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Postal Services Bill [HL]

Volume 710: debated on Monday 11 May 2009

Report (Continued)

Amendment 59

Moved by

59: Clause 29, page 14, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) In carrying out its assessment, OFCOM must consult—

(a) the National Consumer Council,(b) representatives of small business, and(c) such other persons as OFCOM considers appropriate.”

My Lords, in raising this and the subsequent amendment standing in my name, I wish to ensure that we achieve a postal service in the United Kingdom that has been tailored to fit the wishes and needs of users who require a first-class postal service.

To date, much of the debate around this issue has been shaped by the fear that Royal Mail is to be partly privatised, and it has been hard to escape the unhelpful media coverage that has emerged. However, perhaps I may say that I was content with the comments of the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, at Second Reading some two months ago, when he said that he could not agree more with the Communications Workers Union’s campaign to “Keep the Post Public”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that, while they have so far remained unheard, the voices and interests of stakeholders and, more importantly, service users will not only be raised but become a formal part of the consultation process that Ofcom should go through when carrying out its assessment. That will put in place much-needed protection for consumers right across the United Kingdom.

The Bill’s proposal to transfer the regulatory role for the postal sector from Postcomm to Ofcom will place postal regulation within the wider communications market. Before any changes can be made to the universal postal service, the new regulator will have to carry out an assessment of whether the postal service is meeting the needs of consumers.

We are all aware that people rely on our postal service to deliver, for example, the deeds of their houses, legal documents, passports and treasured notes from loved ones. Individuals the length and breadth of the country use the postal service, rely on it and, more importantly, have a view on how best it should evolve.

The amendment allows for broad consultation, but also explicitly requires consultation with Consumer Focus, the consumer watchdog with a legislative mandate to monitor postal issues. This is a common-sense check intended to protect consumers by ensuring that any changes to the service cannot be rushed through under the radar.

The purpose of Amendment 60 is to ensure that the Royal Mail’s performance—or that of any future provider of the universal service—can be scrutinised effectively by the statutory watchdog for the postal sector, Consumer Focus. Consumer Focus came into being late last year. It is important that we give it a firm footing in statute, to strengthen its role in the regulation of our postal service.

We always hope that watchdogs and regulators are freely given the information and access that they need to carry out their role effectively; but sadly, this is often not the case. The amendment would require Royal Mail to provide the postal watchdog with a range of information showing how well it is delivering the universal postal service; for example, details of whether it is meeting targets for collecting and delivering mail. It is drafted to ensure that regional and local information is included, so that performance problems affecting particular areas or regions are detected and addressed.

Consumer Focus has statutory powers under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 to demand information; but it was envisaged that these powers would relate only to specific serious issues and be a tool of last resort. In the hope of facilitating cordial, meaningful exchanges, the amendment should provide a firm basis for Consumer Focus to carry out its function responsibly. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, for tabling these amendments. It would be very helpful if the Minister were able to go into a little more depth about how he envisages the relationship between Ofcom and Consumer Focus operating as we go forward. As the Minister's letter makes clear, Ofcom’s internal consumer panel is expecting to play a significant role in the market assessment and in the ongoing maintenance and, we hope, success of the universal postal service. Can we understand what role will be left to Consumer Focus?

My Lords, the Government’s first priority is to secure the provision of a strong universal postal service. Clause 28 gives the Bill one of its essential features: the primary duty of Ofcom to secure the provision of the universal service. Amendment 59 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, seeks to ensure that the National Consumer Council is explicitly named in the Bill as having to be consulted, along with representatives of small business and other such persons as Ofcom considers appropriate when it carries out its market assessment. Indeed, Ofcom will need to carry out market assessment of the extent to which the market for the provision of postal services in the UK is meeting the reasonable needs of postal services before it proposes any amendment to the universal postal services order.

An assurance was put on the record in the debate in Committee on 20 April. That is an assurance which I repeat now, that Ofcom will consult fully and in the normal manner on any changes to the universal postal service and that that will, of course, include consultation with the National Consumer Council. In addition, Section 16 of the Communications Act requires Ofcom to establish and maintain effective arrangements for consultation in the carrying out of its functions which will include postal services. That duty includes ensuring that there is a consumer panel which, among other things, must give advice on the interests of domestic and small business consumers in relation to, among other things, the provision and availability of postal services. Ofcom is a seasoned regulator and, as such, by custom and practice, it regularly consults on major issues of policy across the communications market. That will be no different for the postal service market in the future.

