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.
Perhaps I may be allowed to continue. I am coming to that point. Men who are already in the Home Guard will be given a sufficient period in which to make up their minds whether they can serve under the new conditions or not. I remember well being faced with a similar question during the last war, when I was serving in the Worcestershire Yeomanry. I was asked then whether I would accept the further liability of service overseas, and I do not remember many of us having any doubt about the answer at that time. And so, to-day, I have received overwhelming evidence that the more seriously minded and more active members of the Home Guard are willing and, indeed, anxious that this step and this further liability should be carried into effect. This part of my proposal will refer, therefore, to the whole of the Home Guard, whether serving in specified areas or not. I must make it quite clear that resignations from the Home Guard will in no way exempt a man from his obligation to perform part-time service, whether in the Home Guard or Civil Defence, in accordance with the directions of the Minister of Labour and National Service; but such a man will be safeguarded in the same way as other members of the public, and will be able, if he wishes, as a civilian to state his case before a civilian tribunal. I do not anticipate that there will be any considerable number of withdrawals following on these proposals. If, however, the incidence of withdrawals in any particular area should result in the strength of that area being diminished beyond the danger point, we shall have no hesitation in applying powers of compulsory enrolment to that area.
I should like to say a word or two on the subject of training. The Army Council already has power under the existing Defence Regulations to order attendances for training and duties, and to court-martial offenders if the order is not obeyed, but, owing to the voluntary and unpaid character of the Force, members of it are exempt from any form of summary punishment and cannot be fined. In practice, therefore, we have not exercised our powers of court-martial against members who do not attend parades or duties. It is, however, a vital necessity, if the Home Guard is to be fit to perform its duty, that all its members should be definitely under an obligation to attend a certain number of hours for training and for duty. The third part of my proposal is intended to ensure that these attendances for training and duties will be kept. Here, again, I am not prepared to see one section of the Home Guard serving under a different set of conditions from the other. The Regulations will provide that men, who are directed into the Home Guard for part-time service, shall be liable to penalties inflicted by a civil court for failure to attend training or duty. The civil court can inflict a penalty more appropriate to the class of delinquency here in question than the punishment which a court-martial is able to inflict upon part-time unpaid members of the Armed Forces. Moreover, the House will remember that there were civil penalties attaching to the Territorial Army in peacetime, and there is a close similarity between the liabilities undertaken by Territorial soldiers in times of peace and those now undertaken by members of the Home Guard.
I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that a Regulation must be made requiring compulsory attendances for training and duties on the part of all members of the Home Guard, whether volunteers or compelled men, and providing that a member of the Home Guard who disobeys orders or absents himself from duty will render himself liable to a summary conviction in a civil court. The maximum penalty will be one month's imprisonment, or a fine of £10, or both. These penalties, I should like to point out, are exactly the same as those provided for in the case of Civil Defence workers. The Regulation will provide that prosecutions are not undertaken without proper consideration by high military authority. There is no very close similarity, I think, between the duties of the Home Guard and those of most of the Civil Defence Services. The Home Guard is required to perform duty as well as training throughout the Service. Many of them must guard vulnerable points for so many days. All of them must also attend parades for training. For this reason there would be justification, in my view, for requiring members of the Home Guard to give longer hours of attendance than are required of part-time Civil Defence workers.
The Home Guard has the dual function of guarding and of training; therefore it might reasonably be expected that they should give more hours than Civil Defence workers. But it is perhaps undesirable that one class of part-time worker should be called upon to perform longer hours than another, and I have come to the conclusion that, at any rate for the present, it will not be necessary to prescribe longer hours. I propose, therefore, to lay down that a maximum of 48 hours in any four weeks may be required of the Home Guard for training and duty combined. I have, of course, no intention that every home Guard should perform these periods of duty. That must clearly depend upon the standard of training already reached by the individual and the local need to perform operational duty, such as guard and patrols. Full consideration will be given to the position of workers in agriculture and in industry who may for good reasons be unable to give the full amount of time to their Home Guard duties.
There has been some criticism of the decision that women should not be permitted to be members of the Home Guard. There are many objections to such a proposal. In the first place, there is a heavy demand throughout the country for the services of women in a part-time capacity in industry and in other directions, and I should have to be able to show a very strong need for women, even as auxiliary members, before I could feel justified in trenching upon this field, large though it is. I have also to consider whether there are useful jobs in the Home Guard on which women could be employed. I am already deeply indebted to large numbers of patriotic women for a great deal of voluntary work, much of it carried out by more elderly women who will not be caught up under the Bill and whose available hours of service are intermittent and spasmodic and could not be easily fitted into any compulsory part-time scheme. I will keep an open mind on the subject, and, if it should prove later that there is scope for the employment of women in this organisation, I shall not hesitate to review my present decision. But the outcome of invasion will be decided in weeks, and not in many weeks at that. The organisation and administration of the Home Guard in action has been based throughout upon the military model. Its operational command and many of its administrative services are based upon military arrangements affecting the field Army, and I am not yet convinced that there is an adequate place for women in this part-time Army whose role is, armed with the most modern death-dealing weapons we can provide, to fight the enemy to the end. That being so, I must be more fully convinced than I am at present of the need for women if I am to adopt the proposal which some of my hon. Friends urge upon me.
Although it has nothing to do with the proposed new Regulations, I should like to tell the House in broad outline something of other proposals that we have for using the part-time service of the Home Guard to relieve full time soldiers for more mobile roles. The Prime Minister has already announced that we intend to give members of the Home Guard in selected areas the opportunity of manning antiaircraft guns and searchlights. We propose to limit their employment to the heavy types of anti-aircraft equipment with a static role and to some of the searchlight battalions, and these equipments will before invasion be the responsibility of the Home Guard, but only during the night. There will be no restriction upon the numbers of the Home Guard who may be employed on this duty or upon the number of additional Home Guard who may be recruited for it, but existing or new members of the Home Guard will be accepted for service with the guns or the searchlights only if they live close to these sites. The vast majority of the Home Guard carry on their ordinary business during the day, and obviously I cannot expect them to undertake duty every night. Thus it will be necessary to train a number of teams for each gun or each searchlight. This arrangement will obtain up to the time when the Home Guard is mustered. Then, of course, there will not be the need for so many reliefs, and the balance of the men will be used for other purposes. We do not propose to form special Home Guard battalions for these duties. The men will form a part of the existing battalions.
We intend also to accept a limited number of lads on a voluntary basis, between 16 and 17 years of age, for duty with these detachments up to a certain proportion of each individual detachment. Our plans are not yet fully settled, and, though suitable boys may be earmarked, they may not yet be enrolled. We have already decided to use the Home Guard in coast artillery units for local protection purposes and as higher numbers of gun detachments. The same general conditions will apply to them as I have explained in connection with the anti-aircraft units. I am not in a position yet to say how many men can be used in this way, but our plans are now being worked out in detail.
