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Postal Services Bill [HL]

Volume 709: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

Committee (3rd Day)(Continued)

Amendment 82

Moved by

82: Clause 29, page 15, line 2, leave out “Saturday,”

I rise with pleasure to move the amendment and to speak to Amendment 83. I do not think that I will have to give a long explanation. Exactly what we are talking about is clear from the wording of the amendments.

In the debates on Amendments 80 and 86 of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, reference was made to provision for all categories of people and users. We on these Benches and others are very committed to the universal service obligation. It is in that spirit that we put forward this amendment. The Government are committed to a universal service obligation and that is welcome, but our concern, which is shared by others, is that on scrutiny of the Bill it appears that the six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere universal delivery service will be only for letters and not for parcels and packets. That is the sum total of the amendments. They are intended to probe the Government’s rationale for apparently exempting Saturday deliveries of postal packets from the universal postal service. That certainly does not fulfil the vision of the universal service that we have on these Benches. As I said, I will be brief and to the point. What we are looking for is clear: we are looking for the Government to accept that universal means universal and that it should apply to both letters and packages. I beg to move.

I support both these amendments for a very simple reason: a postal packet can be described as just a large envelope, and if people want to have their postal packets collected on a Saturday, that should be allowed.

One problem with this part of the Bill is that it gives overzealous, cost-cutting managers the chance to cut out essential services. Packets, as opposed to letters, which are referred to in Clause 29(3)(a), are all sorts of shapes and sizes. You may go into a sub-post office or a Crown office on a Saturday morning to send some documents or even a large birthday card, and such items may be seen as packets. However, if the Bill is allowed to stay as it is, the ability to send such things could be cut. There will be no obligation on the Post Office to deliver packets. I expect we will be told that the guarantee of only a five-day commitment has something to do with Europe, but I hope that we will stop this erosion of a public service.

I have mentioned several times how the then Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, told the world that we would have a postal service that would be fit for the new century. Some of us were a bit sceptical but we believed him at the time. However, over the years we have seen the loss of Sunday collections, the second delivery and late collections from key collection points, all in the name of economy. I hope that common sense will prevail and that we will allow people in this country to post packets on a Saturday. It is as simple as that, and I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cotter.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, pointed out, our Amendment 83A in this group probes a different aspect of the UPS order—the apparent requirement that a uniform tariff be made available for all types of mail. I have sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, but my main attitude to the arguments that he put forward is that I am sure that Ofcom, when undertaking the market assessment, will consider whether such a requirement is needed by users. I am concerned that to add in all sorts of frills to the minimum criteria risks adding unnecessary expense to the provision of the UPS. We feel that that makes the imposition of a levy more likely. We are as committed as other noble Lords to the UPS and I refer noble Lords to the points that we have made in earlier speeches.

I understand that Royal Mail offers a bulk mail service to retail customers with zonal pricing. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that there is no intention to restrict the choice available to business and other operators. As long as the uniform tariff requirement is in place for the man in the street, we would not want to prevent any additional service that Royal Mail felt able to provide to high-volume clients, nor would we want to see bulk mail, where there are considerable opportunities for operators other than Royal Mail to offer competitive alternatives to businesses, brought into the scope of the UPS order unnecessarily. That is why I await with great interest the response of the Minister to this group of amendments.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the interesting comments that have been made in contributions to this debate and the opportunity to discuss Clause 29 in more detail.

Clause 29 is the keystone of this Bill. It reflects the Government’s first, top priority: to secure the provision of a strong universal postal service. It is to sustain this service that we are proposing action to turn round the Royal Mail’s finances and business. With consumers having ever greater access to e-mails, text messages and other electronic media, the letters business is in structural decline. That decline seems to be accelerating. In the UK, volumes fell by 2.3 per cent in 2006-07, by 3.2 per cent in 2007-08 and, according to Royal Mail’s results, by 4 per cent for the first half of 2008-09. Yet mail remains part of our social and economic fabric and way of life in this country. People value the ability to receive and send a letter at the same affordable price everywhere in the UK, six days a week.

We have heard little about customers in debates about the Bill so far, yet it is precisely customers we want to protect by securing the universal postal service. There will always be a need to post mail and packets. That is why, in the face of falling letter volumes, the Government are taking decisive action. Clause 29 enshrines in legislation the minimum requirements of a universal postal service, at the current standards that we enjoy in the UK now. We agree with the Hooper report that the option of degrading the universal service as a response to the worsening finances and trading conditions of the Royal Mail should be rejected. That is not the path along which we want to go.

Amendments 82 and 83 would add Saturday collection and delivery of non-letter postal packets such as parcels to the minimum level of the universal service. In our view, the amendments are not necessary or appropriate. That requirement is not currently part of the universal service. None the less, Royal Mail already collects and delivers parcels or postal packets six days a week, despite not being bound to do so by the universal service obligation. It does so now, and it does so because it is convenient for customers.

Furthermore, the parcels business is a competitive and vibrant market. As Adam Crozier told the BERR Select Committee in another place, Royal Mail expects 75 per cent of its profits to come from parcels in five years’ time. Customer demand and an effective market should therefore ensure that consumers retain the ability to send and receive parcels on a Saturday through either Royal Mail or another postal operator. In those circumstances, we believe that adding an additional regulatory burden to the Royal Mail at this stage is neither helpful nor necessary.

Finally, the Bill allows for flexibility in the regulatory structure. Should Ofcom in future decide that the market is not meeting the reasonable needs of customers, it may add services to the universal service under Clause 29. That could indeed include Saturday collection and delivery of parcels if necessary.

The Bill gives Ofcom the power it needs to protect users while allowing for less regulation and more flexibility for both Royal Mail and other operators where the market works well. I hope that, in view of that reassurance, the fact that Ofcom has within its power under the Bill to introduce such a regulatory requirement should it prove necessary in future and that the service is already currently provided, the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, proposes to remove expressly bulk mail services from services that need to be provided at a uniform tariff. The requirement for a uniform tariff is provided by Clause 29(3)(e). I believe that the intention behind the amendment is to make clear that there does not have to be a “one price goes anywhere” service for bulk mail. I understand the background to that proposal. The Hooper report indeed suggests that there is a strong case for Ofcom to consider whether competition is sufficiently well developed to remove some bulk mail products from the universal service specification.