Amendment 60 seeks to ensure that the National Consumer Council has a direct role in the evaluation of the universal service by requesting that Royal Mail provide the NCC with such information that will enable it to evaluate the performance of the universal service at a national, regional and local level. Clause 33, headed,

“Publication of information about performance”,

already contains some requirements for information on performance of the universal service provider. The clause requires that:

“A designated USP condition must include provision requiring the universal service provider—

“(a) to publish information about the extent to which it is providing specified postal services in accordance with specified standards, and

“(b) to publish annually an independently audited performance report”.

As that information will be put into the public domain it will be freely available for the National Consumer Council to see and evaluate on its own accord. In addition, the amendment specifies “national, regional and local”, which goes beyond what is already provided for in the Bill. This would impose a large, imprecise and inflexible burden on the designated universal service provider, Royal Mail.

In the light of the clarification I have provided, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, will consider withdrawing the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for his support. The amendment was drafted solely with a view to providing greater clarity and protection for service users. Indeed, Amendment 60 has been laid with the view of ensuring that all service providers offer the same level of independent complaint procedure. I am still firmly of the view that such a provision would give consumers a level of protection and confidence that an independent complaints process would be available to them if required. I am encouraged by the Minister’s response. Although the consultation does not go as far as I would like, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment 59 withdrawn.

Clause 33 : Publication of information about performance

Amendment 60 not moved.

Clause 36 : Services within scope of the universal postal service

Amendment 61 not moved.

Clause 40 : Sharing of burden of universal service obligations

Amendment 62

Moved by

62: Clause 40, page 23, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations under subsection (5) may only be made by affirmative resolution.”

My Lords, I make no apology for returning to this issue at this stage. We have strong feelings about the need for regulations under subsection (5) to be made only by affirmative resolution. The Secretary of State will be aware that I raised similar points in Committee and I hope that he and his colleagues will be more sympathetic.

As I understand the position, we are in complete agreement that there is no intention, no desire, to introduce a levy. The Secretary of State’s colleague, the Minister, made much of the safeguards currently in the Bill to prevent the imposition of this condition and I am glad to see them there. I also understand that there is a precedent of a charge being in the Communications Act and that there is no requirement for parliamentary involvement there. I am aware of that background. However, I do not agree with the Government’s present position that the requirement for an affirmative resolution would be an “unwise and unnecessary check on Ofcom”. The very stringency of the safeguards that are already in place essentially means that the levy would never be imposed at short notice. This rather undermines the Government’s argument that an affirmative resolution would add an unbearable delay on what needs to be a speedy process. I do not accept that argument given that I cannot believe for one moment that it would suddenly happen. I certainly hope it would not.

I repeat the argument I made in Committee, that if it is discovered that the Royal Mail is unable to provide the UPS at a profit even after the steps we are taking in the Bill, that will indicate a tremendous failure of policy. It will be not only an indication of a declining sector or changing public opinion on what should constitute the UPS but a sign that what we are being asked to approve in the Bill—namely, taking on billions of pounds of pension liability and selling 30 per cent of a public body—is just not enough. There ought to be an opportunity to debate such a situation. We cannot stand idly by and allow such a move to be made without Parliament having an opportunity to discuss and approve it.

I think that if there were to be a levy Parliament must be involved. I hope that this time the Secretary of State will feel able to accept my amendment. I know from previous debates on such issues that we in this House feel particularly strongly that Parliament should be involved in debating and discussing such a decision by affirmative resolution. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendment 62 aims to apply the affirmative resolution procedure to any further regulations dealing with the scheme for the assessment, collection and distribution of contributions to a compensation fund. This would require Parliament formally to approve any proposals put forward by Ofcom before it could create such a scheme.

