HL Deb 24 April 1929 vol 74 cc167-72

THE EARL OF DENBIGH had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government what progress is being made with regard to Postal Cash on Delivery, and whether fees and charges can be still further lowered in order to encourage a more extensive use of the system, and also to ask why steps are not taken to make the C.O.D. system more widely known to the public; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have on two or three previous occasions drawn the attention of this House to the desirability of encouraging the system of Cash on Delivery, popularly known as C.O.D. At the beginning, of course, there was a great deal of opposition on the part of traders—opposition of a very incomprehensible nature. The big stores seemed to object because they thought it would put the small traders more on a level with them, and the small traders objected because they thought it would divert business to the big advertising stores. However, that opposition seemed to die down a bit, and then the Post Office took courage over the matter and decided to follow the example of most other civilised countries and institute a system of C.O.D. It began in a tentative way, which was more or less experimental, but gave it to be understood that if the system proved a success it would be extended. So matters have gone on, and I am anxious to know exactly what progress is being made, how many parcels have been sent during the past year, if possible, and also what is being done with a view to encouraging the system.

One thing that we are particularly anxious about is that there should be more advertisement of it. I think it is a very simple axiom, in any class of business, that the first thing you have to do when starting anything new is to advertise it. For some extraordinary reason, which I am not able to fathom, the Post Office say that it is not for them to advertise any methods which they have, or it is not for them to advise the British public how it ought to conduct its business or to do its shopping. If they want to make this system popular and to increase their turnover and reduce the cost—the only way in which you can reduce the cost is by increasing the turnover—you have to make it popular and make people understand what it is all about. There is no doubt an enormous amount of ignorance with regard to the convenience attaching to this system of shopping, and what we want the Post Office to do is, for instance, something in the way of franking letters "Shop by C.O.D." That would induce people to make inquiry, such as we saw happen a few years ago, when the walls were plastered with notices telling people to join the Mustard Club. Everybody thereupon set to work to ascertain what was the Mustard Club.

With regard to the argument that it is not for the Post Office to give advice or to advertise its own wares, I have here a document which I have no doubt others of your Lordships have also received, and which was probably sent in with the quarterly telephone bill, which latter, no doubt, recorded the large number of wrong numbers that were given by the young ladies of the telephone service. We get these large bills, and this year we receive with them yellow slips saying, "Make your telephone your telegraph office; send your telegrams by telephone." In other words, they are doing everything they can to encourage people to use the telephone more. To say that it is not for them to advertise their own wares in order to bring home to the people the various conveniences which are at their disposal, seems to me to be an argument which could only come from an official mind, and not one which could possibly emanate from any real business house. I cannot imagine any private business going to the expense of starting some new system, and then shying at the expense or trouble of doing a little advertising, because they think it is not for them to advise people whether they should make use of the system or not. Therefore I particularly wish to ask whether the Post Office will reconsider their determination not to advertise their own conveniences.

Again, we wish them to do something in the way of reducing the fees, which at the present moment are too high. After a considerable struggle we obtained the extension of the system to letters. First of all it was only for parcels, and then we made a great point of asking that it might be extended to the letter post. It was eventually extended to the letter post, but there was what seems to us the rather unnecessary provision attached to it that every letter should be registered. Why should it be registered? Why cannot a letter be sent by C.O.D. and simply posted with a small posting fee, or a receipt be taken? Attaching the expense of registration to a letter or small light parcel going by a 1½d. stamp—some small article like a fountain pen, costing a few shillings—is practically taking away with the one hand what you have given with the other. The result is that the system is not being used as much as it ought to be, and on all sides we hear complaints that the system would be far more utilised if the charges for small parcels and light articles were reduced. After all, nobody connected with this movement has any personal advantage to gain. We are simply doing it in the public interest, and we are strong believers that anything which brings buyers and sellers together is good for business and trade.

Nowadays we use so much machinery for electric light and for motor cars that it is an enormous convenience to be able to get spare parts. Under this system, by sending a telegram to the manufacturers a person living in an out-of-the-way district can get any spare part that he wants by return of post, he can pick it up at any particular place, and he can pay for it there and then. He may not be able to send cash for the article, because he may not know the price, and if he were not known to the manufacturer the latter might refuse to send the article on credit. That is one of the great features of this system and where the C.O.D. is most used—namely, in this question of spare parts. There are many other ways in which it could be extended: for instance, in the matter of agricultural produce and poultry, and in the matter of the produce of small holdings. Also it might be extended and used for the products of our various village industries, and the excellent organisation of Women's Insti- tutes. These latter are extending ail over the country, and everywhere they are teaching the members to make use of their hands and to make goods for themselves and for sale. I have seen excellent scarves and gloves made by these people, and what they want is a market. If they could establish some sort of connection and send their goods out by C.O.D., I think there would be considerable extension.

