Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 28 of Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011

1. The Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 is amended in section 28(1) by the substitution of “The tariffs for each postal service or part of a postal service provided by that postal service provider in the provision of a universal postal service shall comply with the following requirements:” for “The tariffs for each postal service or part of a postal service provided by a universal postal service provider in the provision of a universal postal service shall comply with the following requirements:”.”.

I thank the Minister for his attendance. This amendment was tabled by us on Committee Stage and is designed to ensure that EU postal tariff principles apply to all postal services provided by all service providers. The main purpose of the amendment is that tariffs are affordable, non-discriminatory, transparent and related to costs. It is a somewhat technical amendment that seeks to provide that Irish postal service providers are subject to EU postal tariffs and are transparent and related to the costs of providing the service. They should not discriminate by service and they should be set in a manner that protects consumer interests. I believe we would all value the protection of consumers. The purpose of this Bill, in the first instance, is to ensure An Post, the postal delivery system in Ireland, is protected. I recognise and accept the necessity for that, but we have a responsibility, in so far as we can, to protect the interest of the consumer. The purpose of the Bill is to repeal specific powers in the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011. This amendment is simply a corollary to that change and seeks to ensure the principles of competition and fair pricing are applied across the board.

I propose to take amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together. As outlined by my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne on Committee Stage, section 28(1) of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 sets out the principles with which the universal postal service provider’s tariffs must comply. These principles are enshrined in Article 12 of EU Directive No. 97/67/EC as amended by EU Directive 2008/6/EC, and provide that the tariffs must be, inter alia, affordable and cost oriented. These directives are transposed into Irish law by the 2011 Act.

Article 12 of the directive provides that member states shall ensure that the tariffs for each of the services forming part of the universal service obligation comply with the tariff principles. The requirements are clearly intended to apply only to the universal postal service, and it was on this basis that the 2011 Act was drafted.

It appears that the intent of the proposed amendment to section 28(1) is to widen the scope of the tariff principles beyond the universal postal service. It had been argued on Committee Stage that the extension of the regulatory measures in this manner is not appropriate and would require detailed consideration as well as consultation with affected stakeholders. The position remains unchanged.

Regulatory measures are generally introduced to address issues arising in a particular market and, in line with the principle of proportionality, should only be introduced where necessary. There has been no signal from the market of the need for regulatory measures in terms of tariffs outside of the universal postal service. In the non-universal service obligation areas such as parcels and publicity post, PostAim and Express Post, there is competition in the form of DHL, FedEx, Nightline, Fastway, CityPOST, Lettershop and the Leaflet Company, to name a few.

With regard to the amendment proposed by Deputy Dooley, I am advised by the Office of the Attorney General that the amendment does not have any material impact as the provision still clearly only applies to the universal postal service. The proposed wording would dilute the clarity of the provision and could have unintended consequences were it to be accepted. The Office of the Attorney General advises that as the amendment has no effect it should not be accepted. I accept the point being made by the Deputy but the amendment, as worded, does not add any clarity to the Bill. I cannot accept the amendment.

I wish to inform Deputy Stanley that we are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 and 2. We are discussing amendment No. 1, which was proposed by Deputy Dooley.

I note the Minister's point that from his perspective there has been no apparent call for this amendment by the industry. Perhaps I could suggest a compromise. It is not my intention to force a division on this amendment but could I ask that there would be some level of engagement with the industry through the regulator or the Department, particularly with some of the major stakeholders with a view to understanding some of their concerns? Needless to say, I was not minded to table this amendment just on my own behalf. It is clear, and I would be happy to share with the Minister some of the conversations I have had with at least one stakeholder who is concerned about this. They are large players in this sector. I would be happy not to press the amendment on the basis the Minister would commit to some level of engagement. It may not result in direct legislative change, but I ask that he would engage.

I wish to speak in support of the amendment. On one reading of the Bill, I take it to read that the legislation would lead to a liberalisation or to an increase of unfair competition from the private sector, a bit like what has happened with the bus services. The intention of the Bill, when one drills into it and sees how it will affect the existing legislation, will be to extend the same regime to other operators in the postal market such as the companies involved in bulk postal services. Could this be clarified? On those grounds, if that appears to be the case, and from my cross-referencing with previous legislation that is my take on it, we would be happy to support the amendment.

I would be quite happy to discuss this with my officials. As Deputies know, I cannot direct ComReg in this matter, but the committee itself could put that request in to ComReg. We would be quite willing and happy to facilitate the Deputy in any way we can.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, line 19, to delete “any consequences of the repeal” and substitute “any consequences, including for terminal dues, of the repeal”.

This is an alternative to the amendments tabled by Deputies Dooley and Ryan on Committee Stage. My officials have looked at the matter again and we have come up with a composite wording and I hope that Deputy Dooley can accept this with regard to the principle of terminal dues.

For clarity, I am happy with the wording that has been arrived at and I am happy to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.
Debate adjourned.