Although the Bill already provides strict tests that must be met before a compensation fund may be set up, I can see some merit in the amendment and would like to consider it further with a view to returning to the issue at Third Reading. In addition, and in the light of other issues raised in Committee in respect of reporting and evaluation more generally on the universal service obligation, I would also like to give further consideration to the issue of reporting on the USO, again with a view to returning to it at Third Reading. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is content to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I hasten to the Dispatch Box to say that one reason we have made such reasonable progress today is that the Secretary of State has listened carefully to a range of issues and come forward with constructive responses as well as some interesting amendments that we were able to debate earlier. He has run true to form in his response to this amendment. I am grateful to him for his reassurances and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 62 withdrawn.

Amendment 63

Tabled by

63: After Clause 41, insert the following new Clause—

“Investment fund for post office network

(1) This Act shall not come into effect until the Secretary of State has by order made provision to establish an investment fund for the Post Office network in order to achieve a post and sub-post office network that may enter business agreements with other businesses in the postal service and other sectors, and deliver a range of services, including—

(a) the opening of new Post Office branches where there is a defined need;(b) start-up and investment capital and training in business opportunities to new and existing sub-postmasters;(c) the provision of local and central government information and services by post offices and sub-post offices; and(d) the creation of a Postbank to deliver financial services for customers through the Post Office Network.(2) An order under subsection (1) must provide for the Crown to have a statutory obligation to maintain the Post Office network on the basis of a framework with agreed outlets and service requirements set every five years and beginning in April 2011.

(3) An order under this section is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”

My Lords, when I responded to the Minister’s remarks on Amendment 3, with which Amendment 63 was grouped, I indicated that I was hoping that by next Wednesday, when we again reverted to the Bill, the Government will have had an opportunity to think again. As it is clear that the Bill will not be coming back to us next Wednesday I hope that the Government will think again and come up with a form of words before Third Reading. On that basis, I am happy not to press the amendment.

Amendment 63 not moved.

Clause 46 : Provision that may be made by consumer protection conditions

Amendment 64

Moved by

64: Clause 46, page 27, line 28, leave out “may” and insert “must”

My Lords, in dealing with this and the following two amendments together, I should point out that while I understand the reason why the legislation has been drafted in the form in which it currently stands, it is my intention to proceed with these amendments and, in doing so, remove the discretion that exists in relation to consumer protection.

This group of amendments will require all postal operators to offer an independent process of investigation for complaints from service users. Consumers must have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they have available redress should the service they receive fall below an adequate standard. Through these amendments we would be offering consumers such protection. In practice, Royal Mail currently passes complaints that cannot be amicably resolved for independent scrutiny through Consumer Direct. No matter who offers a postal service, it is important that consumers know that a fair, open and independent method of adjudication is available to them should something go wrong. Imagine how absurd it would be if service users had to investigate whether such a service exists when they wish to use a particular postal operator or, more probably, once something has gone horribly wrong, when they discover that unlike for other providers, no such complaints procedure exists.

Removing the discretion currently provided will in turn remove the choice for operators. They can confidentially offer their service on the same basis as their competitors without any commercial disadvantage. I positively offer these amendments with consumer rights and interests in mind. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendments 64, 65 and 66 seek to replace the word “may” with “must” in three parts of Clause 46, which deals with provisions under consumer protection conditions. I understand that the intention of Amendment 64 is to require Ofcom, if it sets any form of consumer protection condition, to ensure that the associated postal operator is a member of an approved redress scheme. Amendment 65 would require Ofcom, again if it sets any form of consumer protection conditions, to ensure that the associated postal operator provides information to Ofcom on the levels of compliance with complaints-handling standards and to publish information on the number of complaints made and the way in which the complaints were dealt with. Amendment 66 would require Ofcom to set out the time and manner of publication of such information.

A redress scheme and appropriate complaints-handling procedures, including publication requirements, are an important element of regulation in the context of a universal service. Indeed—this is most important—the postal services directive requires us to ensure that the universal service provider and, where appropriate, undertakings providing services within the scope of the universal service publish information on the number of complaints they have received and the manner in which they have been dealt with. However, these amendments risk placing excessive regulatory burdens on postal operators, especially those operating in the competitive areas of the mail market. Most operators say that they already have appropriate customer-complaints procedures in place and that if they did not, their customers would go elsewhere.