There is one thing more I would like to say to the Home Guard, to those many tens of thousands who will be affected by these new proposals. Some of them may say to themselves, "I have willingly accepted all, or most, of the obligations which you are now going to put upon me compulsorily, but the demands of my civil occupation may well increase as the war reaches its climax, and as a matter of honesty I do not feel I can properly bind myself, as a legal liability, to attend training and duty when I may not be able to do so." I ask Home Guardsmen to dismiss this thought from their minds. I have already explained that the hours of attendance represent a legal maximum of compulsory attendances, and that we shall exercise the power of requiring attendance in a sensible and understanding manner. In my view, there is no reason whatever why anyone at present serving in the Home Guard should decide that he ought to leave it for this reason. My purpose has been to explain as fully as I could my intentions as regards compulsory enrolment and attendance. I hope and believe that they will commend themselves to the House, to members of the Home Guard itself, and to the country as a whole.
The reception of this Memorandum by my hon. Friends here has been somewhat mixed. There are those on this side of the House who are members of the Home Guard who have thought that some compulsion should be applied to make citizens join and take their corner in the defence of the country. Some men left the Home Guard owing to the conditions under which the Home Guard laboured for the first 18 months or so. Looking back, one must admire that ragged Army which first formed the Local Defence Volunteers, going up to the hills and plains and on to high buildings in their own clothes in wet weather, anticipating the Prime Minister's remark a week ago when he said that we would if necessary defend our towns with sticks and pikes. That is how they went out, and they were submitted to some ridicule because they fashioned for themselves dummy wooden rifles in order to drill better. One must say that they did not get much help from the War Office in those days. Paragraph 2 of the Memorandum deals with those who may be excused on grounds of hardship or other grounds. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider men who have been exempted from fire-watching on medical grounds, and to suggest that the same certificate of exemption might release them from liability to serve in the Home Guard without the necessity of any further examination. I should like him to let us know also whether the punishment for military offences will extend to when a man is going to and from a parade in uniform, or whether it only applies to the time when he is actually on parade.
I was at first suspicious of the paragraph which says that the duties of the Home Guard will be defined in instructions issued by the Army Council. Everybody, I suppose, is suspicious of the Army Council. I remember when I was one of the governors of Roehampton Hospital that those high-minded and patriotic ladies who laid the foundations of that hospital in the early part of the last war went in a deputation to the War Office. I presume that they saw the Army Council. They were assured that the cases of amputation of limbs would be negligible. We know better to-day. Then an officer who, I believe, is high up in the Army Council, assured us at the beginning of the war that we should be all right because the Germans had no officers who served in the last war. Perhaps it is a good job for the Germans that they had not, or they might still have been sitting round the Maginot Line. As it is, they made other arrangements for carrying on the war, with disastrous effects to us. The Minister said he thought there would be little difficulty in the present members of the Home Guard making up their minds whether to re-enlist or not. I would point out in passing that the problem for many of us who will be called upon to make a decision is very different from what it was when one was in the Yeomanry 20 years age
I was glad to hear that the War Office do not propose to act too strictly in regard to the number of hours' attendance. There will be men liable to service who will be working on a shift system and they would, perhaps, actually have to lose their rest in order to attend parades. Everybody will be glad to know that the War Office are to use the Home Guard on anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, and also on coastal batteries. That seems to be an easy thing to do where there are in the locality towns from which men can be drawn. I have in mind mainly the rural areas, from which still more young men are to be called-up for military service, and there will not be so many left. That position does appear to create difficulties, but I will return to that point later.
One thing about which I feel concern is whether the introduction of conscription for the Home Guard will destroy the spirit of that body. I have enjoyed immensely my membership of the Home Guard. Here in the House it has brought Members of all parties very much closer together. We know each other much more intimately than before, and I believe we shall know each other to the end of our days. No doubt there will be "old guards'" dinners in days to come. But I am a little suspicious, and I am sure there will be more than one Member of the same mind as myself, about what I may call, although I do not mean this offensively, "the Prussian-minded officer." We all know that there are such officers, those who are so keen on "spit-and-polish" and all that sort of thing. There comes to my mind the experience of a nephew of mine who was a sergeant in the Artillery in the last war. His officer would have all the brass parts of the guns polished; in the other batteries they did not. My nephew remonstrated with the officer about it. One day an enemy reconnaissance plane came over, and within half an hour—luckily my nephew was away from the guns at the moment—the whole lot of them were wiped out. He said the sun was glinting on their sights and trunnions and they were easily visible from the air. That officer, with his silly, nonsensical ideas about polishing the guns, had, no doubt, cost that battery their lives.
I should like to ask, also, whether the Minister has considered the advisability of putting the conscripts in the Home Guard into separate companies, especially in the countryside. If you force into a company a man who has so far remained outside he may not fit in with the rest very well. After all, the speed of a convoy is the speed of its slowest ship, just as the strength of a chain is the strength of its weakest link, and the introduction of conscripts may cause endless difficulties. I do not know what the Minister may be prepared to do, but I think the point is worthy of consideration. It is always an unhappy thing to have a misfit among a small group of men, and it should be remembered that the men of the Home Guard do not work shoulder to shoulder like the men in a Guards' battalion. They will be working under very similar conditions to those which prevailed when I was in the old Rifle Volunteers over 50 years ago, before the days of aeroplanes and telephones. When we were reconnoitring or skirmishing we had to work on our own. Then I should like to know what is to be done about us grandpas who are now over the upper age-limit for the Home Guard. Of course, we cannot engage in gymnastic contortions round hedges and ditches and walls, and up ladders and trees and houses, like the younger men, but some of us can shoot, and if we were put in a blockhouse at a bridge-end or behind a wall we could stick on to the end.
I suppose that at the moment the War Office has no idea how many members of the Home Guard are over 65 years of age, but I believe the number is very considerable, and unless our position is considered it may be that the whole lot will have to go, because I take it that the Home Guard could not accept those over 65 as conscripts. I assume that the upper age-limit for conscripts will be 65, and many of us would still like to go on if we could.
As that point has been raised, I will deal with it now. The age for conscripts is the age laid down in the National Service Act, 18 to 51, but there is no limit of age in regard to part-time demands for National Service either in the Home Guard or anything else.
I can see that a shortage of man-power may arise, and I should like the Minister to consider whether companies of the Home Guard raised by railways and by industrial works should still remain independent units. There is the position at the old station where I used to work. It has a good Home Guard company of smart and efficient men. Those men are drawn from the district around, and naturally that depletes the number of men available for any other company raised in that neighbourhood. The Minister should consider whether it is necessary for a railway company with stations quite close together to have strong companies of the Home Guard if it means that there will not be so many men available for Home Guards for the district generally.
Then there is the question of equipment. We know the difficulties which arose after our losses at Dunkirk, and we feel the lack of equipment. I am particularly interested in signals. So far as I can see, the only system of signalling in the Home Guard is with flags. With the coming of the aeroplane, flags are really obsolete, because wherever a reconnaisance plane sees flags at work it will know something is going on. I think the Home Guard ought to be provided with daylight signalling lamps. I know the War Office are going to supply them, but we ought to get them pretty quickly. The Home Guard company here have functions in the City of Westminster, because we have to guard Westminster and Lambeth bridges, and there would be difficulty in sending messages from one post to another. "If the balloon should go up," we should not, I suppose, be able to use the telephone, and if our commanding officer wanted to communicate with the officer on Westminster Bridge or Lambeth Bridge or in Whitehall he would have to resort to the use of runners. If the Germans were dropping a lot of stuff around that would be a very uncomfortable journey. The sooner we have daylight lamps the better. If we do not get them soon we shall be having the peace procession before we get the lamps.
