HL Deb 20 October 1988 vol 500 cc1247-9

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will direct the Post Office to withdraw the recent increase in postal charges.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, I do not consider that the exercise of this power of direction is, in the circumstances, either necessary in the national interest or appropriate given that this is the first price increase in almost two years.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does not my noble friend consider that it might be a good idea to tell the Post Office that it cannot increase its charges until it at least arrests the decline in the standard of services?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am well aware of the opinion which has been expressed on all sides of your Lordships's House and the concern which exists about the quality of the services of the Post Office. The Post Office Users National Council was consulted earlier this year about the tariff proposals. It had no objection to the scale of increases provided that the quality of service was improved. I believe that we all earnestly wish to see that.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that the Post Office introduced new charges during a strike?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I know that that coincidence was not in the interests of the Post Office and I suspect that it was not because of the conduct of the management. The increase in the prices was set some time before.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it might be a prettier way to compensate the discomfort and dissatisfaction of the general public about the Post Office strike by returning the postage charges to their old rates over the Christmas or festive period?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suspect that there is more concern about the quality of service than about the cost. I believe that we all wish to see the quality of service rapidly restored, if not improved upon.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I wholly agree with the Question. If the Minister will not take up the issue, will he represent to the Post Office that, because it is unable to give any guarantee that first-class mail will be delivered within 24 hours—a good deal is not so delivered—it is unreasonable to add an extra penny to the charge? I believe that in any event the differential charge is totally unjustified.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I appreciate that there is a considerable difference, but surely the important point is to try to regain the quality of service. The increases remain below the level of inflation and second-class post is only 1½ pence more than it was six years ago.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we are not impressed by the rate of progress of the mechanisation of postal handling and the universal introduction of the postal code? Is he also aware that if that were achieved there would be a massive saving in manpower and that it would speed up the handling of letters? What is the prospect for the universal postal code being in position and that mechanisation being introduced?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but that is another Question. I believe that we all wish to see the quality of service improved. How the Post Office management and the Post Office accomplishes that is secondary because, above all else, we are concerned that our letters arrive on time.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that his important Ministry has a responsibility for competition policy and for the Post Office? Is it not time that we had a radical restructuring of the Post Office so that we can match other communications? Every other form of communication is becoming faster, quicker and more accurate, but the Post Office is becoming steadily worse. When letters are posted early on a Saturday they are sometimes not cleared until the first post on Monday and at best do not arrive until Tuesday. In this age we cannot have a postal service which is so desperately slow for the efficiency of industry and everything else in this country.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure how the Post Office compares with the international standards of performance of other post offices. We are living in a world where it is steadily becoming more and more difficult for such a labour-intensive service to be carried out. I have heard my noble friend's question clearly and I shall take it away and consider it.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the service is becoming worse and that I now receive on a Saturday important correspondence which I used to receive on a Friday?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am aware that my bills are arriving later and later. It is not an unmitigated disaster.

Lord Peston

My Lords, if the objective of govern-ment policy is to ensure that the quality of service is improved, why do they not show a more sympathetic response to the noble Lord's Question, because it is not obvious that allowing the Post Office to raise charges will act as an encouragement to improving the services? It will encourage it to stay with its unsatisfactory ways.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, nor is it equally obvious that denying it an increase will improve the quality. We wish to see quality increased. The price increases remain below the level of inflation. The second-class post is only 1½ pence more than it was six years ago.

All those matters are beside the point. We wish to see the quality improved and we have expressed that wish most strongly to the management of the Post Office.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, arising out of that answer and my noble friend's earlier reference to the views of the users council which he quoted with approval—to the effect that it would not object to the increase provided that efficiency was improved—is the collorary that if efficiency is not improved, and it shows no signs of being so, the increase will be withdrawn?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, if that would have the effect of improving quality there might be something to commend it. I believe we should ensure that quality is improved, and after today I shall make that message doubly plain to the chairman of the Post Office.

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