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 Valentine McEntee Mr Valentine McEntee , Walthamstow West

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?