I assure the noble Lord that we do not intend to restrict the choice of consumers. On the contrary: we seek the opposite. The amendment he proposes is unnecessary. Clause 29(3)(e) does not require Ofcom to secure that bulk mail is provided at a uniform tariff in the whole of the UK. However, there is the option. In principle, we want to leave that question open for Ofcom to judge and decide because it will be best placed to reflect the changes in the postal market. We do not believe that it is appropriate to fix the details of the individual specific products to be provided to the specification of the universal postal service in the Bill. Frankly, it is for the market, for customers and for the regulator, responding to customer demand, to form such a judgment if necessary, in due course. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in the light of what I have said, not to press his amendment.

I thank the Minister for responding as he did. As he says, Clause 29 is extremely important and a key part of the Bill. That is why we thought it appropriate to raise this issue. The fact is that Saturday is excluded, notwithstanding the fact, as the Minister says, that packages are currently delivered on Saturdays. None the less, we have had this debate. It has been put on to the record that this could be an area of concern, and the Minister has said that Ofcom needs to take this into account. In debates only a short while ago, we talked about the need for the universal service to meet the needs of all users, and to do so there could sometimes be an urgent need for packages to be delivered on a Saturday. However, in the light of what the Minister has said, and given that Ofcom will consider this issue very seriously and, we hope, address what we think is a concern, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 82 withdrawn.

Amendments 83 and 83A not moved.

Amendment 84 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 84A

Moved by

84A: Clause 29, page 15, line 21, at end insert—

“( ) A universal postal service must not include services exempted under the Postal Services Directive.”

I thought that the previous debate gave the Secretary of State an excellent opportunity to set out the background to the agreement which I think has been reached on all sides of the Committee about the vital importance of the universal service obligation. As we debated a little earlier, the review recommended a completely new regulatory regime, not just a new regulator. The independent review of the UK postal services sector by Richard Hooper, Dame Deirdre Hutton and Ian Smith last December has met with general approval. We certainly accept those recommendations in principle.

As was debated a little earlier, we are dealing not only with a new regulator, Ofcom, but with a whole new set of tools, including much wider-reaching regulatory powers. The Bill certainly gives those powers. Indeed, the new and improved drafting of the regulator provisions places significantly fewer limits on Ofcom’s powers than the limits which the previous Postal Services Act 2000 placed on Postcomm. There are some safeguards on when certain conditions can be imposed, although I confess that they are so buried in the schedules that it has taken a little while to dig them out. Unlike in the Postal Services Act 2000, no clear exemptions from regulation are laid out in this legislation.

The Government like to claim that the Bill is deregulatory. The move from a licensing regime to an authorising one might indeed be useful for achieving deregulation, and Ofcom certainly has a duty to be proportionate. However, we know from experience that regulatory creep has happened elsewhere with stronger safeguards than that. We are very glad to see that the Bill states unambiguously that Ofcom’s primary duty is to preserve the universal postal service, but the question of what is covered by that term is left entirely open beyond the minimum set out in Clause 29. Our Amendments 84A and 89E therefore seek to ensure that regulation in the UK does not gold-plate the European Union’s postal services directive. Of course, the amendments may not be perfect since services are not exactly exempted in this directive. They are protected from being reserved to the USP. But I seek to ensure that the services that were exempt under the Postal Services Act, such as document exchange, express services and so on, continue to be excluded from the UPS.

I understand that Ofcom will naturally have to comply with the directive, but it will have the power to go beyond the limits indicated by the directive under Clause 29 and, especially, Clause 36. It certainly has the power and, possibly, the duty to go beyond previous regulatory limits in its market assessment. Even being included in the review will be a burden for many operators and will add significantly to market uncertainty. I am looking therefore to the Minister to confirm that not only will Ofcom not extend the UPS into previously exempted services, but also will not assess those areas within the review.

I have to say that, from time to time, this Government seem to believe that every aspect of our lives should be regulated to a greater or lesser extent. But on these Benches we do not support the state’s intrusion into sectors where there is no important social benefit to regulation. Services such as document exchange and courier services were established as an unregulated alternative to the UPS and should remain that way.

Our second amendment highlights the same concern, this time in Ofcom’s assessment under Clause 36 of whether a service falls within the scope of the universal postal service. We have later groups of amendments looking at the objectivity of that assessment, but for now I want to restrict my concerns to the possibility that Ofcom will have the authority to decide that an exempted service is within the scope. For precisely the same reasons as in Clause 29, exempted services should remain exempted and should be clearly seen to be so. The loss of specific exemptions in primary legislation means that the sector has lost a considerable amount of legislative certainty. Businesses operating in a fluid and competitive market need that sort of certainty. In view of the words a few moments ago from the Secretary of State about the way in which this whole market is changing, and his implication that innovation in this sector should be encouraged and will undoubtedly increase, I hope he would accept that to try to extend the regulatory burden on exempted services is not the way to do this.

It might also be of assistance to the Committee if we could be brought up to date as to exactly where Directive 2008/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008 is at the present time because there has been some talk of further amendments to this directive. It would be helpful if the Minister could place on record exactly where we are as regards the directive. I beg to move.

As has already been discussed today, the Government’s first priority is to secure the provision of a strong universal postal service. Clause 29 defines the minimum requirements of the UPS, valued by individuals and businesses alike. The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, are, if he will forgive me, potentially open to interpretation. These amendments may seek to exempt services listed in certain recitals of the original, unamended postal services directive from being regulated. The recitals mention certain services and say that these services are different from or do not form part of the universal service.

These are, as he has alluded to, express services, document exchange, new services and self-provision. The recitals do not say that the services are “exempted” from the whole of the application of the directive. Whether these recitals mean that these services are “exempted” from the provisions of the directive concerning the universal service could no doubt give rise to long legal debate. We believe that they do not mean that. Recitals, as he will know, are guides to interpretation and not operative laws in themselves.

