17.1 This Directive, known as "the Framework Directive", sets out the 'horizontal' provisions, for the new telecoms regulatory package, of which this Directive and three others on which we report form part. These provisions include the roles of National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) and the procedures to be followed to ensure the consistent application of the new framework throughout the Community. We cleared the draft on 28 March 2001, before the Council reached a Common Position on it.
17.2 On 13 February 2002 we considered a letter from the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr Douglas Alexander) in which he informed us of the outcome of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament on key elements of the telecoms regulatory package. He said that a Second Reading Agreement had been reached shortly before Christmas 2001. No texts were available but, when they had been finalised, Explanatory Memoranda would be submitted on them "as normal".
17.3 In an Explanatory Memorandum dated 19 March, the Minister told us that the Directive was adopted on 14 February 2002. He summarised the amendments to the Common Position that were agreed as part of the final deal and said that the Government fully supported the Agreement, believing that the final version represented a very good outcome for the UK. He gave some detailed reasons why this was the case.
17.4 He made no reference to the fact that the "final deal" had not been submitted for scrutiny before adoption, but said that it was expected to come into force "imminently".
17.5 The proposed Access, Authorisation and Universal Service Directives also, according to the Minister, formed part of the same Second Reading Agreement. The comments we made on the Framework Directive applied equally to those Directives. We said that amended texts, following the European Parliament's Second Reading, have always been subject to scrutiny and a scrutiny reserve should have been placed on the proposals. The fact that there was a Second Reading Agreement on them in no way removed that obligation. We assumed that the Minister recognised this when he undertook, in his letter of 7 February 2002, to submit Explanatory Memoranda on the new texts when they had been finalised.
17.6 We therefore asked the Minister to appear before us to explain the circumstances in which these important proposals were adopted without further parliamentary scrutiny after substantial changes had been made to the texts which we scrutinised earlier. An evidence session has been arranged for 15 May.