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House of Commons Hansard
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Low-Level Letter Boxes (Prohibition)
16 January 2019
Volume 652

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend building regulations to require letter boxes in new buildings to be positioned above a certain height; and for connected purposes.

Thank you so much to all the Members of this House who have come here today to support my Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to improve the health and safety of workers, particularly postmen and women, paper boys and girls and other deliverers. When I met representatives of the Communication Workers Union, they told me that the key issue for their members was not Brexit but low-level letterboxes and dangerous dogs. I am not asking homeowners to retrospectively change their existing letterboxes or replace their front doors. When it comes to front doors, a lot of people are very fond of their knockers. This Bill simply wants to stop developers from building swathes of homes each with a letterbox placed near the ground.

I hope that this will be a moment of unity in British politics. I have been overwhelmed by support from Members across the House. We all need to declare a bit of an interest. We politicians have been known to deliver an occasional leaflet ourselves, maybe. Many Members of this House visited their own Royal Mail sorting offices in the run-up to Christmas. I enjoyed visiting the one in Chelmsford.

Our posties have deep knowledge of and care for their local communities.  They are resilient and they are having to adapt to the digital age. These days, they deliver fewer letters but many more parcels because so many people are ordering goods online. There are over 95,000 postmen and women working for Royal Mail. They deliver to 30 million addresses. They serve each of our communities six days a week, every week of the year. 

I asked our postal workers what I could do for them, and they asked me to help with the issue of low-level letterboxes, particularly because of the strain this puts on deliverers’ backs. Back injury is the primary cause of sickness in Royal Mail. Royal Mail has introduced better trolleys and training schemes to improve how staff lift, but despite this, last year it recorded over 16,800 back-related absence spells. The act of having to bend or stoop to deliver mail to low letterboxes is a significant factor, and it cannot be overlooked. The occasional low-level letterbox is not a big issue, but where developers fit row after row of front doors with ankle-high letterboxes, deliverers face repetitive stress. 

Low letterboxes are also associated with an increased likelihood of injury from dogs or cats.  Each week across the UK there are, on average, 44 dog attacks on postal workers, and every year there are 50 attacks from cats. Low-level letterboxes are much more difficult for deliverers to see, resulting in more hand injuries and more damage to mail, especially packages. Post that has been delivered into a low-level letterbox is also easier for thieves to steal.

In many cases, it is not until the new doors are already in place that the local postal workers know that they have an issue, and then the trade union takes it up. The CWU repeatedly challenges developers to retrospectively change the letterboxes.  This is difficult to do, time-consuming and a waste of money. Some of us know that difficult to do, time-consuming and waste of money issues can be somewhat annoying. The union has been campaigning on this issue for many years. Indeed, back in 2005, 97 Members of Parliament signed an early-day motion asking for change, but it did not get much publicity. Well, we are certainly letting our postal workers have the spotlight today. 

This Bill has a huge amount of support. I am especially grateful for the specific support from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) and my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), all of whom have been postal workers themselves. It has been a pleasure to discuss this with the Minister responsible, who has been most encouraging.  He is held in huge regard by postal workers for the work he did prior to coming to this place on the issue of dangerous dogs. I understand that the Government may be consulting on changes to building regulations later this year, so I hope the Minister will take the messages from this Bill seriously and make sure that the necessary changes come into force.

Health and safety matters.  Sometimes Conservative Members are told that we do not care enough about health and safety or about the conditions of our workers. Indeed, in the past few days I have even heard some Opposition Members say that it was because they were concerned that we did not care enough about health and safety that they would not vote for the Government on the withdrawal agreement last night. But I believe that those concerns are unfounded. Every time I talk to my Conservative colleagues about this, they tell me that they do care about health and safety and do care about the conditions workers face. I hope the fact that so many Conservative Members support this Bill may go some way to assuage the concerns of Opposition colleagues.

Other nations have taken action—Ireland, Portugal and Belgium. There is a European standard, which suggests a minimum height of 70 cm. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is not in his seat as I point out that in old money that is 2 feet 3½ inches. Not all European standards are evil. On this special day, would it not be nice to find one—at least one—that we can all unite around? The National House Building Council has been recommending since 2005 that developers and builders adopt this European standard. It has also suggested that the European standard for the aperture for letterboxes should be followed so that they can fit in small parcels. However, despite these recommendations, the problem still persists. There are some issues for which recommendations are simply not enough and we need regulation.

Back pain is the most common cause of chronic pain.  Those of us who have ever suffered from back pain know how debilitating it can be. Every day our postal workers deliver for us: let us now deliver for them.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Vicky Ford, Scott Mann, Mrs Pauline Latham, Victoria Prentis, Bob Blackman, Tom Tugendhat, Craig Tracey, Mr Edward Vaizey, Richard Benyon, Tim Loughton, Maria Caulfield and Kelvin Hopkins present the Bill.

Vicky Ford accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 March and to be printed (Bill 320).

Business of the House (Today)

Ordered,

At this day’s sitting the Speaker shall put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion tabled under section 2(4) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in the name of Jeremy Corbyn not later than 7.00pm; and Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents) and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Michelle Donelan.)