HC Deb 08 June 1944 vol 400 cc1490-2
21. Miss Ward

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he can now make a statement on censorship in India.

Mr. Amery

I must ask the indulgence of the House for a somewhat long reply.

In regard to censorship of Press messages leaving India the Government of India have assured me that they are anxious to accord to correspondents of reputable newspapers and news agencies overseas the greatest possible measure of freedom to transmit news and views on the situation in India. The two main grounds on which Press messages from India are liable in war conditions to interference are, firstly, if they are likely to convey to the enemy information of military value, including news of events in India of which the enemy could take immediate military advantage; or secondly, if they contain information which, particularly if exploited by enemy broadcasts heard in India, would be likely gravely to threaten peace and tranquillity there.

As regards the first, the House will recognise that with the Japanese on the frontier of India military security is vital. Moreover the Government of India cannot be unmindful of the danger of presenting the enemy with information and material which he can exploit directly to his advantage in his wireless propaganda services to the Indian public and to Indian troops. Censorship on the second ground will continue to be exercised only in exceptional circumstances and under the policy control of competent higher authority. Whenever feasible correspondents will be informed of the reasons for the censor's action. The Government of India wish to make it clear that their censorship of messages leaving India is not applied on political grounds, and that they appreciate the importance of free transmission from India of the messages of news agencies and correspondents.

The Viceroy, who had looked into the matter personally, assures me that although there may have been some mistakes and errors of judgment, the censorship has not been applied in such a way as to hinder the presentation of a fair picture of the Indian situation. He points out that the censors had had to work in difficult conditions but he is having the departmental machinery overhauled so as to provide better safeguards against official over-caution. What I have just said does not of course relate to Censorship of Press messages handed in for transmission at the Headquarters of the r4th Army or of the South East Asia Command, responsibility for which now rests with that Command.

As regards postal and telegraphic communications other than Press traffic, I have already explained the general arrangements and principles of the Indian Censorship in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham on the 18th of May. From a report subsequently received from the Government of India I find that certain allegations regarding the Postal and Telegraph Censorship which have recently been given currency here are either unfounded or grossly exaggerated. In particular I find that wide liberty is given to political comment and that indeed there is no political censorship, except where commerce exceeding a fair and reasonable explanation of views have to be treated as matter inimical to the national interest or providing valuable material for enemy propaganda.

Mr. Tinker

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? When an answer is very long, would you not consider leaving it until the end of Questions? There are 89 Questions on the Paper and it is very difficult for hon. Members to get their Questions put, when long answers are given.

Mr. Speaker

There is already one answer which is to be given at the end of Questions. It is, however, more convenient when there is a very long answer to have it at the end of Questions.