two consumer appointments to the Post Office Board".
He goes on to say:
"We all naturally think this is a very considerable improvement".
My discussions with both those consumer representatives have shown that there is good will on their part for the experiments that the Bill enables.

I accept every word of what the Minister has said. I do not think that he and I are quarrelling, but POUNC does not withdraw from what was said in the letter of 3rd March, that the timing is wrong. That is all I have tried to say, and nothing that the Minister has said has taken anything away from it.

The provisions of the Bill and the extension of the size of the Board mean that there can be at least two user representatives on the Board. This is a most valuable point, and this is the view which, as the Minister knows, has always been taken by POUNC. It has always shared the view that there can be nothing but good from having worker representation on the Board, if it is part of a package deal.

I must take issue slightly with the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wain-wright), although I liked his description. He spoke of the moors and of people huddling together for warmth to survive. What a graphic description of the Lib-Lab pact. I cannot think of anything that describes more clearly to the world the real basis for the Lib-Lab pact. It is not for the benefit of the country. They are huddled together for warmth to survive.

The hon. Gentleman tried to claim some credit for the Liberal Party in the user representation that is being suggested. I am sure he knows—and if he does not the Secretary of State does—that long before the Liberals were involved in any discussions there were strong representations from Lord Peddie on this matter. If anybody other than the unions, which have a much longer claim to this, has any right to credit, it is the users' council. The Liberals are very much Johnnies-come-lately, and that fact ought to be clearly exposed. There is little enough credit that they can get, and this is one matter in which there is no credit at all for them.

I should be the last to decry the massive contribution of Lord Peddie, but will the hon. Gentleman accept that, after the intervention of Lord Peddie, when we first met the Government in consultation they were still proposing to exclude any specific consumer representation, notwithstanding the representations that Lord Peddie had made?

I can only accept what the hon. Gentleman says so far as his conversations were concerned, but there were other conversations between the Government and Lord Peddie which I am not at liberty to reveal.

Perhaps I might continue by giving an example of why recent events have made it much more necessary for user representation on the Board. The files of the Post Office National Users' Council, the minutes and published reports show more than one example of the failure of the Post Office to consult effectively, or even, in some cases, to consult at all, but the latest example is quite monstrous, and I want to spend a little time on this

I should first pray in evidence the Second Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, Session 1975–76.

Before my hon. Friend launches into that, can he explain why successful private enterprise companies do not have user representatives on their boards but have entrepreneurs who will deliver the goods that the customer requires? Why should it be so terribly different in this enterprise?

My hon. Friend is right. The real answer is that it is the difference between competitive, profitable private enterprise and a State monopoly. Tonight is not the occasion to launch into an attack on State monopoly. When there is a State monopoly, the consumer needs special protection. With private enterprise, the consumer is free to decide that he will not buy a shirt from the Co-op but will go to Marks and Spencer. Unfortunately, any letter a consumer posts will be delivered by the Post Office or by nobody. That is why he needs protection. However, that is a longer and much more detailed argument. Although I understand that the 10 o'clock rule may be suspended tonight, I shall not go into the argument now.

I turn now to the quotation I was about to make from paragraph 124 of the Second Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, Session 1975–76. The quotation is brief, but it is important as leading up to the point I want to make. This is a unanimous report and the passage is dealing with POUNC:
"Yet 10 of the 12 reports published by the Council during the six years of its existence have dealt specifically with price increases, though they have also included comment on a wide range of Post Office activities. Very little time has been given to the Council for the preparation of these reports. In both January and July of this year, POUNC received only one week's notice of the Post Office's proposals for tariff increases which were being put to the Price Commission; it then had less than four weeks in which to submit its comments. It does the Council immense credit that it should in so short a time have produced such thorough and constructive reports."
That was referring to reports Nos. 11 and 12.

That is the background. I come to the latest episode, which I regard as the most monstrous of all. Some of the story has come out in Lord Peddie's letter, but it needs to be put on the record as firmly as possible. It concerns the excess profit of £100 million on telecommunications, caused by the usual bad forecasting. Nobody will dissent from that comment. If anybody has a bad record in bad forecasting, it is the Post Office.

The Price Commission first gave notice to the Post Office on 4th April that it had exceeded its reference profit levels, vet it was not until 4th May—one month later—that the Chairman of POUNC was told. He was told on that occasion that the Post Office was concurrently meeting the Price Commission, and an immediate decision from POUNC was wanted agreeing with the proposed way of the handing back of £100 million.

An argument arises on the £100 million. It is that in the long-term interests of the consumer it might—I say "might" because I do not claim to be an expert on the self-generating finances of the Post Office on the telecommunications side—have been better for the Secretary of State to decide that the £100 million was better left inside the Post Office so that it did not have to raise that extra amount of capital for its capital equipment programme. I am not saying whether I agree with that argument. I am saying that it was a genuine debatable argument.

Because the Chairman of the Post Office ignored the advice of the Chairman of POUNC, who refused to go along with that announcement before consulting his council, that option was closed. The Chairman of the Post Office made an announcement. He spoke about the £7-a-head reduction and the slight extension of from six minutes to 12 minutes in the time allowed for local telephone calls—which the large number of people waiting to make calls at public telephone boxes may feel less than happy about when they have to wait much longer to make calls at such places as railway stations.

Sir William Ryland was urged not to announce the details but to say merely that £100 million would be handed back and that the details were for consultation with POUNC. I intend to be extremely critical about Sir William. I have been critical of him before in the House and in public, so I am doing nothing behind his back that I have not said to his face. This is certainly not the first time that I have been critical of him, but it is to be hoped that it will be the last, because he will not be Chairman of the Post Office for much longer.

I say that Sir William was obstinate, stubborn and insensitive to what consultation meant. My impression is that all along he has resented the statutory powers which enjoin consultation with POUNC. At any rate, he refused point blank to hold his fire on this matter and he gave details to the media. As a result, he pre-empted any form of meaningful consultation.

The Post Office first became aware formally about this £100 million on 4th April, although if it had any accountancy sense it must have known three months earlier that it was well over the reference level, and it told the Chairman of the Post Office Users' National Council on 4th May. It was not until 11th May that there were sufficient details for the council to meet and have a full discussion. I am authorised by the chairman of the council to say that this action by Sir William Ryland makes a mockery of consultation and that a strong protest is being made by the council to both the Government and the Post Office about this farce caused by Sir William.

I repeat that the POUNC is made up of local authority representatives, unions, the co-operative movement, industry, domestic users and consumer organisations, and without dissent they all felt that, having been asked to do a job, they were being treated shabbily. I do not believe that any of them felt that there was any degree of consultation in this process. That is the latest but not the sole example of failure to have effective consultation, and for that reason I welcome the Bill. I hope that the user representation will include the Chairman of the Post Office Users' National Council.

No doubt the Minister of State will say that I have changed my mind, because when we were reforming the gas boards and the gas consultative councils I fought strongly for the view that it was not right for the chairman of a consultative council to be a member of a gas board, and that is now part of the legislation. But I confess that, with greater experience, particularly of the Post Office, I have changed my mind. I think that the ability of the chairman of a statutory users' council to represent all users and not the pressure groups that I spoke about earlier is of very great importance. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) does not like it, but I confess that, having sat on organisations of both kinds—the voice within and the voice without—I have come down firmly, at least as far as the Post Office is concerned, on the side of having the voice within.

Is not my hon. Friend overlooking the fact that part of the problem here is not that the job will be done better but that the consumer will not see that his interests are being properly looked after if he is represented in two places? The distinction ought to be more clearly drawn, otherwise, whatever else is being done, justice will not be seen to be done.

That is an arguable point of view. I do not happen to share it, but I see the force of it. I think that it is outweighed in this case by the ability to do the job on the inside. My hon. Friend and I must agree to differ on this one.

The Bill gives a chance for a way forward. We make a great mistake if we examine the Post Office as one organisation. I have nothing but the highest praise for the telecommunications side, for its highly efficient and effective union under Brian Stanley and for its high and effective standards under Sir Edward Fennessy. I think that the Post Office was very fortunate in getting Ned Fennessy to come in, and I regret very much that he is due to retire. His departure will be a great loss to the Post Office. I acquit him completely of any complicity in the failure to consult. There have been both sound management and sound unions on that side of the Post Office's operations.

I wish I could say the same for the letter side. I speak highly of Tom Jackson, who is a first-class union general secretary and, leaving aside the political aspects, which do not concern me on this occasion, he has done a great job for his members and for the users as well. I wish that there had been a similar high calibre in the management of that side of the Post Office.

The Bill can highlight how worker-directors can operate. I need to be convinced that they will operate in a way which, at the end of the day, will benefit the consumer. I believe, however, that there is sufficient common ground throughout the Post Office—in management and unions and among users—to give this experiment a fair wind. I am not sure that the Bill will sail through Standing Committee as rapidly as the hon. Member for Aberdare wishes. There are some 10 or 11 amendments that will need very careful consideration and on which, as the hon. Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) will know from his past incarnation, there are genuine and constructive arguments.

For example, I wonder what guarantee we have that after the two-year experiment there will be a time for reflection and examination of its efficiency and effectiveness. The Bill as drafted does not limit the term of the experiment. Of course the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint these people for only two years, but I am not sure that that will be quite as effective as I would like. Perhaps the Minister could give an assurance on this. He and I have crossed swords on many occasions, but basically he is a harmless, amiable chap and is much more so when he does not have a commanding majority. When he does, it is a different matter—

Would the hon. Member mind telling us when this Government ever had a commanding majority in the past three years?

They had a commanding majority immediately after the October 1974 General Election, when they were in a position, because of one or two strange characters, to get their Bills through without relying on the support of the Liberal Party, whose Members, alas, like the winds, have disappeared from the Chamber already.

What I would like to see is something written into the Bill, such as a new clause, that will enable Parliament to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of the experiment. Will the Minister of State say that there will be a White Paper analysing the effectiveness of the experiment, not merely from the worker participation side but from the user participation side as well? I hope that Parliament will have a chance—as it rarely does—to debate that White Paper, and hopefully we will not be in Opposition when we hear the Minister tell us whether the experiment has been a success.

With that one major question to the Minister of State, I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will receive a smooth passage through the House, though not necessarily as swift a passage as the hon. Member for Aberdare hopes. I hope that it will be on the statute book by the Summer Recess, not the Whitsun Recess.

9.4 p.m.

This is only a small Bill, and I shall be as brief as possible. I know that the debate can be extended after 10 o'clock, but I do not intend to abuse that.

I simply wish to ask the Minister one or two questions. I wonder whether this Bill will in fact improve the efficiency of Post Office services to the public. I believe that the public is genuinely concerned about the accounting in the Post Office, and deeply concerned about the reasons given for such matters as the restriction on Sunday postal services.

We all owe a great debt to the people who work in the Post Office at the lower levels. The postman to us is rather like the milkman—an institution. He works terribly hard, in sometimes very difficult conditions of snow and other bad weather. He always does his best, certainly in London, to make sure that the post is delivered on time. I think that we should pay tribute to him.

This is a very short Bill. One might almost call it historic, in that, to my knowledge, it is the first of its nature to be introduced into Parliament.

