I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the clear marking of a number or name on every dwelling and to make provision for standard sizes for all new letter boxes.
Not so long ago, I found myself in a street in Merseyside. The road name-plate had been removed by some helpful person, and eight out of the 10 houses in that road had no number visible on any part of the property. The two numbers that were on display— numbers one and eight—were in a cul-de-sac, and the numbers could therefore have been displayed either consecutively or as odds and evens. In the coming weeks, thousands of people delivering millions of items will be able to savour the frustrations that postmen suffer daily. They will learn about the amazing ability of Englishmen in their castles, Scots in their keeps and Welshmen in their valleys to conceal from the outside world exactly where they live.
Personally, I love the individuality and eccentricity of the British character and the humour of calling the canal-side cottage "Riversley house" or the upstairs maisonette "Homlea", "Dunrovin" or even "Dun Inn". I like the ancient names of Rookery Nook, Falcons Crest, Hatters End and Mon Repos. In my constituency, there are names such as Corail de Neige, Shiehallion, Ryedale and Far End cottage. I live next to a house called Stingamires, and, in a street in Stockton-on-Tees, I have seen "Hers n Mine". However, I think that the best name is one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes), in Burneston road, called "This'll Do".
Some houses have a name as well as a number, but some have only names. Most of my constituency is urban. Moreover, most of the urban growth in Stockton-on-Tees is in my constituency. In many cases, houses have names and numbers, although the name but not the number is prominently on display. Although none of us wants to be treated as a number, if the proper address is a number, it would be better for the convenience of others if it were on display. Many people go looking for individuals at their addresses to ask them questions or to see them for many good reasons, only to find that the house is unmarked. I understand that Michael Levy, who funds the Leader of the Opposition's blind trust, lives in a house that has no name and no number. I shall leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions from that.
There is a fantastic variety of letter boxes in the United Kingdom, and—as we shall discovering in the next few weeks—they come in all shapes and sizes. There is the tiny vertical letter box, in which only very small cards will fit. There is also the famous horizontal flap, which comes in many sizes and varieties, such as the spring-loaded type. Others include those located at the door base, the rear-flap variety, the one with the front sub-flap and—perhaps the one that we all hate the most—the type with the brushes and the dog behind it, ready to take our fingers off when we try to push some mail through the brushes.
Worst of all, I suppose, are the houses with no bells, no knockers and sometimes even no doors. As we all become increasingly aware of energy efficiency, and as more people succumb to the amazing offers of double glazing salesmen, the situation seems to go from bad to worse. Every day we find some new type of devilment apparently designed to catch fingers, crunch letters and generally offer cruel and unusual punishment to the deliverer.
Given the amount of junk mail that some people receive, I can readily understand the desire to maim or frustrate the sender, but all too often it is the messenger or postman, not the sender, who pays the price.
Let us find a practical new way of designing doors and property fronts so that deliveries can be made easily and conveniently. I notice that, in France, since the time of Napoleon every separate dwelling has had to have a number clearly on display. In the United States, every house has to have a number and a registered size of post box. Let us therefore mark each house so that not just the Member of Parliament but the emergency services, the doctor, the gas or water company and others can find it in a hurry—and so that everyone gets his own junk mail, not someone else's.
This Bill will not become law, but it will serve to highlight a problem that we vow to solve at every general election. It would provide that every separate dwelling be clearly marked with a name or number at the principal entrance, and that an adequate or separate delivery opening be provided as well. It would be phased in over five years, so that by the year 2002 the postman's lot will be a happy one.
Before long the European Union will turn its attention to this amazing diversity and, as with so many other things, it will seek to end that diversity by regulation. The time to act has therefore come. Our legislators are about to spend the next six weeks hunting for numbers and door bells—sometimes even for doors—and certainly for letter boxes. Let us all consider during this time the size and shape of the letter box to take us into the new millennium. Even though in 50 years' time all our important mail may be electronic, there will still be a market for tangible leaflets, magazines, and papers that can be picked up, pored over, carried about and shown to others. How they will be delivered to a nation in which an ever increasing number of people have double glazing I do not know.
Let us leap in before Europe does and design a great British letter box as distinct as the K3 telephone box, the Brigade of Guards and the policeman's helmet. The time to act is now, and I place this Bill before the House in a spirit of good will before the general election begins.