HC Deb 28 October 1953 vol 518 cc2783-4
21 and 22. Mr. Benn

asked the Assistant Postmaster-General (1) in what place two recent letters addressed to the Communist Party offices in Bristol were opened; who authorised this and why; and why these questions could not be answered by the head postmaster in Bristol when they were addressed to him;

(2) under what authority internal letters in the United Kingdom are opened; and on how many occasions these powers have been used in the last year.

Mr. Gammans

The circumstances in which postal packets in course of transmission by post may be opened, detained or delayed are referred to in the proviso to Section 58 (1) of the Post Office Act, 1953, of which I will send the hon. Member a copy. No record is available of the number of postal packets opened under these powers. With regard to the Bristol case, to which the hon. Member refers, the Post Office was acting under a warrant issued by the Home Secretary, but I am not prepared to make any further statement.

Mr. Benn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the case mentioned in my first Question, the two letters which were opened were put back into the wrong envelopes? Is he also aware that any benefits accruing to the community as a result of these security precautions are much reduced by this sort of inefficiency and bungling which we have come to associate with the hon. Gentleman and his Government? Further, while everybody in the House recognises that these powers are necessary, they are very unpleasant powers, and would the hon. Gentleman be willing to put at the disposal of the House the number of warrants signed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department in any given year?

Mr. Gammans

In reply to the first part of the supplementary, as I have said, I do not propose to make any further statement. In reply to the second part, anything the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask on that subject should be addressed to the Home Secretary.