There is another question arising out of the introduction of compulsion for the Home Guard. I constantly get complaints from soldiers as to how they are treated in the streets, how the "red caps" report them because of something wrong with their dress. Of course the military police are bound to do it, because there are always officers about and some of them like to show their authority. But take the case of a man of 65 in the Home Guard. He has been at work all day, he hurries home for his evening meal, gets into his uniform, and rushes off to parade. Is it to be expected of him that he should go through all those saluting evolutions that the young soldier of 18 with nothing to do is expected to perform? The average man of that age is thinking while he is walking. Young people do not think very much. That fact should be taken into consideration. After all, the Anzacs were able to do their fighting without all this spit and polish and were quite good at pushing back the Prussians, who are the leaders in all this heel-clicking and goose-stepping. There is no spit and polish about the Russian Army. Russian soldiers learn to fight and do their job, and that, it seems to me, is the example for the Home Guard. The Middle East Forces are fighting in shorts and open-necked shirts. I see by the paper this morning that a sergeant got into trouble because he had a tie on with his collar and the top button of his tunic was undone. That sort of thing is very silly and it ought not to be imposed upon the Home Guard.
The Home Guard stepped forward voluntarily, without any encouragement, to guard their hearths and homes. They never had a thought of being organised in battalions and big companies. They always thought they would have to guard their homes in little bands of men, and they have gone on, in spite of the War Office, so to speak, because they did it "on their own." They will still go on, and consideration should still be given to them. The War Office should warn officers that the men in the Home Guard are still home guards who work hard. There are men in the mines and railways all over the country who do heavy work during long hours, with very much less food than is enjoyed by the ordinary soldier. Their bodies are not quite up to the well-nourished state of the soldier in the Army. I feel sure that the Minister will accept these words of warning. I believe that the Home Guard will loyally accept the new position so long as it is carried out in the spirit which I have outlined.
When I first entered this House, about a month ago, I was given two pieces of advice. One was to remain silent for about three months, and the other was that, when I broke that silence, I should avoid any form of controversy. I hope that the House will have no reason to think it is a pity I have ignored the first part of that advice, and I hope I shall not be considered guilty of controversy if I express the view that what has been put forward by the Government at this stage does not really go far enough. I understand that there will be no increase in the numbers of the Home Guard where the present personnel is considered adequate, but I have to ask, What is adequate? To my mind nothing is adequate, except that every man and woman should be trained to defend the country, and nothing short of that will do. It is no use trying to disguise the fact that many people feel discontent and resentment that they are not being allowed to do enough or to shoulder burdens which they would choose to shoulder; I think that became apparent in our recent Debate on manpower.
In the Home Guard there is a great opportunity for people to serve in the way in which they wish to serve. We are apparently being hard pressed in the Far East, but we ought not to be. We have had plenty of time to prepare there, and ample warning of what was coming. If there had been a really efficient Home Guard there, we should not have found ourselves evacuating Sarawak or withdrawing in Malaya.
I do not claim to have any special knowledge of troop movements to or from this country, but it is a reasonable assumption that the more we become involved in other spheres of the globe, the more important becomes the function of the Home Guard in this country. The Home Guard are approaching the time when they will become the front-line troops. It is possible to visualise the time when, the bulk of the Regular Army having been sent overseas, the whole of the defence of this country may fall virtually upon the Home Guard alone. I know that when that test comes they will not be found lacking in courage and determination, but there is an uncomfortable feeling that they may be found wanting in training and equipment.
As to the latter, obviously the supply must depend upon the demands which are made elsewhere, but I want to urge upon the Government a changed attitude of mind towards the Home Guard. I want the Government to regard the Home Guard not merely as a subsidiary unit to the Regular Army, to be employed in catching spies, rounding up parachutists and maintaining lines of supply, but as a self-contained Army upon which the safety of the country may one day depend. For that reason, it is vitally necessary that the Home Guard should be trained and equipped as such an Army, and shall not be left to the last, to be provided with modern and up-to-date weapons when all other orders have been fulfilled. The Home Guard must receive its share now and at once. There must be a considerably increased amount of compulsory training. It is impossible to train an Army—I reiterate that it must be regarded as an Army, and not as a trained band, or a half-trained band, or as an amateur week-end party—in the number of hours which it is now suggested should be compulsory. There is no lack of enthusiasm among the members of the Home Guard themselves, but I complain of the mentality which regards the Home Guard as a body of secondary troops. The time may well come when they will not be secondary, but will be first-class in importance.
As we have learned to our cost, modern war demands highly trained troops equipped with modern machines. You cannot achieve that goal by means of evening classes and Sunday parades. It demands also a highly disciplined Army. I know of no reason why the Home Guard should be, as it is now, under a kind of compromise discipline whereby it is subject to military law on some occasions and not on other occasions. That position is symptomatic of the attitude which I wish to see altered. I wish to see the Home Guard put rather upon the footing of soldiers who are given time off to become temporary civilians, and not civilians who are given time on to become temporary soldiers. As I have said, it is a question of the attitude of mind, and the Government should give a lead on this matter, not only in relation to the Home Guard, but in relation to the whole of the civil population.
I hope that I am not getting out of Order if I refer to the lack of direction as to the role of the civilian in the event of invasion, but if I am, perhaps I can get back into Order by urging the Government to consider the position of women in relation to the Home Guard. I remember, last year I think it was, reading a pamphlet which I gather was issued by the Government or with their approval, instructing the populace what to do in the event of invasion. I cannot at this stage recollect all that appeared in that document, but the burden of it, if I remember rightly, was, if the invader comes, not to give him lunch, but to telephone to the nearest village constable. That was admirable advice, so long as, first, the telephone was working; second, the village constable was not otherwise engaged with a thousand similar calls or perhaps inquiring into the validity of someone else's dog licence; and, third, the invader had not views of his own as to whether he took lunch or not. I wish to assure the Government that you will not stop the invader, when he comes, by giving instructions to the local policeman to take his number and copy down his particulars in a note-book.
There must be, I suggest, a change of attitude of mind as to what is to be done in the event of invasion We have good reason to believe that Russia has gone a long way towards saving herself. She did not do that by the kind of attitude of mind to which I have been referring. She did not stand submissively by, nor did her women and children. She saved herself—if, as we hope she has done— because when the invasion came every man, woman and child rose up and smote the intruder. What she has done we can do, and this country belongs to the women and children as much as to the soldiers.
I understand—and I base my computation on those figures which seem to be applicable to wages, insurance, compensation and so forth—that a woman of this country is calculated at about seven-tenths the value of a man. In the presence of the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham, I hasten to say that I by no means agree with that computation, but I also hasten to add that, of course, that valuation applies only as to seven-tenths of a British man. I do not think it is too much to say that one English woman is worth 10 Germans. I urge upon the Government the desirability of giving a lead in that direction, and of pointing out that it is not throwing too great a burden on the womanhood of this country if every 10 women are asked to kill one German. If that were done, one could be sure in the event of invasion that there would not be one German left alive.
