HC Deb 26 March 1936 vol 310 cc1397-8

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to three articles contributed to the Press during the last election by, respectively, a Field-Marshal, a Marshal of the Air, and an Admiral of the Fleet, in which these officers sought to influence public opinion to support the armaments policy of the present Government; and whether he will instruct the Ministers of Service Departments to acquaint these higher ranks with the orders governing participation in politics or, alternatively, acquaint the House with any rules under which these Press articles were permitted?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

Yes, Sir. Officers of the ranks in question are already aware that they are at liberty to give expression to their personal views on Service and political matters, being treated in this respect in the same way as retired officers of the Forces, upon whom no restrictions are placed.


Is it not a fact, first, that all these officers are not retired from the Services, and, secondly, that the Prime Minister's ruling now expressed would allow other high officers, Admirals of the Fleet and so on, perhaps equally enlightened, to give voice to conflicting views? Would he consider it to be an edifying feature of a General Election that these high officers should compete for the votes of the people three days before polling day?


I should like to amplify a little what I have said. This is an old question, and in my view the matter is perfectly clear. It is quite correct that officers of the highest rank are not retired in the technical sense, but they are retired in a practical sense, and therefore by custom for a very long time past they have been allowed to rank in this and other respects as if they were retired. They are only on half-pay, and they have served their last term of duty to their country. It is only the technical regulations that do not retire them, as they would be were they of lower rank. Officers of lower rank retired are permitted to have these liberties, and I would remind the hon. Member that officers of this grade who have been made peers, as two of these officers are, have always had full liberty to express their views in another place and they have often been found to be critics of the Government for the time being. We do not resent that as a Government, and, if officers of that experience and standing whose active work is finished have contributions to make which their whole life experience entitles them to make, we do not think that any harm is done.


Could not some instruction be laid down that they should not make these contributions in the very controversial atmosphere of two or three days before polling day, when their objects may well be misunderstood?