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Postal Packets, Northern Ireland (Examination)

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1952

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9, 13 and 27.

asked the Assistant Postmaster-General (1) the terms of the warrant under the authority of which officers of his Department handed over postal packets passing through the Post Office in Belfast for opening and examination;

(2) to whom the officers of his Department hand over letters and other postal packets under warrant; and to what extent such persons are responsible to him for their action while on such premises;

(3) what check his officials in Northern Ireland adopt to see that they receive back the identical letters they pass over to the censors.

I propose, with permission, to answer Questions 9, 13 and 27 together.

If the hon. Gentleman insists upon that, he will probably get the same answer three times.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for the answer, when perhaps he will not want me to read it three times.

In this matter I act in Northern Ireland in pursuance of an express warrant in writing under the hand of the Governor, who acts on the advice of the Government of Northern Ireland. The warrant is issued under the prerogative power at common law, which is recognised and preserved by the Post Office Act, 1908, as amended, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, by the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922. It not only authorises but requires me to detain and produce for inspection postal packets addressed to a specified individual or individuals. I have no responsibility for the persons carrying out the inspection. The only duty of my Department is to act in accordance with the warrant. I can assure the hon. Member that all proper steps are taken to ensure that letters dealt with under such a warrant are sent on by post.

I have no further responsibility in the matter, and I am unable to give any further information.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask his colleagues to cease talking about the importance of iron curtains abroad if this sort of thing goes on in Northern Ireland, and has not the Press of the United States been referring to this condition of things as "typical Westminster hypocrisy"? Also, will the hon. Gentleman say whether he has received complaints from Belfast about missing letters and postal orders for which his staff are under suspicion, and will he not, therefore, inquire a little further into the conduct of these police officers, who have been recruited on a sectarian and political basis and are responsible to nobody?

I am only responsible for the letters, and I have given the hon. Gentleman the assurances for which he asks.

How would it have been possible to discover the plot of the Irish Republican Army to welcome German forces if they landed in Northern Ireland if it had not been possible to open their letters?