HL Deb 08 March 1990 vol 516 cc1257-9

3.10 p.m.

Lord Tordoff asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the value of first and second class stamps sold in books of 10 is not shown on the face of the stamps.

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

My Lords, the issue of postage stamps is a matter for the Post Office. I am told that non-value indicator stamps were issued as a temporary measure to supplement normal "value" stamps at a time when the tariff was changing, for greater commercial and customer convenience.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am most grateful for that illumination. Will the Minister confirm, however, that these stamps cannot be used for postage into Europe or other parts of the world as they have no value on them? Is that the case? If so, why are people not informed of that when buying the stamps?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is the case that the stamps are not intended for international service. However, the Post Office realised that some people were likely to use them for that purpose and therefore asked overseas postal authorities to accept them.

Lord Tordoff

Did they, my Lords?

Lord Annan

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the reason the stamps have no value placed on them is that in certain parts of London they are valueless? Is he also aware that in NW8 and W1 postboxes have been locked, bolted and barred for the past 10 days and no mail whatever has been delivered? When will the chairman of the Post Office make a statement in this regard and reassure us that there is some point in buying stamps?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, in answer to the supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, about international postage, I can only say that before I prepared myself to make this reply I posted a letter to a relative in Canada bearing three of these stamps. I have yet to discover whether it arrived. I hope it did.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I understand that there are difficulties in parts of London, as he described. I am afraid I have no information with regard to a solution to that dispute.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, arising from the answer to my noble friend Lord Annan, have the Government in mind waiving the Post Office monopoly if the situation continues?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we have no present plans to do so.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in two months there is to be a major stamp exhibition in London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the issue of the first postage stamp in the world, the Penny Black? Is he also aware that the gratuitous knocking of the British postage service at this time does no good to this country or its benefits from tourist earnings?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is the case that your Lordships have asked a number of questions in recent months with regard to the performance of the Post Office. I am bound to say that there are areas where the standard of service provided falls below an acceptable level. However, the Post Office authorities are very much aware of that. They are doing their utmost to put it right and there have been a number of recent improvements.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Lord also confirm that the trade union of communication workers arrived at an agreement with the Post Office for the improvement of service throughout the country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand that that is indeed correct, and we look forward to reaping the fruits of that agreement in due course.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, perhaps I may lead the noble Lord back to the subject of the Question on the Order Paper. Is it not surprising that the Post Office has taken this decision to issue stamps which are not valid in overseas territories? Is it not alarming that, in good conscience, people in this country may stamp letters and find them surcharged on arrival at the other end? Will Her Majesty's Government please convey to the Post Office the fact that this was a very foolish step for it to take and that in future it should issue stamps which are capable of being used in all parts of the world?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I may say so, I do not agree with the noble Lord. The Post Office recognised that these stamps—which were only issued as a temporary measure—might be used for international services. It was that which persuaded it to contact all the overseas postal authorities to ask them to honour these stamps when they arrived in their countries.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the trade unions involved raised this matter urgently within the past few months? It is absolutely the responsibility of management within the Post Office, which should listen more earnestly to the protestations and advice given by the trade unions.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure to what matter the noble Lord refers.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the overseas postal authorities agreed to honour the valueless stamps?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand that the message was sent comparatively recently and therefore I am not able to say what the response has been. Equally, I understand there has not so far been any difficulty.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, my noble friend said that these stamps were only issued on a temporary basis. Can he confirm that there will be no time-limit on the usage of these stamps?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can confirm that there will be no time-limit on the usage of the stamps. I can also confirm that this was only a temporary measure and stocks are now running out.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that philately will get him everywhere?