I was very grateful to the Minister for clearing up a question about appointments and making it quite clear that his powers under Section 6 of the Post Office Act 1969 were undiminished and, incidentally, in line with the recommendations put to us in the document. In other words, he has put the stamp of authority on paragraph 6 of the recommendations.

When we get this enlarged Board, the decisions must, of course, be unanimous, like Cabinet decisions. Whether it be to abandon something or to introduce some new equipment, it must be a corporate decision. But what if, for instance, the trade union members or other members disagree with that decision? They obviously have to abide by it or resign. Are they allowed to discuss in public their reasons for disagreeing? I think that I know the answer, but I hope that the Minister will spell it out. Although it is in the agreement, I think that it would be as well if the Minister pointed it out. It is terribly important for the decision to be seen to be a corporate one and that the only redress for those who do not like it is to resign and leave the organisation.

One regrets that the document was not available in time for us to study it properly. I am sure that the Minister would be the first to appreciate this. I had to get the document duplicated in the Library. If hon. Members come in at midday, that does not give them time to go through it. When one of my hon.

Friends slipped up on it, because there had not been time to read it right through, the Minister was particularly generous.

I appreciate the printing difficulties, but it is extremely difficult for us if an important document such as this is not made available to the House in sufficient time for hon. Members to go through it. The document contains nine or 10 pages, and is of considerable importance.

This is an enabling Bill for an experimental period, not because it is laid down as such but specifically because, as I understand it, the Minister has the power to appoint for only two years, and unless he comes to the House again the experiment must end within the two years.

We are breaking new ground, and, as my hon. Friends have said, the Bill is flavoured somewhat with the recommendations in the Bullock Report. I do not quarrel with worker participation, but I am not at all sure about certain aspects of the Bill. A very marginal question is whether the consumer protection should be inside or outside the Post Office. Only time will tell whether this is an adequate protection for the public or whether the consumer protection should be outside. I have an open mind on this point.

Is it not possible to have the consumer organisation represented on the Board, as has been suggested, and also to have a consumer body outside to look at the decisions reached by the Post Office and to make its comments?

I am grateful for that intervention. It is absolutely necessary, in enormous corporations of this nature, to have something more than mere accountability. In my opinion, the accountability at the moment is insufficient. Perhaps by the small change which we may make today the accountability will be increased, but it has got to be possible from both sides. We shall not know until the end of two years whether the experiment has worked. I agree with the Secretary of State that it is right that the experiment should run for only two years in order to give the House and the country an opportunity to see the advantages.

What is far more fundamental is whether we should have waited for the Carter Report. Many hon. Members may not agree with me, but we really need to see more accountability in the Post Office. Hon. Members know how difficult it is to get a Question on the Order Paper, but I have one down on this subject of Sunday postal services. We need to know whether we can have proper accountability, so that the public can understand more easily why charges must rise. There should be a greater degree of supervision over the largest nationalised industry in the country.

I regret that Parliament no longer has the authority to intervene in these matters. I can remember the days when one could ask in the House why a letter that was sent on Friday had not arrived on the following Wednesday. Parliament has no time for such things now. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that the House does not have sufficient control. Perhaps we could have a one- or two-day debate in which to exercise our right to question the various things that the Post Office does.

No doubt the Secretary of State knows that I have put down a Question on Sunday postal services, but the Question has had to be phrased in a most roundabout way. Matters such as that, telephone communications and other such services are so important to the country that many people outside the House cannot understand why Parliament does not have some opportunity for discussing them, or time at Question Time for asking the Government why the Post Office has taken or failed to take a particular course of action. Many people do not believe that it is right that this should be so. We know that the Post Office can do what it likes—but it is wrong that it should be allowed to. There should be more accountability, and the best way of obtaining that is not simply through this Bill but by making parliamentary time available so that matters of principle can be debated in the House. I am sure that the Government realise how difficult it is to get a Question on the Order Paper.

I am glad to have had this opportunity of saying a few words about the Bill. It has been difficult to refer to the relevant documents, which have only just arrived, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will forgive me if I have overlooked anything in those papers. It is extremely difficult to read them and to listen to the debate at the same time.

9.13 p.m.

I must apologise to the House because, for reasons beyond my control, I have not been present for the whole of the debate. However, I heard the Secretary of State open the debate and I have heard enough speeches from both sides of the House to feel gravely suspicious about the real purpose of the Bill.

The Secretary of State said, quite properly, that the Bill was only an enabling Bill and that it would operate for a short period. The difficulty is that it could be a way of making the Post Office a guinea-pig for the Bullock Report in advance of any debate on the Bullock proposals for industrial democracy in all sectors in industry and commerce. We should pay attention to this.

I can recall from my own experience over a relatively short period the earlier days when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) said, Ministers responsible for the Post Office could be questioned and had to answer Questions asking why a letter took four days to get from London to Manchester.

I know the value of the Post Office and the tremendous service that it gives, but if my suspicions are correct the Post Office is being saddled with an experiment so that after two years it can be said "There you are. Bullock works." If that is the object of the Bill, we must look at it carefully in Committee and ensure that a considerable number of undertakings, and even specific requirements are written into the Bill, even if this means adding clauses to safeguard our position. I am sure that the Government have no intention of putting off a debate on the Bullock Report until the Post Office experiment has been completed, but we must have this clearly spelt out and we must have a lot more information about how the work people's representatives will be elected.

The Secretary of State said that the procedures would be reported to the annual conferences of the various unions. Will this information be given to next year's conference of the Union of Post Office Workers, which is now in the middle of its annual conference, or has the union been given advance information about the proposed scheme?

The Secretary of State has not treated the House properly. He opened the debate, and informed us that certain facts were available in the Library. That is not the way to enable us to have a sensible debate on the provisions of the Bill and what lies behind them.

Is my hon. Friend aware that only six copies were made available in the Library and that some of us had to have the information duplicated? Bearing in mind the number of hon. Members who were interested in this matter, that arrangement made things very difficult, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

I understand that our printing problems may have made it impossible for there to be sufficient copies available in the Vote Office, but for the Secretary of State to announce at the beginning of the debate that copies were available in the Library and for us to have to have copies run off for ourselves or read over one another's shoulders is not the ideal way to discuss an important Bill.

When I first looked at the Bill, it seemed to provide for simply a bigger Board—but nothing could be further from the truth. It introduces a completely new concept of members of the Board, representing, or at least coming from, certain interests. Normally there would be executive directors who would be mainly concerned with running the services.

The Bill will provide for executive directors, work people's representatives and representatives of users, which is another airy-fairy word. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to get much more information about how the users' representatives will be nominated or selected.

The Bill raises grave suspicions in my mind. This simple measure must be extended to make sure that Parliament retains sufficient powers to keep control even if, as the Minister said, the scheme is for only an experimental period.

9.20 p.m.

I think that the House has given a fair wind to the Bill by the general support that it has had from almost all hon. Members who have spoken.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) rightly described the motivation behind it as being that of facilitating what he called a historic decision. That is what it is. It is a major advance in industrial democracy in this country. I am not trying to conceal that from the House in asking it to accept the Bill.

It is important, in considering our proposals, to show what they are not as well as what they are. First, the Bill is not a final decision on the future of the Post Office and its Board. As the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said, what we have is a two-year experiment. When the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) asks how we can guarantee that the experiment will last no more than two years without a specific provision written into the Bill, I say to him, first, that the appointments made under the experiment will be for only two years. Secondly, this is not an experiment in which the Government are the sole participants; this is an experiment in which the Post Office and the unions are the participants.

Section 15 of the agreement specifically states that
"Both parties wish to point out that their acceptance of particular provisions attaching to an experiment should not be regarded as implying that they would necessarily find these provisions acceptable in any permanent arrangement."
At the end of the experiment, when we shall all have an opportunity of assessing it, we shall have to take into account the fact that the Post Office and the unions have made many concessions to obtain the agreed document. Whatever the Government may feel at the end of the experiment, they may not wish to proceed permanently on the basis of the two-year trial period. Therefore, I say to the hon. Member for Hampstead that that is a guarantee that we are not going to have the experiment rubber-stamped and proceeded with thereafter. We shall all learn a great deal from it.

I was attracted by the proposal of the hon. Member for Hampstead that there should be some way in which Parliament and the public can assess the outcome of the experiment. I should like to consider ways in which that can be done. The hon. Gentleman suggests a White Paper. That may be appropriate, but there may be other ways. I assure him that in the two years I or my Labour successor in this job will enable the House of Commons to make the appropriate assessment.

Having facilitated the experiment, it is right that we ourselves should be able to consider it, just as the Post Office will consider it, and just as the unions, both collectively through the COPOU and separately through their own organisations, will want to have a long and searching look at what has been achieved.

The Carter Report and proposals have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth). There has been some apprehension that the experiment will pre-empt any proposals that may come from the report and any decisions that may be made to implement them. I remind the House that this is a two-year experiment. When the report comes before us we shall have to consult the interested parties. The matter will have to be considered by the House and by others. It is out of the question that any reorganisation of the Post Office that follows from the report, should such a reorganisation follow, could possibly come within the two-year frame. The experiment will in no way pre-empt whatever decisions, if decisions there be, follow from Carter.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) expressed apprehension that what we are enabling by passing the Bill, as I hope we shall, will in some way be a trial of the Bullock proposals, or, as others may put it, a pre-emption of industrial democracy decisions by the Government. I should like to make it clear that that is far from the intention of the Government. Whatever happens with this experiment, neither the country nor the House should be led to believe that similar proposals will follow, either for the nationalised industries or for privately owned industries. This is a one-off experiment for a particular industrial and commercial concern, with a particular structure and circumstances.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley, who drudged through 58 Committee sittings of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare, will recall that that Act has its own proposals for industrial democracy for those industries. They are not the same as the proposals for the Post Office. In those two industries we sought to create the conditions under which a structure for industrial democracy could be achieved. This experiment is seeking to achieve a measure of industrial democracy for the Post Office.

I give the hon. Member for Totnes an absolute assurance that whatever comes from the experiment—and we hope that it will be a success—will in no way relate to the Government's general proposals for industrial democracy. Those are being examined, as the Secretary of State for Trade said they would be in his statement in January.

The discussions on this experiment for the Post Office were launched long before the Bullock inquiry was set up. The Secretary of State asked for proposals from the Post Office unions in 1974. The discussions on this experiment have proceeded entirely separately from Bullock and without the participants having any knowledge of what would emerge from Bullock. The fact that these proposals bear a surface resemblance to some of the Bullock proposals is coincidental.

Just as this experiment will not lead to a final decision on the future of the Post Office, nor will it in any way pre-empt the Government's proposals for industrial democracy generally, either in privately or publicly owned industries. The experiment is not a pattern for other industries, nor can it be. The Post Office is unique in its size and structure. The Post Office is also unique in its trade union penetration. Almost all Post Office employees are trade union members. Therefore, the experiment does not commit us to a similar structure for other publicly owned industries, let alone for privately owned industries.

That leads me to explain what the experiment is and what the Bill facilitates. It is an experiment in which there will be an opportunity to see how worker-directors play their parts. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Cockcroft) made his speech and left the Chamber, because he struck the only really jarring note in the debate. He seemed to suggest that the trade unions would not put on to the Board people of the first quality.