The postal directive has evolved over time, and the recitals of 1997 are less targeted to the present times. The first postal services directive, the 1997 directive, was principally concerned with which services member states were allowed to reserve as an absolute monopoly to their main postal service provider—in the United Kingdom, the Royal Mail. That does not equate to saying that the UK could not require Royal Mail to provide an express service if, in the light of changing national circumstances, it were appropriate to do so. Indeed, the directive as it is now, 12 years later, requires member states to allow the universal service to evolve with society. It does not list or otherwise set out any “exemptions” except in Article 3 for packets that are very heavy or of unusual dimensions.

The services listed in the recitals can be unclear; new services, for instance, are difficult to define. We would suggest, therefore, that the proposed amendments would not provide clarity but potential uncertainty, and this could cause confusion if they were taken to apply to the minimum requirements of the universal service as defined in Article 3 of the postal services directive. The central reason for this is that these are the key areas where the United Kingdom has explicitly gone beyond the minimum requirements of the postal services directive for the universal service here in the United Kingdom. These amendments could have the unfortunate consequence of the universal service being degraded. That could potentially reduce the requirement of a service of letter delivery six days a week in the United Kingdom to five days, and remove the requirement to have a service at an affordable price that is uniform throughout the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord may be seeking to replicate some of the exemptions under Section 7 of the Postal Services Act, which result in some services not being regulated at present. Moreover, as he rightly suggests, the fact that these exemptions are not mirrored in the Bill simply reflects the change in the regulatory regime from licensing to authorisation. It will no longer be an offence to convey a letter without a licence or exemption because where everyone can provide a service and licences are not required, there is by definition no need for exemptions.

A particular consequence of the change is to remove the exceptions applicable to some operators such as couriers and other parcels businesses. We believe it is important that Ofcom, with the necessary controls that the noble Lord has alluded to, has the discretion to develop the future regulatory regime, albeit subject to appropriate levels of public consultation. I hope he will be reassured that Ofcom will not want to regulate everything which could fall within its potential scope. As required by the terms of its founding statute, it will regulate only where it is necessary, proportionately and in the interests of consumers and competition, and specifically in this area, to secure the provision of the universal service.

Ofcom is an experienced regulator subject to the principles of ensuring proportionate, transparent and targeted regulation in all its decision-making. It is required to exercise those responsibilities with appropriate levels of consultation. The Bill is explicit in requiring Ofcom to consult on the original specification of the universal service, both in its detail and in products and services.

I move on to the point made by the noble Lord about potential gold-plating, which is one we would recognise. The amendments may seek to reduce the requirements of the UK universal service to those of the postal directives, which could also have the effect of diminishing the universal postal service we enjoy today. The postal services directive defines in article 3 the minimum requirements of the universal service. The Postal Services Act 2000 and now the Bill mostly reflect those requirements. There are three areas where the United Kingdom, again, has explicitly gone beyond the minimum requirements of the postal services directive for the provision of a universal service: first, the six-day-a-week delivery of letters; secondly, the one price goes anywhere service or a uniform price across the United Kingdom; and, thirdly, the imposition of a 20 kilogram weight limit on domestic package, which can be part of such a service.

I shall now address the main consequence of this. The Bill aims to protect customers by securing the universal postal services we currently have. I am sure this aim is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. We believe that it is right that the United Kingdom continues to have a service of letter delivery six days a week and at a price that is uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Reducing letter delivery to five days a week, as is the minimum required by the postal services directive, and potentially removing the one price goes anywhere requirement, would rightly be seen as a reduction of the protection afforded to customers. Individuals and business customers would not, therefore, receive their letters on Saturdays and may have to pay different postal prices depending upon where they live or do business. Royal Mail could lose business to other communications channels as a result of the additional complexity and inconvenience to its customers. The wider postal market would also suffer a decrease in mail volumes as a result of that lack of clearly specified convenience.

Another consequence of the amendment would be to restrict the postal items and packets which could be included in the universal postal service to postal items up to two kilograms and postal packets up to 20 kilograms for all UK mail. These are the minimum requirements, again, of the postal services directive. The directive allows member states to increase the weight limit of the universal service for postal parcels delivered in their territory, again up to 20 kilograms. The United Kingdom has decided to take advantage of this flexibility, both in the original Postal Services Act and in this Bill. This means that the Bill sets the limits of letters and packages which can be considered as part of the universal service at 20 kilograms.

The Bill will enable Ofcom, however, to carry out a thorough market assessment, a robust and public consultation, and to decide which specific products should be provided as a universal service, anticipating future changes in the market but within that specified framework. If Ofcom changes the services it considers should be provided in the United Kingdom as a universal service from the ones currently provided, this will be on the basis of an evidence-based review. We expect that the future regime will lead to better, more targeted and transparent regulation, not to more.

We appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, wishes to avoid the gold-plating of European legislation. Indeed, the Government are committed to reducing red tape and making sure that regulation is appropriately targeted. But, at the same time, it is crucial in this debate to retain the six-day-a-week letter delivery as an essential feature of the current universal service and a protection for customers.

On the noble Lord’s last question, the Bill will implement the 2008 postal services directive which amends the original directive. The directive needs to be implemented by 2010 and there are no further amendments beyond implementation at the current time.

That was a helpful response by the Minister. We both recognise that the purpose of these amendments is merely to reflect on the fact that Ofcom certainly has the power to go beyond previous regulatory limits in its market assessment. I was concerned about possible gold-plating and the uncertainty that might be introduced into the marketplace. Although the Minister’s response goes some way towards alleviating those concerns, I should like to reflect on them. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 84A withdrawn.

Amendment 84B

Moved by

84B: Clause 29, page 15, line 21, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State may by order subject to affirmative resolution amend subsection (3) above.”

This amendment seeks to explore another difference between the Bill and the Postal Services Act that went before. In the Act there was a power to amend the universal postal service; in the Bill, the minimum criteria laid down in Clause 29(3) are fixed in primary legislation. This is another opportunity to refer to the Select Committee report in another place, and I was greatly heartened by the resolve of the Minister—in extensive consultation with his colleagues, no doubt, particularly the Secretary of State—to bring forward the Government’s response to that report, if possible. I recognise that he did not make a firm commitment, but it was the set of his jaw that I so greatly admired when he said that he was a little concerned that the normal time limit for response might not be appropriate. I am grateful to him for agreeing to consider that.

