Clause 15

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 19th April 2007.

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Reference of matters to the Postal Services Commission

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Employment Relations & Postal Services)

This discussion is virtually identical in point of principle to that on clause 14.

Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Shadow Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, Trade & Industry, Shadow Secretary of State, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I wish to raise an issue similar to that which I raised on the previous clause, but there is a slightly broader set of questions here. With the disappearance of Postwatch, can the Minister clarify which of its responsibilities the National Consumer Council will pick up and which will be left to be picked up by Postcomm? He will be conscious that Postwatch has effectively acted as the consumer arm of Postcomm and that the situation has been a little different from the energy utility arrangements.

In that context, we are particularly concerned by earlier discussions in the Committee. The Minister will know that 90 per cent. of Royal Mail’s activity is related to businesses rather than domestic consumers, and there is a new consultation on a proposal by Royal Mail to change its pricing to a zonal basis. Yet in our earlier discussions there seemed to be a fair amount of ambiguity about how much the National Consumer Council’s remit would include the importance of focusing on business. It could, but it was clear that that played a secondary role to that of the domestic consumer in the view of many Government Members. A critical issue for business arises: where on earth will that responsibility lie? Postcomm focuses on the licence criteria, which do not capture any notion of consumer benefit or disadvantage.

As in the earlier clause, Postcomm will need to set up complaints standards. Royal Mail has a modest complaints process, and in the past everyone has relied on Postwatch to add a complaints arm. Postcomm will need to develop and approve a proper complaints system. How does the Minister envisage that process going forward so that we do not have a hideous gap in the transition from one system to the other?

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Employment Relations & Postal Services) 9:15 am, 19th April 2007

The hon. Lady raises several fair points. To a certain extent, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford raised the principle of working out the details of complaints handling procedures, responsibility, accountability and communications, and that is work in progress. I will be able to say a little more on that when we deal with clause 16 stand part.

I am grateful that the hon. Member for Richmond Park told me informally outside Committee that she was going to raise the question of complaints—business complaints in particular. I know that we are going to have another informal discussion in the interval today to ensure that we can give a more substantive answer when we get to the part of the Bill that deals with complaints handling and redress procedures. I hope that we can deal with that matter in due course.

The new council will provide consumer advocacy and support for vulnerable consumers and businesses as well as consumers generally. It will be a matter for the new redress schemes to resolve the complaints, which we will be coming to between clauses 47 and 52.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.