HL Deb 21 March 1985 vol 461 cc642-5

3.3 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to check the deterioration in the service given by the Post Office in respect of the delivery of mail.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, the quality of the delivery service is a matter for the board of the Post Office. But the Government have expressed concern to the board about the continuing failure to meet delivery targets agreed by the Government. The Post Office is taking steps to improve performance, including changes recommended by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report published last September, and the Government are monitoring the position.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that moderately reassuring reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that first-class mail between points in central London nowadays sometimes takes two or three days for delivery, and that the incidence of wrong delivery of clearly-addressed mail is rising? If the Post Office Board is incapable of remedying this, will the Government consider further appointments?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in regard to the delivery rate in inner London, the Post Office quarterly statistics report indicated that for the quarter ending December 1984, 84.9 per cent. of first-class mail was delivered by the first working day after collection. Over the year 1984 the percentage was 85.2. The target is 90 per cent., so some slight increase has been shown in the last quarter. In regard to wrong deliveries, we have some problems about the inward sorting arrangements. These are being looked into by both the union and the Post Office Board.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, can the Minister say what is the difference between the delivery of first-class and that of second-class mail in terms of efficiency?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, for the year ending December 1984 the difference is exactly 4 per cent. in favour of an improvement in second-class mail.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, in regard to the mail to, from and within London, will my noble friend and his colleagues adopt a process somewhat more robust and adequate than mere monitoring?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am not sure that Her Majesty's Government wish to protest, but the Government's view with regard to the unsatisfactory state of the service as set down by the board of the Post Office has been made abundantly clear to the board on a number of occasions recently.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there will indeed be widespread sympathy with what the noble Lord. Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said about the post in London? But it must be said that in certain other parts of the country, particularly in Orkney, where I live, the deliveries are extraordinarily good. I think there is a great variation in this. Is the Minister aware that it seems to some of us that part of the trouble is that the Post Office is now overloaded with a miscellaneous collection of duties which deflect its mind from its primary business, which is the delivery of the mail as cheaply and as quickly as possible?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord implies in his question. Certainly the Post Office Board has introduced what I can best describe as sector activities, but the delivery of the mails receives its full and proper attention. In regard to price, it is interesting that the increase in first-class mail in April 1983 was the first since 1981. In fact, in real terms a first-class stamp is about 3 per cent. cheaper than it was four years ago.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that no single measure would give greater efficiency and more accuracy to the Post Office than the introduction of the universal post code? Can my noble friend tell us what plans the Post Office has for introducing that, and what progress is being made towards it?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the introduction of the universal post code has been delayed, as I and noble friends behind me have said on a number of occasions, due to the inability of the Post Office to agree with the unions with regard to the mechanisation of letter offices. There are still 17 yet to be mechanised. There has been a voluntary improvement of 5 per cent. in post code usage in the last 12 months.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord make it quite clear that he does not concede the inference contained in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter? Is it not true that since 1980 productivity in the delivery of letters, in terms of the number of letters delivered per hour, has increased by some 25 per cent. in the case of London and some 12½ per cent. in the case of the rest of the country? Is it not true that the efficiency in the delivery of mail would be greatly improved if the existing postal code was used on a much wider scale by those who use the postal services? Is it not true also that the profitability, in net terms, of the Post Office has now been running at 4 per cent. of turnover on average for the last three years?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, regarding the last supplementary asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, may I point out that he is quite correct in what he says in terms of postal business performance as compared with turnover. I am not able to take on board the series of figures that he introduced in his first supplementary question, but I suspect that he is probably right.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, my noble friend has said that the Post Office target was 90 per cent. However, will he not agree that that is not a sufficiently high target? Why do they not try for 100 per cent. because then they might achieve 95 per cent?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, whenever one decides to set targets in whatever sphere it is surely better to set a target that is (a) agreed by the operatives; and, (b) reasonably achievable. My noble friend will accept that a target of 100 per cent. would not be achievable.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, will the noble Lord say what reasons the Post Office Board has given to the Government for the deterioration of the service? His answer will be of great interest to the House.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I do not accept that there has been a deterioration in the service.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to look into the following matter which is a refinement of the question concerning mail delivery the following day or the day after? If on Week 1 all mail that should be delivered in a particular day is so delivered at an hour before the recipient has left home for the day, then that is very convenient. However, if on Week 2 the same mail is delivered four, three or two hours after the recipient has departed, then that is in effect delivering the mail a day later. Why therefore should someone one week receive one type of useful service and the following week a different type of service? I hope that the noble Lord heard what I have had to say and was not interrupted by the Chief Whip.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has asked me to look into a number of points which he raised in an interrogatory manner. I can assure him that the points that he made will be taken on board by the new and very vigorous efficiency audit team of inspectors that the Post Office has introduced in recent weeks.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there has been a great improvement in my postal district in recent months? Our great complaint is not the time taken in delivery, but the volume of mail.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. He is obviously a very popular man to have such a large and increasing volume of mail delivered to him.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I received last week at my home in Oxfordshire a letter posted in London on 4th January this year?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I was not aware of that. If my noble friend would let me have the envelope (if he still retains it) we might be able to investigate what caused the delay.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that to many of the noble Members of this House the central post office is a very important link in the delivery of mail as that is the place where we obtain our stamps? Will he assure us that, as a result of all the recent work studies, the rumours of early closure are unfounded?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, all the collection post offices are as important to the Post Office as they are to the senders and the recipients of mail.