The Select Committee report highlighted the difference and questioned it. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s rationale for the removal of this power. I share with many of your Lordships the concern that, throughout the all the changes that Royal Mail is about to undergo under the Bill, a proper level of service must continue to be provided to the public. However, the idea of what a proper level of service actually comprises is not universally agreed upon. We have had one debate already on other possible criteria that should be included in the universal service, and more amendments are tabled that relate to the same issue.

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position over the postal services directive. As I understand it, however, it has now been amended twice and may well be modified again in the future. What we consider to be set in stone now could easily become irrelevant and inadequate in future, especially as the market continues to change in the way that the Secretary of State referred to before, as new technologies develop and new methods of communication spring up and are extended. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I beg to move.

I am learning, and I appreciate the guidance from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that a poker face, or perhaps a poker jaw, is perhaps a better way to deliver answers to specific questions. I had the good fortune to bump into my noble friend the Secretary of State during the break, and I was reassured that he shared my view that a response to the Select Committee’s report that was speedier than two months would be the order of the day, in part for the reasons that the noble Lord raised earlier. Other noble Lords can take it in good faith that the Government will seek to get that response into the public domain as soon as possible.

The amendment seeks to provide the Secretary of State with the power to amend the minimum requirements of the universal service by affirmative order. That, as the noble Lord suggests, reflects one of the suggestions made in the BERR Select Committee’s recent report on the Bill. Although the committee suggested otherwise, no power in fact currently exists to change the specification of the universal service by affirmative order. Instead, there is a power in Section 8 of the Postal Services Act 2000 to change the exemptions provided by the Act. The power suggested by this amendment would therefore be an entirely new one, and, as we have discussed today and will return to throughout this debate, the Government’s first priority is to secure a strong universal postal service.

We believe that it is right that the minimum requirements of the universal service should be able to be changed only by primary legislation, as that will have the effect of providing full scrutiny and agreement by Parliament.

Of course, it is more appropriate for Ofcom, as the proposed guardian of the universal postal service, to decide not what the minimum requirements of the universal service should be but which specific detailed products should be provided to those minimum requirements. That is an appropriate distinction between the role of Parliament and that of the regulator. As an aside, in real time, as we are having this debate, a similar debate is taking place on the definition of universal service in the telecommunications market, where the requirement is a function of primary legislation but the specification is a matter for regulatory consultation.

Ofcom will, therefore, be able to make a robust, evidence-based decision on the universal service after a full and comprehensive market evaluation and consultation has been carried out, focusing on the needs of users.

As the noble Lord rightly points out, this is an ever changing market, which is one of the reasons why the Government wish to put in the Bill a requirement for Ofcom to engage in the first instance in a strategic review to ascertain the specification of the products. We believe that this strikes the right balance and, as we discussed earlier, much of the Bill is about rebalancing. We believe that our provision does that, and I hope that the noble Lord is content to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 84B withdrawn.

Clause 29 agreed.

Clause 30 agreed.

Clause 31 : Designation of universal service provider

Amendment 85

Moved by

85: Clause 31, page 16, line 42, after “operator” insert “which is or was a Royal Mail company”

Amendment 85 is quite simple. It is a recognition of the reality of the postal market. Only Royal Mail is capable of providing a universal service. No other operator has anything like the network capable of answering the call to provide a collection and delivery service covering 28.4 million addresses for six days a week. That is why I think I can be excused for seeing the competitive market in the postal industry as limited and artificial.

No competitor is seeking to tender for the universal service. Rather, competitors prefer to take advantage of Postcomm’s rigging of the access market against Royal Mail. Even the two major postal operators which have been named as potential buyers of Royal Mail have shown no real ambition to match its services. TNT, that much heralded and wonderful organisation, which is running at a loss, has run some small delivery trials in major cities, but no serious observer believes that it will move on to anything other than deliveries which are limited both geographically and by frequency.

Do noble Lords remember the wonderful stories about Deutsche Post? It has gone downhill since we started this debate a couple of weeks ago. It has made no real moves to set up a delivery network outside the parcels network, and for good reason. As was said earlier, it is a profitable part of the service so is tailor-made for giving away by our Government under the guise of privatisation.

Neither of those companies has a serious aim of providing a universal service. Why do the Government not face facts and designate Royal Mail as the universal service provider? Does not Royal Mail deserve more stability in its forward planning? After all, it is carrying the burden of the best quality of service results in its long history. The basic recognition of this by the Government should surely be the least reward to which management and staff are entitled. It may be argued that it is pre-emptive of Ofcom’s function for Government to define Royal Mail in legislation as the universal service provider. But Ofcom can regulate only what is there.

One would have thought that the Government, having examined the outcome of the Hooper review, must have concluded that Royal Mail, unlike its supposedly superior competitors—which can bring in these wonderful brains to revolutionise the British Post Office but are running their own companies at a loss—is providing a universal service, and the legislation should recognise that. Let us be proud of having a British Post Office providing a universal postal service.

Amendment 86A states:

“Page 17, line 31, at end insert—

‘() to provide annual reviews of the trends and factors likely to affect the future development and delivery of the universal postal service and their impact on the provision of Post Offices to all City and County Councils throughout the United Kingdom;

() to provide to such persons as OFCOM may consider appropriate information about:

(i) environmental matters;

(ii) the employees employed by the universal service provider in the delivery of the universal postal service; and

(iii) social and community issues;

including information concerning the policies of the universal service provider and the effect of those policies’”.

Amendment 86B suggests that we insert at line 34 on page 17,

“to provide annual reports on the provision of the universal postal service throughout each of the United Kingdom and the geographical areas covered by the Greater London Authority, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly”.

Amendment 86A is a new amendment. During the last Post Office branch closure programme, it was noted by many city and county councils how unsatisfactory the current arrangements were for notification of appeal on closures. The problem is that for the Post Office management, this was often a formality rather than a genuine consultation. Anybody who ever attended a consultation—they were sometimes chaired by the wonderful group called Postwatch—will know that it was a formality. You could have protests, film stars and God knows what up and down the road, but it was just a formality. There was no genuine consultation.