However, section 11 of the agreement states that
"Union nominees for such seats"
—that is, the seats allocated to trade unions—
"will be selected for their ability to make an appropriate contribution to the work of the Board, and it is envisaged that they would be of the standing of executive council members, or full-time officers of a Post Office union."
These are people of great standing in the unions. One's only concern is about the extent to which the unions will impoverish themselves by making such people available to sit on the Board.

When the hon. Member for Nantwich looked forward rather pessimistically to conflict on the Board he was presumably not aware of the fact that, again in section 8 of the agreement, both sides state the importance of what they describe as "consensus decision taking" on the Board, because both sides are entering into this experiment with a wish to make it succeed.

This experiment is of great importance, because it will be a testing ground for the assumption of responsibilities by trade union representatives of a kind which trade union representatives have never been asked to accept in any industrial venture in this country. Those responsibilities can quite often by unattractive. Both the Post Office Engineering Union and the Union of Post Office Workers have shown their public responsibility in the past by agreeing to unappetising reductions in manning levels in exchange for modernisation. The sense of responsibility with which the unions are approaching this was illustrated only today by Mr. Tom Jackson when speaking at the conference of the Union of Post Office Workers in Bournemouth. He said that the union directors
"will work for the good of the community at large."
That is the approach of the Union of Post Office Workers and, as has been generously pointed out by hon. Members on both sides, of all the employees in the Post Office. That is the way they will approach this experiment.

Again, a most important aspect of this experiment is that it is the result of an agreement between those who will be involved. It has not been imposed by the Government; it is the result of patient negotiation by the Post Office and the unions over a period of six months. In a speech that was generally most acceptable, I was sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead felt it necessary to make the remarks that he did about Sir William Ryland. Sir William is a great public servant. He has devoted many years of a fine public career to the Post Office and he himself has played a great and enthusiastic part in helping to bring about this agreement.

It is entirely wrong for one hon. Gentleman—not the hon. Member for Hampstead—to imply that the Post Office is entering this experiment without enthusiasm. Indeed, without the good will and enthusiasm of the Post Office, this agreed document could never have been arrived at. It has done a great deal to narrow the differences between the Post Office and the unions, just as the unions have given up positions which they themselves hold dear for the sake of this experimental period. The Post Office, together with the unions, has played an active part in achieving agreement. It is their scheme which we are facilitating.

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) asked why conditions for privately owned companies should be different from those of publicly owned companies. If this were a privately owned company, we should not need this Bill. The experiment could go ahead without any legislation. Indeed, if the maximum size of the Post Office Board had been made larger in the 1969 Act, we would not need this Bill either. When the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) regrets that the size of the Board is too large he should spread his regret a little wider, because the Gas Board, under the Gas Act 1972, is bigger than the Post Office Board.

I am sure the hon. Member for Colne Valley will recall what a resource the Gas Act 1972 was to the Government. In this case, it comes in as useful as it always has.

Thus, while this is a small enabling Bill, its implications are significant. For the first time ever, workers will be elected to the main Board of a great industry. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby that the experiment does not extend only to the main Board.

The Government certainly consider the regional and local level arrangements referred to in section 14 of the agreed document as at least as important as the provisions for representation on the main Board. So do the unions. I have had discussions about this with Mr. Bryan Stanley, of the Post Office Engineering Union.

On every conceivable occasion on which I have discussed industrial democracy generally, and industrial democracy in the Post Office in particular, I have said that workers on the boards, as such, do not signify industrial democracy—that workers on the boards are part of the concept, but that it must grow from the grass roots. That is why, in the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, we talk specifically of industrial democracy in a "strong and organic form". That is what we wish to see in the Post Office also and that is what we know both the Post Office and the unions are anxious to obtain.

For the first time, workers will be elected to the main Board of a great industry. For the first time ever, we have recognised a consumer presence. That also is something that we shall be watching and whose benefits we shall be able to assess at the end of the two years. All these members of the Board—the worker representatives and the consumer voice—will have responsibilities as full Board members, not as narrow compartmentalised spokesmen, and will play a full part in its work, accepting the responsibility of membership.

That does not mean "collective Cabinet responsibility", nor does it mean that if someone disagrees with the decision of the Post Office, he will resign. After all, there is no unanimity on the present Board. Otherwise, presumably, its meetings would be of the utmost brevity; its members should simply have an agenda, all nod solemnly, and leave the room. Debate and discussion are necessary, and different opinions are voiced.

What is important is an acceptance by the unions of their responsibility as members of the Board. That same responsibility will be expected, and will certainly be forthcoming, from the five independents who are to be appointed.

Am I correct in saying that if the Bill becomes law, that is all that is in it? There are only two sides to it. An Act of Parliament increases the number, but it depends entirely upon a document that has no legel force in the courts. Am I correct?

The Government could have authorised this experiment without asking the House, if the present size of the Board had remained the same. There would have been no reason to ask for authorisation by the House—although obviously we should have informed the House. The only reason why we need authorisation is that we are enlarging the Board. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not expect more from the Post Office than he would from any other exponent of industrial democracy. However, we are looking to the Post Office for more, because we are giving it an opportunity which others have not yet had.

As I have said, this is a tiny Bill. It could not have been much shorter. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of industrial democracy in this country will be affected by the progress of this experiment.

Other workers, for example, in the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, will be watching the progress of the experiment, picking up tips and noting pifalls to avoid. The experiment will not be plain sailing. Many problems, expected and unexpected, will be revealed as we go along. This industry and these workers will be pioneers. This was very much recognised by Mr. Ken Young, of the Post Office, and Mr. Carter, of the Council of Post Office Unions—two men who have contributed a great deal to the achievement of this experiment. They referred in the agreed report to the exploring of unknown territory. That is what we are doing.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, their enemies will be hoping for failure, their champions will be cheering them on. The hon. Member for Hampstead described this Bill as being a chance for a way forward. That is a very good way of putting it. The Government are grateful for the welcome given to the experiment by almost all who have taken part in the debate. We ask the House to give its support to this venture of courage and hope.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr Frank R. White.]

Committee tomorrow.

Police (Complaints And Discipline)

9.45 p.m.

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Complaints) (General) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 578), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.

It will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with this the following motions:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 579), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Discipline) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 580), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Discipline) (Senior Officers) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 581), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Amendment) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 582), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police Federation (Amendment) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 583), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether I speak first in praying against the regulations or whether the Minister explains them beforehand?

I hope that the Under-Secretary will find that there are sufficient speakers during the course of this short debate on the regulations to enable her to obtain a little advice from her officials on the specific points I shall raise, because I appreciate that it will be difficult for her to be able to deal with my queries directly I have concluded my speech.

The regulations are extensive and complex. It will be necessary for me to ask a number of questions seeking explanations and assurances. It is a pity that the Government should be in a hurry to implement details of the Police Act 1976 which many officers from Sir Robert Mark, lately Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, downwards find at best irrelevant and at worst counter-productive and obnoxious in terms of the efficient performance by the police of their duties.

To add insult to injury, the piece of bureaucracy now being set up under these regulations incurs and entails an open-ended and unspecified public expenditure commitment about which the Government have shown none of the scruples which they exhibit so relentlessly and uncompromisingly over police pay. Would that they would reverse their priorities and seek a contented police force before an expanded bureaucracy. Alas, that is not the way they are looking at the question.

I now turn to the regulations and deal first with Statutory Instrument No. 578. Can the Minister elaborate on the circumstances mentioned in Regulation 4, under which, in certain circumstances, the Complaints Board need not forward a complaint to the chief officer, particularly where it is against the complainant's wishes that the complaint should be so forwarded? It seems a rather curious and, perhaps, a rather serious situation that, if a complaint happens to be routed via the Board, there are circumstances in which the Board need not bring the complaint to the attention of the chief officer. What then becomes of the chief officer's statutory duty under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 to cause an investigation to be made, and particularly under Section 49(3) of that Act, under which chief officers may have cause to refer an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

It seems a very serious matter that it is possible now to route to the Board a public complaint which could in certain circumstances get no further and, indeed, perhaps result in no proper investigation being made.

While I am still dealing with Statutory Instrument No. 578, perhaps I could also ask the hon. Lady to consider the matter of time lapse, where an investigation appears to be dragging on somewhat. The question of time lapse is considered in Regulation 5 on page 2, and in Regulation 6, on page 3. Under Regulation 5 the chief officer of police has to make quite certain that if four or more months have elapsed since he received the complaint he goes through a certain procedure to bring the Police Complaints Board up to date about what is happening and why it is taking so long, but there is no reference here to what should be said to the wretched police officer who is the subject of the complaint.

Can the hon. Lady say why it has not been spelt out that the police officer who is the subject of the complaint should also be told, after a lapse of four months or more, what is happening and what the delay is, and why it should be only the Board that is so informed? It seems particularly heartless that the bureaucratic body should be so informed when the wretched police officer who is the subject of a complaint and may be subject to suspension of pay is not included.

I have an idea that the guidance given by the Home Office in this matter may actually suggest that the police officer should be quietly told what is going on, but I do not see why it should not be spelt out in the Regulations. It is much more important than informing the wretched bureaucracy about the delay.

It is quite possible that the Board itself may cause delay in the consideration that it is giving to complaints handed on by the chief officer. Here we come to Regulation 6. It is rather ironic for anyone who reads these regulations to find that the first half of page 3 is taken up with a detailed specification of what the police shall have to do about bucking up and making quite certain that they give up-to-date information about the progress of the case, and so on, but that Regulation 6, relating to the functions of the Police Complaints Board, simply tells us that the case must be dealt with by the Board
"without undue delay and shall take such decisions as appear to them appropriate for the purposes thereof as soon as is practicable".
Why on earth, again, is the wind tempered to the poor shorn lamb of the bureaucracy? Why should the Police Complaints Board be allowed to get away with the bland, all-embracing, unembarrassing reference to proceeding
"without undue delay"
Or
"as soon as is practicable"
whereas practically two pages of the Regulations are taken up with telling police officers how essential it is that they should make haste, and so on? Again it seems to me quite unreasonable. I hope that the hon. Lady will comment on that matter.

I come now to Statutory Instrument No. 579; the second in the order that I am taking them. I wonder whether the hon. Lady, looking at Regulation 3(1) on the front face of this single-page Statutory Instrument, will say why, in a circumstance in which no disciplinary charges are to be preferred—this is spelt out in the last four lines on the page—the police officer has to take an initiative in requesting a copy of the complaint. Why should it not be sent to him automatically?

After all, a copy of the complaint made by a member of the public is sent to the police officer automatically in cases where disciplinary charges are to be preferred. That is spelt out clearly in Regulation 11 of Statutory Instrument No. 580. Where, however, no disciplinary charges are to be preferred, apparently the officer has to take the initiative himself in writing to the chief officer concerned in order to obtain details of the complaint which has been made.

It is no answer to that query to refer to the possible prejudicing of criminal investigation or proceedings which are pending, to which reference is made in Regulation 3(2) of Statutory Instrument No. 579, under which the chief officer may refuse to comply with a request that a copy of the complaint be sent to the constable or officer accused if
"he is of the opinion that to do so might prejudice any criminal investigation".
Surely that is a red herring in this context, because if a criminal investigation is going forward there can be no proceedings under the discipline regulations until the reference regarding possible criminal charges has been made to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the charge is disposed of. There are two quite distinct and sequential steps here in terms of time. There is the question of possible criminal proceedings, and only when that has been disposed of can a possible disciplinary charge arise.

