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Junk Mail

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to reduce the amount of unsolicited mail delivered to residential addresses.

My Lords, the Government have a voluntary agreement with the Direct Marketing Association which covers the promotion of the Mailing Preference Service. The Mailing Preference Service allows householders to opt out of receiving addressed direct mail. We have also encouraged the DMA to develop the Your Choice Preference Service which was launched earlier this year. Your Choice allows householders to opt out of receiving unaddressed mail from DMA members. The Royal Mail also operates an opt-out service to stop the door-to-door unaddressed mail that it carries. The preference services that are in place allow people to choose, and cover approximately 90 per cent of addressed and unaddressed mail.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. I had not realised that BERR stands, as someone has pointed out, for Business, Enterprise, Refuse and Rubbish. Can he confirm that direct mail which is not utilised and goes into a sack marked “junk mail” effectively is junk mail and that it creates litter and rubbish? In general, households may receive up to two tonnes of it a year. What is the impact of that on the environment?

My Lords, I did not recognise the noble Lord’s description of BERR but I do recognise his point about waste, an issue which the Government are tackling with the DMA. A producer responsibility agreement was signed in 2003 to increase the levels of the industry’s recycling of household waste caused by what we would call junk mail. Just last week it led to the signing of an industry-wide standard that was developed following a period of discussion with the British Standards Institution and is the first of its type in any commercial sector. It is expected that the standard will be published before the end of this year, and its adoption will support the drive to raise recycling limits within the industry.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former postman and union official. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the revenue generated by unaddressed mail contributes greatly to the resources available to Royal Mail to maintain its obligations under the universal service that it is required by law to provide? Would he care to inform the House of the amount of revenue that Royal Mail receives annually from this source? Could I also ask him—

All right, my Lords, I won’t ask him—but it is about Postcomm. I think that he would agree that if it were not for Postcomm’s stranglehold, things such as unaddressed mail would not be so necessary because Royal Mail could have the right pricing policy for the items it delivers.

My Lords, I think that my problem is not unsolicited mail but maybe unsolicited questions. Perhaps I may deal with the first two and pass on the third. The Royal Mail receives about £2 billion from the production of direct advertising mail, which accounts for 15 per cent of the UK postal market. It is an enormous industry. Some £4.8 billion is spent on direct mailing. It brings in some £133 billion in attributable sales and manages to employ, directly and indirectly, 1 million people, which is 3.4 per cent of employment in the UK.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will accept that anyone who has been in charge of a political campaign is unlikely to want restrictions on unsolicited or unwanted mail, as it would stop political campaigning as we have known it. However, does he agree that there is some illogicality in the fact that I can write him a letter even though he may not want to receive it, but I cannot send him an e-mail unless he has indicated that he wishes to receive it from me?

My Lords, there is an interesting comparison to be made between direct mail marketing, which brings forward some 4,000 complaints per year, and the scams and other forms of direct mailing on the internet, which generate 10 times that number. Indeed, the number of complaints about direct mailing is falling.

My Lords, in support of my noble friend’s supplementary question, will the Minister use his best endeavours and those of the Government to discourage at the very least if not ban the wrapping of articles sent through the post in plastic that is non-recyclable?

Another welcome, unsolicited question, my Lords, but I do not have an answer on plastic wrapping. The Government regard direct mailing as a legitimate form of advertising sales but we want to ensure that those who do not want to receive it do not have to. As for plastic wrapping, my first successful Question Time will occur when I do not have to say, “I will write to the noble Lord”. This is not my first successful Question Time. I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that he is on a hiding to nothing and cannot win on this issue? Is he aware that I am entirely dressed by junk mail? I want some of it, but not the rest. How can you possibly divide the two?

My Lords, there can be no more elegant advertisement for direct mailing and the values of purchasing from it. I cannot add anything to that question.

My Lords, where I live, we get a big fat monthly newspaper delivered by the Royal Mail and produced by the Conservative Party. I think that nobody else will deliver it. Will the Minister put the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in touch with his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, who is reliably rumoured to be funding this rubbish?

My Lords, I have a confession to make. As a political junkie, I welcome any mail from opposition parties. It allows me to be more educated about the policies that they have, or pretend to have.

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Might I advise the Minister?

My Lords, I think that it is worth advising him. Last week I received four plastic bags from this House containing junk mail. I weighed them: they came to 19 pounds in weight. Would it not be helpful if we could add a new item to our expenses, covering the costs, time and trouble of getting rid of this junk mail?

My Lords, first, I welcome advice from anyone, being a very new, inexperienced and not very efficient operator at the Dispatch Box. However, I have a problem with junk mail, because I only know that it is junk when I have opened it and decided that I do not want it.