HL Deb 10 November 1998 vol 594 cc625-7

2.50 p.m.

Lord Mottistone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware that the Royal Mail, when forwarding letters to country addresses, is omitting the names of the village and county from the address.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I understand from the Post Office that a postal address, designated by Royal Mail, consisting of a post town and a postcode, does not necessarily give a precise geographical or administratively accurate description of where a particular building is located. It is a sorting and routeing instruction to postal staff to enable mail to reach its destination from any part of the country by the quickest and most economical route, with the minimum of address information. Customers who wish to include a village and/or a county name are welcome to do so.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, if I am asked where I live I say, for example, "I live in the village of Mottistone in the county of the Isle of Wight". We give the basic address to those who write to us. Is it right that we have to put other information on our letters which is sometimes confusing? In the early days delivery was by the Post Office; it is now by Royal Mail. For example, "Newport", which it insists on putting on letters addressed to me, is also a town in South Wales. For 60 years people in sorting offices have been sending letters addressed to my part of the country to South Wales in the first instance. The same may happen as regards other areas.

Would it not be more sensible if the Post Office relied entirely on its excellent postcode? All it needs is the address that we understand as our address plus the postcode. Nothing else is needed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sure that if anyone writes to the noble Lord as "Lord Mottistone, Isle of Wight" the letter will reach him immediately, whatever else is put on the envelope.

However, the noble Lord asks an interesting question to which I sought the answer because it seemed to me that the postcode should match a post town. In other words, the digits in the first block should be the same as a post town. I am told that although (and perhaps because) 80 per cent. of mail is scanned at some stage during its transmission, it is difficult to read many people's handwriting and there would be many mistakes if a post town were not included as well as a postcode. I am sorry about that as well.

Lord Ewing of Kirkwood

My Lords, as one of only two postmen in your Lordships' House, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that the main problem is that the optical reading machine in the mechanised letter sorting offices simply cannot read "Lord Mottistone of Newport in the Isle of Wight"? The machine can read only the postcode. That is all that is needed. The remainder of the address is only for the benefit of those sending or receiving the letter. All that the optical reading machines can read are the postcodes. Whether or not one puts "Lord Mottistone" on the envelope, the optical reading machine will turn a blind eye to it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ewing and my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead are not the only two postmen in the House. We heard yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who told us that he has a Post Office pension.

My noble friend is right in the sense that it is the postcode above all which is optically scanned. He is right to say, as I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that it does not always work well. That is why, unfortunately, a post town is also necessary.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although some firms receive a perfectly accurate name and address the postcode indicates the name and address of another person of the same surname in the locality? Are any steps likely to be taken to make the operation more efficient?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have some of the most precise postcodes in the world. They go into greater detail and have smaller blocks than almost anywhere else except the United States, which has now added a four digit code to its five digit code. The chance of there being two people with the same surname in the same postcode is relatively low. I doubt whether that causes a great many problems.