There can, therefore, be no inhibition upon the chief officer in sending to the officer concerned details of the complaint under the discipline regulations because there might be a criminal dimension to it. The criminal dimension must by definition have been disposed of before the disciplinary question can arise.

It seems to us unreasonable that there should be two standards in this matter, that the police officer should automatically receive a copy of the complaint if charges are to be preferred but that if charges are not to be preferred he has to take the trouble of writing off to the chief officer for it. In such circumstances, the chief officer may exert influence or unofficial pressure on him not to press for a copy of the complaint.

We know that the reason why the police officer wants to get hold of a copy of the complaint is that he may in future want to take civil proceedings in slander or libel. Why, therefore, should he not be allowed automatically to see the complaint where there is to be no disciplinary charge preferred?

As I say, I hope that the hon. Lady can disentangle the irrelevant references to criminal proceedings in this context made in Regulation 3(2)(a) of Statutory Instrument No. 579.

My hon. Friend will have noticed from the explanatory note that where the deputy chief constable is of opinion that there might be the slightest possibility of a criminal matter he will be required, without discretion, to refer it automatically to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In such cases, probably covering a large number of complaints, the Board would not come into it at all, so that that is otiose.

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for underlining the point that there is a clear requirement under Section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964 to refer an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions first of all if there is the slightest possibility—

without discretion—if there is the slightest possibility that a minor traffic or other offence may be technically criminal. It has to be sent to the Director, and as a result of that very act of reference it passes out of the ambit of the Police Complaints Board. I hope that the hon. Lady has taken the point and can reassure us.

I turn now to the third in this series of Statutory Instruments, No. 580, the substantial and bulky regulations entitled "The Police (Discipline) Regulations 1977." I should like first to raise a point about references to the Director of Public Prosecutions under Section 49(3) of the 1964 Act to which I have referred. There is little, if any reference to the DPP in this Statutory Instrument, and I should like to know whether the hon. Lady can fill in the rôle of the DPP in these regulations.

Regulation 8(1) on page 4 says:
"The decision whether or not the member subject to investigation should be charged with an offence shall…be taken by the chief officer concerned after considering the report of the investigating officer."
It is after considering the report of the investigating officer that one has to read in there, although no reference is made to it, that the chief officer will refer the case to the DPP if there is any scope to do so.

However, the hon. Lady will know that there is no mention of the possible reference or the prior reference of an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Regulation 11(1) on page 5. We read there that where a police officer is charged with an offence he has to be supplied with a whole bundle of copies of statements or bits of evidence that will enable him to set up his defence and decide how he will answer the charge. One of the things that is not included here is whether any reference of his case has been made to the DPP. He must know whether a reference has been made to the DPP so that he can decide whether he thinks that a case of double jeopardy has arisen and he has been unfairly charged on a matter that has already been referred to the DPP.

He needs to know at least that the statutory procedures under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 have been carried out and the question of criminal charges has been considered, but there is no reference in Regulation 11 to the information with which the police officer has to be furnished about whether the case has been routed via the DPP or whether consideration has been given to that possibility and has been decided against. It would be helpful to the police officer to know whether Section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964 has been properly complied with. I hope that the hon. Lady can arrange, either through guidance or in some other way, to make certain that the police officer is told about this.

There is a second question that I should like to raise on Regulation 11(1). I wonder whether the hon. Lady would be kind enough to elaborate the meaning, import and purpose of the phrase contained in Regulation 1(1)(b). There we read that the police officer is to be supplied with copies
"of the report, allegation or complaint on which the charge is founded (or so much thereof as relates to the accused)".
That is rather a disconcerting situation, because it implies, at least prima facie, that a kind of limited report about the nature of the complaint—a bowdlerised copy of the original complaint—may be in order for the officer who is under charge. Such a bowdlerised or limited complaint would be in order if part of the complaint related to a general charge against police procedures or against police administration at large and not to the conduct of an individual officer. If that wider charge is included in the complaint, it is reasonable to cut off the bits of the complaint that relate to the general charges and send to the officer only that which relates to his individual conduct.

It is not satisfactory if that which is to be excluded from the report sent to the accused under Regulation 11(1)(b) includes a possible serious libel made against the officer and amounting to a criminal charge which has been looked at by the Director of Public Prosecutions and ruled by him either not to be susceptible of a charge or one which should not be pursued in the public interest.

If the portion of the report containing a serious libel which the Director has ruled should not be the subject of a criminal charge is chopped off the document which is sent to the accused, this is a detriment to his right to take proceedings in a matter which may amount to slander or defamation. If the words in brackets in the sub-paragraph mean that it is permissible to detach, exclude or censor certain allegations made about the individual officer, it is unacceptable. I hope that the hon. Lady will give us assurances on this matter.

Turning to page 14 of Statutory Instrument No. 580, I should be glad if the hon. Lady would help us on a question arising on Schedule 2(6)(c). There is a phrase there which has given rise to grave disquiet in the police service. I understand that Regulation 7(4) of the Police Federation Regulations 1969 says:
"Without prejudice to any arrangement for informal consultation… the Federation may make written representation to the chief officer or the police authority."
To cut through the technicalities, I understand that the existing practice is that the Federation is empowered—by precedent, tradition or regulation—to enage in informal consultations with the chief officer or a police authority about matters which profoundly disturb it.

Schedule 6 states that an
"offence is committed where a member of a police force—
(c) without proper authority"—
those are the words which have given rise to doubt—
"makes representations to the police authority or the council of any county".
The question on which we want assurance is whether the phrase "without proper authority" overrides the hitherto unfettered freedom of the Federation to engage in the informal consultations which are spelt out in the earlier Police Federation Regulations. We hope that the phrase in Schedule 2(6)(c)
"without proper authority, makes representations to the police authority"
does not destroy the Federation's existing well-established rights to engage in informal consultation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) agrees that it is important to have this matter cleared up.

I am sorry to tell the Under-Secretary that I must now switch her attention back to page 8 in the same Regulations and refer to Regulation 16(8), which refers to the confidentiality of questions about whether a decision was reached unanimously or by a majority. The hon. Lady will note that the operative phrase there is in the last two lines of the paragraph:

"the decision may be a majority decision but it shall not be indicated whether it was taken unanimously or by a majority."

That is unsatisfactory from the point of view of the accused officer. For example, in deciding whether to pursue an appeal to the chief constable or the Secretary of State it becomes relevant to him to know whether the decision on his case was taken unanimously or by majority.

Suppose that one-third of the membership of the tribunal was against the verdict. It is relevant to the accused officer that he should know that, because it would no doubt influence his decision as to whether there might be good cause for him to appeal. If, however, he is not to know whether the verdict was reached by unanimous vote or by majority vote, he will have to give himself the benefit of the doubt and refer everything to the Secretary of State on appeal.

My hon. Friend is on an important point. A minority of one against the decision may well be the chief officer, the chairman of the tribunal. Surely that is all the more reason why the officer complained against should know, because if it should turn out that the man who was on his side, as it were, was his chief officer, who would have to apply the discipline even if he did not believe in the verdict, it would be pertinent to the decision as to whether there should be an appeal.

My hon. Friend has underlined even more starkly why we should have this further protection or reassurance to the accused officer.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether there are parallels for what he is suggesting in the case of any other tribunals, boards or assessors? There is certainly none in the Home Office.

There is no precedent for this peculiar body. It is a one-off situation introducing a new dimension into the handling of complaints by the public against the police. Whatever the precedent or otherwise, there is intrinsic merit, in the context of this new procedure, for making sure that the officer concerned has at least some specific information.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady will be able to deal with this substantial number of specific points. These are matters of vital importance to the police service. Individuals will be profoundly affected in the context of the police disciplinary regulations involving suspension, loss of pay or promotion and all sorts of other personal hazards. It is, therefore, vitally important to get the answers to these points. I understand the hon. Lady's difficulty in providing complete answers tonight, but that is part of the difficulty of our procedure in dealing with delegated legislation. I hope that she will give serious consideration to these matters and write to us about them if she cannot reply to them tonight.

One way out of the difficulty could have been by the hon. Gentleman giving me notice of the points he intended to raise.

I applied my mind to considering these matters and all the possibilities only at the start of today, and the hon. Lady would not have been able to read my writing in the form in which I considered them. No doubt she will be able to give us some answers in the debate, but I hope she can reassure us that she will write to us on the points she is not able to deal with once she is able to see Hansard for today, although that may be many moons away. We want reassurance on these points.

I ask the hon. Lady to look at Statutory Instrument No. 580. Regulation 22 (6)(a), referring to the evidence to be considered by the chief officer before passing judgment, states that
"he shall have regard to the accused's record of police service as shown on his personal record and may receive evidence from any witness whose evidence would, in his opinion, assist him in determining the question".
This is a rather unsatisfactory proposal. The chief officer, before he decides what punishment to pass, can call in an anonymous and unspecified witness on the character of the accused. Why is there this coyness and anonymity about the witness being called in to give evidence of character? Surely the individual's name should be made available to the accused so that he knows who is giving evidence about him. This information should be made available to the accused in the statement and other items in Regulation 11(1) that are sent to the unfortunate person. This is most unsatisfactory.

The unknown witness may be hostile. He may be the chap's last employer or someone with whom he has had a row. The accused should be told if the chief officer is to take evidence from some other witness. In the proceedings, the evidence of witnesses is given in open court and is seen and heard by the accused officer. He knows who has produced it. The same principle should apply to references to his character.

On the last but one of the Statutory Instruments—No. 582—some explanation is needed for the layman. Am I right in assuming that, following the ending of a period of suspension relating to a potential or actual disciplinary offence, the officer gets back the pay that he lost during the suspension period? I understand that that is broadly the impact of the instrument—that, if he is suspended pending an investigation, when he returns to duty following the period of suspension, regardless of the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, he will recoup what he has lost in pay during the suspension.

What will happen in cases not just of disciplinary suspension but suspension in the light of a possible criminal charge but one that fails to materialise either through insufficient evidence or because the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that he will not pursue the criminal charge in court? In these circumstances—with no charges brought in the end—does the accused officer get the same treatment as he would have had on a disciplinary charge?

The last instrument—No. 583—which is mercifully short, has its punchline in the last paragraph. This regulation enables Police Federation funds to be used in cases where an officer is libelled or slandered and the libel or slander, statement or alleged statement, appears to the committee
"(a) to relate to his conduct as a member of a police force, or
(b) to disparage him in the office of constable or otherwise to cast doubt upon his fitness to be a member of a police force."
I want an assurance about a dispute that might arise between a police officer and a member of the public resulting in a complaint raised in a non-duty situation. There could be a case in which there was a dispute between neighbours. A policeman might have a row with his next-door neighbour over something that was nothing whatever to do with his police duties or his actions in the context of his uniformed or other official duties. Is it possible for Police Federation funds to be used where a libel or slander arises in such a situation? Prima facie it does not seem, according to the specification in subparagraphs (a) and (b) at the end of the Statutory Instrument, as if Federation funds can be used except in incidents in the course of duty.

