HC Deb 13 January 1916 vol 77 cc1754-6

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has received a resolution from the Kerry County Council protesting against the action of the Post Office censors in opening and censoring letters of the Most Reverend Dr. Mangan, Bishop of Kerry, and the nuns throughout the county; and if he will see that such action is not repeated?

86. Mr. FLAVIN

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the Kerry County Council have unanimously passed a resolution condemning the censoring of letters addressed to His Lordship the Most Reverend Dr. Mangan, Bishop of Kerry; whether he is aware that Dr. Mangan himself found it necessary, after repeated complaints, to publicly call attention to the fact that letters of a most private and confidential character addressed to him on purely religious questions were censored; and whether, in view of Dr. Mangan's well-known position and public feeling, as also that he is a colleague of the Chief Secretaries of Ireland on the Congested Districts Board, he will be further spared the affront of having his private and most confidential communications examined?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)

I have not seen the resolution from the Kerry County Council, but I have seen letters addressed to the Postmaster-General and to the War Office on this matter by the Bishop of Kerry, and I have seen a statement made by the Bishop in the Cathedral, Killarney. A full explanation of the action taken was sent to the bishop on the 11th January, in which it was explained that the censorship of letters was imposed out of military necessity, and that it was conducted by a staff of honourable persons in accordance with instructions which do not discriminate between letters addressed to the bishops and clergy in Ireland and those addressed to the bishops and clergy in Great Britain. It would not be possible, without delaying the correspondence more than it is now delayed, to sort out and exempt from censorship particular classes of correspondence addressed to or sent by different categories of persons.

The object of the censorship is to prevent the disclosure of military information as much by innocent inadvertence as by deliberate intention, and to confine it to examination of the correspondence of known enemies of the Empire would, even if such a course were feasible, defeat one of its main objects. The censorship of letters is undertaken solely with a view to protecting the lives of the soldiers, in whose safety I know the people of Ireland are as keenly interested as are the inhabitants of other parts of the United Kingdom.


Are the military authorities in Cork allowed to censor letters of a purely religious character, and has the right hon. Gentleman any reason to doubt the patriotism of the Bishop of Kerry?


The county of Cork is not treated differently to other parts of the United Kingdom.


Ought not there to be at least a suspicion of a person before letters are opened, or some reason for suspecting that a letter of a treasonable character is being sent?


There is no suspicion in any individual case, and it is only by opening a mass of letters that one is able to ascertain what is actually being communicated.


Why do they open private and confidential letters of a most sacred character dealing with purely religious matters addressed to a bishop?


It is impossible to know until the letters are opened.


Ought not the mere fact that a letter is addressed to a prominent bishop of the Roman Catholic Church to be a sufficient security that it is of a loyal character?


I am afraid that would not be sufficient security. The letters of the bishops in Ireland have not been treated differently to the letters of bishops in other parts of the United Kingdom.


Letters from Members of this House to their families at home have been censored, and I want to know is this allowed by the Post Office?


The hon. Member must give notice of that. There are no bishops here.