The Government provided sufficient support to retain 11,500 branch offices. Therefore, if an office was saved, another had to be closed to balance the books. In these circumstances, with the best will in the world, Post Office management cannot be regarded as having a substantial interest in being genuinely responsive to local needs. As a consequence, the closure consultations acquired the reputation of being an empty formality. This is a tremendous loss, as the relationship between the community, the Post Office and local councils needs to be engaged and supportive if all are to flourish. I therefore put forward a proposal whereby Royal Mail and Ofcom will ensure that annual reviews will be provided for city and county councils to examine the trends and factors likely to affect the future development and delivery of the universal postal service, including the provision of post offices. This will force Royal Mail management to enter into a more constructive relationship with the local community and councils. This is highly desirable, given that the industry is a unique blend of social and commercial needs. Therefore, to inform the customers and councils is to allow them to be more active and to help them actively to shape the future development of the network.

This, in turn, encourages management to forward-plan and to plan services with community and council involvement. There is a growing interest among councils in the future of postal services. One notable example is the move by some councils to support financially post offices facing closure. I know that Essex County Council is doing so; we have heard it from the Benches opposite. I think that the leader of the council told us that it has taken the debate further by producing a document on the relationship between councils and post offices. This is an interesting debate and I suggest that it mirrors a more extensive policy stance by the Conservative Party, which is its right and privilege.

My concern is what my Government are doing to the Post Office. I am afraid that I cannot endorse the central idea of Essex County Council, which is to turn the assets of the Post Office over to local councils and to buy in postal services from Royal Mail or someone else. Breaking up the assets of the network in this manner would remove the element of universal provision by Royal Mail. It would mean that those councils that had the most favourable financial base could have superior services, while those councils in the poorer areas of the country would have the worst services. It is crucial to maintain a national system of postal service provision. However, unless the service is made more responsive to local demands, there is a danger that calls for its break-up will become more popular. I therefore hope that the Government will see that there is nothing to be afraid of in supporting the provision of the information suggested to city and county councils. Not only does that go with the Government’s concerns about transparency, but it also answers a real demand among local communities for a more responsible management culture.

On Amendment 86B, at present a national annual report is published by the Royal Mail. Unfortunately, the report is becoming less lucid as the years go by. I remember well the late Lord Dearing, who sat on another side of the House, scrutinising the Post Office’s annual reports and being able to bring forward things that were buried in the small print. As I say, the annual reports are becoming less lucid; since 2001, they have contained less information than they previously did, which is entirely due to the limited commercial freedom under the Postal Services Act 2000, resulting in a more protective attitude to industrial data by Royal Mail management. Nevertheless, we must try to strengthen the accountability of the Royal Mail.

Probably the most telling example of a lack of accountability has been the difficulties encountered by campaigners in communities up and down the country who challenge branch closures. How many of your Lordships have raised the fact that they could not get information from their local people? Of course, the Minister in this place at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, threw up his hands many times saying, “Oh, it’s a matter for management, nothing to do with us”.

Many in this House and the other place will have encountered a brick wall when they tried to understand the rationale behind Royal Mail decisions to close particular offices. Things are much easier now that we have a cast-iron assurance from the Secretary of State that there will be no more closures. The issue of consultation is still the same, however. It would rarely be clear why one office was closing rather than another, nor were there constant criteria, such as profitability. There were a number of instances of profitable offices closing. With one office that I visited, the Postwatch people were supporting the closure when it was making a profit; the post office had queues at every one of its positions. But that is in the past.

It is with that in mind that I have tabled the second part of the amendment, requiring the publication of,

“reports on the provision of the universal … service”.

Noble Lords will see that that takes the form of a report on general UK-wide provision and distinct reports for the areas of authority covered by the devolved Governments. The UK-wide report would be of interest to this House and the other place; certainly, it would allow for closer scrutiny and annual debate on the workings of the Royal Mail and the universal postal service.

Of equal importance is the publication of reports covering the devolved bodies. I draw the Committee’s attention to the implementation of the last programme of post office closures. It was impossible to discern a consistent rhyme or reason behind individual closures, but there was a very clear basis for reducing the size of the network by 2,500 offices, from around 14,000 to 11,500. That reason was the size of the government subvention; it was made clear that, for the subvention offered of £150 million a year, the network would have to be maintained at 11,500 offices. Had the Government offered more money, more offices would be open today and there would be more within postcode areas, which was the subject of an earlier amendment from the Liberal Democrat Benches, but those offices have gone, probably for ever. Had the Government offered less money, the network would be even smaller than it is today.

I cannot think of a system of planning that is less responsive to the community served. A highly centralised management structure takes a decision, based on cost accounting, without reference to anyone other than central government. If the postal service is to become more responsive to customer needs, as probably all would agree in principle that it should, we have to introduce some mechanism whereby management fiat can be reduced. For example, the people of Scotland are entitled to consider how responsive postal services are to their needs. The publication of an annual report on provision of current postal services in Scotland would not amount to a devolution of authority to the Scottish Parliament on these issues, but it would allow the people of Scotland to have a serious debate, whether through their Parliament or elsewhere. Inevitably, such a debate involves an element of public clamour, which means that there is pressure on Royal Mail management to ensure that its services are actively tracking the needs of Scotland rather than simple imperatives such as the size of the government subvention on post office counters.

Without the amendment, these distinct bodies of government have already shown a great interest in Royal Mail. Both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have in place some mechanism to provide assistance to Post Office branches. It may be said that I am placing all my emphasis on Post Office branches and not on universal postal services. However, I must insist that these branches are a crucial access point to the universal postal service.

I can use another illustration, that of sorting office closures. Here again the issue has a greater local impact than is often considered by central management. For example, it is not unreasonable for Assembly Members in Wales to have some opportunity to examine the potential impact of mail centre closures in Wales, should these be part of Royal Mail’s management plans. After all, some local businesses are in part dependent on the site of major sorting offices. We must consider how the interests of consumers, businesses and communities can be better served in reporting on the function of a universal service. My amendment would go some way towards serving that general need.

I move to Amendment 89. Clause 35 talks about a universal service provision accounting condition, but does not require one to be imposed. The amendment would require Ofcom to impose a universal service provision accounting condition, making it compulsory rather than optional. I beg to move.

