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Royal Mail: Bicycles

Volume 718: debated on Monday 29 March 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how Royal Mail’s plan to substitute vehicles for cycles on postal rounds will affect the Government’s objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. It is just as well, because he might not like the conclusion. Is he aware of the letter I received on 11 February from the chief executive of Royal Mail, who said that 24,000 Royal Mail bicycles were being phased out and many converted to vans because,

“these bicycles pose the wider safety risk associated with busy street networks, where the rider is exposed to greater risk than other vehicle users”?

Does my noble friend agree that that is a bit of a slap in the eye for the Government’s cycling policy, which encourages cycling rather than the driving of vans? Does he agree with the Royal Mail statement that it cannot give these redundant cycles to charity for use in Africa because of health and safety fears there?

On that latter point, my Lords, my understanding is that Royal Mail has indeed donated delivery bicycles to Recycle, a charity that sends them to projects across the African regions. On his substantive point, my noble friend makes a very telling point about safety and cycling. My colleagues in the Department for Transport are ever eager to encourage active travel, embracing cycling, but we need to understand that the main reason for the change is to improve the efficiency of the Post Office. Bikes will not always be substituted by vehicles; the Royal Mail is also investing in trolleys, which can carry larger loads.

My Lords, does it not depend on the load whether the mail is delivered by a bicycle or in a vehicle?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point, which we in the Department of Energy and Climate Change keep under review at all times. The maximum weight in the cycle panniers comes to 32 kilograms, which is often not sufficient for the parcels and packages it is an increasing part of the postman’s lot to deliver. Sometimes vehicles will be used, but I understand that Royal Mail will invest very largely in trolleys, which will be more appropriate.

My Lords, in three days’ time, one of the Government’s flagship climate change policies—the carbon reduction commitment—starts, which affects Royal Mail and other large public and private organisations. Yet although road transport fuel accounts for some one-third of emissions, it is not included in that flagship project. Therefore, it is quite understandable that organisations make decisions such as this. Is that not a major hole in one of the Government’s major policies to improve climate change?

No, my Lords, that misses the point regarding Royal Mail. In fact, carbon budgets will have a powerful impact in driving changes in policy which will help us meet our emission reduction targets. In the last few years, Royal Mail has seen a considerable reduction in its emissions and is pledged to meet the 10:10 guarantee this year. The decision it has taken on bikes has to be seen in an overall progressive context.

My Lords, does the Minister recall Mr Peter Hain making an objection on behalf of the postmen, whether on foot or on bicycle, against the Lighter Evenings Bill on the basis that the morning post was delivered before the sun was up in the winter months? Now the post is delivered when the sun is beginning to set. Will the Minister ask Mr Hain to withdraw on behalf of his union the objection to daylight saving? If weekend reports are correct, will both the parties opposite, which claim to be reconsidering the matter, help these postmen deliver letters in the afternoon by supporting daylight saving in their manifestos?

My Lords, the Royal Mail is fortunately still a wholly state-owned enterprise. Could the noble Lord use his influence to persuade it to use electric rather than motor vehicles?

My Lords, Royal Mail is looking to develop a vehicle policy which will encourage low-emission vehicles. I am sure that the use of electric vehicles in the future will be one such option. It is not for the Government to tell Royal Mail what to do but we should encourage it to improve its efficiency, which is why the recent agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU is heartily to be rejoiced at.

My Lords, the Minister probably is not aware that the last two times I have been knocked off my bicycle were by GPO vans.

My Lords, would the Minister not also rejoice at that part of the latest agreement between unions and management which provides for Saturday to be a full, normal working day? Presumably that can be without an increase in emissions.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. My understanding is that the agreement will shortly go out to ballot among the postal workers. There is no doubt that the agreement provides much encouragement towards modernisation of the service. It is in that context that the decision on bicycles ought to be seen.

My Lords, with reference to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, could the Minister, with his great expertise, advise the House how you convert a bicycle into a van?

My Lords, my understanding is that most of the content of mail now carried by bicycles will be converted to trolleys. A proportion of these will be electric; others will be manual. It is not yet known whether that will also require the use of vehicles. That is clearly an operational matter for Royal Mail.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the reason Crown Post Offices in central London were so close together up to a quarter of a century ago was because you had to allow for the ability of a small boy on a bicycle to deliver a telegram, which occurred so frequently in the narratives of Mr Sherlock Holmes?

My Lords, the Climate Change Act as presently drafted requires a 34 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. It has been widely reported that the Prime Minister is now in favour of increasing that to a 42 per cent reduction by 2020. Can the Minister say what this will cost? If not, can he ensure that Parliament is informed of the cost before there is any question of further movement in this direction?

My Lords, it is premature to talk about the cost, because we are still in the process of negotiation. The noble Lord, of all people, should know that we always wanted a more ambitious target for 2020, but on the back of a comprehensive and ambitious deal at Copenhagen. That has not been achieved, but we will continue to discuss with our colleagues the ways in which we can reach that path. That will be the point at which to talk about costs.