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.