§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
asked the Postmaster General, Whether, in the case of duly prepaid private letters stopped, opened, and read by the Post Office authorities, by virtue of a warrant from the Secretary of State, or otherwise, it is usual to prevent the communications from reaching their intended destination, and to return them as "Returned Paid Letters" to the writers, without any explanation or reason for their stoppage; whether, on or about the 13th instant, a duly prepaid letter, addressed to a young lady residing at West End Park, Harrogate, was, by authority of a special warrant from Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State, or otherwise, stopped, opened, and read by the Post Office authorities, and by them returned to the writer as a "Returned Paid Letter," without any explanation of such proceeding on their part; whether, on or about the same date, a letter addressed to a young lady in a boarding school at Haverstock Hill was in a like manner stopped, opened, perused, and returned as a "Returned Paid Letter" to the writer by the Post Office authorities, without any explana- 344 tion of their conduct; and, whether it is a fact that in each case it was discovered that the communication so intercepted by the authorities was from a young lady in Ireland inclosing a spray of Shamrocks to a former schoolfellow in one case, and to the writer's sister in the other; and, whether it is not possible that, since the Home Secretary has been reported to have opened letters, dishonest letter carriers had availed themselves of the opportunity of opening them also, thinking that the recipients would imagine it had been done by the Home Secretary?
§ MR. FAWCETT
Sir, I need scarcely say that the two letters referred to in the Question of the hon. and learned Member were not opened by a warrant from the Secretary of State. I find, on inquiry, that the explanation of the matter is simply as follows:—On St. Patrick's Day, a great number of letters are always sent containing shamrock. The two letters referred to in the Question contained shamrock in such a wet condition that the moisture came through and injured the other letters. The course was then taken which is always followed when a letter is in such a condition that it cannot be for warded without damage to the other correspondence. These letters were sent to the Returned Letter Office. They were, of course, not read, but treated in the same way as letters which are sent to the Returned Letter Office to be returned to the writers in consequence of insufficient address or other cause. I think, however, it might be better, and would probably cause less inconvenience, if, under similar circumstances in the future, letters thus detained are forwarded to their destination instead of being returned to the writers. Through an inadvertence the letters in question were returned to the writer endorsed with the word "shamrock," instead of with the words "damp shamrock withdrawn," which would have explained the cause of the detention.