Orders of the Day — Home Guard.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 18th December 1941.

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Photo of Mr David Margesson Mr David Margesson , Rugby

On 2nd December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement upon man-power and woman-power. In the course of that statement, he said: Power must now be taken by Statute to direct men into the Home Guard in areas where it is necessary and to require them to attend the drills and musters indispensable to the maintenance of efficiency. Liability for service in the Home Guard will be defined by Regulation. We do not propose to exercise this power until that Regulation has been subject to a special discussion in the House of Commons, apart altogether from the discussions of this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1941; col. 1043, Vol. 376.] World events have brought into increasing prominence the question of the defence of these islands, and it is my duty, as Secretary of State for War, to see that our preparations against invasion here are brought to a high state of readiness against the time when the threat of invasion becomes a more immediate one. The existence of that threat has decided His Majesty's Government to make it obligatory upon all citizens within certain ages to give part-time service if called upon. It would obviously be unjust to exclude one part-time service, namely, the Home Guard, from this general obligation. I am certain that the Home Guard would never wish to claim such a privilege. It is just because we recognise that they are of such vital importance in our scheme of National Defence that, where the Home Guard is under-manned, the ranks must be filled. That being so, the Home Guard must come into line with all other parts of the Defence Services.

As the House knows, the Home Guard is the second line of our defence. I welcome the opportunity given to me by this Debate to give the House some idea of what we propose in order to establish and maintain the strength of the Home Guard and to ensure its proper training for war. It follows from the very nature of this citizen army that the distribution of its personnel is not necessarily the most desirable distribution from the military operational point of view. It is partly for this reason that in some areas the strength of the Home Guard is below what we would like it to be. It is also true to say that in some areas where the need is less, personnel have not offered themselves for enrolment in sufficient numbers, sometimes because they cannot persuade themselves that they are really needed at all, and sometimes no doubt, because they think that the necessary arms are not available for them.

It is for these reasons that power has been taken by the National Service (No. 2) Bill, 1941, to make certain provisions by way of Defence Regulations. Clause 1(b) of the Bill provides that the liability of a person to some form of part-time national service includes liability to give part-time service in the Armed Forces and that the extent of that liability is to be provided for by the Defence Regulations. I propose, during the course of my remarks, to tell the House what powers we propose to take in these Regulations. The Regulations themselves are not yet drawn, but on the advice of my military colleagues, I desire to exercise these powers at an early date in order that the training of the Home Guard may be put upon a proper footing without any further delay. I hope that during the course of the Debate I shall receive advice and help from all sides of the House which will help me when I come to frame the Regulations finally, and it was with this object that the Prime Minister gave his promise on 2nd December.

The Home Guard was born out of intense patriotism and a realisation of imminent peril. It is fundamentally a voluntary organisation. It is at present composed exclusively of volunteers, men who have accepted great personal inconvenience and in many cases sacrifice in order that they may be trained to fight for their country in the event of invasion For months, now, they have suffered this inconvenience and sacrifice in varying degrees. It is true that the enemy has not so far attempted invasion, but the Home Guard know that until that threat is finally removed they must ever be watchful and they must ever be prepared, and their spirit and enthusiasm have not been dimmed because up till now they have been inactive. This spirit of service I, for one, am not prepared to flout or discourage, and it is for this reason that I intend to apply the powers of compulsory enrolment only in those areas where it is necessary. I do not believe that it will ever be necessary to apply these powers universally, but I cannot disregard the fact that there is a shortage of personnel in some of the operationally more important areas, and in those areas, particularly, I shall make use of the powers conferred upon me. I should make it clear that I do not intend to apply this compulsion except in areas where I can be sure of a sufficiency of weapons for the resulting recruits.

In the areas where compulsory enrolment is resorted to, there will be serving, side by side, volunteers and compelled men. As the House knows, the volunteers are at present entitled to give and receive a fortnight's notice of termination of service. The compelled men, on the other hand, will be liable to service for the duration of the emergency, or until their services are dispensed with. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of any Service that members of it should serve under varying conditions, and my second proposal is, therefore, to ask men who are already serving in the Home Guard throughout Great Britain to accept the further liability of being retained in the Service as long as is necessary.