I was emphasising the importance of the duties of the Home Guard in connection with aerodrome defence. I would like to put three points to my hon. Friend in that connection. First of all, I venture to suggest to him that it is worth while undertaking a special inquiry—a really thorough examination—into the need, in the case of aerodrome defence, for unifying the responsibility of command, and in saying that I include both the whole chain of command from the top to the bottom, and also the actual command of the defence garrison and the surrounding Home Guard units in the cast: of each aerodrome.
Secondly I would like to suggest to my hon. Friend that he should examine the orders which are now in force for the Home Guard in areas of this kind. I put it to him that in considering these areas and what is likely to happen there in the case of a German attempt to invade this country we can fairly visualise two stages—a first stage, when the threat is an air-borne threat, and a second stage—which I myself trust will never arise—when the enemy has really established himself and is moving on wheels along the roads. I submit that until we have reached that second stage the men in the Home Guard in those areas should not be clamped down to defended road centres, village strong points and so on, if they can be more usefully employed in taking part in the defence of aerodromes and dealing with air-borne landings.
The third point in connection with Home Guard duties in these backward areas is concerned with training. There is special difficulty about training in these rural areas. In my own area I have in my platoon about 65 men. There are two aerodromes, with the defence of which I am concerned. The men are scattered over 20 square miles. They will have to operate in at least six different parties. It is very difficult to get them together for training, and if you get them together you have not the time to give them individual training. What is necessary is that somebody should be able to go round one night a week to six different centres and take the men individually in simple duties. The ordinary Home Guard officer who has other duties to perform—and many of us who are concerned with rural areas have to do work in London—simply has not got the time to do that. I do not want to ask anything that is impossible. This question of training is extremely difficult. It is no use having an extra G.S.O. 3 at sub-area headquarters, nor is it really enough to have an additional Regular officer at battalion headquarters. You want much more than that, and of course if one asked for that everywhere one would be asking for something that would be impossible. But I do believe that there are certain areas which require special attention, and I venture to put it that it is worth inquiring into that point to see what areas do need special attention of this kind so that the men who are really likely to be called upon for particularly urgent tasks, just because they are in backward areas where there are not many Regular soldiers, could receive that individual training which is necessary. I suggest that special Army officers might be allocated to such areas.
I want to make another suggestion. I believe there are quite a number of us who have to be in London during the week but who have taken on commands in rural areas. We have no time to go on courses of instruction, and I am a little doubtful whether these courses of instruction represent the best available use of the time for those limited, simple problems with which we have to deal. I believe it would be very valuable if it could be arranged that on a certain number of evenings in the week special lectures were given in London by one or two first-class, youngish officers who have had practical experience in this war, to people like myself. I believe there are a number of us in the House alone who would be very glad indeed to have a chance of attending one or two lectures of that kind where they could get practical tips about handling small bodies of men in the sort of conditions we may have to face in the event of an invasion of this country.
The last thing I want to say—and I have been trying to put several cardinal principles for the Home Guard—is, Put efficiency first. I venture to put it to my right hon. and gallant Friend that there is room now to increase efficiency. Some of the higher Home Guard Commands, I believe the great number in the country, are held by people who live in the area and are doing their job in a first-class way. But there are areas where it has not been possible to get men who com- bine the qualifications of having the necessary time and really good military experience. I think the time has come when the whole position should be reviewed. I think that this is the time to do that, because a large number of really good Regular officers are being released from the Army, owing to the age limit. I put it to my right hon. and gallant Friend that in areas of that kind it would be very wise to have paid Home Guard commanders if there is no really well qualified local man with time at his disposal, or if no other man with adequate military experience can be found who can afford to take on the job and live away from home on an unpaid basis.
To sum up, there are three cardinal points—first, take the Home Guard seriously; secondly, deal realistically with its problems; and, thirdly, put efficiency first. And the main practical need now, I think, is individual training, and that training must be based not on any rigid Army method; it must be training of a kind that leads to ability and initiative, rather than mere drill of standardised training.
My purpose in taking part in this Debate is to ask the Government to reconsider their policy and to include women in the Home Guard. We are discussing the conscription of men between the ages of 18 and 51 for the Home Guard. I, like many Members who have spoken, regret that we should have to adopt conscription. I wonder whether if those thousands of women who have already offered their services in the rural areas had been accepted, it would have been necessary to introduce conscription for youths. Frankly, the Government policy is a little bewildering to women. Last week we passed a Bill to conscript women between the ages of 20 and 30 for the Auxiliary Services. Our purpose is to put 100,000 of those women on the gun sites in the target areas. To-day the Government tell us that one reason why women must not be included in the Home Guard is the risk. This is rather a quibble about the mode of death. Women can face death on the gun site; they can actually be put on the target; they can be machine-gunned or bombed by the Germans; but they must not be taught to handle a rifle, or, perhaps, meet death in the Home Guard. The particular jobs that women can do in the Home Guard are of such a character, possibly, that they will not face as much risk there as the A.T.S. do on the gun sites. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider his policy. I welcome his remark that he has not closed his mind, and that if he should be convinced that it was necessary he would revise his policy. That was generous. I was gratified, too, to hear male Members on both sides of the House—the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) and the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Marlowe), who made his maiden speech, ask that women should be included in the Home Guard.