My noble friend has said most of the things that should be said in relation to the very important amendments he has put forward. He is certainly right to say that the Royal Mail can provide a universal service. In fact, the Hooper report agonises about this and hopes that possibly in the future others may come forward who might provide that. As he rightly said, as regards TNT I think that liberalisation in the Netherlands occurred only in March. It is already squealing before the competition has taken effect. Already it is facing difficulties in its own country, so it is very far from being in a position to provide a universal service here, and of course, it prefers the part privatisation that has been put forward, and that we are bitterly opposed to, in this Bill.

Deutsche Post, far from being in the black, is now in the red. It is in difficulties as well. Therefore, I think my noble friend is quite right to start off by saying that only Royal Mail could possibly, in the foreseeable future anyway, provide the universal service that is desired and is the core of the Bill, and what Ofcom should be doing. That is quite different from Postcomm, which seems to regard its mission as being about competition rather than provision of a universal service.

My noble friend again is quite right when he talks about the sham called consultation that took place when post offices were closed in the past. He is right to say that it has been asserted—I notice that my noble friend is back with us again—that there will be no more post office closures. That is very welcome news. However, I think it is right that we spell out in these amendments what the provisions are likely to be and what should be taken into account when we are considering these things. It is quite right to say that the local authorities’ alarm at the development that was taking place, the lack of consultation that occurred in the past and the importance that they apply to the universal postal services is extremely desirable. That again is spelt out in the report.

The amendment provides the conditions that Ofcom may consider appropriate and require information about. It is quite right to mention that environmental matters come into the equation when we are considering this.

Looking at other points, of course consultation should be taken up with the employees of a universal service provider as well. At the end of the day, they deliver the universal service. We must never forget that and we should keep repeating it. It is important, and their views have certainly not been taken into account in the past.

The next paragraph, “social and community issues”, is, again, extremely sensible. Of course, if anything is going to affect the provision of the universal service, whether it is a post office closure or the service itself, it is important to the people in that area, to their social condition and to the community as a whole. It is important that we consider that.

The noble Lord includes, in addition,

“information concerning the policies of the universal service provider and the effect”.

Of course we are talking about the effects, and going through all of them to ensure that the people most affected, those who are absolutely dependent on that service, have all of these issues taken into account.

What my noble friend has put in is important. In considering the United Kingdom, debates should not only occur here, but provision should be made for them to take place in the Greater London Authority—very important indeed—and especially the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and, of course, the Scottish Parliament. The issues affect their communities, and it would be wrong if it was not possible that they should—

The whole nature of devolution is about the separation of powers and responsibilities. That means that there are elected representatives in the other place who have responsibilities that are quite clear and well defined. The Scottish Parliament and the other bodies have no powers whatever over post office services in the United Kingdom. It is an absolute waste of the public’s and elected representatives’ time if they are afforded debating opportunities in which they have no powers to enact and with which they can do nothing.

My noble friend is therefore misleading the Committee when he suggests that everybody should have a chance to debate everything regardless of whether or not they have any responsibility for it. It is an absolute nonsense as far as devolution is concerned. Those of us who advocated devolution long and hard did not want to create in Cardiff, Belfast or Edinburgh meaningless debating clubs with people talking about things over which they have, at the end of the day, no power, responsibility or legislative effect. My noble friend is misleading us in every respect in suggesting that the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies are in any way entitled to talk about things over which they have no power whatever.

I always respect my noble friend for his views, but I do not think that that view would be shared by the people of Scotland. I think that they want their representatives there to be able to debate something as important as a universal service.

Their representatives are here, but part of the point of having a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly is that these are very important matters that affect the people—

Well, if my noble friend is saying that they will become talking shops, that view might not be shared by all the people of Scotland. I realise that my noble friend is putting a Scottish point of view, but that certainly might not be shared by the people of Wales or Northern Ireland. What is the point of having these bodies if important issues such as a universal postal service cannot be debated by them? I am surprised that my noble friend does not want people to have the opportunity to debate this matter here, in the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I do not live in those geographical locations but, as I say, my noble friend may not be expressing the views of all the people north of the border, never mind those in Wales or Northern Ireland. I always respect and listen to his views, and I thank him for his intervention, but I rather think that a lot of people may not share them although I am sure that they will read with interest what he had to say. He must accept the consequences that might flow from that.

I was coming almost to the end of my remarks. I thank my noble friend Lord Clarke for explaining the measure, which I am pleased to support, in detail and for saying what should be taken into account. That is very important and underlines what should be undertaken in relation to the universal service. I hope that the Minister can give a positive reply, as he did earlier in our debates, and accept some of the suggestions proposed in this group of amendments.

I do not want to get involved in the latter discussion but I was very interested in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, concerning future reporting requirements on the universal service provider. He gave a very helpful analysis of that. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what information Royal Mail will be expected to produce publicly. We are, of course, undertaking a rebalancing process, in the course of which we are setting up an entirely new regulatory regime. Although Ofcom has experience in handling a similar regime in the telecommunications market, it has admitted that the postal services market is different in important respects. Proper transparency will, therefore, be essential in seeing the results of this new regime.

While we are talking about reporting requirements, I should be interested to hear from the Minister how much information he believes Ofcom must produce annually on its work. Given the very wide powers it is being given under this legislation, I hope that there will be stringent transparency and reporting requirements in order to allow the public and Parliament to assess how they are being used.

We have had an appropriately detailed discussion on a range of significant questions. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if, despite the lateness of the hour, I do my best to try to answer the points that have been raised. As I listened to the debate, it seemed to me to fall into three broad categories: specification and designation; protection and local impact, and the consultation processes and protections around that; and the provision of information, not to mention an interesting side debate on devolution.

Amendment 85 in the name of my noble friend Lord Clarke relates to Clause 31, which deals with the designation of the universal service provider. As he rightly pointed out, that is the Royal Mail. The clause gives Ofcom the power to designate a single postal operator as the universal service provider so as to ensure the provision of the universal service. Ofcom may impose a designated USP condition, USP access conditions and USP accounting conditions only on the designated universal service provider. It is primarily through these conditions that Ofcom can secure the provision of a universal service.

As we can all agree, currently the only operator that is able to provide the universal service is Royal Mail, so it will by default become the designated universal service provider. My noble friend’s proposal is that the Bill explicitly states that Ofcom may only designate a postal operator which is or was a Royal Mail company as the universal service provider. I hope that he will agree with our view that this amendment will make no difference practically because, for the foreseeable future, only Royal Mail could conceivably be in contention for this designation.

