Decline of parliamentary snail mail

44101At 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.   

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Decline of parliamentary snail mail

  1. Mark Shephard says:

    Very interesting. It would be great if we could unpack this, Who has disproportionately gone online (e.g. has business gone online and constituents have not – or vice versa as businesses know that chain emails don’t work etc)

  2. Mark Shephard says:

    Perhaps you could keep a tally – although I suspect you probably are 🙂

  3. Neil M says:

    Slightly surprised that the decline has not been even greater and by the remarkable consistency in the % received by the House of Lords…………

  4. Andrew Turvey says:

    As one who has often emailed my MP in the past, may I offer a couple of suggestions.

    First, what should take priority, a letter or an email? Unequivocally, letters should. The effort put into replying should reflect the effort put into sending: the very act of printing a letter, putting it in an envelope and posting it means you are treating it as more important than a simple email.

    Secondly, how to deal with all the correspondence? Key, I suggest, is to adopt a rule that says mass emails should get mass response. If you get 1000 near-identical emails, its quite OK to respond with an identical email reply. In fact, just put the answer on a blog post and send them all a link.

    I appreciate this is a difficult culture change for some parliamentarians, but I don’t see any alternative.

  5. tizres says:

    The pollution of mass email is similar to that of nuisance phone calls. I do hope that, should an occasion arise, both issues will be settled simultaneously.

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