Major urges caution on postal sell-off

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

JOHN MAJOR is urging a cautious approach to privatisation of the Post Office despite strong pressure for an early sell-off by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, and Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor.

That became clear yesterday amid continued uncertainty about whether the promised Green Paper on privatisation would state a clear preference for the 51 per cent sale option heavily canvassed by Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine.

A more even-handed Green Paper - merely discussing the possible options for the future of the Post Office, including retaining it in public ownership with greater commercial freedom - could mean shelving privatisation for the rest of the Parliament.

The new hesitation about the Post Office comes as Government business managers are seeking to rebuild party morale with a 'safety first' programme of up to 20 Bills in the next Queen's Speech after the European elections.

A Cabinet committee on the speech, chaired by Tony Newton, Leader of the House, has been warned that the priority for the next session must be the appearance of 'good government'.

'Tony has made it clear he does not want ill-thought-out legislation,' said one ministerial source.

But officials said it would not be possible totally to avoid controversial measures in the Queen's Speech setting out the legislative programme in the autumn.

The Government is also having doubts about controversial changes to the rules on housing the homeless, including unmarried mothers. The Bill to repeal legislation on the homeless - promised at last year's Tory party conference - is unlikely to be included in legislation in the next session of Parliament.

The battle over the bids for about 20 Bills will increase in the next few weeks. They include a Foreign Office measure to increase the 'own resources' - the money Britain pays to the European Union - agreed at the Edinburgh summit, which threatens another Tory split over Europe.

Other key bids are:

Transport: A Bill to introduce toll roads by John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, supported by the Treasury; a Bill on construction of the Channel tunnel link; and Bills on the privatisation of air-traffic control and local authority airports - part of the competition White Paper.

Environment: a Bill to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, promised in the 1992 Tory election manifesto.

Health: a wide-ranging NHS Bill to carry forward more changes to the health service, with the abolition of the regional health authorities.