HL Deb 17 October 1973 vol 345 cc286-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have noted that continual increases in postal charges are causing a serious decline in the time-honoured custom of exchanging Christmas greetings by post; and whether they have any proposals to remedy this unhappy state of affairs.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government realise that increases in postage may have had some effect on the sending of Christmas greetings, but postage is only one element in the total costs involved. The rate appropriate for Christmas cards, like other postal tariffs, has been kept to the minimum necessary to avoid piling up unmanageable postal losses in the future.


My Lords, when the Minister said at the beginning of his Answer "may have", surely there is statistical proof that there has recently been a decline in the Christmas mail? Is it not worth while considering a concessionary rate which, even if it did not result in a profit for the Post Office, might bring a great deal of happiness at Christmas time to a number of people, some of whom are rather lonely?


My Lords, every time the second-class post rate—that is the one normally used for Christmas cards—has gone up there has been a decline straight away, but this has normally been made up after a while. As to whether there should be a concessionary rate or not, this is a matter for the commercial judgment of the Post Office.


My Lords, can the Minister say that he will make representations to the Post Office Corporation that if they take the cash they should deliver the goods, unlike last Christmas, when they failed dismally?


My Lords, I know that the Post Office is determined to avoid a repetition of what happened last year.


But, my Lords, is the Minister not aware that on this labour-intensive side of the Post Office, so far as deliveries are concerned, it is practically impossible for it to make a profit or even to cover its working expenses? Is it not time that more of the branches of communication were brought within the financial obligations of the Post Office in order that these charges, and the whole aspect of communications, can be more reasonably dealt with?


My Lords, that may well be a point of view, but the present state of the law under the Post Office Act, which was not an Act of this Administration, is that the Post Office is a commercial organisation.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that a serious decline in this time-honoured custom will adversely affect the income of many deserving national charities; and if this should prove to be so, would he seriously consider the issue of a special series of charity stamps in an effort to redress the balance?


My Lords, this is primarily a matter for the Post Office, but I am bound to say that concessions for particular classes of people have always proved difficult to justify in principle and to operate in practice.


My Lords, would my noble friend not consider a custom which has now become almost regulatory overseas; that is to say, the provision of a post box at the entrance to a house so that delivery can be made much more quickly, instead of the postman having to go up a small garden and deliver the mail into the house? This is widely done in the whole of North America, and enormously speeds up delivery and therefore reduces the cost to the public.


My Lords, that is an extremely interesting suggestion but I should find it very hard to relate it to the Question on the Order Paper.