My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement concerning the introduction of cheaper stamps for Christmas cards provided the cards are posted by an agreed date.
My Lords, in so far as deliveries by the Post Office are concerned this falls within the day-to-day managerial responsibility of that organisation. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government will be seeking from Parliament powers to enable charities to deliver Christmas cards, for which there would be no fixed rate. At this stage I think the House would agree with me that we should wish to the noble and learned Lord who sits upon the Woolsack all the good wishes of your Lordships' House on his birthday today.
My Lords, while certainly joining in the last part of what the Minister has to say, may I ask him whether an exception such as special Christmas stamps is hardly to be construed as the day-to-day work of the Post Office? I should have thought it was an annual one. May I move on from that and ask him whether the objection to cheaper stamps if letters are posted early obviously does not come from the users?—any such objection comes either from the Government or the unions.
My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness's first question I think the Post Office does distinguish between a day and a year—at least, I hope they do in the delivery of personal and business mail! So far as the second part of the noble Baroness's question is concerned, I regret to say that I understand that the problem over the concessionary rates, which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, is that they were vetoed by the unions.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was afraid that that was the case? It happened last year. Is he aware that it happened as long ago as in 1951 over Olympic stamps? May I ask him whether, in all seriousness, this matter could be looked at again, because quite obviously it could mean the selling of many more stamps?
My Lords, this matter will be looked at again, but so far as the precise arrangements are concerned the Charities Commission is indeed in touch with the Government so far as the delivery of mail of this type is concerned in the future. I can assure the noble Baroness that this is being looked at, but it is part of the normal management matters for the Post Office.
My Lords, would not any competently and commercially-minded business seek to spread the load in the way suggested by the noble Baroness, and also maximise earnings in this way? As it is the taxpayer who has to make up the deficits on the postal side of the Post Office, has not Parliament some right to urge this rather strongly on the management of that corporation?
My Lords, Parliament may urge, but I would once again stress that the final decision has to be taken by the Post Office. So far as my noble friend was concerned about the generation of traffic, the concessionary rate would need to generate sufficient additional traffic to offset the lower revenue from each item.
My Lords, could the Minister say on what grounds the unions vetoed this proposal?
Possibly on another occasion, my Lords.
I think, my Lords, that that is another question.
My Lords, does my noble friend know whether the Post Office are planning again this Christmas to spend many thousands of pounds on expensive television advertising exhorting people to send their friends Christmas cards?
My Lords, I was not aware of that, but if my noble friend would care to put down a Question perhaps he might find me or somebody attempting to give him an Answer.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he could draw to the attention of the Post Office that members of unions are not necessarily anti-charities? I am quite certain they are not. Would he bring it to the attention of the unions of the Post Office that it is charities who suffer very seriously indeed, because most of them now have Christmas cards which are in aid of their charity and they will suffer considerably? May I ask the noble Lord whether he will bring this to their attention?
My Lords, I do not think that this House, or indeed the Government, can bring various points to the attention of the unions, but I am sure that the noble Baroness's comments will be read by the Post Office, and I have no doubt that the Post Office management, in discussions with the unions, could and will take note of my noble friend's comments.
My Lords, does the noble Lord regard the question of what the union's objection is as something for which he requires prior notice because of the fact that the reasons are not obvious to him?
I would require prior notice, my Lords. The reasons are extremely complicated, but if the noble Lord would put down a Question we could go into them on another occasion.