The Minister said that there were two important reasons why women should not be included. One was that there were other jobs for them to do. I cannot agree with that. There are many full-time jobs women can do, and many jobs that women can do if they live in towns, where, perhaps, they can work on half-shifts. I am thinking of the country districts, the large rural areas far removed from factories, where there are women in the 30's, 40's and 50's, and I hope that it will mean that women in the 50's can also serve a useful purpose in the Home Guard. There are women who have certain household responsibilities, but, at the same time, perhaps, five, six or 12 odd hours per week which they could devote to the Home Guard. It would be more in keeping with woman's traditional role as guardian of the home to play her part in the Home Guard of 1941. I want it to be clear to everybody that I am not asking for women to come into the Home Guard to wash up for men. That time has long past. I believe that I shall be supported by many people when I say that it is better for a C3 man to do the washing up and for an A1 woman, perhaps, to be on the gun site. That surely should be our approach to total war. We cannot be divided on a sex basis. This, after all, may be the eleventh hour. If we are going to make a total effort, are we to ignore more than half of the adult population, which is comprised of women? Women can make a very useful contribution, apart from the domestic side, to the work of the Home Guard. I do not for a moment pretend to be a complete authority on Army changes and organisation, although I have taken more interest in the matter during the last six months than I have ever done before in my life, but I am advised by very responsible commanders of Home Guard units that they could make use of women very effectively as messengers and runners, and in order to keep open the lines of communication, to be on guard, to do all sorts of clerical work, and they could and should learn how to handle a rifle.
I know that immediately I use the word "rifle" everybody will be asking how we can provide rifles. The women of the country are not asking for equipment. They do not ask for rifles, but they do ask that they should be taught how to handle a rifle. How can the War Office know what would happen in an invasion? We might have all sorts of surprises, and, surely, we ought to be prepared. I want to illustrate this, although perhaps the illustration may be a little out of date. Think for a moment of the pioneers in America, when men and women went out together in covered wagons. The man was a fighter, with a rifle in his possession, and the woman in the caravan looked after him and the children, but, if they were faced with sudden danger and the man was injured, the woman did not say, "I wish I knew how to handle a rifle." She was not there as a fighter, but she was a second line of defence. She was able to take up the rifle and to use it. That is what we are asking.
Responsible people realise that when an invasion suddenly comes, all our preconceived notions may be swept away. Surely the War Office must admit that women on gun sites have proved themselves efficient and reliable. Perhaps the Minister will say that this is a new idea, but my answer is that this is a war of new ideas. Are not many of us saying, "If we only knew; if only we had anticipated that move"? I say, Anticipate the invasion in a practical way by using women. In this House we have a Home Guard which men go into willingly. Are we women expected to hide behind them in the event of an invasion? Surely that is stupid. Cannot I help the Home Guard here by acting as a messenger, or in some other way, or am I to sit by a man who handles a rifle, and in the event of an emergency which made it necessary for me to use his rifle say, "It was not womanly for me to learn how to use a rifle"? It is stupid and short-sighted. I urge the Government to look at this thing with fresh minds. I do not believe women on the offensive are any good. I shall probably be attacked by members of my own sex for that, but we are not so aggressive. I believe, however, that on the defensive we are matchless, and I ask the Government to give us an opportunity of showing it.
The Minister has had representations made to him, and I hope he will reconsider the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) suggested that there might be independent units of women, and I want the Secretary of State to know that although he recently placed a ban on Home Guards being allowed to teach women how to use a rifle, the result has been to stimulate the interest of women. There is now in this country a Women's Home Defence Corps. It is not a small corps. The unit in Edinburgh is so strong that it cannot take any more women because there are not enough instructors. In Cambridge, Leamington, Pinner, Slough, Harrow and other districts all over the country women have come voluntarily together to learn how to use a rifle, and I wish the Minister, instead of frowning at them, would give them his blessing. With regard to youths of 16 coming into the Home Guard, I want to remind the House that at the beginning of the war we asked the Government not to send youths under 20 abroad. They have now changed their policy, but I think that what we suggested then showed that we were anxious to protect the youngest recruits from danger. Now the Government come to the House and tell us that they are to send the boys of 16 into the Home Guard—
If my 14-year-old son were old enough, he would volunteer right away, I am sure. I cannot agree with the Minister. We must not exploit the enthusiasm of youth. If boys of 16 are asked to volunteer, of course they will do so. I think this is taking a rather unfair advantage. The Prime Minister referred to the powder monkeys. I think that the powder monkeys of last century, like other children in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were more to be pitied than envied. But if these boys of 16 are to help the Home Guard, why not have mature women to help the Home Guard? Would not we be of much more use?
