My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that this is an operational matter for Royal Mail. Sunday postings are very low, but add a huge amount of cost to the business. Royal Mail has to control its costs and has therefore stopped these collections.
The Government are committed to the maintenance of a universal postal service, and Postcomm's primary duty is to ensure this. Sunday and bank holiday collections are not part of the universal service obligation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Does he appreciate that Sunday mail collections are part of the institutions of many rural communities and is he satisfied that Royal Mail has given and are giving a plausible explanation for this withdrawal of service? Can the Minister make representations to Royal Mail that money saved on this withdrawal of service will be used towards the improvement of first-class next delivery, which is the public's principal concern and which is far from perfect at present?
My Lords, to deal with the noble Lord's latter point first, I am not, as a government Minister, going to interfere in the day-to-day running of an organisation which has a first-class management in charge of it. One of the problems that we have, to answer the noble Lord's first point, is that if people are asked in an opinion poll whether they would like a Sunday collection, the majority will answer yes. If they were then asked, "Did you use it?", the answer would be, "Probably not". Sunday collections are made in only 18,000 out of 115,000 collection points and cover less than 1 per cent of the total mail volume. They were introduced in 1990 and by 2000 they were down to levels where their continued use was a nonsense.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former postal union official. Does my noble friend agree that the Postcomm decision was a blatant attempt to influence the very delicate ongoing negotiations and was used almost as a punitive measure against those people who were seeking to find an agreement? Cynical, suspicious people such as me believe this is another attempt to destroy this once great service.
My Lords, I respect my noble friend's view but I do not agree with it. Her Majesty's Government have invested £200 million in Post Office Ltd since 1999, an organisation that is costing the taxpayer in losses £4 million each and every week. This cannot go on. We recruit first-class management to run a first-class postal service in a competitive and global world. I just wish my noble friend would understand that the dichotomy has changed forever.
My Lords, several businesses have expressed concerns that the withdrawal of Sunday collections will harm Royal Mail's position. They also fear that a much greater threat to Royal Mail's competitiveness is the unions. Does the Minister therefore agree with the following words:
"The Government has indulged in craven surrender. They basically have given in without a fight to one little vested-interest group in the society called trade unions. Now, I know the unions pay a lot of those MPs' wages, but the Government is elected to govern for the whole country"?
The words are, after all, his own.
My Lords, I knew exactly what the noble Baroness was going to say from the first words she quoted. This measure is in the interests of those loyal men and women who work in the Post Office. The world has changed for ever and if we do not make the business competitive in a global environment it will affect those who work in the industry, who may lose their jobs, and taxpayers who will have to pay more money to support it.
My Lords, would the Minister not accept that the current organisation or Royal Mail means that we have the opposite of Baldwin's famous aphorism so that the Government have responsibility without power, and does he not agree that as the owner of Royal Mail it is for the Government to endeavour to ensure next-day first-class postal delivery?
My Lords, only 16 people a week use the smallest 800 post offices, which costs you £17 each. It would cheaper to send their mail by taxi.