HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc607-10

3.15 p.m.

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, in view of discussions with the Post Office, they will state the number of letters handled during the Christmas period for 1972, 1973 and 1974 respectively, and what proportion of these it is estimated were greeting cards; and what was the value of the relevant postage stamps sold in each year.

My Lords, the Post Office Report and Accounts show that during the 3-week Christmas period in 1972 some 904 million letters were posted. That figure fell by about 5 per cent. in 1973, when mail circulation was disrupted by an industrial dispute on the railways, but rose again in 1974 by 3 per cent. The Post Office cannot tell how many of these letters were greetings cards. Average revenue per working day from the sales of postage stamps during the month of December was £1.16 million in 1972; £1.21 million in 1973 and £1.45 million in 1974.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for the figure for 1972, may I say it would be helpful—as I am sure he will realise—if he could confirm that the figure for 1973 was 781 million, and for 1974, 806 million. It is easier than having a percentage figure. My noble friend has told us that the Post Office are not able to estimate what proportion of these Christmas letters were Christmas cards, so perhaps I may ask him something else. If it is not making it too difficult for my noble friend, because I know he has to accept the information he is given, is he aware that, really and truly, I do not believe that information which he has given to be true? Does he recall that on 14th October in this House, he said that 40 million additional Christmas cards would have to be sent if the postage costs were to be reduced by and 350 million additional items would have to be added if the cost were reduced by ½p? If the Post Office is unable to estimate, as he has told me now, how can they make those original statements?

My Lords, in answer to the first part of the question, my arithmetic does not enable me to work out the percentages, but no doubt my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry is accurate. However, I will check. As to the second part of her question, the noble Baroness is under a misapprehension. I was talking about the number of additional units of postage required to compensate for the reduction in postal rates. Whether those additional items are Christmas cards or something else is immaterial; it still requires that additional number of letters posted to recoup the losses caused by the reduction in postage rates.

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has with him a copy of Hansardof 14th October, but I think he will find that he stated categorically that it was 40 million Christmas cards.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. That was true when I said it, and it is true now. It is equally true to say that if 40 million calendars extra were posted it would have given the necessary increase in revenue. So far as the Post Office is concerned, there is no difference between a greetings card or any other item of communication.

My Lords, has the noble Lord the Minister taken into account all the Christmas stamps sold to collectors which do not go through the franking system?

No, my Lords. I was taking into account the number of letters sorted and posted.

My Lords, does my noble friend realise —andI think he does—the great concern this attitude on the part of a large nationalised corporation is causing to many individual people? Does he realise that it seems to us quite impossible for any individuals, even in this House, to get an answer from a public body if it does not wish to give it? Does he not think some help might be given on this matter?

My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Baroness, in all kindness and friendliness, I should have thought per head of the population in this House she gets more information than anyone else. As to what I said on the 14th October this year, according to the Official Report I said there were 300 million extra items.

Forty million Christmas cards.

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will read on, she will see that we shall require 300 million extra items posted before even the revenue was maintained …".—[Official Report; 14/10/75;col. 768.] "Extra items" will include anything.

My Lords, I am sorry to seem rude about this, but further down does it not say, "40 million Christmas cards"?

My Lords, as I have said, if the noble Baroness will read on, she will see that I referred to 300 million extra items, which included Christmas cards.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is extremely probable if statistics were available that it would be shown that a very high proportion of the Christmas card sales is sent by commercial firms? Would the noble Lord agree with me that the growing practice of commercial firms using Christmas cards as a form of advertisement is deplorable, and that the increase of postage in this respect will produce a very beneficial result?

My Lords, I am not sure that I do agree.

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that a very high proportion of Christmas cards are sent to help very deserving charities?

Yes, my Lords, I do agree, and I was always taught that charity should be something which comes out of one's own pocket, and not out of the Post Office account.

My Lords, will my noble friend try to arrange with the chairman of the Post Office Board that a suitable Christmas card is sent to the noble Baroness from the Post Office Board?

My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's statement that the Post Office must believe something, is the inference to be drawn from the Answer today that the Post Office believes that a Christmas card should be a calendar, or that there should be no difference between them? Is that really justified?

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Baroness is being invited to agree with that at all. I say further to my noble friend that her argument about the revenue that will be received if the rate of postage is reduced is not invalidated at all, whether you call an item a Christmas card or otherwise. An item happens to include a Christmas card. Her argument, which she has put so often, still stands.