Postal services bill ‘lost in the post’

By Alex Stevenson

The government remains cagey on the whereabouts of the postal services bill, which may not now be debated in the Commons before the summer recess.

It has attracted massive opposition from Labour backbenchers angered by business secretary Lord Mandelson’s determination to sell a minority stake in the Royal Mail to a foreign postal services provider like Dutch firm TNT.

Earlier today leader of the House Harriet Harman announced the government’s business for the two weeks ahead, with the postal services bill nowhere to be seen.

Shadow leader of the House Alan Duncan warned Ms Harman “there are only 16 sitting days left before the summer recess” and pointed out four weeks had passed since its first reading.

He asked: “Is the bill going to be delivered from the upper House or has it-as I heard hon. members saying just a few seconds ago-been permanently lost in the post?”

Ms Harman explained that the government had had to make space for the parliamentary standards bill, which will take up three days next week.

“I think it is important, with a crisis of public confidence in the House, to bring forward this measure and address it quickly,” she said.

Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner asked Ms Harman whether the absence of the bill was explained by her desire to listen to backbenchers.

“Is that because ministers have found the strength, having listened to scores, indeed hundreds, of Labour MPs, to ensure that the part-privatisation of Royal Mail does not go ahead? If that is the order of the day, well done!” he said.

Ms Harman did not answer his comments directly. The prime minister’s spokesman, speaking later in the afternoon, said: “The timing of the second reading is really a matter for business managers.”

Today’s exchanges will underline growing suspicions the bill has been quietly abandoned by the government, despite having completed all its stages in the Lords.