HC Deb 07 July 1953 vol 517 cc1039-40
27. Mr. M. Lindsay

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what circumstances a letter to a visitor in the United Kingdom from his daughter in Canada, the envelope of which has been sent to him, was opened by Her Majesty's Customs.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Letters in the incoming mails are liable to examination as a check that the contents do not include sterling banknotes or other prohibited imports.

Mr. Lindsay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the man to whom this letter was addressed has for many years been one of the biggest purchasers of Lancashire's textiles and that to have one's private letters opened in times of peace is extremely offensive and gives the impression of secret police? Will he reconsider whether it is really necessary that letters should be opened unless they are addressed to an individual who there is good reason to think may be engaged in illegal activities?

Mr. Butler

Power has been given by the House under the Foreign Postal Packets (Customs) Warrant Act, 1948, to open letters. The difficulty, which has been experienced before by hon. Members, is that it is impossible to differentiate between one letter and another. Experience has shown, unfortunately, that the power is needed because on occasion things are found which should not be found in letters, and, therefore, I regret to say that I cannot go behind the powers which have been given by Parliament.