HC Deb 07 July 1919 vol 117 cc1387-9
55. Captain ORMSBY-GORE

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government will now abolish the cable censorship; and whether he is aware that the continuance of the censorship is seriously prejudicing the revival of British overseas trade


asked the Postmaster-General whether, now that Peace is signed, he can make any statement with regard to the withdrawal of censorship from cablegrams?


I have been asked to answer these questions. I would refer my hon. and gallant Friends to the reply which I gave to a similar question put to me on the 4th July by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, to which I have nothing to add. The reply in question was that it is hoped that circumstances may soon render relaxation in this direction possible.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he realises how deeply British industry is suffering from the present delays? Is it not the fact that the War Office are still sending numbers of messages running into 800 and 900 words, particularly to Egypt, many of which might well be sent by post or other ways?


Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of allowing British firms of good standing to use their own private codes?


I have investigated that matter at considerable length, and although I was strongly drawn to the hope that it would be possible to combine a certain degree of censorship with the admission of private services I regret it is not possible. But a relaxation of these restrictions is necessarily imminent; if it is prolonged for a few weeks more it is only because of the general state of the world,, which makes it difficult for us altogether to give up our means of supervising the? control of certain activities.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that recently a cable occupied ten days in coming from New York to this country?


I was not aware of that, but I know there is enormous delay in all messages. I am told, however, that when the restrictions are removed and the cable resumes its full elasticity the delay will be even greater because of the pressure on the wires.


Can the right hon. Gentleman see his way to speed up the censorship so that there may be no unnecessary delay on the subject?


The matter is a very difficult one indeed. What one wishes to do now is to relax the censorship over the great volume of correspondence while at the same time preserving the censorship for certain suspected correspondence. That is the difficulty which, when it is translated into action, renders very difficult the production of a satisfactory scheme.


Would the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with the Government to allow this House to have a discussion on the whole question of cable delays, which is of the utmost importance to this country in its trade competition with foreign countries?


Everyone recognises that this censorship has got to be abolished at an early date. The question is what arrangements can be, made which will not have the effect of impeding the movements of commercial business.

Brigadier-General COCKERILL

Is it not the fact that the operations of the censorship cause no delay whatever?


Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that, apart from the question of the censorship, it is time that the whole question of cable delays was discussed in this House owing to the extreme importance to this country of her trade?


Well, Sir, my hon. Friend has as good access to the Leader of the House as I have.


Will the Leader of the House give the opportunity?

57. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Prime Minister how long it is proposed to continue the censorship of letters; and will he give the number of persons at present engaged in this work?


I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply given on Thursday last to a similar question put by the hon. and gallant Member for the Kincardine and Western Division of Aberdeen and Kincardine, to the effect that the censorship of civilian mails in the United Kingdom has been discontinued except as regards mails to and from areas in which military operations are in progress. The number of persons employed in actual censorship at the present time is sixty including the supervising officers. In addition there are 278 examiners and higher staff employed in the work of clearing up.