As I understand them, however, the police discipline regulations overflow into the private civil life of the police officer, so that under regulations he can be charged with a disciplinary offence even when he is not doing something in the course of his police duties. It seems absolutely essential that the use of Federation funds should go pari passu with that and extend at least as far as the disciplinary regulations. I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to give us some assurances about that.

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the hon. Lady, for the difficulty with which we are faced in asking questions about this complex set of regulations. I assure the hon. Lady that if I had been able to send her a typescript in advance I should willingly have done so. I appreciate her difficulty. However, I hope that she will do all she can to deal with these questions and to follow up with a letter all the points that she cannot cover this evening.

10.16 p.m.

In the previous debate, Mr. Speaker, I erred and strayed somewhat in having undertaken to speak for 12 minutes but, due to a number of interventions I spoke, I think, for 17 minutes.

You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Speaker, that, although I had it in mind earlier to speak at some length on these regulations, in view of the great lucidity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has taken the House through this labyrinth of very difficult regulations I shall be able to reduce my speech by at least the six minutes by which I erred in the earlier part of the proceedings. I hope, therefore, that I shall at least atone somewhat for my earlier failure.

The Police Federation never wanted these regulations. Indeed, its members generally opposed them. The Federation accepted them and, of course, will play its part in carrying them out, on three understandings. The first is that there will be no double jeopardy. The second is that the Federation will be able to use its funds responsibly to pursue those who make malicious or frivolous allegations against police officers which later turn out to be unfounded. The third is that officers who are complained against will receive copies of the complaints in order that they may take action to defend their good name. I say at once to the Government that I believe that in general terms they have honoured these undertakings, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady and her officials for having done that.

The three or four points that I want to make are also technical, but I hope they can be brief. I refer the hon. Lady to Statutory Instrument No. 583. This was the last one dealt with by my hon. Friend, and I underline his point. Frequently a police office can find himself complained against because of a domestic or family row. There may, indeed, be an argument over a garden fence. There may be a case where a person who has, let us say, criminal propensities is determined to get the police officer for reasons of vengence or general dislike. In those circumstances, not only a police officer but his wife and, indeed, his children can get caught up in a very ugly neighbourhood situation. The chief officer of police, under the very stern regulations that exist in regard to the discipline of police officers, may take the view that the officer's conduct has been unbecoming, has brought discredit on his uniform, or has been generally unacceptable to the traditions of the police service.

I should like to hear that Statutory Instrument No. 583, which enables the Federation to use its funds in respect of the two sorts of cases mentioned at the end of Regulation 2, will allow the use of those funds for an officer to defend himself in the sort of situation that I have described. I do not ask the Minister to answer this tonight, but I hope that she will reply in writing so that the Police Federation, for which I speak in this matter, will be able to consider her reply.

Another point I want to make concerns Statutory Instrument 578, and in particular Regulation 5(1). This point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash and concerns the progress of reports. It is obviously important that the new Police Complaints Board should get a move on, and one of the fears that I have had throughout is that whereas police officers may well be spared double jeopardy, they may find themselves in protracted jeopardy because of the length of the time taken by the new Board in considering charges against them. It may well be that a man could be left suspended from duty with the finger of suspicion pointed against him while the old engine of bureaucracy churns away. If justice is to be done, it is right that it should be done speedily. A man cannot go on waiting for ever.

The Government have gone some way in this Statutory Instrument, and, as the Minister promised in Committee, it certainly puts pressure on the police officers concerned to deal with the matter as quickly as possible. However, according to Regulation 6 the Board is required only to deal
"without undue delay and shall take such decisions as appear to them appropriate for the purposes thereof as soon as practicable".
The pressure is on the police service but not on the Police Complaints Board. That is wrong, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it.

Another point I wish to make concerns Statutory Instrument No. 578, which deals with the complaints register. It is referred to in Regulation 7 on page 4. A new register is to be kept in, I suppose, every police station, or, at least, every force headquarters. Who will keep it? What will be contained in it, and what will be its status? Will it be entirely confidential, or will a matter in the register be taken out and possibly held against an officer on all subsequent occasions when the question of punishment arises? It is important that we should know where the responsibility for the register will be and what will be the nature of its contents.

I also wish to ask about the copies that will be made of the complaints. I shall be brief because my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash dealt with these questions extremely well. However, I find it difficult to understand why there may be some doctoring, editing, bowd-lcrising or selecting of a complaint against police officers. Every hon. Member knows well how easy it is to select from a document or newspaper report a particular part that proves one's point; we are all experts at doing that. We frequently hear the riposte, "Let us hear the whole of it, and let us hear the context". It is a proper tradition of Parliament and courts of law that one should produce the whole of a document if one is using part of it to establish a complaint or argument.

In this case, the police officer complained against may find that he has access only to such part of the general complaint as his chief officer believes is relevant to him. However, the officer concerned may take the view that all of it is relevant to him. The chief officer is in a position that he may withhold certain portions of the complaint if he thinks that it might prejudice other, criminal proceedings or even simply another investigation that is being pursued. The chief officer may withhold a portion of the complaint on the ground that he believes it to be in the public interest to do so. I stress this point more than any other to the Minister and also to you, Mr. Speaker. It is a proper tradition in this country that only Ministers of the Crown should determine what is the public interest. Only Ministers accountable to this House should be able to take the decision, on the ground of public interest, to withhold information.

The intention is that a chief officer of police should make the initial decision not to divulge information against a man on the ground that he thinks that the public interest may be damaged. I accept the principle and realise that there may be issues of State security or matters perhaps even touching upon the conduct of the Government themselves on which the Metropolitan Commissioner, with his knowledge of the Special Branch and the CID, may properly take the view that it is not in the public interest to divulge information against a police officer. However, if he does that on the ground of public interest, that public interest should be determined by the Home Secretary.

Since this point was made in Committee, the Government have moved some way and now virtually require a chief officer who decides to withhold information in the public interest to be backed up by the Home Secretary. However, the provision is not clear enough, and it should be expressly stated that a decision to withhold such information should be made by a Minister accountable to Parliament and by no one else.

Regulation 3(2)(b) and the addendum to Statutory Instrument No. 579 leave the public interest undefined. If it is to be judged by an officer of police, this House had better make sure that it is defined. If it is to be determined by a Minister we may properly leave things as they are. However, a decision must be taken and I hope that the Minister will at least refer to this point in her speech.

I am totally opposed to the new Complaints Board, but I am sure that we all want it to work now that we have got it. Members of the Police Federation do not like the Board, but I am sure that they will co-operate with it, especially if they can see that the Government are anxious to ensure that the anxieties of police officers should be dealt with. Much will depend on the tone and manner in which the Board applies the new law.

If one-tenth of the mental effort and intellectual ingenuity that went into the Committee stage of the Bill and its preparation in the Home Office had been devoted to settling the problem of police pay, we should not be in such difficulties now. If the same sum of money as the Board will cost—about £1 million a year—were available for fringe benefits for the police, we could have settled many of the pay policy difficulties quite easily. However, these are irrelevant matters. I hope that the Minister will reply to some of the points I have made.

10.29 p.m.

My contribution will be brief and will concentrate on the disciplinary matters affecting senior officers in Statutory Instrument No. 581, and especially Regulation 11.

The Minister will be aware that the conduct of the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Sir Stanley Parr, has been under investigation recently by the Chief Constable of Hampshire, a man of some repute. Sir Stanley Parr's report was leaked by the Press and many of us regarded that as unfortunate. The Press report has not been disputed. In the evidence submitted by the Chief Constable of Hampshire he expressed grave concern about a road accident in which two women were killed. That was his area of greatest concern, yet when the matter was reported to the police committee of Lancashire and the committee decided to set up an independent tribunal the issue was not reported to the tribunal. There are many other hazy features. Various issues have been raised at Question Time, especially the association between members of the police committee and the chief constable who has been under scrutiny.

I am made immensely anxious because, apparently, nothing has been done to take remedial action. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated that, as he represents the final area of appeal should the case go against the chief constable, he cannot intervene at this stage. If my right hon. Friend cannot intervene, to whom do we turn to expose, explore and remedy the situation? If the police committee is not referring vital evidence that was thought to be of supreme importance when the inquiry was conducted, and if that is not to be laid before the tribunal, how can we be sure that justice will be done?

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has referred to the withholding of information. Surely I have given an exact example. Information is being withheld from what is suggested to be an independent tribunal. I have had no opportunity to pursue the matter apart from correspondence, and over a long period I have had no reply. At Question Time we cannot pursue the matter beyond a supplementary question. I am taking this opportunity to ask whether it is intended to remedy the situation whereby evidence is not fully supplied to an independent tribunal when a senior officer is concerned.

10.32 p.m.

I hasten to assure the Minister that I do not have an even finer-tooth comb than do my hon. Friends. I add my comments to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I do not have my hon. Friend's association with the police but I was interested in the Police Bill's passage through the House.

My hon. Friend's reference to public interest merits further and closer examination. It seems unfortunate that there is no definition of public interest and that the decision should apparently lie with the chief officer. It does not need a great deal of imagination to realise that there may be circumstances in which a chief officer may rest upon the provision to preclude his giving a copy of the complaint to the officer who asked for it. I should have been happier if public interest could have been more clearly defined and some criteria laid down or, happier still, as my hon. Friend indicated, if it had been decided that the final decision should rest with the Secretary of State and not that the Secretary of State should merely be asked to agree with a decision already taken by a chief officer.

What is the mechanism to be applied? Presumably there will be some way in which the Secretary of State will be told that a complaint has been laid, that the officer concerned has asked for a copy and that the chief officer has refused to comply with the request. Presumably the chief officer will indicate to the Secretary of State why his reasons are in the public interest, otherwise the Secretary of State will be rubber-stamping the chief officer's decision.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the matter is clearly set out by the Home Office in its guidance, which suggests that it is a rubber-stamp system. The relevant paragraph states:

"Any request for the Secretary of State's consent"—
that is, for the withholding—
"should be forwarded…to the Assistant Secretary, F2 Division, Home Office, Queen Anne's Gate and should include (a) a copy of the request made by the officer for a copy of the complaint; (b) a copy of the complaint…and (c) the reasons for the chief officer's opinion that the request should be refused".
It would seem that the issue is dealt with at a pretty low level in the first instance.

My hon. Friend adds weight to my point. I seriously invite the Minister to have another look at the provision. This is a matter that was discussed at some length in Committee. A number of us felt it important that an officer against whom a complaint is made should have the safeguard that he can ask for a copy of the complaint and that such a copy should be withheld only in the most exceptional circumstances. Subparagraph (b) does not meet that point. If the passing on of a complaint is against the public interest, the decision should be taken by the Secretary of State alone.

10.35 p.m.

In view of the lateness of the hour I shall be brief. Since I have been involved for four and a half years in the campaign for this legislation and the setting up of the Police Complaints Board, it would be remiss of me to enter too carping a note or fail to congratulate the Government on eventually bringing the Board into existence.

