Skip to main content

Post Office

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

The Royal Mail’s operational performance is just one of the issues that Ministers and officials discuss regularly with the company.

May I refer the Secretary of State to the experience of my constituent, Mr. Alan Sinclair, who received a medium-sized package through the post that had been tampered with and opened, it being perfectly obvious that it was not the result of machine damage? The Post Office did not want to know, Postwatch did not want to know, and the Department of Trade and Industry did not want to know. Everyone has told him to take a running jump. What can the Secretary of State say to my constituent about his very serious complaint about opened and tampered-with mail?

I agree that it is a serious matter. The primary responsibility is of course with the Royal Mail, but if the hon. Gentleman would care to let me have the details, I will look into it. It is worth bearing in mind, though, that well over 99 per cent. of mail is successfully delivered and that the Royal Mail overall does a good job.

That is what the Post Office says, but most hon. Members would agree with the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). I welcome the fact that the Minister will look into this. When he does so, will he reconsider the requirement that when sending a gift overseas one has to declare precisely what it is? The use of a bar code instead would at least disguise the nature of the contents from the casual thief. The problem is that declaring what one is sending is an open invitation for the package not to be delivered, which is what is happening.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. From time to time, things will go wrong and packages will not be delivered, or damaged or interfered with, but the vast majority of parcels and letters are delivered efficiently by the Royal Mail. If there are problems, we will look into them, but it is not right to give the impression that this problem is widespread, because that is not true.

I would say that the problem is far more widespread than the right hon. Gentleman suggests. In response to a recent survey, I received more than 1,000 complaints, an awful lot of which were about not only delivery times but lost and stolen mail. What is the Minister going to do to deal with the Royal Mail, which is not delivering for local people?

As I said to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, if the hon. Lady has specific complaints that she would like the Royal Mail to look into, I would be happy to ensure that it does so. Despite the fact that there will be problems from time to time, overall the Royal Mail does a good job in delivering mail.

Is the Secretary of State aware that each week 1,100 car tax discs go missing in the post, as well as many more driving licences, causing great stress and anxiety to those who are waiting for those documents? Does he agree that urgent discussions are needed between the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Post Office and his Department?

I am aware that tax discs and licences go missing. Much of the mail that goes missing is the result of criminals targeting mail vans and the like. We take that seriously, as does the Royal Mail. Hon. Members will be aware that some 3 million licences were obtained online as a result of changes made by the DVLA last year, which helps to make their delivery more secure. However, people have a choice, and they have every right to expect that if something is posted to them, they will get it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Royal Mail is becoming increasingly secretive about the facts and figures relating to lost and stolen mail, claiming commercial sensitivities? Is not a mail company’s performance on lost and stolen mail a legitimate piece of information for consumers? If he agrees, what action will he take to ensure that we have full disclosure not only from the Royal Mail but from all mail operators on that important piece of information?

I agree. This year, Postcomm imposed a fine on the Royal Mail of about £9 million because of its failure to meet its licence obligations; that is what the regulator is for.

As the Secretary of State said, the scale of this problem is shown by the size of the fine that Postcomm has imposed. Will he also consider whether the problems could partly be addressed by allowing sub-post offices to work with carriers other than the Royal Mail? Does he agree that such competition would force the Royal Mail to do more to tackle these failings, have the added advantage of increasing consumer choice, and bring desperately needed new business to the post office network?

As I have said in the past few weeks, we are ascertaining how we can help post offices expand their business, and I shall make a statement to the House in a few weeks. However, it is important that we do everything that we can to help those businesses develop in a manner that is consistent with the Government’s overall objectives for Royal Mail.