THE AIR MINISTER
[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—On the adjournment last Monday I raised the question of the Air Minister being in the House of Commons and' put forward the following arguments in support of my contention : (t) A succession of reversals of decisions indicates that the Minister is not in touch with the feeling of the House.
(2) The work of the House has more than once been impeded and delayed through faulty handling of debates by the Under Secretary or by his inability to come to a decision without consulting the Minister.
(3) The Minister should be in the House because he is (a) now head of a great spending department, (b) responsible for a great rearmament programme about which much uneasiness exists, (c) the Minister particularly responsible for the Air Defence of London which many people believe to be so far
a make-believe and shah'. '
In his reply to me the Prime Minister made literally no attempt to reply to these arguments. He asked me why, feeling as I do, I did not put down an amendment -to the Ministers of the Crown Act to provide for the Minister being in-the-House ? This seems to me completely irrelevant and the most trivial' debating point. His next point was that five members of the Cabinet in the H ouse of Lords is not too large 'a number. This may be true, but it does not dispose of the reasons I have given why the Air Minister should not be one of them. Then he said that under both Labour Governments the Air Minister was in the Lords. I happened to know this, but the trondithms were entirely different as the circumstances I have already commented upon as to Vending, the rearmament programme and the defence of London had not then arisen in an acute form and were, in fact, not likely to do sgwith either Mr. MacDonald or Mr. Henderson in the Foreign Office. - • His final point was that I had only raised the matter because the member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) had made a powerful attack upon the Air Minister in regard to Civil Aviation. This was the feeblest of all the Prime Minister's feeble replies because, in fact, it must be more than a year since I first asked that the Air Minister should be in the House of Commons and, furthermore, owing to pressure of work I neither heard nor have read the speech of Mr. Perkins. The most important point arising out of the Prime Minister's speech is, however, the following. On July 22nd, 1937, I asked the Prime Minister if he would put the Air Minister in the Commons. He replied that he had nothing to add to a reply given me by Mr. Baldwin on March 15th, 1937, namely, "In view of the enormous amount of work that rests on the Secretary of State for Air there are advantages in his being more free to devote himself to the -work he has to do and represented by a Parliamentary Secretary here. The strain at present of that particular office is enormous. I think it conduces to the best interests of the administrative that the representation should at present remain as it is." Last night this line of argu- ment entirely disappeared and the reasons which were so conclusive that the Prime Minister, last week, had "nothing to add to them never even made their appearance. I hope the Prime Minister will quickly realise that, as you have rightly said, "This is a matter which has to be firmly faced." It is idle to deny that there is great uneasiness about the work and administration of the Air Ministry. The feeling is prevalent that the real reason for the Air Minister being in the Lords is that he may escape day to day questioning in the Commons. Public confidence will not be established until he is in the Commons.—I am, your obedient servant,