I am not wholly satisfied with the composition of the Board. I am sure that its members are honourable and distinguished. We wish them well. Whether they represent the widest possible spectrum is another matter. I leave that thought in the Under-Secretary of State's mind and I shall not pursue that line of argument. I wish to give the Board a fair wind. I do not wish to go further into my private feelings about the span of the appointments.

I wish to discuss three issues, two of which have been touched upon already. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) mentioned the chief constable and the serious report about his activities which has not been acted upon. An inquiry was conducted by a chief officer in another county under existing procedures. I am here not to discuss the status quo but to discuss what will happen once these Statutory Instruments are implemented.

What would happen in the event of similar investigations made under Regulation 17 of Statutory Instrument No. 581 relating to charges against senior officers if there had been a statement as to charges being proved and recommendations about punishment? If the police authority concerned decided to dismiss the findings of the Board and take no further action, would that not lead to a clash between the police authority and the Board? Who would then prevail? Would the Home Secretary initiate a further investigation, or would that be the end of it? If it were the end of the matter, we would see the same lacuna as is causing such disquiet in Lancashire.

I support the final remark made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). The hon. Member and I have had many a set-to on this matter, but in pressing for this legislation it has always been our concern that since some complaints against policemen would be frivolous or malicious the policeman concerned should have the fullest possible access to all the charges against him and to the information that is laid. If he does not have it, justice is not properly done.

We do not have that precisely in the rather vague wording of S.I. No. 579 in the regulation which has been quoted. Regulation 3(2)(a) provides that the chief officer may refuse to comply if he is of the opinion that it is a matter which might prejudice any criminal investigation. No one would dispute that. But that is a wide category. If we go further, we find that the chief officer may decide
"that it would otherwise be contrary to the public interest",
without any reference to the DPP, and that information should not be made available to the officer concerned. That causes me disquiet.

I do not go as far as to say that I always trust the Home Secretary of the day to be infallible when making a decision about the public interest. I disagree with the decisions on Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball. I can envisage circumstances in which I might disagree with the Home Secretary that it was in the public interest that information should not be given to a police officer against whom a complaint had been made. The House should be the judge. The House can judge only if that decision is one which rests upon the Home Secretary of the day and is taken by him, not if he is simply asked to authorise or rubber-stamp a decision taken about what the public interest should be by the chief officer concerned. I hope that we shall have clarification on this point, which has been made by three out of the five hon. Members who have spoken.

Another point concerns Statutory Instrument No. 578, and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that I am here concerned for the rights of the complainant rather than those of the policeman complained of. I would draw my hon. Friend's attention to Regulations 4 and 6, because in both of them there is a slightly and unnecessarily vague wording where the question of the withholding of information again comes forward, this time in the case of the complainant rather than in the case of the officer complained of.

Regulation 4 states:
"Where the Complaints Board have received a complaint against a member of a police force, they shall transmit it to the chief officer appearing to them to be the chief officer concerned unless they are satisfied that to do so would be contrary to the complainant's wishes"—
I can understand that—
"or, in all the circumstances, unnecessary."
I should like to hear from my hon. Friend what "unnecessary" actually means. Is this a draftsman's way of saying that it is so frivolous or irredeemably trivial that the complaint need not be passed on, or is there more to it? The complainant will believe that the information should be passed on and that the? complaint should be laid before the chief officer, and he will want to know clearly why this has not happened. The complainant will not want to refer to Regulation 4 in its present form.

My final point concerns a rather similar matter, the question of the function of the Complaints Board regarding disciplinary charges. Regulation 6(2) lays down the procedures to be followed. It states:
"Where the chief officer concerned has not preferred disciplinary charges and the Complaints Board accept his decision".
In the vast majority of cases, where disciplinary charges have not been put forward the Complaints Board will accept the decision. But that can be the end of the matter only if it is crystal clear to the complainant that it has very good grounds for so doing.

But Regulation 6(4) states:
"The Complaints Board shall be relieved of the duty of notifying the complainant as mentioned in paragraph (2)(b) or (3) if compliance therewith appears to them to be not reasonably practicable."
What on earth does that mean? We should hear more about the practicality of passing on a very basic piece of information to a complainant who by the nature of events will be very sure indeed that as he sees it his complaint is not being taken particularly seriously. If these procedures are to work, it is essential that both the complainant and the police officer complained of should know that every possible means of giving them access to the information about the nature of the complaint, and what is happening to it at all stages, is provided. If that does not happen, these procedures will fall under the same suspicion and the same perhaps misapplied hostility as is attached to many of the investigations under Section 49.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the overwhelming number of cases will actually be laid before the DPP because he has to take cognisance of even trivial or minor matters? The DPP has never given reasons for his decision not to take proceedings. The Attorney-General merely says that he has decided not to do such-and-such and so-and-so without divulging the reasons. It is unlikely that the Government will concede that in this case.

I accept that the DPP does not do this. I am not sure that it has always been right that the DPP should not give reasons. But we are talking here of disciplinary decisions by chief officers, which presumably antedate, and do not predate, reference to the DPP.

10.45 p.m.

I have some experience of those who make complaints against the police. That is why I want to know why, if a chief officer of police is brought before the tribunal, he is entitled to be represented by himself, by counsel or a solicitor, or by a member of the police force selected by him, but a non-senior police officer can be represented only by a member of the police force selected by him. A complaint against an ordinary police constable could easily be a serious matter. I should be grateful to know the reason for this differentiation.

10.46 p.m.

I have been asked I do not know how many questions. I shall try to answer as many as possible, and I shall write to the hon. Members concerned about any that I do not answer when I have been able to study the Hansard report of the debate.

We are discussing six sets of regulations which have to be approved by Parliament so that the new procedures under the Police Act can come into operation on 1st June.

It may be, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is your advice that I need as well as the Minister's. On the Order Paper, below each of the motions relating to Statutory Instruments Nos. 581, 582 and 583, there is the text

"The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument."
The Minister wants these instruments to come into effect on 1st June. I do not think that there is any dissent about that. However, when we have completed our consideration tonight, do the instruments go back to the Joint Committee? What happens, in the light of what appears on the Order Paper, if the Joint Committee decides that there is something defective? Does the instrument concerned come back to the House for us to consider it again? I should be obliged for your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since this matter is of relevance to the police service.

I think that the answer is that it is entirely a matter for debate whether the instrument should in its present form be annulled. All that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends are doing at present is praying against the instrument.

Statutory Instrument No. 578, the Police (Complaints) (General) Regulations, provides for the detail of the actual handling of complaints under the new procedures. Regulation 4 requires the Complaints Board to forward to the appropriate chief officer of police any complaint which it receives unless the complainant does not want this or it is unnecessary—for example, because a copy has already been sent to the police. The regulation follows an amendment which was made to the Bill in Committee.

In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), I can tell him that the statutory duty on the chief officer to investigate a complaint applies only when he receives it. The Complaints Board will tell the complainant that it cannot investigate a complaint and will try to get the complainant's agreement to pass it on to the police. If he does not agree, it will be investigated.

The hon. Lady says that if the complainant does not agree, it should be passed to the Board—

I am sorry. In that case it will not be investigated.

Regulation 6 requires the Board to notify the complainant when it accepts the chief officer's decision that no disciplinary charges should be preferred in respect of a complaint. This procedure, assuring the complainant that his complaint has been the subject of an independent scrutiny, was an intrinsic part of the original scheme. The Home Office has advised chief officers to tell police officers about the progress of the case where possible. I ask hon. Members to note paragraph 43 of the guidance notes available in the Library. We hope that the Board will be expeditious in its handling of reports. Chief officers have been advised to tell the Board if something is particularly urgent. With regard to letters to the Board—

The hon. Lady has jumped rather rapidly from Regulation 4 to Regulation 6. Regulation 4 was the point about the complainant not wishing the complaint to be passed on to the police. The hon. Lady has not quite answered my point, which has given rise to some disquiet. Suppose that it is a complaint, prima facie, of some substance and the complainant decides that he does not want it passed on to the police. It is a rather anomalous situation, with the Board left holding the complaint, which it cannot investigate, and cannot pass on to the police for investigation. It is nevertheless a serious complaint. The vacuum situation seems unsatisfactory.

I have not finished with Regulation 4 yet. Those were my preliminary remarks.

During discussions on the Police Bill a number of hon. Members took the view that someone with a complaint against the police should not necessarily have to make his complaint at a police station or write direct to the chief constable, which would be the normal course. They thought that it should be possible for a complainant to write to the Board if he preferred. There is no reason why this should not be done.

It must be remembered that the Board can take no action on a complaint unless it has first been investigated by the police. If, therefore, anything is to be done about a complaint which has been addressed to the Board, it must be forwarded to the police. Regulation 4 requires that this should normally be done. If the complainant makes it clear that he does not want his complaint to go to the police, the Board has said that it will explain to him that this means that it cannot be investigated. It will, naturally, be open to the Board to try to persuade the complainant to change his mind if it seems to be in the public interest that the complaint should be investigated.

Connected with this is Regulation 6. As I have said, it has been an intrinsic part of the new procedure that, where no disciplinary charges are to be brought as a result of the complaint, the Board rather than the chief constable should inform the complainant so that he knows that the Board has been involved. Regulation 6 allows the Board to amplify its notification with appropriate relevant information and explanations.

Chief officers have been advised that they should inform the Board of any relevant action other than the bringing of formal disciplinary charges which they have taken as a result of a complaint and say whether they wish this to be passed on to the complainant. We envisage that the police and the Board will be able between them to settle what the complainant should receive beyond the bare notification that no disciplinary action is to be taken—for example, in the way of an apology or an explanation of why particular action was necessary in the circumstances.

With regard to Regulation 5, the explanation for which I was asked is apparent, I think, from what I have just said.

I should like to press my hon. Friend a little further about Regulations 4 and 6 of Statutory Instrument No. 578. In what circumstances could the Police Complaints Board see it not reasonably practicable to tell a complainant why disciplinary action was not taken?

I think that the Police Complaints Board is left to judge each case on its merits, and we feel that the Board, in certain circumstances, may not want to pass on the information. I could give my hon. Friend some examples of certain circumstances, given time, but I think that there would be cases in which the Board might consider that it was not practicable to pass on the information, and this makes it possible for it to do that in rare, exceptional cases.

Statutory Instrument No. 579 is the Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations. These provide for a police officer who is the subject of a complaint to receive a copy of that complaint on request once the case is closed, subject to rare exceptions. Several hon. Members have raised points on this matter.

The first point that I should like to make is that hon. Members have argued that a copy should be supplied at the close of the case to the officer automatically and not at his request. This would go further than the undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary in July 1975. It was put to us by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the complainant or a potential complainant might feel disquiet at the practice of supplying copies of complaints automatically and that it could act as a deterrent for the public to complain. An additional point made was that the automatic supply of copies would increase the amount of work and was unnecessary if the officer concerned was not interested in having a copy of the complaint. This was put to us by the ACPO. If nearly all police officers in fact request copies, in practice there may be very little difference between either formula.

With regard to the specific points on that matter raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), it is necessary to provide that the officer be given only so much of the complaint as relates to him, because it would be unfair to other people mentioned in the complaint to give the officer material which is defamatory of them but which does not affect his case.

