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 Colonel Albert Ward Colonel Albert Ward , Kingston upon Hull North West

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.