Tories seek to delay Royal Mail break-up: Cabinet wants to avoid controversy in next session of Parliament

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HESELTINE will be urged by Cabinet colleagues to drop the planned legislation for the semi-privatisation of the Royal Mail for the time being because it is too controversial.

The Queen's Speech setting out the list of legislation for the next session of Parliament in the autumn will be discussed by the Cabinet within a fortnight, but ministerial sources indicated yesterday that John Major and his colleagues want to avoid stirring up more controversy and to concentrate on issues to unite the party; law and order, teacher training, help for small businesses, and the environment.

The President of the Board of Trade is blamed by some senior ministers for mishandling the pit closures and they are anxious to avoid upsetting Tories in rural areas with a Bill to open up the Royal Mail to competition.

Party leaders are looking for a period of calm to restore Tory morale after the rebellions of the colliery closure programme and the Maastricht treaty. 'We do not want another colliery closure fiasco. We are looking for some peace and quiet. There are plenty of other things to be getting on with,' a ministerial source said.

The Conservative election manifesto contained a commitment to create an independent regulator to advise on the progressive introduction of competition for the Post Office. Now ministers are considering selling the Royal Mail, Post Office Counters and Parcelforce.

Trade and industry ministers have given Tory backbenchers assurances that rural services would be safeguarded in any plans to break the monopoly of the Royal Mail to deliver letters. Private competitors would be required to provide a national service at a uniform price.

But the Royal Mail measure - in spite of its support among Thatcherite Tories - may be regarded as a Bill too far at the moment. Following a review of 'red tape' by Neil Hamilton, the trade and industry minister in charge of corporate affairs, Mr Heseltine may have to settle for a Bill on deregulation.

The next session of Parliament is certain to be dominated by law and order. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, is seeking time for at least three important Bills: a Criminal Justice Bill to empower the courts to send some young offenders to secure centres; a comprehensive Police Bill, comprising the results of the Sheehy inquiry into police pay, grading and efficiency, the reorganisation of police forces with appointed police bodies, and more private agencies doing routine work; and a Sunday Trading Bill, offering three options ranging from total liberalisation to the closure of most shops on Sundays.

The Home Office is planning legislation on three other areas: to crack down on 'new age travellers and ravers', by strengthening section 39 of the Public Order Act, to enable the police to turn back anyone they believe is going to a 'rave' site within a radius of five miles; to liberalise the licensing laws further, by allowing bars to open like Continental cafes, admitting children; and to create six new European constituencies in time for the 1994 European elections.

'If he had one Bill he wanted to get through it would be the Police Bill,' one Home Office source said yesterday. But there is already a whispering campaign among colleagues for Mr Clarke to delay the Police Bill - pressure he is certain to resist.

Some of the Home Office proposals will be delayed, but it is likely that Home Office ministers will feel overstretched in the coming session.