The chief officer is the only person who can form a provisional assessment of whether providing a copy of a complaint would not be "in the public interest". It would not be wise to attempt to define in the Statutory Instrument the circumstances in which this could affect the public interest. The safeguard lies in the Secretary of State's oversight and his responsibilities to Parliament. The fact that the request is sent to an official of whatever rank, does not show that the ultimate decision will necessarily be a rubber-stamping.

I think that I can appreciate the apprehensions of hon. Members, but I say again that what they are asking—an automatic copy, and not on request—would go further than the undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary and the representations that were made to us by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Can the hon. Lady deal with the curious anomaly that the sending of a copy of the complaint is automatic where a disciplinary charge is preferred, as provided in Regulation 11(1) of the regulations to which we shall come next, but it is not automatic only where a charge is not preferred? Why is there one law in one circumstance and another law in another?

I can only say that the reason is that put by the Association of Chief Police Officers. I have already stated the point which the association made. It complied with what the previous Home Secretary undertook to do, and for those reasons the Statutory Instrument has been worded in this way.

I am sorry to interrupt again, but, with respect, the hon. Lady is making a series of assertions and is not giving the House reasons. For example, she says that the chief police officers believed that it should not be done because it would cause more work. But the whole process causes more work at every level. That cannot be a good enough reason.

Next, the hon. Lady made the point that the chief police officer should not allow the full complaint to be made available because it might contain material defamatory of someone else apart from the officer complained against. But the reality of police work is that all officers are constantly in possession of allegations made—this is the very nature of police work—frivolous allegations, malicious allegations and allegations of all kinds. It is the duty of a police officer to try to distinguish one complaint from another in the action which he takes. It is not sufficient to say that, because ACPO took that view, the whole question of public interest should depend upon the discretion of the chief officer.

It is important that the officer should be given only so much of the complaint as relates to him, otherwise it would be unfair to people mentioned in the complaint if there were allegations defamatory of others which had nothing to do with the officer's case. Quite apart from what ACPO said, I think that that is a good justification for the provision in the Statutory Instrument.

Statutory Instrument No. 580, the Police (Discipline) Regulations, consolidates all the existing discipline regulations and applies to officers up to and including the rank of chief superintendent. My hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) and for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) put certain points to me, and I must tell them that it would be wrong for me to comment on particular disciplinary proceedings or allegations against any police officer—this is a separate issue and I shall deal with it now—because my right hon. Friend is the appellate authority.

My right hon. Friend undertook on 31st March that when the disciplinary proceedings in which the Chief Constable of Lancashire was involved had been completed he would consider whether any more substantial changes were called for in the disciplinary arrangements for senior police officers. I remind my hon. Friends that the new procedures do not apply to senior police officers. In response to the other point put to me I refer my hon. Friends to paragraph 8 of the guidance, which is available in the Library.

I was asked several other questions on Statutory Instrument No. 580. Two Opposition Members asked about complaints against policemen off duty. If the libel is such as to cast doubt upon an officer's fitness to be a member of the police force, he is eligible for assistance from the Federation.

Does the hon. Lady mean to draw a distinction between a civil libel and a criminal libel? If she does not, what is the distinction between a libel which falls into the category she has described and a libel which does not? How does one recognise the category into which it falls?

I was answering a question that was asked when the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber, and I can see that he cannot follow my reply.

I now come to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) about legal representation for senior officers. This is a consequence of the fact that the case against an officer is heard by a lawyer and presented by counsel or a solicitor. This is not so in less formal procedures and disciplinary procedures against junior officers.

Questions were asked about Statutory Instrument No. 580, the Discipline Regulations, and Schedule 2, paragraph 6(d)relating to the canvassing of police authorities. This provision is not new.

A similar provision appeared in the discipline code attached to the Police (Discipline) (Amendment) Regulations 1967, paragraph 6. The other police organisations were not content to drop the provision, as the Federation suggested, because they thought that to do so might undermine the authority of the chief officer. But the Federation can raise any problems that it sees in the regulations in the forthcoming discussions on the Federation's constitution.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash asked me another question about Statutory Instrument No. 580. This deals with discipline, and not with criminal matters, on which the police are subject to the ordinary law of the land. The regulations do not need to deal with criminal proceedings. Regulation 8 deals only with a disciplinary offence. The guidance deals with the relationship between investigations and criminal and disciplinary proceedings. The guidance is available in the Library. An officer will be told if the DPP decides not to prefer a criminal charge.

Regulation 11(1)(b) deals with matters and documents relevant to a charge for a disciplinary offence. The Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations deal with provisions for copies of complaints where there is no disciplinary charge.

Regulation 6(1)(a)has been supplemented in the guidance—again in the Library—agreed by the Police Complaints Board and chief officers. Chief officers are especially advised that the evidence should be carefully prepared and, if the officer is found guilty, shown to him before it is given. This is also in the guidance, at paragraphs 23 and 24.

A question was asked on Statutory Instrument No. 582 dealing with suspension pay. An officer is suspended on pay whether the suspension is pending investigation of a possible serious criminal charge or a disciplinary offence. But he is not paid for any period he may be in custody. If he is ultimately cleared, he is paid in full.

I was asked one other question by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. He has now left the Chamber, so I shall leave that.

I shall, as I said earlier, ensure that any questions that I have left unanswered are answered in writing. I ask the House to agree to these Statutory Instruments.

They implement the provisions of the Police Act 1976, and I ask for their full endorsement tonight.

Question put and negatived.

Does any hon. Member wish to move to annul any of the subsequent Statutory Instruments?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have very kindly already taken some account of the curious phraseology attached to the later Statutory Instruments, namely:

"The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument".
I seek your guidance as to whether the approval of the regulations as presented will inhibit the rights or powers of the Joint Committee to make recommendations as to changes, because apparently there is a clash between two bodies with constitutional rights and duties.

As I understand it, all that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends have done is to pray against the regulations in their present form. Subsequently they will be at liberty to take whatever action they wish. Does that help the hon. Gentleman?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does that mean that, notwithstanding that the regulations may be approved in the form in which they are presented tonight, it will be open to hon. Members to make representations to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments retrospectively to change them?

Always bearing in mind that the regulations do not come into force until 1st June of this year.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not therefore be appropriate for the Under-Secretary of State to give an undertaking to the House that, if these regulations go through "on the nod"—;

but the Joint Committee makes criticism of them, the Government will provide further time for a motion to annul to be debated?

Although the hon. Gentleman was looking at the Under-Secretary whilst he posed that question, he was really addressing the Chair. His proposal is hypothetical.

The Hansard report of today's proceedings will be studied by the police service very carefully. It is, therefore, important that as and when the police obtain copies of Hansard they may understand clearly what the position is. Am I right in believing that there is no question of the regulations being passed tonight? Rather, the Opposition are seeking to pray against them, but if the Opposition's Prayer is unsuccessful, the regulations automatically come into effect on the date specified therein—namely, 1st June.

If I am correct in that matter, it means that between this date and 1st June, which is not a very long period, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments may take the opportunity of completing the examination which it has already commenced. During the three or four weeks remaining it would be open to the Joint Committee to find the orders technically defective. If that were so, may I ask the Minister through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether she would then withdraw the regulations, notwithstanding the fact that the Prayer will not have succeeded? However, in such an event the Joint Committee will be dissatisfied technically with the regulations.

The answer to that is that it would be up to the House itself to make the decision on this matter. The Committee's report would come to the House, and it would be up to the Government to decide what action to take in the light of the circumstances.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Prayer is withdrawn and the Joint Committee makes a report recommending some change in the Statutory Instrument, under our present Standing Orders, unless the Government give time again, another Prayer cannot come on to the Floor of the House. We are asking the Under-Secretary of State, who is holding the fort for the Home Secretary, whether, if the Joint Committee produces substantive criticisms of any of these regulations, she will undertake that the Leader of the House will give time, since the Government control the time for negative motions, for another negative motion to appear on the Order Paper in the form of a Prayer. If she will not give that undertaking, the Joint Committee's functions are quite worthless.

The House has negatived the first Prayer. It would be in order, subject to what hon. Members say regarding the other Prayers, to let the matter rest. As I have said, should there be any matter which met with the disapproval of the House the House would find the opportunity to debate it.

Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that, once the House has decided to negative a Prayer, another Prayer cannot be tabled, under the rule that once the House has taken a decision it cannot reverse it? Surely, it is only if the Prayers are withdrawn that there can be a future occasion to pray against a Statutory Instrument. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) would be well advised to withdraw the Prayers rather than allow them to be negatived, because if he allows them to be negatived they cannot be re-tabled, even if the Government were willing to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). If it will facilitate the effective consideration of these Statutory Instruments by the Joint Committee, I will, under your guidance, readily withdraw the Prayers or not move them in order to help the situation.

Education (Lancashire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Snape.]

11.17 p.m.

The development of a healthy, further and higher education provision is clearly essential for the economic, social and cultural well-being of the North-West Region. Prior to local government reorganisation, the local authorities in the area were attempting to maximise developments in their areas, and since reorganisation, in Lancashire in particular, there have been increased opportunities for rationalisation and a comprehensive system of further and higher education, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister of State will recognise as being in accord with the Labour Party's Green Paper on adult education.

At the core of the developments in Central and West Lancashire, in which there are several institutions of further and higher education, stands the Preston Polytechnic. Within the area there are the W. R. Tuson College of Further Education, the Blackpool College of Technology and Art, Lytham St. Annes College of Further Education, Leyland Motors Technical College, and the Edgehill College of Further Education.

I am concerned specifically about the polytechnic and its vital rôle as the centre of this system of further and higher education within the area. The polytechnic is responsible for generating new educational opportunities in its own right, and in playing a facilitating and coordinating rôle in respect of various developments in other centres.

The Preston Polytechnic was the last of 30 polytechnics to be designated, and some of its problems have stemmed from that fact. Nevertheless, it is true that there are three sectors in which significant progress has been made. Student enrolment has risen dramatically and further increases can be predicted effectively on the basis of the way in which existing courses have been formulated and developed. The number of CNAA approved degree courses has risen significantly. Originally there was only one such designated course, but now there are 14 certificate, diploma and professional courses of various types. The polytechnic has acted as a focus for numerous developments involving other institutions.

In looking at the whole problem we must bear in mind the difficulties existing in terms of provision within the polytechnics for the overall population. It is significant that in the North-West there are three polytechnics—one at Liverpool, one at Manchester and one at Preston—covering a population of 1,194,000. In the Greater London area, with a population of 1,070,000—slightly lower than that of the North-West—there are eight polytechnics.

It was the tail-end emergence of the polytechnic at Preston—just before the 1973 moratorium on public building programmes which halted the development of the campus—and its subsequent problem that arose from the high alumina concrete difficulties that should earn it preferential treatment.

The achievement of the polytechnic should not obscure the fact that the appropriate measures of support and priority have not been forthcoming. There are two instances of this. The first relates to teacher-training proposals, and the second relates to capital building programme allocations. The Minister will recall that not long ago a deputation visited him, comprising all parties on the Lancashire County Council and some Members of Parliament. We presented a number of arguments about teacher training and the rôle that the polytechnic had played.

