HL Deb 29 April 1986 vol 474 cc129-31
Lord Pender

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 over the last two years to the latest convenient date what percentage of first daily postal deliveries were made:

  1. (a) before 8.30 a.m.
  2. (b) between 8.30 a.m. and 10 a.m.
  3. (c) after 10.00 a.m.

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

My Lords, the detailed operation of postal deliveries is the responsibility of the Post Office Board. However, I understand that, while at local level Post Office management closely monitors delivery times, there is no system for monitoring performance nationally.

Lord Pender

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that disappointing reply. One would have thought that those were the sort of statistics that the Post Office would carry. Does my noble friend agree that the late delivery of morning mail causes disruption of people's daily lives and creates, in turn, business inefficiency? Does he also agree that the recent cost-cutting restructuring of the postal delivery system is a false economy?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it depends to some extent on what my noble friend means by "late". For example, in urban areas the first delivery should be made between 7 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. The rural areas normally receive one delivery each day and this can continue until lunchtime or even the early afternoon. There are social consequences for Post Office staff in altering that.

As regards the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, the reorganisation of the Post Office is not solely a cost-cutting exercise. It is an exercise which the Post Office expects to result in its being rather more cost-effective.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is it not a reflection on the efficiency of the Post Office Board that, as my noble friend said, it has no machinery for monitoring performance on the important matter of deliveries? Are not the Government responsible for appointing the board?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I understand that local monitoring is undertaken as an integral part of the responsibilities of local management for the supervision of postal operations in their areas. However, with wide variations in local circumstances it is not appropriate, nor is it useful, to monitor delivery times at national level.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does the Minister accept his noble friend's dictum that the Government have a responsibility for monitoring the Post Office?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the Post Office is, as the House will know, a body set up by statute whose operational matters are within the control of the board. I can certainly give my noble friend and all noble Lords an assurance that the expressions of disquiet that your Lordships have made on three occasions in the past six weeks will be conveyed to the chairman of the board of the Post Office.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is it not the case that under the statute the Government themselves retain the power of general direction to the Post Office? Does he further accept that even though the Government may not concern themselves with day-to-day operational matters, as the noble Lord said, in the final analysis policy must surely remain with Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, that of course is quite right. The matter raised by my noble friend Lord Pender is, as I suggested in my earlier answer, an operational matter for the Post Office.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, in view of the imprecisions and uncertainties which seem to surround the important matters of jurisdiction and responsibility in respect of monitoring, would it not be well for my noble friend the Minister to address himself to the old question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, there is no imprecision as between the Government and the Post Office in this matter.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the Minister ask his noble friend to address the House in English in future?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Post Office has never been as good as it was when under direct ministerial control? Will the Minister do a reverse privatisation, so to speak, and bring the Post Office back under direct control of the Minister concerned?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

No, my Lords. It is the Government's policy to return to the private sector all those businesses that are currently in the public sector where such opportunity arises, since we believe that they can operate rather more efficiently in that climate than they can otherwise.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Post Office in this country is more efficient than that in any other country in the world, and at a more reasonable cost?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend because I can confirm that that is the case. At the same time, I remind your Lordships that the real cost of mails and other postal services is lower than it was 15 years ago.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, my experience is similar to that of the noble Lord who has just asked a supplementary question. However, does not much depend upon the head postmaster? I used to receive a lot of mail from Middlesbrough and I still do. I am bound to say that it has been regular and I have never had any cause to complain.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for retailing his experience, which I confirm. In most postal areas postmasters and their staffs are as helpful as they can be. In particular the mail service has increased by 17 per cent., I think, in three years. A huge amount of business is being done, the vast bulk of it to the satisfaction of the consumer.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that recently on my garden path the postman delivering my morning mail crossed with the postman delivering my afternoon mail? Is he further aware that when I queried the reason for that I was told that it was due to shortage of staff?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

No, my Lords, I was not aware of those two facts. I envy the noble Lord having two deliveries in a day, even if they happen to cross.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the great value in removing the various industries from national control is that there is no longer a need to collect statistics on matters which, though of great interest, are peripheral; and that if we go on trying to collect the different figures which may be relevant, it will be enormously expensive and not to our advantage?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in most respects I agree with the noble Lord. The Post Office has been at pains not to increase the cost of services, and your Lordships will recall that the cost of second-class mail was reduced. It is a question of cost-effectiveness. Although mail deliveries are nearly reaching the performance target set by the Post Office board, which I think your Lordships will find acceptable, one has to bear in mind the cost to the consumer in providing not only statistics but additional services.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how much money and how many staff are being saved by splitting the mail into two categories?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Not without notice, my Lords.

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