HC Deb 01 July 1919 vol 117 cc760-2
43. Sir H. NIELD

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is proposed to modify or abrogate the system of censorship, set up in the early months of the War, now that Peace is about to be concluded; what control has been exercised over letters forwarded to British subjects, resident or interned in Germany, when sent under cover through intermediaries in neutral countries or through the agency of Thomas Cook and Son;why have those mediums of communication been permitted, when letters, left open for the express purpose of examination by the Censor, addressed direct to British subjects in Germany, have been returned to the senders, though unexceptional in character and relating purely to official matters wholly unconnected with the War; and if he will say what parts of Germany were regarded by the Censor as being occupied early in the War?


The censorship in the United Kingdom of civil mails to and from places abroad, other than theatres of military operations, has ceased. Regarding control during the War, letters addressed to British subjects resident in Germany, but not interned, were permitted to be sent under cover through intermediaries in neutral countries, or by the agency of Messrs. Cook and Sons or other authorised agencies in the United Kingdom, provided they were licensed by the proper authority if they were business communications. Letters to British subjects interned in Germany have, during the War, been permitted to go direct by prisoners of war mail. All the correspondence referred to was subject to censorship. The reason why correspondence was only permitted through these channels was because, on the outbreak of war, direct postal communication between the United Kingdom and Germany ceased, and thereafter the Post Office was unable to send ordinary postal communications direct. With regard to the last part of the question, a small portion of Alsace-Lorraine was in the occupation of the Allied Armies.


When did the censorship of letters directed to places other than theatres of military operations cease?


I forget, but I think a few weeks ago.


Has a direct service between this country and Germany been resumed?


The military censorship has been completely abrogated, and the work of the enormous staff which was engaged upon that work has ceased.


Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that all censorship of letters from this country has now ceased? If so, how does he reconcile that with the answer given to-day that the censorship on mails and cables to South America is still under consideration?


There are two censorships, the postal censorship and the cable censorship. The postal censorship, as I understand, has been abrogated, but the question of the cable censorship is engaging the attention of the Government, and it is obvious that relaxation in that direction is approaching.


In the event of the Government opening any letters in the future as they have done in the past, when there is no formal censorship, will they be guilty of a criminal act?


No. Any communication which is in course of transmission through His Majesty's mails is liable to examination when necessary under the warrant of the Home Secretary.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the censorship of cables entails very great delay in the transmission of cables to and from New York and other places, which occasions serious loss?


It is a very important question, and the Government have devoted anxious attention to it with a view to relieving the commercial world of this burden at the earliest moment that the safety of the country permits.