I do not wish to recapitulate all those arguments, but I shall remind the Minister of certain things. We demonstrated the importance of a polytechnic's in-service teacher education provision, and we proved that the in-service needs of Lancashire could not be met by any other agency. We showed that the polytechnic had already merged creatively and successfully with the two colleges of education at Poulton and Chorley, taking a reduction equivalent to the closure of one of these colleges in the process. We detailed the progress made towards integration of the Bachelor of Education course with other courses in the polytechnic. The polytechnic meets all the criteria established by the Minister's own Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers.

I have no doubt that the Minister will be actively reconsidering those proposals. I hope that, while it may not be possible for him to give any information tonight, at any rate the matter is still open and the teacher education programme within the polytechnic will be retained.

I do not wish to labour the matter, but I should like to point out that teacher- training education considerations cannot be isolated from consideration of other types of education. This is our view in Lancashire, and I believe that it is also the view of the Government. Preston Polytechnic is essential and administratively viable without teacher-training education. There should be no doubt about that. The question of closing the polytechnic does not arise.

The proposals made for Preston Polytechnic, apart from being inappropriate from the teacher-training point of view, ignore their possible effect on the general development of the polytechnic. As I have said, the institution began life late. It had all types of difficulties to contend with. The Department aided and abetted its development, the final decision on which was taken only two years ago, although there have been certain setbacks in the building programme.

The polytechnic was designated and substantial building work was required. It had been approved by the Department but was effectively cancelled by the moratorium on building which began in December 1973. The programme has been restored at a much reduced level. Indeed, the only new buildings under construction now are the students' union block, the library and residential places for about 150 students—the only students' residential buildings in Preston.

The polytechnic has been given priority by the local authority in major building submissions, but the authority is also engaged in building the other major college of further education in Preston, the W. R. Tuson College, and the rate at which submissions have been made for the polytechnic have not been satisfactory from the polytechnic's point of view. We now have a situation in which the authority has proposed further buildings, only to have the proposals rejected by the Department.

The particular problem with which I am concerned involves the art and design building. There is also under-provision of students' residential facilities in Preston, and there can be no doubt about the urgent need for the inclusion of further residential blocks in the building programme.

The art and design department—which, incidentally, has a more vocational programme than most people realise—deals, among other things, with a BA graphics course and a BA fashion course. It can operate only because the polytechnic acquired the premises of Lancaster College of Art when it merged with the nearby further education college two years ago. The department is split between two campuses 20 miles apart. The claim of the art and design department to be included in the building programme is incontrovertible. The academic departments of the polytechnic are possible only because of the acquisition of leased properties, and there are various problems that arise from that.

I want quickly, in the time available, to turn to the Lancastrian School of Management. This has been a particularly good piece of work because—and I may mention him personally—the dean of this faculty has put in a tremendous amount of effort in trying to get management education on its feet in this area.

The Minister will recall that the regional management centre was set up by the joint activities of St. Helens College of Technology and the Liverpool Polytechnic. There have been growing pains during its development and politics have played a part, both at local authority level and within the two institutions, but the RMC has failed to establish the network of management education within Lancashire that was anticipated when it was set up.

The LSM has been attempting, in cooperation with various colleges in the area, to fill the vacuum created by the inactivity, in the industrial sense, of the regional management centre. Various discussions have taken place between the LSM and RMC. In November last year the Minister was kind enough to see a deputation from the area with a number of hon. Members and representatives from the LSM at which some of the problems were put to him for consideration. My hon. Friend indicated that there was a case for reappraisal of the constitution of the RMC.

Various meetings have taken place since then, and on 22nd April there was a joint meeting between representatives of the RMC and the LSM at which a resolution was agreed which indicated that Liverpool, St. Helens, the LSM, Manchester and Cheshire would try to establish a constitution to provide for equal partnership from the education authorities and management schools within the centre's area. This suggests that we may be on the brink of developments. Can the Minister throw any more light on this?

I understand that the Secretary of State has referred recently to 40 per cent. increases in students' fees. This has been applied to an extent within the Lancashire educational institutions, but the Preston area, and particularly the polytechnic, is so affected by the increases that fees for a three-session course have increased by more than 100 per cent. while fees for a four-session course show a 156 per cent. increase on those charged this year. It is implied that these increases represent the policy of the Secretary of State. There are regional variations within Manchester and other parts of Lancashire, and the Minister will know that the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education is seeking to apply sanctions in an attempt to get a reversal of this policy.

I could go on and talk about public expenditure cuts, block grants, teachers' jobs and various other much-needed resources in eduction, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers), who is also concerned with the problem, wishes to supplement my views briefly.

11.34 p.m.

I shall be brief. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) for allowing me to take part in this debate. I shall concentrate on the Chorley campus, which is a sector of the Preston Polytechnic.

This college has a catchment area of 2,500 square miles and covers remote areas of East Lancashire almost as far as Burnley; yet everyone who uses it can reach the college within 40 minutes on the good public transport and motorway services. Taking this college away would leave a great hole in education in Lancashire.

My final point is that we provided at Chorley good in-service training for those intending to teach the disabled. This was a new service which did not previously belong to education. I would hate to see it neglected as a consequence of cut-backs in teacher training provision.

I conclude by expressing the hope that my hon. Friend will take due note of my comments.

11.35 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) for the full account he has given of the problems of higher and further education in Central and West Lancashire. Before I deal with the specific points that he raised, I would say that my hon. Friends who are present in the Chamber tonight—my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) and for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and his colleague from Preston, South—are regular visitors to my Department as members of one delegation or another concerned with education in Lancashire. That is rightly so, because Lancashire has for centuries had a very proud record in its concern about the provision of higher and further education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South was in particular referring to the polytechnic in Preston on a number of counts, and I hope to be able, in the limited time available, to deal with the specific points that he made.

One thing that puzzles me a little concerns a question of numeracy. My hon. Friend said that there were three polytechnics for 1,194,000 people in the North-West area as against eight polytechnics for, I think he said, 1,070,000 people in the Greater London area. I am aware of the tremendous decline in population that has taken place in Greater London, but I had not realised—and I do not think that my hon. Friend meant it—that it had declined so much. Perhaps it is about 11 million. I do not think that it can be 1 million for the Greater London area.

The point I was making about the population concerned the school population, not overall population.

I shall discuss the matter with my hon. Friend, but I think that even on the basis of school population he is out by a large factor. However, I take his point. He made the point that I frequently made as a Back Bencher about the neglect of provision in the North-West as compared with the South-East.

Preston Polytechnic is a first-rate polytechnic. It was the last of 30 polytechnic and led to some difficulties, not least with regard to the building programme.

My hon. Friend mentioned various proposals that have been before the Lancashire County Council, which is the local education authority responsible for the area in which Preston Polytechnic is situated. My Department invites bids from local authorities each year for building projects costing £50,000 or more for inclusion in the following year's major building starts programme for higher and further education. The Lancashire local education authority requested the inclusion of three projects, all in Preston, for the 1977–78 building programme—a communal block with catering facilities for the W. R. Tuson College—a tertiary college, one of the few in the country, of which Lancashire should be proud—a hostel block for 150 students for the polytechnic, and a major new art and design block also for the polytechnic.

As a consequence of the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July and December 1976, there had to be some reductions in that programme. In the circumstances, and bearing in mind the Government's priority and my party's priority for projects in the non-advanced further education sector for the 16–19 age group, it was possible to include only the W. R. Tuson project in the 1977–78 building programme, at an estimated cost of £345,000. I recognise the importance of the two polytechnic projects and the need in particular to bring the department of art and design to the proposed new building on the Preston site. Assuming that submissions are made by the Lancashire education authority, we shall be considering those projects again for any future programmes. Unfortunately, because of the economic situation it was impossible to include them at present. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

My hon. Friend also referred to teacher training at Preston Polytechnic. He argued vigorously tonight, as he did previously with his hon. Friends when he brought a deputation to see me at the beginning of February, against the proposal to cease initial teacher training at Preston Polytechnic. The reason for that proposal—I emphasise that it is a proposal and not a decision, and that I bore very much in mind what my hon. Friend, his colleagues and representatives of the Lancashire education authority said to me—is the enormous decline in the birth rate that will take place during the 1980s. It would be madness to pursue a policy whereby we were training teachers for certain unemployment during that time.

My hon. Friend may wonder—I should undoubtedly do so in his position—whether the North-West in general has its fair share of teacher-training places. It may well seem odd that we should be proposing to take teacher training away from a polytechnic when it is the Government's policy to integrate teacher training and teacher education with other forms of higher education. Furthermore, the colleges that merged with the polytechnic have a good record in providing for mature students and a successful BEd. course. However, we cannot look at individual instances totally in isolation. We have to take into account the other provision in the county, and, more important, in the region, including—this is a very important factor in the North-West—the large number of voluntary colleges provided by the Churches.

In drawing up our proposals we did not follow slavishly an allocation of the 45,000 places available in strict proportion to the prospective school population. The number of places provided for the North-West Region is 7,150 against a strict arithmetical allocation of 6,310 places. For Lancashire the proposal will give 1,415 teacher training places, about 200 more that a strict arithmetical calculation according to the school population

I am sorry, I cannot give way.

I want to turn to a subject that I know is dear to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South—namely, the Lancastrian School of Management. Quite rightly, my hon. Friend referred to this school. He and some of his colleagues came to see me in a deputation to discuss arrangements between Liverpool and Manchester and the Lancastrian School to get matters on a more equitable basis than I think is true at present. As my hon. Friend has said, the regional centre of management for the North-West was based on the St. Helens College of Technology and Liverpool Polytechnic, but there are clear signs that the level of co-operation between the centre and the other providers of management education in the area—for example, the Lancastrian School of Management—could be improved considerably.

As my hon. Friend has said, there was a meeting on 22nd April. As a result, it was agreed that there should be one centre for the North-West and that there should be fair and equal participation, especially in respect of the excellent school of management at present centred on Preston and in respect of the School of Management in the Lancashire area. I know that further meetings are to take place about a new constitution. It is right that there should be a new constitution. I have written many letters to the existing providers of management education in the North-West. Because this involves my own region, I should be prepared to assist further—not only the Lancastrian School but Manchester, Liverpool and St. Helens—in establishing and reinforcing one of the best schools of management in the United Kingdom. I apologise for having to be so brief on that important subject.

My hon. Friend also referred to student fees. I think that he was talking about non-vocational fees, because a scale has been laid down for polytechnic and university fees. My hon. Friend quoted percentages. He used the figure of 40 per cent. It is always difficult to deal with percentages as one must know of what the figure is a percentage.

Local authorities have complete discretion about the amount of fees. If the fees were previously low by comparison with other authorities and there was an enormous percentage increase, it need not follow that there was an enormous increase in money terms. I shall examine the figures to see whether Lancashire is out of step with other authorities in the level of increases in the non-vocational fees that they charge. I shall take full account of what my hon. Friend has said.

I cannot give the House any information about whether Preston will be included in the proposed closures. I have a number of other colleges to see. I shall take into account all that has been said when making these decisions. The final decision will be made next month. No longer should colleges have to wait endlessly to know about their future. I shall take note of what has been said.

On some of the points, because of the limited time available, I have not been able to answer.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.