HC Deb 16 March 1965 vol 708 cc1042-4
11. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he will take to curb the sending of pornographic literature through the post.

38. Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

asked the Postmaster-General how many complaints have been made to him regarding the sending of pornographic literature through the post since he took office.

Mr. Joseph Slater

With permission I will answer this Question and Question No. 38 together.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General has excluded Question No. 44 from this reply? It is on the same subject.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the Assistant Postmaster-General is answering Question No. 38 with Question No. 11.

Mr. Slater

It is an offence to send indecent or obscene matter through the post; and any such matter coming under notice is stopped. The literature relating to the "Penthouse" magazine, to which many hon. Members have drawn my right hon. Friend's attention, was ruled by a court on 5th March to contravene Section 11 of the Post Office Act, and I do not therefore expect any more of it to be posted. My right hon. Friend has received about 250 complaints concerning pornographic literature in the post.

Mr. Mills

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's reply, but will he bear in mind the concern on both sides of the House about this problem, bearing in mind that most of us do not want to see our young people corrupted? Will he watch the position very carefully in future?

Mr. Slater

Yes, Sir. But I must inform the House that my right hon. Friend has no power to search out and to open packets to find out whether or not they contain indecent or obscene matter, and I do not think that the House would wish him to have powers to exercise this form of censorship. There is nothing to stop people who receive such matter through the post from taking action themselves or through the police.

Mr. Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the very great offence caused by the "Penthouse" advertisements being sent to a very large number of responsible and respectable people? If similar matters are drawn to his attention, is he able to take any action or is it up to the public to deal with it direct with the police?

Mr. Slater

If we are faced with a situation like the one the hon. Gentleman has referred to, the information is immediately passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This was done in the "Penthouse" case, when action was taken and a decision given.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

Is my hon. Friend aware that opinions differ about what is or is not pornographic but that there is the more general issue of advertising which for one reason or another is not allowed on other media but which goes through the post? What is the Department's attitude to that?

Mr. Slater

I think that my hon. Friend must wait until I answer his Question No. 44.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Why did it take so long to jump on the organisers of the "Penthouse" advertising? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I, and other hon. Gentlemen, sent this advertisement to Ministers in December but that a prosecution was not lodged until March? Is it not possible for the Post Office to issue summonses as soon as hon. Members send information to Ministers?

Mr. Slater

I think that I have made clear the position of the Postmaster-General with regard to literature of this nature. On many occasions we are not aware that such stuff is going through the post. It is only when some of these packages happen to break open that we are able to discover any such material.

Mr. Hogg

Is not the result of the "Penthouse" prosecution evidence that the law is effective and is working rather well?

Mr. Slater

Yes, Sir.