HL Deb 06 March 1986 vol 472 cc304-7

3.16 p.m.

Lord Gainford

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 how widely post codes are used.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the question of post code usage is essentially a matter for the Post Office Board. However, I understand that the latest figures available show that in January of this year 64.4 per cent. of all mail was postcoded. This compares well with the figure of 58.4 per cent. in January 1985.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that information. Has he any information as to whether the use of post codes definitely speeds up the mail service?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, post codes enable the Post Office to make the fullest use of its investment in sorting machinery, and thus to accelerate the handling of letters and of course to hold the tariffs. The Post Office now has a network of 80 mechanised sorting offices. That network was completed at the end of last year and I have no doubt that some of the rewards will be seen on our doorsteps as weeks and months go by.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would it be a good idea if the Government themselves set a better example in the use of post codes? Is the Minister aware that after repeated attempts I was unable to persuade the Home Office to issue a circular asking the governors of prisons in England and Wales to show post codes on the prison address stamps? Even after the chairman of the Post Office Corporation personally wrote suggesting that it would be a good idea for an organisation which sends and receives several million letters a year to use the post codes, there are still a number of prisons—such as Frankland, Camp Hill and Blundeston—which refuse to comply with the advice given by the Post Office. Will the noble Lord look into this and ask his colleagues in the Home Office to do something about it?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am obviously disappointed to hear what the noble Lord has to say. I assure him that his point will be passed on to my right honourable and honourable friends in that particular department.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is any relationship between the increased mechanisation of the Post Office and the notoriously increasing time taken to deliver mail?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am quite sure that my noble friend's question is meant to be serious, although it invoked laughter. On a sample taken last year, the percentage of first-class deliveries by the first working day following collection was 89.1 per cent. against a target figure of 90. That compared with 86.4 per cent. in the previous year. I think my noble friend will agree that it is always the percentage that is not delivered, particularly to an individual, that causes annoyance and disappointment, and attention is not drawn to the 89.1 per cent. of mail that is delivered.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, since you cannot use the post code if you do not know it, will the Government put pressure on the Post Office to make arrangements with British Telecom to have post codes printed in telephone directories?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, "No" is the short answer. That is not a responsibility of government: it is a responsibility of the Post Office and British Telecom, and essentially a commercial matter for BT. It should be remembered that the primary use of a telephone directory is to assist telephone users and not postal users. But much has been done to encourage the use of post codes. Press, radio and television advertising, and posters on vans, have been used to encourage members of the public to pass on their post codes. There was a year-long trial scheme in Darlington whereby members of the public could obtain information through the freephone facility. The results of that trial showed that the freephone is not a cost-effective way to encourage post code usage.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I understood from the noble Lord's previous answer that 64 per cent. of the public are using the post code in addressing their letters. He said that about 80 centres had mechanical sorting equipment. For what percentage of the letters so addressed by the public is the mechanism used?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I think that I should make it clear—I obviously did not in my earlier answer—that 64.4 per cent. of all mail is post coded. I was not talking about the percentage of people posting letters. That may be my fault. About two-thirds of the mail is now automatically sorted.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, if a letter is addressed with just a name and a post code, will it get there?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have the utmost admiration for the postal service, particularly the postmen. It amazes me how good they are at finding people and delivering letters, sometimes with only a name and a town, let alone a post code.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I welcome the increase in the use of post codes throughout the country, but if they are used nationwide will that prevent (as one hopes) the obnoxious habit of people putting "Berks", "Hefts", "Bucks" and other awful shortened forms of shires on the envelope?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I do not think that 100 per cent. usage of post codes would stop that. Although they help in mechanised sorting, I am sure that my noble friend will appreciate that many odd-sized packages are not suitable for mechanised handling and post codes will not speed up their delivery. People have great affection for "Hefts", "Bucks" and "Berks". One would not wish to legislate against people using favourite forms of addressing letters to, for example, loved ones or, indeed, to business acquaintances.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, although there is always room for improvement, will the noble Lord please assure his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the record of the British Post Office measures up very favourably indeed to the services provided in other countries?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, on this occasion I am most happy to agree with the noble Lord. I have no doubt that my noble friend has heard what the noble Lord has said, and I gladly endorse it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the figures that he quoted are for collection from the post box for next day delivery, and if the Post Office simply defers that collection its figures look better but the result is worse?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will accept that whichever way I or indeed any of your Lordships present figures, another picture could be painted by somebody else. In an earlier answer I used the phrase "from collection". I take note of what lies behind my noble friend's question, and will draw it to the attention of the chairman of the Post Office Board.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the trouble with any post code system that utilises letters as well as numbers is that it is essentially designed for the typewriter rather than for the pen? Is it not the case that different people, when writing, form their capital letters in different ways, most of which are equally valid, and that that can lead to a certain amount of confusion and hence to a certain number of misdirected letters?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as I think I said, and certainly as a number of my noble friends who have had responsibility for answering Questions on this point have said, legibility is one of the great difficulties for both sorters and deliverers of mail. The wide use of what is popularly known as the ball-point pen does not help.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that early posting is one of the secrets of early delivery? If British business men came back early from lunch and dictated their letters promptly, they would get speedy delivery to their customers.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I accept the first point that the noble Lord makes, but I do not think that I could possibly agree with the inference behind the second part of his question.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, does not the fundamental question arise: how do I find out somebody's post code if I do not already have a letter from him with it printed on it?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as long as one knows the address, one can ask the Post Office. Alternatively, the next time that you write to the person, you can ask him to let you have the code by reply.

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