HC Deb 21 November 1968 vol 773 cc1506-13
5. Mr. Marten

asked the Postmaster-General what further proposals he has for the improvement of the postal services.

9. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Postmaster-General what instructions have been given to his officers as to expediting the delivery of second-class mail.

14. Mr. Jopling

asked the Postmaster-General what further steps he intends to take to prevent letters posted under the 4d. second-class mail from being deliberately delayed.

21. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Postmaster-General whether all instructions issued to postmasters and sub-postmasters, which would have had the effect of deliberately delaying the delivery of second-class mail, have now been rescinded.

Mr. Stonehouse

I would refer right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to my speeches in the debates on 4th November.—[Vol. 772, c. 558–650.]

Mr. Marten

I thank the Minister for that illuminating reply. Will he give an assurance on a more detailed question, namely, that at the peak of the Christmas mail rush all 5d. letters will get first-class treatment, as they are supposed to now?

Mr. Stonehouse

Yes. As is usual at this time of year, there is a tremendous rush of work in the Post Office and it would be impossible for us to give the same sort of service that we want to give throughout the rest of the year. I am sure that the House will appreciate this. This is the situation that the Post Office has had to face each year. We shall continue to give priority to first-class mail.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Notwithstanding the fact that in the debate to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred he talked about reversing some of his predecessor's decisions, is he not aware that within the London area second-class mail is, in many cases, still taking three days from posting to delivery? Will he remedy that?

Mr. Stonehouse

There is another Question on the Paper relating to the Metropolis. I should prefer to deal with the detailed statistics in my reply to that Question.

Mr. Davidson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have seen with my own eyes instructions issued to postmasters and sub-postmasters in certain areas saying that local second-class mail was to be sent to the main sorting centre and held for 24 hours before being redistributed? Can he give an assurance that where those instructions were issued they have been withdrawn and rescinded?

Mr. Stonehouse

As I have told the House on past occasions, the whole operation of the two-tier has been under continuous review. I announced that fact a long time ago. The instructions to which he referred all relate to the scheduling of second-class mail, which obviously cannot be given the same priority as first-class mail. There is no question of any unnecessary delay of second-class mail.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Can the Minister ensure that unsealed envelopes bearing 5d. stamps will be treated as first-class mail?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am ensuring that all mail, unsealed or sealed, receives the correct treatment according to the value of the stamp on it. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has a specific point in mind. He has raised this with me informally and I am pursuing it.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite its continuous review, the degree of dissatisfaction with the two-tier system, as measured by the Gallup Poll, has risen from 78 per cent. in September to 84 per cent. now? Is he aware that this is the nearest approach to national unity we have had on any subject since the war? Will he comment on it?

Mr. Stonehouse

Gallup poll results depend on the form of the question. From our own observations—and we can claim to be very close to the public—we are satisfied that the majority of the public now appreciate the advantages of the two-tier system.

13. Mr. Ridley

asked the Postmaster-General what proportion of mail with 5d. stamps is currently being delivered the day following its postage.

23. Mr. Tilney

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has a record yet of the percentage of 5d. postal packets which are not delivered the following day in Great Britain.

32. Captain W. Elliot

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to ensure that the 5d. post will meet the conditions relating to first-class mail; and what are his plans for compensation to senders of first-class mail who suffer loss as a result of it not meeting those conditions.

33. Mr. Bryan

asked the Postmaster-General what proportion of second-class mail now enjoys first-class treatment.

Mr. Stonehouse

Ninety-four per cent. of 5d. letters are delivered by the day after posting and of this percentage some are delivered the same day. Priority is given to first-class mail at every stage, and second-class letters are handled separately; but about 31 per cent. are delivered by the day after posting.

Mr. Ridley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 94 per cent. is nothing like enough? Is he aware that if he charges 25 per cent. more than for the other rate he must give a 100 per cent. service, otherwise people will not use it?

Mr. Stonehouse

If the hon. Gentleman had attended the debates on this subject he would have heard that it is absolutely impossible to give a 100 per cent. service, because many envelopes have to be delivered across country and it would be physically impossible to have a delivery the next day. Ninety-five percent., which is the target that we aim for, is the maximum that could be achieved, and to achieve 94 per cent. only a few weeks after the beginning of two-tier is a remarkable achievement.

Mr. Tilney

But since there is always a danger of one's letter being within the 6 per cent. which is not delivered the next day, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what the business community wants is a stamp much cheaper than Railex which will guarantee delivery within 24 hours from posting?

Mr. Stonehouse

The majority of firms appreciate the excellent service which we give. To have achieved a 94 per cent. delivery on the next day—indeed, 99 per cent. is delivered within just two or three days—is again a very good service which no other country in the world can match.

Captain Elliot

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that I did not hear him answer the second part of my Question, dealing with compensation? Does this mean that he is not going to give it? Would he not agree that if a private firm charging for a service failed to give it without compensation, it would be out of business in a week?

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the conditions which we lay down, and in my answer I made it clear that we met the conditions which we laid down. Therefore, the second part of his Question did not arise.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the evidence to the Select Committee, we were told that 80 per cent. of all mail received first-class treatment? Is he aware that the figures which he has given show that the percentage of all mail now getting first-class treatment must be much less and that, therefore, the general standard must be much lower than it was?