As currently drafted, before Ofcom can require a postal operator to be a member of an approved redress scheme or to provide and publish information on complaints handling, the Bill states—this is important—that such requirements need to be proportionate and objectively justified. The Bill provides the necessary protection for consumers and allows us properly to implement our obligations under the postal services directive, while at the same time allowing Ofcom the appropriate level of flexibility to ensure that the sector is not overregulated. I would therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, to withdraw his amendments.

My Lords, if we want consumers to have confidence in any evolving service, we should be ensuring that the levels of protection available to them are maximised. As I said, I fully understand that the legislation is drafted in such a way as to provide options, but I still believe that one clear way of demonstrating to service users that they are being fully considered in the passage of this Bill is to accept these three amendments and remove the discretion that is currently attached to consumer protection. However, I go some way towards accepting the Minister’s statement and, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 64 withdrawn.

Amendments 65 and 66 not moved.

Amendment 67

Moved by

67: After Clause 49, insert the following new Clause—

“Appeal against non price control decisions

(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for an appeal against any decision by OFCOM to impose a regulatory condition not covered by section 48.

(2) The regulations shall make provision—

(a) for and in connection with the appointment of a person to hear and determine such appeals (including provision for the payment of remuneration and allowances to such a person), and(b) as to the procedure to be followed in connection with an appeal.”

My Lords, Amendment 67 follows on directly from amendments tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, and myself, seeking in some way to impose a wider right of appeal against the decisions of Ofcom. In Committee the Minister persuaded me as to the problems that would result from lifting the precedent of the Communications Act straight into this Bill. But I remain hopeful that these problems are not insurmountable. It cannot be beyond the wit of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to establish a speedy, cheap and appropriately qualified system of appeal. The amendment is lifted directly from previous legislation and leaves the details of such a scheme almost entirely up to secondary legislation, allowing it to be specifically targeted to the needs of the postal services sector and to be modified easily in the future if problems were to arise.

The Minister persuaded me in Committee against the CAT model, but he has not persuaded me against the need for a method of appeal that does not rely on judicial review. I continue to be surprised by the way in which some elements in government feel that judicial review is an appropriate remedy. I recall being “judicially reviewed” unsuccessfully on many occasions, but the one thing of which I became aware as a Minister is that judicial review is highly restricted in the area that it can look at. Their Lordships—well, certainly with me, but not with some of my colleagues—were not disposed to try to second-guess Ministers.

So judicial review for someone who feels that they have a right of appeal is not really a useful remedy. It can be useful where a Minister has acted unreasonably or irresponsibly, but in the context of this Bill, there is a need for something a little wider. I remember debates on other Bills where similar amendments have been vociferously resisted by the Government because of the possibility that they would increase the number of cases being sent to an expensive, slow and already overburdened system of review.

I happen to believe that the fewer the cases that end up in judicial review, the better. I also do not feel that the requirements on Ofcom to consult and so on before imposing conditions are a replacement for appeal. The very point of an appeal, in particular the kind of appeal to which I am referring, is the need for an objective opinion. If one is being reasonable, I do not think one could decide that Ofcom could be objective about its own decisions.

I hope that the Secretary of State has had an opportunity to think about this and is minded to try to find some way of meeting this point, which has been echoed on all sides of the House in previous debates and certainly finds a ready echo outside the House and in the other place. I therefore look forward to hearing what I hope will be a more favourable response to the amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, puts his case always with such reasonableness that it makes it so much harder to resist what he is saying—harder but not impossible, I am afraid, because, as he acknowledged, what can start off as speedy and cheap when you are creating new regulatory machinery can very easily become slow, costly and cumbersome.

Noble Lords will recall that we have already considered appeals in Committee. Currently under the Bill, any decision by Ofcom other than a price-control decision is subject to judicial review. In our view, this represents an improvement on the current position under the Postal Services Act, where the grounds of appeal are limited because they are set out in the Act. As a result they do not benefit from recent developments in jurisprudence on judicial review. It is well established that a decision based on a material factual error can be challenged by means of a judicial review; for example, where a public authority has relied on something irrelevant or has disregarded something which was relevant to its own decision. As has also been said before, the High Court has the experience and is well versed in balancing all of the factors that Ofcom must consider before making regulatory decisions. It is the right tribunal to hear appeals on regulatory decisions. There is no need in our strong view to create an entirely new one. Where necessary, the High Court is able to hear cases very quickly on an expedited basis and, given the public importance of issues relating to the universal service, we would hope that such cases would indeed be heard quickly.

