HC Deb 08 December 1932 vol 272 cc1783-5
48. Mr. MANDER

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if his attention has been called to the speech of Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond, Com mander-in-Chief of the Air Defence of Great Britain, on 26th November, advocating that military air forces should not be abolished; and, seeing that this view is contrary to the declared policy of the Government, what action he proposes to take to restrain such speeches by serving officers?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether his attention has been called to the declarations on the use of air forces made by Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond; and whether, in view of the publicity given to these statements, he will consider taking steps to prevent officers from expressing their opinions on questions which fall within the sphere of Government policy?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)

I do not think it necessary to correct in detail the somewhat misleading account of the circumstances and their implications contained in these questions, but may say briefly that the officer named, in the course of a speech at a private Service dinner, where he had no reason to think that his remarks would be reported, made certain observations which were not, of course, intended for publication in any shape or form. Accordingly, I think it is a matter for regret that these expressions of opinion should have been detached from their context and given a publicity which was very far from their author's intentions. In the circumstances, my noble Friend does not consider any special action is called for.


Does the hon. Member think that even at a private gathering an attack on the policy of His Majesty's Government. should be made by a distinguished serving officer?


I do not think that you can consider that these few remarks made at the end of the speech can be described as an attack on His Majesty's Government.


In view of what the right hon. Member has said this afternoon, has he read the Press reports in which the statement attributed to the Air Marshal were set out and, if so, does he believe that he is justified in attacking the hon. Member who put the question on the Order Paper, in the way that he has done?


I did not in any way attack the question. I said that to describe a few sentences at the end of a long speech as an attack on His Majesty's Government was not justified.


The few sentences referred to were all that appeared in the newspaper, and they were very objectionable.


Can the right hon. Member answer a question of principle, whether the Government permit their salaried officers to express opinions on the policy of the Government, whether in public or in private? On a point of Order. May we not have an answer? Surely we are entitled to ask whether an officer is authorised to express opinions upon Government policy, whether in public or in private. Is that in order, or is it not?


It appears to me that the question on the Order Paper has already been answered. To put another question altogether would not be in order.


May I submit that this is not another question, but is precisely the same question. I submit that my question was quite relevant, namely, whether a civil servant or any salaried officer of the Crown has a right to express an opinion upon Government policy in a private gathering or a public gathering?


In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the. Adjournment.

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