HL Deb 19 June 1990 vol 520 cc728-31

3.1 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will encourage and publicise arrangements made to enable citizens to have their names and addresses removed from lists used for sending unsolicited and unwanted mail.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the Government recognise the value of the Mailing Preference Service and alert individuals who complain about unsolicited mail to its existence. Advertising and promoting this scheme to consumers is a matter for the industry and I understand that it has plans for an additional promotion.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. The Mailing Preference Service has as one of its sponsors the Royal Mail. As it makes tolerable the multiple posting of junk mail, should its existence not be more widely known so that people can be spared such mail if that is their wish?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree that if people do not wish to receive such mail they should be spared from doing so. However, the fact is that many people like to receive junk mail. It is important that those who wish can be deleted from the list. By sponsoring and supporting the service, and in insisting that most of the bulk mail users subscribe to it, the Post Office is contributing to that end.

Lord Renton

My Lords, on the assumption that people do not like receiving duplication and triplication of junk mail, can my noble friend say whether anything has been done to try to stop that?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the present arrangements are, as my noble friend may be aware, that people who do not wish to receive junk mail of a particular kind can contact the Mailing Preference Service and have that mail stopped and their names deleted from the relevant lists. It is rather more difficult to stop multiple mailings of the same item, which I believe is what my noble friend had in mind. However, that is an important point which I shall draw to the authority's attention.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the poll tax demands be added to that list?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is not junk mail.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is not this constant deluge of "bumf" an intrusion on privacy, luring people to spend on unwanted goods for prizes which are rarely won? Should not that be stopped? Should not people be prevented from releasing mailing lists so that many of those who do not want the mail, as distinct from those whom the Minister says enjoy it, will be released from that constant deluge of unwanted mail?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not believe that such activity should be stopped as a matter of principle. Firms are entitled to seek to bring their goods to the attention of customers by the use of the mail, if that is how they wish to do it. Equally, people who find it disagreeable should be entitled to say so and be protected from it. As a matter of principle, I do not agree that the practice should be stopped.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the Minister expect a reduction in the amount of junk mail following the very unwelcome news in today's newspapers that postal charges are to be substantially increased?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, most of the mail which we are discussing arising from this Question is posted under the benefit of contract cost arrangements. Therefore, that is a slightly different matter. However, as the noble Lord says, there has been a recent announcement which is a matter for the Post Office.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, can the noble Lord inform the House whether the arrangements for limiting unwanted mailing extends to mail sent over "fax" machines?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, no. There was a Question on that matter a few months ago. That is a different matter governed by different codes of practice.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that a code of practice operates among banks so that they cannot pass on information gained through the banking system for the purposes of promoting other services without the permission of the person to whom the mail is to be sent? Is there not a case for extending that code of practice to others who participate in the business so that anybody who is liable to receive direct mail may be asked before they receive it whether or not they wish to do so?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is going rather farther than is intended by the present arrangements. With regard to banks in particular, it is important that those kinds of selling methods are not used to induce young people to take on more credit than they should use.

Lord Parry

My Lords, would it not be reasonably simple for the Government to publish the addresses and names of the chairmen of the generating companies so that we could all return our junk mail directly to them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, numerous companies are involved. Some are very small and some are larger. Therefore, I am not sure that that would be practical. However, I believe that the present arrangements by which people can, if they wish, have their names deleted from the lists is the best way to proceed.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that among the approaches now being received by the mailing service are requests for more direct mail; for example, from people in rural areas for direct mail catalogues? Therefore, in several ways the service can be of benefit to the public.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend has underlined the point which I made a few moments ago. It is not the case that all this mail is necessarily bad. For some it is very good, particularly those living in remote areas receiving the sort of mail to which my noble friend referred.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, before we finish this Question, can the noble Lord look again at his statement that he is satisfied with the present arrangements? Is he not aware that many people are vexatiously bothered by this mail? Is he not further aware that it is very difficult to get your name removed from the list because of misspellings, misdirections and many other matters? Can the noble Lord look again at this problem?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not believe that it is as difficult as the noble Lord suggests to have one's name removed from the list. One merely has to fill in a form. If the noble Lord would like one, I shall send one to him.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, some of us find this question and answer session quite extraordinary. After all, there is such a thing as a waste-paper basket.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, can we be assured that the contract-arranged charges are in relation to the ordinary rate of charges so that the bulk mail is not being subsidised by those who pay the ordinary rate?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, no. I am afraid that I cannot give the assurance which the noble Lord seeks. The contract rates are a confidential commercial matter between customers and the Post Office.