Perhaps in these observations I have wandered a little from the matter which was before the House, but I do. not think I am really guilty of that, because I want the Government to see that, when the invasion comes, not only will the Home Guard be trained and equipped to meet it, but there will be no pusillanimity in scorching this fair Island if we have to make that great sacrifice. If we are called upon to do that, I want the Government to see that we are ready for it. By issuing the necessary weapons and, perhaps, by a more intelligent use of information and propaganda, they could ensure that when the invader came every man, woman and child in this country would rise up and strike him, even if only with half a brick. If that mentality can be inculcated into the people, it would be found that they would be inspired with that vigour, that hatred of Germans, and that knowledge that they were sharing in the battle which, if I were a German, would make me a very frightened man.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Marlowe) on his maiden speech, and I am sure the House will join with me in hoping that he will take part in our Debates on many occasions. He carefully observed the two maxims that were laid down for him, though I was afraid that at one time he was going to stray into a matter of controversy when he began to deal with the relative values of women and men expressed as vulgar fractions. He steered his bark away from that hazard, and I congratulate him on the case that he has made for the Home Guard.
I welcome the statement made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War, and in justification for taking up a little of the time of the House to-day, I should like to say that I have spent the last 18 months in whole-time work for the Home Guard, first of all as a local Defence Area Commander and later as a G.S.O.I., H.G., in a Scottish area. That area comprises a number of counties, very varied in type, and in the Home Guard we have men of all kinds and conditions, the dweller in cities and the dweller in the country, the shipyard worker and the Gaelic-speaking ghillie, and it has given me a fair cross section of Caledonian humanity to study in speaking of the problem. Conditions in all parts of the United Kingdom vary greatly and Scotland is only a part of the problem. My service, however, gives me some confidence in speaking, and, with that experience, I welcome every word which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State has said. This statement is one of great importance and it marks a change in policy which has not been lightly undertaken. It has been undertaken only after much careful thought and inquiry, and I congratulate the Government on having decided to take this step.
Compulsion, in my view, is a proper and necessary step in the present circumstances, but judgment and experience will be necessary in carrying out this change if the vital needs of war-time industry and agriculture are to be safeguarded and if that great and line spirit which has animated the vast majority of members of the Home Guard for one and a half years is to be fully maintained. In reading the White Paper and in listening to my right hon. and gallant Friend's statement, I am satisfied that these safeguards are fully in mind, and that it is the intention of the Government to see that they are implemented. Those who have knowledge of civilian conditions as well as of the arts of war must take a part in administering these safeguards, and I hope the Government will keep that fully in mind in working out their proposals. Indeed, the White Paper makes provision for this, as I see it, and takes into account the widely varying conditions which affect the civil employment of men in different parts of the country.
Why is compulsion now necessary? For a long time I was opposed to the introduction of compulsion in the Home Guard. Like many others, I have become convinced that it is necessary, and for three reasons. The first reason is that the obligations which have been applied to members of the public for Civil Defence clearly make it quite anomalous that similar obligations should not be applied for the Armed Defence of the country. The National Service Bill visualises that, and rightly determines that Armed Defence as well as Civil Defence should be on the same basis. The second reason is that the Home Guard is being called upon more and more to undertake new tasks in defence of their locality. With every extension of the field of war abroad, the importance of the Home Guard at home is magnified and its tasks increased. It is indeed vital that the Home Guard should be strengthened and rendered more efficient for this work. I believe that for these new duties some men can be found by voluntary enlistment; but I do not think that all can be found, and it is a risk we could not afford to take if these new tasks are to be fully discharged.
My third reason for not only accepting, but urging, compulsion is this: I am sure that everyone who has had experience in the Home Guard will agree with me that there is a small but persistent minority in the Home Guard not pulling its weight in duties or in training. Not every unit has this hard core, but a great many of them, I will go so far as to say most of them, have some drones in the hive. It is the good men who are to-day pressing that these men should be made to take their full share of the work. For these reasons I welcome the proposals of the Government. We are fighting for our lives in the greatest war in history. If the Government did not, after thinking it necessary, face the step of compulsion for the Home Guard, they would be gravely lacking in their sense of duty. I am not afraid that the spirit of the Home Guard will be adversely affected if these measures are wisely applied. Compulsion to train did not affect the spirit of the pre- war Territorials, or detract from their keenness. Nor has compulsion affected the spirit of the British Army. He would be a rash man to-day who would say otherwise than that the spirit of our Army is as high as ever in history.
With regard to safeguards, the intake to the Home Guard by compulsion will be controlled, as the Secretary of State pointed out, and as this is a static force, unlike the Army whose recruits we may move anywhere, the views of local military commanders should be taken fully into account in considering the requirements in any area for the Home Guard. The White Paper states that the Army Council, jointly with the Minister of Labour and National Service, will decide what intake is necessary. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend, in view of the static nature of this Force, that full consideration should be given to the views of the Army commanders, and the district and area commanders whose requirements for the defence of their Commands must really govern the numbers required for the Home Guard.
The numbers to be called up, will, in my view, be affected by three factors; the tasks required, the weapons available, and the facilities for training. Taking first the tasks, I believe that ground defence must be the paramount task. It was the task for which the Home Guard was called into being. But it is not the exclusive task. My right hon. and gallant Friend has referred to antiaircraft defence, both guns and searchlights. That is a duty which the Home Guard can and will undertake, but it requires careful organisation. The rota system, to which he referred, requires careful working out to ensure that a large balance of men not on duty on any given night can be given a proper and useful task when action stations are manned. There are other duties, such as guides and traffic control, for instance, for which the Home Guard are eminently suitable. The point has been stressed that there is no intention to change the character of the Home Guard duties in respect of directing men to go a great distance from home to carry out their duties. That should be clearly emphasised to avoid misunderstanding.
Intake must be governed, secondly, by the weapons available. Those who are brought in must have weapons. It would be folly to enlist a large number of men and not provide them at a very early stage of their training with such weapons as are necessary for their instruction. I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend has that in mind, but I stress it, because I know nothing that would more quickly dishearten men than that they should be brought in by compulsion and for a long period have no weapons for training. The question of weapons is a difficult one. I would say at once that a notable improvement has been made in the armament of the Home Guard. They have got new and powerful weapons, but there are still gaps. Obviously I could not discuss these across the Floor of the House, but I should like to whisper in the Secretary of State's ear, and also whisper the word "priority," because the degree of priority accorded to the Home Guard has a most important bearing on our home defence.
Finally, there is the question of training facilities. A large intake will necessitate the provision of training officers and facilities for training. I make one or two suggestions in that connection. For some considerable time Home Guard battalions have had a paid officer with each battalion, an adjutant quartermaster. These officers are generally used more for administrative duties than for training. They were chosen largely from the ranks of the Home Guard or from the administrative assistants. Army officers of field experience were not available. With the increasing importance of the Home Guard and the new duties being handed over to them, it is important that battalions should, if possible, have, as adjutants, officers capable of field training, and in addition have a quartermaster for administrative work. Further, in some Commands, and I know this is true of the Scottish Command, we have had a great deal of help in training from Regular officers.