Further, if only traders would realise that the C.O.D. system would save them an enormous amount of money by their not incurring bad debts, I am sure it would be more widely used. There is much more difficulty in getting small bills paid than there is in getting large bills paid. People will not take the trouble to write cheques for small bills, and they let them accumulate. They have Bills of 5s. or 10s., and they say, "Oh, I will pay that presently," and they put them on one side. Meanwhile the unfortunate trader, who perhaps has a large sum out in small bills, has to stand out of his money, and has very little redress. If, however, he were able to encourage his customers to order these goods by C.O.D., and the fee were a small one, I am sure the system would be very largely used. Germany is far ahead of us in this matter. The year before the War there were something like 70,000,000 parcels sent, of an average value of about £1, so that goods of the value of £70,000,000 were sent through the post by the C.O.D. system. I have figures also from America, supplied by the office of the Postmaster-General in Washington. In the year ending June 30, 1928, there were 49,000,000 parcels sent and the fees received amounted to 6,207,000 dollars. I would like to hear something from the Government with regard to what is being done in this matter, and I particularly hope that we may get a reduction in the charges, and also an extension in the weight which can be carried. If the facilities were increased, I am perfectly certain that the number of parcels carried would be very largely increased, because in any business it is always found that when you increase the turnover you reduce the costs.


My Lords, the noble Earl, as he says, has on more than one occasion asked Questions on this subject in your Lordships' House. It is a subject about which he is very keen. He was really, I think, partly responsible for its inception by the Post Office. I see that the last occasion on which I answered him was about two years ago, and since then the system, instead of being confined only to the parcel post, was extended about a year ago to parcels sent by registered letter post, and, in collaboration with the railway companies, to consignments sent by railway. The arrangements for sending Cash on Delivery packets by letter post are identical with those in force for parcels, except that, when the letter post is used, the packets must be registered. The limit of value in each case is £40 for one packet or parcel. It is also possible to send parcels by railway, by a system which is in force, which is also considered to be of great use to the public. As regards registration, which was the subject of complaint by my noble friend, of course it is more expensive than sending with an ordinary three-halfpenny stamp, but, on the other hand, it is cheaper than sending by parcel post, where the minimum charge is 6d. You have the advantage of additional security and speed afforded by the use of the registered post. Under the railway system, the sender has practically no restriction on the weight of his consignment, and he is also able to take advantage of the specially favourable rates quoted by the railway companies for certain commodities.

As regards the growth of the service, the number of packets of all kinds posted during the calendar year 1928 was, in round figures, 1,860,000, as compared with 1,520,000 in the previous year. During the last three months of 1928 the consignments despatched under the arrangement made with the railway companies were 12,346. My noble friend asked about the possibility of reducing the fees, but I am afraid that at the present moment my right hon. friend the Postmaster-General does not see his way to do that. The revenue from the service just covers the cost, and there is at present no margin to admit of any reduction of the fees. The financial position, however, is kept under review, and the question of reducing the fees will be considered whenever the circumstances warrant this step.

As regards advertisements, my noble friend pressed that point two years ago, but I am afraid I cannot give him any more encouragement on the present occasion than I could then. The C.O.D. service is advertised through the usual channels for bringing Post Office services before the notice of the public. It is advertised by the railway companies, who have exhibited posters at their stations. The Postmaster-General is still of opinion that it would not be right for the Post Office to urge the public to use the C.O.D. service in preference to other forms of purchase and remittance. I notice that my noble friend is very anxious about this matter of advertisements, and I will certainly take the opportunity of conveying to the Postmaster-General all that the noble Earl has said on the subject. I am sure it will be given favourable consideration, because, though I will not say that the Post Office are quite as keen about the C.O.D. service as the noble Earl, they have always given it very favourable consideration.


My Lords, I should like to convey my thanks to the noble Earl, and I was glad to hear that he will represent to the Postmaster-General what I said on the question of advertisements. He says the Postmaster-General does not consider it right to push the C.O.D. service by advertisement. Does he think it would be a sort of crime then to advertise his own goods? I do not understand that expression that it would not be right. It seems a curious idea. If it is not right to do that, why is it right to advertise the telephone and the telegraph?