Requiring more regulations to determine a new appeal body and new rules of procedure is simply unnecessary and would add to regulatory uncertainty. Furthermore, the significant additional cost and resource requirements associated with the establishment of such a body would be disproportionate when compared with Ofcom’s other sectors of responsibility. The sole exception to this general principle is decisions relating to price controls where the detailed, complex and specialised matters involved in such regulatory decisions make them less appropriate for judicial review. This is why we have provided for a specific appeal of such matters to the Competition Commission which is better placed to undertake the complex economic assessment required in such cases. I would also like to reassure the noble Lord that, before making any regulatory decisions, Ofcom must consult and consider every representation made. They will only impose regulatory conditions where necessary or appropriate to meet specific purposes.

In the light of the explanation and assurances I have provided—and knowing that the noble Lord takes a practical and common-sense approach when it comes to seeing these matters in proportion and not wishing to create machinery that becomes surplus to requirements and certainly expensive at a time when we are all trying to watch the pennies as well as the pounds—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be able to consider withdrawing his amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his carefully considered reply but he gives me an impossible task because he asks me to be practical and apply common sense. In effect, what he is saying is trust judicial review. It is there, it is available but I am not sure that the Secretary of State has carefully considered not only the existing system and now the thousands—I have to tell him, the thousands—of cases which are going to judicial review. If I may, between now and Third Reading, I will pass him a copy of the research paper from the other place on judicial review which shows the extent to which it has become the first resort of a whole range of new procedures.

The Secretary of State was, in effect, saying that it is either judicial review or that I am urging him to bring in a slow, costly and cumbersome system. Well, the amendment leaves the system up to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State is wise, we will have a simple, easy-to-understand and quick system of appeal, because there is nothing in this amendment that lays down the procedure that must be followed on appeal.

What I did—I hate to admit this—was look carefully at the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act. I have lifted this particular amendment out of the gangmasters legislation because it leaves to the Government the decision as to what system of appeal to bring in. I just thought that would be impossible to refuse. However, in view of what the Secretary of State has said, I shall have to go back to the drawing board and be a little more practical and apply a little more common sense, because I always follow carefully his steer. I do not think that he was saying that he would never agree to a system of appeal. I think that he was saying that he would never agree to a slow, costly and cumbersome system of appeal. Because I believe that often judicial review can be very slow, cost a great deal of money and often be exceedingly cumbersome, I must go away and think of a better procedure that I could put before him. I shall certainly do that but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 67 withdrawn.

Schedule 9 : Transitional provisions for Part 3

Amendment 68

Moved by

68: Schedule 9, page 77, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (3)

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 68, I shall speak also to Amendments 69 and 70 standing in the name of my noble friend the Secretary of State.

These amendments relate to the operation of a Royal Mail licence condition—namely, the price control condition. The current price control, which was originally intended to be replaced in March 2010, is being allowed to run on but needs an adjustment to continue to operate as intended beyond March 2011. These amendments are therefore necessary to ensure a smooth transition for Royal Mail with the minimum of delay between the current regulatory framework and the new regulatory regime that Ofcom will administer.

The price control includes a volume adjustment mechanism, which allows Royal Mail to recover additional revenue if volumes are lower than those forecast by Postcomm when the current price control was set. This is because Royal Mail’s profits are sensitive to the volume of mail that it delivers, because a large proportion of its costs are fixed. The adjuster compares volumes in the previous year with an index of forecast volumes calculated when the price control was set. Because mail volumes have fallen significantly in the past year or so, the impact of the adjustment on Royal Mail’s finances is significant. The licence currently contains no value for the index to enable the volume adjuster to continue to work beyond the financial year ending 31 March 2011. However, it is not expected that by that date Ofcom will have completed the market assessment, made the universal service order, completed its cost modelling and carried out such consultations as it considers necessary before it imposes a new price control. Assuming no other competing pieces of work need to be undertaken, Ofcom currently estimates that it will be able to put a new price control regime in place in January 2012. Clearly, to ensure stability and certainty for Royal Mail and the postal services market, the existing price control needs to continue until the new one can be put in place, and that assurance needs to be given as speedily as possible.

