HL Deb 25 February 1970 vol 308 cc55-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what ground representatives of the obscene publications police squad visited the house of Mr. Tony Smythe, the secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, after confiscating literature in the post addressed to the Council; and whether in view of the announcement by the Home Secretary that the Director of Public Prosecutions will not initiate proceedings, the literature will be made available to the Council for consideration.]


My Lords, this visit, which took place at 8.20 a.m. on January 23, 1970, was made by members of the Metropolitan Police Force at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions, following the submission to him by the postal authorities of material addressed to Mr. Smythe from Denmark, which had been intercepted in the post. The object of the visit was to ascertain from Mr. Smythe how it had come about that the literature was addressed to him. Following consideration of the circumstances, it has been decided that proceedings shall not be instituted, and Mr. Smythe has been informed accordingly. If he still wishes the material to be made available to him it will be necessary to discuss with him the basis on which this is to be done.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend, may I ask him two supplementary questions? First, is it not rather extraordinary that the police should visit a respectable and responsible public figure in this way, just because there has been posted to him some material which has been regarded as pornographic? It may happen to any of us. Secondly, when material is posted to anyone, have the police the right to seize it without informing the potential recipient and without the potential recipient having any right to judge their action in confiscating it? If they have this right, is it not an extraordinary, bureaucratic, official power, which those of us who believe in liberty ought to resist?


My Lords, I am asked whether it is extraordinary for the police to visit Mr. Smythe. I do not find this extraordinary at all. What I find extraordinary is the lack of co-operation which Mr. Smythe showed to the police authorities in the first place. They called round to his office. He was not there. They invited him to contact them and make an appointment, and although he admits having had this message he ignored the suggestion put to him by the police. As for the right to intercept material of this kind, it is clearly laid down by Parliament that the Customs have powers, under Section 294 of the Customs and Excise Act 1952, to intercept packages which they suspect contain pornographic material. And, having seen the material in question, I am not surprised that they caused investigations to be made.