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 Major John Mills Major John Mills , New Forest and Christchurch

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.