Orders of the Day — Post Office (Household Delivery Service)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1964.

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Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00 am, 4th February 1964

The B.B.C. is mentioned in the Motion. The Corporation does not exclude political propaganda from its programmes. There is no ban on political propaganda on the B.B.C. It maintains a proper balance in its programmes, both in the party political broadcasts which are organised by agreement with the main parties and in the discussion programmes which, I believe, it takes great trouble to secure are properly balanced. The same goes for the I.T.A.'s political programmes.

The hon. Member for Barnsley quoted the Television Act, but he did not quote all of it. He did not quote the proviso to Section 3 under which there is provision for properly balanced political programmes. The Post Office is following that principle by providing a service which is open and available to those who do not break the rules about obscenity or offensiveness.

The next question is: why is this restriction thought necessary in this country? My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has reminded the House that other countries which run services of this sort do not impose the political ban which is asked for. In New Zealand, where there is a very similar service, both political parties make very considerable use of it to the profit of the New Zealand Post Office. I must ask right hon. Members opposite why a protection from the "debasing" influence, to quote the Motion, of political propaganda which is not required for the New Zealander is required for the Briton. Why are we thought to be so unsophisticated that it is necessary to have this kind of protection?

The right hon. Member for Belper ducked the question of political censorship. He spent a lot of time making the point that my right hon. Friend's ban on obscenity and gross offensiveness amounted to a form of censorship. That is an arguable view, but, whatever censorship it may be, it is a very much smaller and less vicious thing that political censorship. What the Motion asks the House to approve is the introduction of political censorship in the Post Office for the first time in our history.

Hon. Members opposite are all alone in this. The Press, from The Times to the New Statesman, is against them on this. They have seen the criticisms which have been made of this venture and how the hon. Member for Barnsley referred to the problem of a head postmaster dealing with possibly obscene or offensive leaflets. I accept that there may be problems, but they are very small compared with the head postmaster's problem of what is, or is not, for the purpose of this rule, to be treated as political propaganda.

For example, would an analysis of the reasons for the financial crisis at the end of the last two Labour Governments be political propaganda, or, as it could be suggested, an interesting historical analysis?