There is, however, a further issue that we must consider—it may sound procedural—which concerns our European obligations under the postal services directive. Under Article 4, designations of universal service providers must be,

“based on the principles of transparency, non-discrimination and proportionality”.

There is a concern about whether naming a specific company in the Bill, however obvious that choice may be, would be in technical breach of that obligation.

Furthermore, the directive also requires that the designation of a universal service provider must be subject to a periodic review. If Royal Mail was explicitly named in the Bill, and if at any point in the future a periodic review found that another postal operator could and should be either the designated universal service provider or a contributor to a universal service activity, new legislation would be required. It would thus be more likely that a challenge would be brought against us on the basis of Article 4.

I appreciate that that may sound like speculation, but I remember similar debates being held in 2001 about the specification of the provision of a universal service in telephony, where everyone at the time believed that there could be only one company. Only seven or eight years on, we are facing the prospect of considering changing the pool of contributors to that activity. It is our view, therefore, that the amendment is unnecessary, could cause us difficulty in relation to our European obligations and is not necessary to gain the securities that I believe my noble friend is seeking.

Amendment 87 relates to Clause 32 on the designated universal service provider condition. My noble friend has proposed that the whole of subsection (2) be removed. This subsection limits Ofcom’s discretion as to when it can impose a designated USP condition. It means that Ofcom can only impose these conditions if it believes them to be necessary to secure the provision of the universal postal service. As such, it is designed so that the regulatory burden on the universal service provider is not increased needlessly.

To remove this subsection as proposed in the amendment would mean that the regulatory burden on Royal Mail might be greater than necessary, which Royal Mail itself would presumably not wish. That would be in contrast to one of our aims in this Bill—it was raised earlier—which is to reduce the regulatory burden on postal operators, including the universal service provider. Furthermore, the postal services directive provides that certain conditions can be imposed only where necessary to secure the provision of the universal service. These provisions are caught by that requirement of the directive.

Closely related is my noble friend’s Amendment 89, which seeks to remove Ofcom’s discretion with respect to the imposition of USP accounting conditions and has the effect of requiring them to be imposed on the universal service provider. This amendment would not, in the view of the Government, have any beneficial effect in terms of regulating the universal service provider. In fact, over time, and as the market develops, the amendment has the potential to hamper both regulation and the Royal Mail as the universal service provider.

To regulate effectively—in my view this is at the heart of this debate—it is clear that Ofcom must be able to obtain accurate information about Royal Mail’s costs. Obtaining cost transparency will support Ofcom in monitoring the universal service; it will support the user, in setting appropriate universal service prices for users; it will support Royal Mail, in allowing it to have the necessary transparent information to run its business; and it will support the level of competition that we wish in that it will be competition based on real prices rather than on estimated numbers.

The Hooper review highlighted the persistent disagreements between Postcomm and Royal Mail over the allocation of costs as one of the core reasons for the dysfunctionality in that relationship, and recommended that Ofcom addresses cost transparency as a priority. The Government entirely agree with the analysis of Hooper in this area and have set out in Clause 35 the requirements that Ofcom may impose on Royal Mail in order to assist in establishing cost transparency.

The requirements that Ofcom may impose are broad, as they should be, particularly given that this is being done in the first instance. Like other network businesses, many of Royal Mail’s products use common systems, such as sorting machinery or delivery vans, and it can be complex to identify the individual costs of particular products. We assert that it is not in anyone’s interest for Ofcom, particularly in the first outing to ascertain the baseline of these costs, to be constrained in its ability to determine them as accurately and precisely as we would wish.

However, as the market changes and Royal Mail modernises it is also essential that Ofcom retains the ability to be flexible when dealing with USP accounting conditions. By replacing Ofcom’s discretion to impose a USP accounting condition with a requirement to do so, this amendment would bind Ofcom’s hands and fix an obligation in perpetuity on the universal service provider. While there may be a compelling case now for USP accounting conditions, to legislate in perpetuity on this matter risks imposing a higher regulatory stasis and burden than we believe is necessary at this time. Ofcom has a demonstrable track record of cost determination, for example with BT in the telecoms sector. In the Government’s opinion, the final decision on the detail and necessity of any USP accounting conditions should rightly remain with Ofcom, which should rightly be held to account for it.

I turn to my noble friend’s Amendment 86A. As we have said, securing the universal service is our primary aim. While an annual review of trends and factors affecting the future development and delivery of the universal service would certainly be interesting, it is not, I am afraid, the Government’s view that the nature and frequency of market reviews should be mandated in the legislation. These are properly matters for Ofcom.

However, I should say two things to my noble friend, from which I hope he will take some reassurance. The first is that the central reason for asking Ofcom to conduct a strategic review around the universal service and to have the powers in relation to cost transparency is to ensure that we have the quality of data and evidence in the market that we can rely on. That will provide us with objective information, which has been sorely missing from much of the discussion—even the Hooper report acknowledges that. Secondly, it is true that Ofcom has established a track record and a reputation for enthusiasm in publishing annual reviews and data statements—although it has been criticised by some for that. The communications market review is a case in point. I am willing to place on the record the Government’s view that we would expect Ofcom to adjust its annual publications to take account of the importance of this new responsibility.

My noble friend’s amendment also requires the universal service provider within these annual reviews to assess the impact that these trends and factors will have on the provision of post offices. The regulatory provisions in this Bill are focused on the mail market. Provision of mail services is of course an important function of the post office network, as he and my noble friend Lord Hoyle highlighted. Changes in the provision of the universal postal service will have an impact on the business of the Post Office—a point rightly made by my noble friends—just as developments in the other markets that the Post Office focuses on will. We would expect Royal Mail and Post Office Limited to have regard to this as a matter of course. It accounts for approximately 30 per cent of the Post Office’s revenue.

However, the Post Office’s role, as my noble friend knows far better than I ever will, is about far more than mail. The Post Office offers an array of financial services products and provides access to government services and benefits to millions via its unrivalled national network. The Government will continue to take steps to ensure the Post Office can take advantage of opportunities as its markets develop. The Government have already demonstrated their commitment to a sustainable future for the Post Office by their current investment of up to £1.7 billion in the network. As the Secretary of State made clear at Second Reading and again this evening, we will continue to provide significant funding for the network and will not support any further programme of post office closures.

