At the beginning of each year, I table a parliamentary question asking how many items of correspondence were received in the Palace of Westminster in the previous year (and, of these, what proportion was received in the House of Lords). There is a clear pattern of decline in the number of letters written to parliamentarians. I have just received the answer covering 2015.
The figures for 2005 onwards are (with the percentage going to the Lords in parenthesis):
2005 4,733,000 (estimate) (20%)
2006 4,789,935 (no % given for the Lords)
2007 4,199,853 (20%)
2008 4,135,144 (15%)
2009 3,540,080 (25%)
2010 3,082,187 (25%)
2011 2,691,576 (25%)
2012 2,544,019 (25%)
2013 2,490,256 (25%)
2014 2,234,763 (25%)
2015 2,200,504 (25%)
The decline does not mean that MPs and peers receive less correspondence than before. It just means that it does not come in paper form. Paper communication, which is time consuming and expensive for people to send, has been supplanted by e-mail, which is more efficient and cheaper than snail mail. MPs especially are now inundated with e-mails from individuals and campaign organisations (and fellow parliamentarians – internal e-mail occupies a good part of the in-box). We do not have data on the number of e-mails that come in, but the number appears to exceed substantially what previously arrived in paper form.
For MPs, over and above the issue of resources for dealing with the sheer volume of electronic communication, there is the problem of verifying that e-mails are actually from constituents and deciding whether e-mails should have priority over letters. There is also the opportunity cost of having to deal with all this correspondence. This is becoming a serious issue. It is not clear how to resolve it. The extent of it is masked by the decline in the volume of letters flowing into the Palace.