Mr. Stonehouse

That was the whole object of two-tier, to even out the peaks and ensure that the lower priority mail—it was the sender, the customer, who chose what was high priority and what was not—would be dealt with at non-peak hours. We are, of course, achieving the results for which we aimed.

Mr. Dobson

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the figure for delivery on the day after posting with 5d. stamps, which is the equivalent to the previous 4d. post, has improved since the introduction of two-tier by a substantial number, if not a very high percentage? Is not this in itself a justification for the two-tier service?

Mr. Stonehouse

A substantial number of envelopes are now being delivered in the first-class service, as a proportion of the mail put in the post, than before two-tier. If a customer puts a first-class priority on the mail, there is now a slightly better chance that it will be delivered the next day.

20. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Postmaster-General how many representations he has received about the new two-tier postal service.

22. Mr. David Steel

asked the Postmaster-General how many representations he has received via Members of Parliament from their constituents about the two-tier postal system.

29. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Postmaster-General how many letters of complaint concerning the new first and second-class postal services he has received from Members of Parliament.

Mr. Stonehouse

I have received 1,502 letters from Members of Parliament; most concern individual complaints by constituents. My Department has received some thousands from the public, but a precise figure is not available. There has been a marked decline in the number of complaints received during the past three weeks.

Mr. Davidson

What proportion of these representations could be classed as messages of congratulation? Second, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the two-tier service gives increased efficiency at decreased cost?

Mr. Stonehouse

Most of the representations which I have had raise individual complaints by constituents who are concerned about delay to particular correspondence. I am satisfied that the service will provide a more efficient method of dealing with the mail and also ensure that customers who wish high priority to be given to their mail will have it.

Mr. Steel

The reason for my Question is that I have had to send to the right hon. Gentleman more complaints in the few weeks since the introduction of the two-tier system than in the few years that I have been a Member of Parliament. Is this true of the House of Commons as a whole, and, if it is, does the right hon. Gentleman hope that that situation will soon end?

Mr. Stonehouse

As a result of the great publicity given to the new postal service, many more people have been examining their mail, and there have been a large number of complaints in the past few weeks as a result of that. But I am satisfied that the number of complaints is decreasing, and I do not think that hon. Members will have to deal with so many complaints in the future.

Dr. Gray

As a blow for style, will my right hon. Friend restore the 3d. postcard rate, since the postcard lends itself to brief and witty statement, as Bernard Shaw and other writers have shown?

Mr. Stonehouse

I will consider any intelligent proposal, but we must protect the income of the Post Office and ensure that we receive enough to meet our financial objective.

Mr. Montgomery

In view of the unpopularity of the two-tier system, does the right hon. Gentleman think it right for the Post Office to sell books of stamps which contain 5d. stamps to people who have no intention of ever using one?

Mr. Stonehouse

It is easy for a customer to buy 4d. stamps across the counter, and we sell books of stamps with only 4d. stamps in them.

25. Mr. Berry

asked the Postmaster-General whether he is satisfied with the working of the two-tier postal system in the London area; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stonehouse

Results so far are very good. In London 95 per cent. of the first-class mail is delivered by the day after posting and 96 per cent. of the second class by the day after that.

Mr. Berry

A fair proportion of the letters sent to the Postmaster-General came from me. As there has been delay in replying, am I to take it that there are problems still? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that a great many Londoners are having trouble with their mail, despite what he says, and are not satisfied? Will he look into the matter again?

Mr. Stonehouse

The standard of service is extremely good and most of our customers are delighted with it. The reason for delay in replying to points made is that every individual complaint made to me by a Member is subject to the fullest investigation.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman's Answer mean that, in respect of mail within London, where delivery of second-class mail takes place on the third day something has gone wrong? Is he prepared to investigate each individual case of that sort sent to him?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am prepared to investigate individual complaints which right hon. or hon. Members send to me, but, if there is delivery of second-class mail on the third day this is part of a mere 4 per cent. of the total amount of mail which is being dealt with, a very low proportion indeed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep the matter in perspective.

26. Mr. Berry

asked the Postmaster-General what percentage of the average post distributed daily in London from Monday to Friday was delivered at each post prior to the introduction of the two-tier system; and what the average percentage is now.

Mr. Stonehouse

Before 16th September, about 75 per cent. on the first delivery, 20 per cent. on the second delivery, and 5 per cent. on the third delivery. The estimated proportions are now 65 per cent., 30 per cent., and 5 per cent.

Mr. Berry

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the tremendous increase, from 20 to 30 per cent., at the second delivery of the day causes great inconvenience to business houses which rely on dealing with their post first thing in the morning? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this important aspect of the matter again?

Mr. Stonehouse

Business houses are concerned also about the time of completion of first delivery. By reducing by a small percentage the amount of mail going out on first delivery, we have been able to keep within our delivery objectives, which is very helpful to businesses.

Mr. Bryan

What is the scale of the reduction in the percentage of first delivery?

Mr. Sronehouse

I shall ascertain the precise figure and write to the hon. Gentleman.