The Government consider that Ofcom’s principal practical task in this regard should be the work required to build a transparent cost model and compete the market assessment. Revising the existing price control will be a very significant resource drain, and would lead to unacceptable delays in establishing a new regulatory regime. Postcomm is unable to effect the necessary change to the condition under the procedures in the Postal Services Act 2000 before Part 3 is likely to come into force.

The provisions of the current price control will roll forward for the necessary extra year without the need for regulatory action, but there is one vital exception to this. Paragraph 14 of condition 21 of the Royal Mail’s licence currently includes a volumes forecast index, covering formula years minus one to four. This enables the volume adjuster to function until 31 March 2011, but no further. The volume adjuster is of great importance, as it allows Royal Mail’s revenues to be adjusted to take account of the continuing decline in mail volumes, which has been greater than Postcomm forecast when the current price control was imposed.

Our amendments seek to give the Secretary of State power to make an order extending that adjuster on the same basis to cover a formula year 5, thus allowing the adjuster to continue beyond 31 March 2011. The order made by the Secretary of State may adopt “a forecast figure” that Postcomm has produced using the same methods that it has,

“used … to determine the forecast figure for the index years”

currently set out in the licence. The Government intend to make an order as soon as possible, using Postcomm’s figure—which, for the avoidance of doubt, is 102.46. Before making the order, the Secretary of State will,

“consult the universal service provider and such other persons as”,

he “considers appropriate” for a period of 21 days, and “consider any representations” that might be received. We have already discussed this proposal informally with a number of stakeholders, including Royal Mail, the Mail Competition Forum, the Mail Users’ Association and the National Consumer Council. Given their feedback, we believe that this proposal will be entirely uncontroversial.

It is anticipated that the resulting order will be sufficient to enable the current price control to be rolled forward until Ofcom has conducted its full market assessment and is ready to set a new price control reflecting the new regime. It will give Royal Mail and the postal services market stability and certainty through the transition period, without distracting Ofcom from the vital work of putting the new regime in place as quickly as possible. I hope that I have provided a clear description of this group of government amendments, which are important in order to ensure a smooth transition with minimal delay between the current regulatory framework and the new regulatory regime that Ofcom will administer.

Amendment 68 agreed.

Amendments 69 and 70

Moved by

69: Schedule 9, page 77, line 42, at end insert—

“Power to extend operation of time-limited licence condition(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State—

(a) that a licence condition applicable before the appointed day to the universal service provider depends for its continuing operation on forecast figures indicating the volume of business in future periods (“index years”) set out in the condition, and(b) that the index years and forecast figures set out in the condition do not extend beyond the index year ending 31st March 2010,the Secretary of State may by order amend that condition so as to specify a forecast figure for the index year ending 31st March 2011.(2) The power of the Secretary of State is limited to inserting a forecast figure produced by applying the same methods as were used by the Postal Services Commission to determine the forecast figure for the index years presently set out in the condition.

(3) If it appears to the Secretary of State that the Postal Services Commission has produced, using those methods, a forecast figure for the index year ending 31st March 2011, the Secretary of State may adopt the Commission’s figure and need not repeat, or examine the basis of, the work done by the Commission in producing that figure.

(4) Before making an order under this paragraph the Secretary of State must—

(a) consult the universal service provider and such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and(b) consider any representations made before the end of the consultation period.The consultation period, in relation to a person, is the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which that person is consulted.(5) The requirements of sub-paragraph (4) may be met by consultation and consideration before the passing of this Act.

(6) If an order under this paragraph is made before the appointed day, the reference in paragraph 4(2) to the licence conditions applicable immediately before that day is to be read accordingly as a reference to the conditions as amended by the order.”

70: Schedule 9, page 78, line 27, at end insert—

“References to universal service providerReferences in this Schedule to the universal service provider, in relation to periods before the appointed day, are to the operator whose identity is for the time being notified to the European Commission as being the provider of a universal postal service in the United Kingdom.”

Amendments 69 and 70 agreed.

Schedule 10 : Minor and consequential amendments and repeals

Amendments 71 to 90 not moved.

Clause 61 : Short title, commencement and extent

Amendments 91 and 92 not moved.

House adjourned at 9.23 pm.