That is a scheme which I strongly commend to my right hon. and gallant Friend. I hope that he will encourage it in all command's. One recognises that it must be governed by the needs of the Services in other directions, but I hope that there is a possibility of extension of the scheme of attaching active officers from field units for a period to Home Guard battalions to help in their training, and particularly in the training for mobile patrols. The prewar Territorial Army had a much larger number of permanent staff instructors attached to battalions than has been the case with the Home Guard. When one considers that many Home Guard battalions are even more scattered than were the Territorial battalions, one realises how valuable would be an increase in the number of permanent staff instructors, and I hope and believe it is coming.
My right hon. and gallant Friend has spoken of the maximum period of training in any four weeks as 48 hours, and has stressed that, in applying the rule, good sense and understanding of a man's civil occupation should be shown. A man may change his occupation while he is in the Home Guard, and regard should be paid to that possibility. The ordinary farm hand may become a cattleman, a steel works labourer may become a furnaceman, and many other kinds of workers may change their duties in a similar way. It may be necessary then to change the number of their drills. Therefore, those who have had experience of civil life must play a part in the administration of these provisions. I believe that the Government are wise to limit the age of compulsion to 50 for new recruits as in the Military Service Act. As I understand their proposal, men above 50 and up to 65—or older men if they are allowed to stay on longer—will be under a general compulsion to train, just like those who are under 50, and I think that is right and proper. I understand, however, that they will retain the right to contract out at a fortnight's notice. I believe that we shall lose very few as a result. I cannot imagine that men are likely to leave the Home Guard because of the changes now being made. I agree with the. proposal that they should have the right to contract out, but—
—but that they should come under the same conditions with regard to training. I read this proposal in the White Paper to mean that, after the age of 50, a man will have to fulfil his number of drills, but will retain the right to contract out at a fortnight's notice.
I have read that wrongly. That modifies what I was going to say, as it removes the difficulty from my mind. After the age of 50, a man is subject to broadly the same conditions as apply to a man below the age of 50. Fifty is the age up to which men can be compelled to come in from outside if more recruits are required, but those who are now in the Home Guard and are above the age of 50 and who do not, within the specified period, give notice to leave will come under the same conditions with regard to training as others. I agree, however, that it should be recognised that among the older men there may be some who should be allowed to retire and that appears to be provided for.
I come to a point which is not strictly related to the White Paper, but which relates to the Home Guard. I hope that care will be taken not to call up for the Army all the men between 40 and 50 who are at present the backbone of the Home Guard. I agree that in a number of cases such men may be more usefully engaged in the Army, but there are cases of key-men in the Home Guard who would be better left there than given employment in the Army on Home Service, where their category would not be high. I hope that the balance will be very carefully weighed. The Home Guard have undergone many changes in organisation, some good and some not so good. I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the Director-General's Department, which has made a special study of Home Guard problems. The Director-General has cut more red tape in six months than, with 10 years' experience of Government Departments, I should have believed possible. I should like an assurance that that work of his Department will be continued.
The final paragraph in the White Paper relates to allowances. The scale of penalties is the same as that for Civil Defence, but the scale of allowances which applies to Civil Defence is not quite the same as that for the Home Guard. I do not ask that the scales for the two services should be completely co-ordinated, but there are cases where Home Guard allowances might be brought up to come more into line with those for Civil Defence. I had a Question down to-day, about motor mileage allowances and I hope that we shall be assured that it is the intention to bring all these allowances more into line. In conclusion, I would say what I think the whole House feels. The year before us may bring to the Home Guard the supreme test of all, that of resisting invasion. It is a test upon which everything depends. In so far as the proposals we have heard to-day will make the Home Guard stronger and more efficient for that great test, we welcome them.
I think that the response made to the appeal for enrolment in the Home Guard surprised most people and probably surprised the Government more than anybody else. The history of the Home Guard is one in which the country can take pride. There has been a display of willingness and keenness which is a very great tribute to the people of this country. I want, as a member of the Home Guard, to refer to two or three practical questions, and to mention them without developing the matter, because I think they will already be known. I welcome very much what I think is a change of attitude on the part of the War Office to the Home Guard. When the Home Guard started, we found great difficulty in getting encouragement from the War Office in a practical way, but in recent months there has been a very great improvement, and I wish to join the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Colonel Colville) in paying a tribute to the work of the Director-General in this direction.
Many of us who are concerned with the Home Guard have been worried for a long time about keeping up the strength of that body. We have seen some of our best men taken away for other service and it has been very difficult to keep up the strength in many districts. That difficulty is accentuated very much by the provisions of the National Service Bill. One can foresee that many of our men will be called up for other service, and I want to make an appeal to the Government in this connection. I hope that they will bear in mind the requirements of the Home Guard as an efficient organisation when the calling-up takes place under the National Service regulations. There are in every company, and indeed in every platoon, two or three men, or perhaps more, who have worked themselves up into a position of great efficiency as instructors and non-commissioned officers and it would really be a tragedy if they were taken away and put to other services at the present time. The training of members of the Home Guard in weapons and other work is of vital importance, and if we are to lose all the fellows whom we have trained to act efficiently, we shall be affecting very detrimentally the efficiency of the Home Guard in the future. I hope, therefore, that some recognition will be given to the importance of this matter in the administration of the National Service Act.
My instinct is entirely against compulsion, and, that being so, I sometimes sit in wonderment at the number of times I have supported the compulsory powers of the Government, but I have come to the conclusion that we must have compulsion with regard to the Home Guard. But the Government are making a mistake in the way they are doing it. As I understand the White Paper and the speech of the Secretary of State for War, the tendency seems to be that they are going to apply compulsion by areas. It is a mistake. The Government should provide for compulsion nationally, and if they wish to make exceptions in regard to areas, they can do that afterwards.
I am not sure that my hon. and learned Friend quite appreciates what is being done. The power of compulsion is universal throughout the country, and compulsion will be applied throughout the country in regard to terminating the fortnight's notice and the training. The only thing that will be local will be the power to raise extra Home Guards, and that will only be taken where extra numbers are necessary.
That is where I think the Government make a mistake. The White Paper reads as follows:
It is proposed at the outset only to exercise powers of compulsory enrolment … in certain areas where an insufficient number of Home Guards is available under the voluntary system.
That is a statement of policy by the Government. The net result will be very much the same, but the Government would have been very much wiser if they had said that the intention was to apply compulsion all over the country and then to take powers to exempt in certain areas. I am afraid there will be dissatisfaction
if, for example, a person living in Cardiganshire is able to say that because he lives in that area, the condition will not apply to him, whereas if he had lived in Cardiff it would apply to him, or vice-versa. Why should there be discrimination? If the Government had said that they would introduce compulsion on a national basis and then exempt men in areas it would have made a great psychological difference, and they ought to take that matter into consideration. I agree that those who have already joined the Home Guard should be entitled to retain their rights to resign over a certain period, and I am in agreement with my right hon. and gallant Friend who said he did not think that many members of the Home Guard would avail themselves of the privilege.