On the specific question asked by my noble friend Lord Clarke concerning the decisions on where post office locations are too centralised, the access criteria for the post office network were introduced precisely to ensure that the company maintained a national network providing reasonable access to service throughout the United Kingdom. I make no apology that this Government have sought to provide these national protections. It is the first time, I would say, that any Government have taken a planned and strategic view of the availability of post offices across the country. Consumer Focus, the statutory consumer advocacy body, also has existing powers under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act to investigate any matter relating to the number and location of public post offices across the UK.

So far as concerns the other information that my noble friend is proposing to require the designated universal service provider to have at its disposal, it is, again, unclear why that needs to be explicit in the Bill or to what end it would be put. The lack of any definition for each of the three areas that my noble friend has identified is also concerning. The Government’s view is that forcing Ofcom to require the designated USP to provide this information would be unreasonably burdensome for the universal service provider and that it would not add to the protection of the universal service that my noble friend seeks.

Amendment 86B would require the designated universal service provider to produce separate annual reports on the provision of the universal postal service across the United Kingdom and in each of the devolved Administrations, as well as for the Greater London Authority. The amendment is unclear as to what aspect or in what respect the reports should discuss or provide information about the universal service. It is also silent on how the costs of producing such reports should be met, to whom they should be made and the use to which they would be put. However, I point my noble friend to Clause 33, headed “Publication of information about performance”. Under this, a designated USP condition must require the universal service provider to,

“publish information about the extent to which it is providing specified postal services in accordance with specified standards, and … to publish annually an independently audited performance report”.

The Bill thus already contains some requirements for information on performance of the universal service provider.

With regard to the specific points about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although it is the case that postal services, like the remainder of the communications market, are a reserved matter, it is also the case that Ofcom has established a regulatory capability on the ground in each of those countries, as it is required to do. It is also the case that Ofcom has a standing advisory panel for each of those countries, as it is required to do. It is the case, too, by custom and practice, that Ofcom has acted in consultation with the devolved Administrations in an open and transparent manner on major issues of policy across the communications market. I hope that my noble friend takes that as some reassurance.

Penultimately, it is worth adding that Ofcom will have to produce an annual report about its performance, during the year, of its duty to secure the universal postal service, as outlined at paragraph 69 of Schedule 10, where there is an express new obligation in relation to postal services.

Amendment 87A covers much of the same ground as Amendment 86B, although it is incorporated within Clause 33, which I have already discussed.

As we have said, securing the universal service is our primary aim. We do not believe that the information sought in the amendments will help to secure that universal service, although I hope that some of the comments this evening will have given my noble friend some reassurance. Given those explanations, I hope that he will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

This has been an interesting and long debate on a group of amendments and I apologise if I take a few minutes more in reply because we have so many more amendments to deal with this evening. I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Hoyle. I am grateful for his support not just for the group of amendments that he spoke so eloquently to, but for the encouragement that he has given me. It has been a bit lonely looking around the Benches of the socialist pioneers of change. There is so little interest at this time of night. I can understand the timing, but it is nice to have Doug, my noble friend Lord Hoyle. Just looking at him makes me feel that I am not entirely alone in trying to do something to save the Post Office that has given me so much.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord O'Neill has left his place. Of all the places in politics that could be described as talking shops, without the authority to make changes, you would have to go a long way to find somewhere better than this. Every week we have debates where we beg leave to withdraw at the end, but the important thing is that debates take place. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland and whatever Boris's group is called—the Greater London Authority—it is necessary to debate things because they can have influence—sometimes people listen. Unfortunately, the Government I support and have worked for all my life have not listened very much on Post Office matters over the past 10 years.

My noble friend said that it was time for change and that the Government have seen the folly of downstream access charging—he did not use those words but that is what he meant—and that they were going to change the role so that a proper pricing policy can be looked at by Ofcom. That is good, but why has it taken 10 years? Why has it taken all these years when some of us actually said it at the time, and have said it repeatedly?

The Library is very good in this place; staff there gave me a whole bunch of the things that I have been saying on a couple of subjects. I get no pleasure out of it because this is my Government. I was so proud when we got power and then I find that in an essential area like the Post Office somebody wanted to give it away, as they did with Girobank. Now we have this privatisation. If it was the other side of this House I could understand it, as I said before—that is their policy. Our policy and manifesto commitment, underpinned by the Warwick agreement, is that we would not do certain things.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister: I thought that his response was constructive and accommodating and I am not being patronising because it is good to hear such clear terms, but when you talk about Europe, that is why we are in this state. People have forgotten that the postal services directive actually told us to liberalise our Post Office. We did it. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said that we had to be at the cutting edge and the forefront of this liberalisation so that we could be ahead of the market. Again, when will the French start the process of liberalisation? When will some of the other countries accept the conditions that we have run into?

All right, we were playing cricket and the others wanted to play rugby: that is fair enough. We are nice people in this country, but what has it cost us? It has almost cost us our Post Office and that is why I am determined to get as much out of this Bill as we can.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, found that the amendments have been helpful in starting the debate, because it will not end here. Ofcom will be an important part of our discussions in the future. All that I ask the Minister about Ofcom is, please let it be fair. Let it treat us fairly. I say “us” in the context of a Post Office worker, because we have been treated unfairly for the best part of the decade. It has to stop. We do not want any favours. The Post Office does not deserve any favours from Ofcom, but it deserves fairness. I hope that Ofcom approaches its job in that light. What do they call it in Europe—an even playing field?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. That is all that is required in this debate—fair treatment.

I could say many more things—I have made quite a lot of notes—but obviously I want to get to the next amendment, so I respectfully beg leave to withdraw the amendment and look forward to reading exactly what my noble friend said, because he said quite a lot of constructive things and I look forward to reading them tomorrow. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 85 withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed.

Clause 32 : Designated USP condition

Amendments 85A to 87 not moved.

Clause 32 agreed.

Clause 33 : Publication of information about performance

Amendment 87A not moved

Clause 33 agreed.

House Resumed

House adjourned at 10.16 pm.