I pass on to the question of compulsory attendance at parades. My experience is that members of the Home Guard who are keen on their job have been very anxious to get some provision of this sort for a long time, and it will be generally welcomed by the Home Guard. But I am afraid that the actual number of hours suggested in the White Paper will be impossible in many parts of the country. My area is a rural one, and my battalion consists very largely of small farmers and farm-servants, and it is impossible to expect them to do 12 hours a week. I gather that that is the maximum, and I hope that we shall be allowed a good deal of latitude. There are one or two other things to which I want to refer. A considerable number of volunteers in the Home Guard do not attend parades, and, when they are asked why, they say, "It will be all right. When the emergency arises, we shall be there." I am sorry to say that many of them are men who served in the last war. It is very unfair to their colleagues in the Home Guard and misleading to the Government. However efficient they may be, if they turn up at the last moment when invasion takes place, their nuisance value will be greater than their usefulness. They may turn up at platoon headquarters, not having attended parades for a long time. We therefore shall not be relying upon them and the result will be that they will not know where to go when the emergency arises. They will be crowding the platoon headquarters and really be interfering with the efficient work the platoon is supposed to be doing in their own area.
In regard to ammunition I appreciate the statement that has been made, but I still say that the Government are not dealing fairly with the Home Guard in the ammunition given to them for training and practice. It is no good expecting the Home Guard to be an efficient instrument if all that you give them consists of a few rounds of ammunition with which to practice. Apparently there are difficulties in the way, but I would beg of the War Office to give these fellows a better chance of protecting themselves and of defending the country. On the question of weapons, we recognise that there has been a tremendous improvement since the early days. At one time we could not get any guns at all. We are now getting many different types of guns, and I, personally, welcome every one, but at the same time the greater variety of guns which are sent us the greater our difficulty of training the men who have to use them. It would be much better if we had a definite number of the same type rather than so many of a different type. In connection with this matter, I do not think that there are enough permanent instructors. In my battalion we have two, and it is a battalion which covers a very large acreage and a large number of villages. It consists of 1,300 to 1,500 men, and I am entitled to only one permanent instructor for each of my two companies.
In the matter of allowances, the great merit of the Home Guard is that it is a voluntary organisation. We accepted membership on that basis, and, personally, I am sorry that I am not still a volunteer. I enjoyed myself much more as a volunteer than I do in my present capacity, higher up. Officers and men are having to meet expenses out of their own pockets. Take the practical question of an area like mine. We are given a certain number of guns, and we have to take them up to the various platoons and sections 10 or 15 miles away. We have to beg, borrow or steal a car, because it is impossible to carry machine guns or Northover guns for such a distance, and we have to pay for the cost of conveyance. Another thing is that this applies to coastal areas. I have a big coastal area under my command. I have a letter, not from anyone in my battalion, but from a man who lives in the South of
England who has to go up into a coastal strip. He says:
Very soon we may have to fight on the beaches, a handful of elderly men and young boys with very little close support. My own small tactical role, for instance, is one for which in 1915 I would have expected to have been allotted 60 or 70 regulars but I am expected if ' Jerry ' comes to-morrow, to fight with a couple of dozen second line troops.
That applies to many such areas. I have a coastline under my command, and there are many small farmers and farm servants who have joined the Coastal Defence Service, thereby receiving 50s. a week. Yet some of my men in the Home Guard must do the same work and receive only their subsistence allowances. That raises two problems. One is the dissatisfaction at the difference in allowances, and the other is that if the Home Guard are called upon for the same service as this other Service, they should get similar remuneration. I am perfectly certain that while you must not put too much on the Home Guard, we will do what we are asked to do so long as we are given the means of preparing for it. The Home Guard is, I think, showing a keenness and desire to serve the country which are commendable.
I would like to put two or three questions to the Under-Secretary and make one or two suggestions, which may be considered useful, in regard to what may arise out of the new conditions for the Home Guard. My military experience is practically nil. The only experience I have had has been that which I have obtained in the Home Guard. It is many years since I spoke on anything relating to military subjects, but I remember that when I did so about 10 years ago an hon. Member for one of the Tottenham Divisions asked if I was a colonel, to which I replied, "If I was, I should look the part, and that is more than you can do." As I am probably one of the youngest members of the Home Guard, I believe that in some way I could be useful, but it may be that because of the changes which are about to take place—which are both desirable and necessary—it is possible that people like myself may be ruled out. If I cannot kill one German every hour for 48 hours, are you to reject me because I can kill 28 Germans in 28 hours? That may apply to many hundreds of thousands of people. It will be impossible for them to give 48 hours' duty straight off. I know that consideration is to be given and that there will be allowances made in certain cases, but circumstances will be continually changing.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Colonel Colville) raised a point of importance—the question of people who change their occupation and residence, as circumstances will compel them to do from time to time. In circumstances like that, are you to reject a man who cannot give 48 hours' service but can give. 28 hours' service? I hope some opportunity will be given for such men even if they cannot serve in the Home Guard, so that their ability to handle a rifle will not be altogether lost.
Arising from that, I want to make a suggestion. In reading in the newspapers of what has happened in Russia, I have asked myself whether it is not possible that similar circumstances might arise in this country. In the event of an invasion at any place one can imagine in the country, it might easily be that, if the invasion were sufficiently successful to enable the enemy to land and destroy, as no doubt they would, many factories and private houses, many people would be compelled, by the weight of the German force, to leave their factories and go out to seek something to do. Very few of the people who might be affected in that way are at present trained in the use of arms. Why should they not be so trained? When I hear that my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) and other members of her sex are asking for an opportunity to serve in the Home Guard, or in some similar capacity, it occurs to me that their services might be used, as well as the services of workmen and others engaged in different capacities at the present time who might, as a consequence of an invasion, be forced out of their jobs and be on the run. These people are not able to use rifles or similar weapons. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government should consider the formation of a voluntary—perhaps, not even a voluntary—training corps of some kind in which people in the circumstances I have mentioned, and women who desire to do so—and certainly in the case of women it should be voluntary—might have an opportunity of learning to use rifles and similar weapons. I do not propose to leave the Home Guard if it is humanly possible for me to remain in it, but if I am forced out of it, why should not I be given the opportunity of being ready should the need arise and the opportunity of getting arms and training which I could use in the interests of my country? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the formation of a voluntary training system of this sort which would give opportunities to hundreds of thousands of men to use firearms. I ask him also to consider favourably the suggestion that women should be permitted to volunteer for training in the use of firearms.
There are one or two questions I wish to ask. I am very concerned about the reference to the "specified period." Why cannot we be told now what that period is? We are told that if we want to resign, we must resign within a specified period, and that 14 days after the resignation is tendered it will take effect. Why cannot we be told immediately what is the specified period? Why cannot we be told that it is three months or six months, or whatever it may be, from the passing of the Regulations? Do not leave the position as it is to-day so that people go on wondering and then one day suddenly see an announcement that if they do not send in their resignation before Thursday of next week it will be too late. We ought to be given time so that we can consider the matter reasonably and consult the interests with which we are associated and our families as to whether or not we shall be able to continue the duties which we have undertaken voluntarily when those duties become compulsory. Another matter which rather interests me is the question of discharging a man from the Home Guard. The White Paper states that:
There will be power to discharge a Home Guard at any time for good reasons.
A man can always be discharged from the Army for good reasons. Generally, it is considered that if a man commits an offence, it is desirable to discharge him from the Army. Will the position be the same with regard to the Home Guard? I hope not. I hope that if a man is to be discharged for what the Army Council consider to be good reasons, the man himself equally will have an opportunity of asking to be discharged. Why should there not be set up some sort of tribunal to which the man could make an appeal
and which would consider his case with some form of independence? I do not suggest that this should be done by the Army Council. There are many people, including myself, who have not too much faith in the Army Council, for many reasons. I suggest that there might be some kind of independent tribunal, some of the members of which would be civilian and some military, with one member having a judicial mind who would be able to weigh up in an independent manner the evidence submitted on behalf of the man
I think that nearly every member of the Home Guard will, if it is reasonably and humanly possible for him to do so, continue in the Home Guard. I do not think anybody will want to resign for frivolous reasons, but there might be good reasons which would lead a man to want to resign. Those reasons might be the circumstances in his home, serious illness, or something of that sort. I know a case of a very highly respected member of one of the local services on which I have served for many years who, owing to the conditions that prevail in his home, feels compelled to ask to be excused from certain duties which otherwise he would undertake. I can imagine scores of cases in which a man may be placed in conditions about which he does not want to make too much trouble or to which he does not want to give too much publicity. In such cases it would be desirable to have a tribunal to which he could appeal. For instance, in my experience as a Member of Parliament, I have come across many cases in which there has been in a man's home mental trouble on the part of his family which has placed upon him a responsibility that made it impossible for him to undertake duties of the sort which other people are able to udertake.
There are one hundred and one ways in which a man might be involved in circumstances of a kind that would make it right that he should have an opportunity to place his case before some tribunal which would decide whether or not he should be permitted to get his discharge. I have on many occasions appealed to the Secretary of State for War to discharge men from the Services on compassionate grounds. I do not say that the plea for discharge on compassionate grounds is not listened to sympathetically in the Army, for it is; but I hope that it will be listened to even more sympathetically in the case of men serving in the Home Guard. Generally, they are older men, they have very much greater responsibilities than the younger men. and their health and that of their families often places a greater responsibility upon them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give full consideration to these matters. There is, finally, one other question that I want to ask. I am doing 28 hours a month Home Guard duty, with a few extra hours on drills which I attend, but, in addition, I am doing at least as many hours' fire-watching duty. If I desire to continue to serve in the Home Guard, must I resign as a fire-watcher so that I can put in 48 hours' duty with the Service, or will I be permitted to say that between the two duties I am doing far more than the specified hours, and, therefore, I am offering a reasonable service in these times of difficulty?
The hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Ernest Evans) referred to the obvious injustice of enforcing compulsion in certain areas and allowing recruitment to remain voluntary in other areas. I must say that I cordially agree with him, and that I think it will be a mistake if membership of the Home Guard is not enforced in every part of the country. After all, there are very few places with sufficient men to perform the operational roles allotted to the units, and it is only in places such as London, Birmingham and Manchester where there are more men than the Home Guard need. Surely it would be better to enforce compulsion throughout the country. It could be made known that once an area had obtained a sufficient number of recruits, recruitment for the Home Guard could be temporarily suspended.
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but I am afraid that this discussion is being continued under a misapprehension. Compulsion will be universal—that is in regard to the right to withdraw—and so will the necessity for remaining in the Home Guard. Compulsion is universal and the only place where it will be local in character is in areas where extra numbers of men are needed
I am sorry to criticise the Under-Secretary in regard to what is known as the "housemaid's clause," which states that a man is entitled to give a fortnight's notice. I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to do away with this provision. After all, it does not matter, because, when a man gives in his fortnight's notice, he can be redirected, under the powers already taken, into the Home Guard. By adopting this method, I think that you will do away with an injustice.
The hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales made reference to the shortage of ammunition for practice purposes. We all know what is the trouble in that respect. We all know the difficulties of obtaining ammunition, and these difficulties have been increased by reason of the events which have taken place during the past fortnight. Therefore, it will not be easier to obtain ammunition of a particular kind. In view of what is happening, and in view of what is likely to happen, would it not be possible to put down some small plant in this country to manufacture this ammunition? I understand that ammunition for Tommy-guns is already being made. Is it not possible to turn over some of the plant which is at present employed in making 303 ammunition to produce 300 ammunition? It would be simple to manufacture the quantity of ammunition required by this means.
The hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench referred to the position of utility undertakings. I hope that the military authorities will go into this question. The railway companies, the electric-light companies, the London Passenger Transport Board and others normally come under the zones of local commanders when operations start, but these concerns are administered by totally different bodies. That constitutes a sort of dual control, and dual command is never really satisfactory and has always impaired efficiency and fighting strength. I sincerely hope that the Government will go into this question and see whether some more practical method of organisation and administration cannot be devised.
After reading the White Paper and listening to the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend, the question which at once arises in my mind is with regard to the standard of efficiency that is being aimed at for the Home Guard. I am afraid there is a danger that too high a standard of efficiency may be demanded, and this will result in all sorts of difficulties and complications. The Home Guard are not regular troops, and they never can be. Most of the men are employed on work which is vital to the war effort, and they cannot be expected to do the same duties as those of the Regular troops. In the zone in which I work—the East End of London—I think I am right in saying that at least 75 per cent. of the men have been hitherto in reserved occupations. These men are not only working full time, but overtime. Very often they are putting in 10 and 12 hours a day, as well as working on Saturdays and Sundays, and I cannot help feeling that it is impossible in their case to demand that they should do an additional 12 hours' training per week. I welcome the statement from the Front Bench that the question of additional training is to be left to the discretion of the local commanders. It is essential that the local commanders should know the conditions in the factories and works where their men are employed. I understand that it is still an axiom in the Home Guard that production comes first.
A rather niggardly attitude has been adopted by the Quartermaster-General's Department in replacing uniform and equipment which has been lost by enemy action. In the East End of London a good deal of enemy action and a good deal of destruction took place. Deficiencies are regrettable, but in the circumstances I cannot see that they were avoidable. A court of inquiry and a police inquiry have been held, and both have come to the conclusion that the losses were entirely due to enemy action during the blitz period of last year. I hope they have now been able to see their way to equip the men who have recently joined, because it is no encouragement to recruiting for a man to join and then find that there is no uniform or equipment for him to wear.
The only other point that I wish to raise is the question of the subsistence allowance. It was 1s. 6d. for five hours and 3s. for 11 hours or more, and the men were quite satisfied with that. But now fire watchers are being given exactly double that amount. They receive a maximum of 6s. for 24 hours, whereas the Home Guard receive only a maximum of 3s. for the same period, which has undoubtedly made them dissatisfied, because after a night's work 3s. for refreshments, with prices as they are at present, is not really a very liberal allowance. On the whole I think one may congratulate the Government on the White Paper and on the attitude that they are taking up with regard to the Home Guard, but I must ask them to remember that the Home Guard are not Regular troops and that the men who enlist and work in it are employed in vital production during the greater part of their time, and allowance must be made for any deficiencies and weaknesses that may accrue.
I have read the White Paper very carefully, and I welcome it. The Home Guard sprang into being under Regulations made in May, 1940, and I think it is not only true to say, as the White Paper does, that since that date there has been a gradual increase in the obligations of members of the public in connection with measures of defence but that there has also followed the realisation by the public that we must be prepared to do anything and everything, according to our ability, if we are to survive in what is literally a struggle for national existence. I do not, therefore, anticipate any opposition of moment from inside or outside the Home Guard to any of these proposals. The Home Guard being composed of men who do such an infinite variety of jobs in their normal life, it is absolutely essential that the widest possible discretion should be given to Home Guard commanders in administering the Regulations that are to be made.
I am not sure that it has been understood by all speakers to-day that it is a maximum and not a minimum period of training and duty that is laid down. Conditions vary so much between town and country, and between companies and companies, and between individuals in those companies, that it is impossible to lay down any minimum period of training and duty which would apply absolutely to town and country alike, and to every individual in either town and country, without those hours being so short as to be perfectly absurd and to be a great discouragement to people who can do and are already doing much longer hours. The only test as to what is a proper minimum period of training and duty is the company commander's knowledge of his men and whether each is doing his fair share of duty and is doing his best to turn himself into an efficient soldier. Those commanders know what it is fair and reasonable to expect each man in their commands to do according to his commitments and to what standard of training he has attained.
I hope a wide view will be taken of the areas in which these people of 18 to 51 will be directed to join the Home Guard. The battalions in my group are strong, but, even so, with the duties that we have to carry out, we can well do with all the men we can get, provided only—this is a most important proviso—that we can arm them adequately. In view of America's obvious other pre-occupations, I join most strongly in the appeal of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) that even now a factory should be turned over to produce small arms ammunition solely for the Home Guard. Such action would be an enormous encouragement to every member of the Force.
Going back to another provision in the White Paper, I am sure it is right that the power of volunteers to resign after giving 14 days' notice should go. Justice to present members will be met by giving them a certain period—I suggest that a month would be quite long enough—-in which to exercise that power if they cannot accept the new conditions. But if their circumstances change so greatly that they really have good reason to want to go out, I presume that it is still possible for a company commander to discharge them. I should like the Under-Secretary to make that quite clear.
I should also like to support the plea of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Midlothian (Colonel. Colville) for more adjutants. We want a man who can give all his time to training. The Adjutant Quartermaster now allotted to Home Guard battalions has to be out every night, all Sunday, and a good many Saturdays, and we really want a separate individual. As regards permanent staff instructors, I should like one for each company, but for heaven's sake let us have a good one, because a bad one is not worth finding. My own fear is that the Regular battalion commanders will not be able to spare enough of their N.C.Os. for the purpose, and I am afraid the supply is going to be rather short.
To go outside the White Paper for a moment, I want to advocate very strongly one change in the official attitude. In the matter of compensation for damage to members of the Home Guard themselves and to their motor cycles and cars, they are sometimes treated very scurvily. That is a strong adverb, but in two or three cases in my group it is richly deserved. A change to a more generous attitude would do a great deal of good, because these hard cases are widely known and discussed. It would not cost very much to, remedy them. As set out in A.C.I. 924, which is the Home Guard Bible, the War Office have persuaded insurance companies to carry the baby so far as compensation for damage to motorcycles and motor-cars goes, but the companies do not extend the nature of the cover given and they do not of course pay compensation for damage to vehicles where the premium paid covers only third-party risk. Why should they? If, however, damage to a vehicle is done on Home Guard duty the War Office ought certainly to pay for it. They still carry a very cheap risk because the third-party part is being carried for them by the companies. The insurance element in the 2d. per mile rate which is paid for motorcycles must be very small and it is not reasonable to expect a man to increase his premium to cover a risk which ought to be taken by the War Office if his vehicle is damaged when he is on Home Guard duty. I am only surprised that so many members of the Home Guard put their motor cycles at the disposal of the service. Surely, such patriotism ought not to be penalised if a man sustains an accident while he is on duty. As a matter of fact, the War Office are extremely lucky to get so much cheap mobility.
I am prepared to give details of two or three such cases, and I must mention one case of personal injury. A platoon commander when out on his bicycle on a dark night in December to inspect his inlying picket and its posts. On finishing his job he started for home and had not gone 100 yards before his bicycle went into the kerb and he fell off and broke his leg. It cost him £80 in hospital and doctor's expenses, but he had no compensation because it was held that he had finished his duty when he turned round to go home. He is a man of 64, and if he had not had the keenest sense of duty he would have been home in bed. It is a burning shame that he should not have compensation because of such a quibble. It is true that hard cases make bad law, but I have a solution to put forward to my right hon. Friend. If it is not desired for any reason to alter the Regulations under which compensation is given, I suggest that there should be a comparatively small fund placed in the hands of the Director-General of the Home Guard from which ex gratia payments could be made. I think that a sum between £5,000 and £10,000 would be more than enough to cover all that was necessary to prevent these hardships, which are very real indeed. If we are to apply compulsion to get people into the Home Guard it is more important than ever not only that justice should be done but that justice should be seen to be done. Decisions that are given on compensation questions may be within the rules laid down by the War Office, but they are clearly outside equity. I beg my right hon. Friend to cure this sore. The cost will be small but the gain in contentment among the Home Guard will be very great, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will invite me to give the details of these cases to the War Office for their reconsideration.
I, like many other hon. Members, welcome this opportunity for a discussion on the Home Guard, and I will try to be brief in the points which I have to put. I particularly welcome the promise of wide discretion in my right hon. and gallant Friend's speech to-day. Of course wide discretion may have some time to be tightened up, and I want to ask my hon. Friend who is to reply for an assurance that he will continue the practice, which has been greatly appreciated by Members of this House who are interested in the Home Guard, of coming to meet us and allowing us to put points to him. I think there are a great many points that can be ventilated in that way to everybody's advantage. Turning to the proposals themselves I welcome them on the broad ground that they are based on what I consider to be the first cardinal principle which should apply to the Home Guard, and that is that it is a Force to be taken seriously. Methods of application must, of course, take account of local conditions. And there is another point which I wish to emphasise very strongly. Compulsory attendance will do more harm than good unless when the men turn up, they get good instruction and are put on useful duties. I consider the question of instruction to be one of primary importance and shall refer to it again. My second cardinal principle in connection with the Home Guard would be that the problems of the Home Guard should be treated realistically. By that I mean, do not generalise too much, take account of local conditions, have a very clear idea of what are the local tasks and, finally, apply the up-to-date lessons of this war.
I am speaking as a platoon commander in a very scattered rural area, covering about 20 square miles. When I talk about being realistic and taking account of local conditions I want my hon. Friend to consider particularly what a change has come about in the duties of the Home Guard in some of the backward rural areas since the Home Guard was raised by reason of the construction of aerodromes all over the country. The duties of the Home Guard in connection with the defence of aerodromes have become, perhaps, one of the most important parts of their duties. They are duties which fall particularly heavily on what have hitherto been regarded as peaceful back areas where there are not large numbers of Regular troops. I do not want to say anything which would encourage the enemy, and I am quite certain that he will get a nasty time. wherever he comes, from the Home Guard, but I do want to be sure that he gets as nasty a time as possible and that we make the fullest use of our facilities.