I am sorry the hon. Member has never met one. I will take the opportunity of having a word with him after the Debate. Again, on the subject of boys of 16, may I remind the Government that their policy is so muddled? On the one hand, the Ministry of Health send boys of 16 to the reception areas to be protected, and on the other hand, the War Office say that these boys of 16 are to go into the Army. I hope we shall stand by the policy of the Ministry of Health and protect these lads from danger. In conclusion, I know that these questions are new ones. I agree that it is rather difficult for the War Office, which have a masculine tradition, immediately to adopt the suggestions I have made, but I ask them to revise their opinion. I think it is complete folly at this stage, when the Secretary of State himself said that perhaps within a few weeks we might have an invasion, to ignore the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of women willing to volunteer and to help in this way to win the war.
I think that all hon. Members are grateful to the Government for extending the time given to this Debate. It is just a year since we had the first and last Debate on the Home Guard, and so many developments have taken place, and so many hon. Members and persons outside the House are so fundamentally interested and occupied in Home Guard matters, that those of us who had looked forward to this Debate in order to express our views and make suggestions are glad to be given a full opportunity of doing so.
Before I make a few comments, suggestions and criticisms on the reorganisation of the Home Guard that is envisaged in the White Paper, there is one wrong that I think should be rectified. So far in the Debate one thing has been omitted; I am thinking of tributes. The first tribute should be to the men of the Home Guard and their women-folk. Night after night and day after day, over the hills, through the streets and under the blackout, this gallant band of men have come to their nightly and daily duties, often tired after a hard day's work, often longing for the relaxation of the fireside, without entertainment, without rest, giving up everything for the sake of one job—to make themselves efficient and to do a job of work in the best interests of their country, for the defence of their own homes, their freedom, and the future of their children. They have done this without pay, without any reward except the satisfaction of their own conscience. Conscience is a very compelling emotion, but, unfortunately, it is less strong in some people than it is in others. I am glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend has recognised that fact, and that he is not leaving it to the willing horse in the Home Guard to bear the entire burden of the nation's ultimate defence. That is why everyone in the House and outside welcomes the dual compulsion which has been outlined in the White Paper—the compulsion to join the Home Guard, and the compulsion to make all those who have joined or may join it efficient and able to pull their full weight in the Force.
There are one or two problems which this decision raises. As far as I can see, as a result of the passing of the manpower Bill, there will be a large influx of men in the Home Guard, particularly among the younger age categories. I have consulted many of our old volunteers who have been in the Service from the beginning, and they feel that it would be unfair if they had to go through the earlier stages of training again when these new men are drafted into their units. It has been suggested that it might be a good thing to form a Home Guard reserve of those men who have reached a high standard of efficiency. These men could attend parades once a week to refresh themselves, but, of course, they would always remain ready and waiting for the call if and when it comes. If this method is adopted it will ease the difficulty of providing weapons for the new recruits who will shortly be joining the units. Then there is the question of retaining a proportion of the younger middle-aged men between the ages of 30 and 40. This would bridge the gap between the very young and the older men, and it would strengthen the whole fabric of the Home Guard.
My first tribute was to the men themselves, but this occasion should not be allowed to pass without paying a tribute —my right hon. and gallant Friend may think it somewhat unexpected—to the War Office, and particularly to my right hon. and gallant Friend and the Undersecretary, who have given so much of their time and their ability in supporting the Home Guard in its efforts to make itself proficient and efficient. Many of us remember that grim day in May, 1940, when the War Office, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, opened the sluice gates of service to the men of Britain. They expected a stream, but they got a torrent, and they were almost overwhelmed, but, owing largely to the enthusiastic determination of my right hon. and gallant Friend and the Under-Secretary, they were able to cope with the problem. They have provided us with uniforms and arms, and here let me interject that there are possibly too many types of arms being issued—we are simple-minded people in the Home Guard, and we prefer to know perfectly two, three or four weapons, rather than have strange new devices which are too complicated for our simple minds. They have provided us with arms and equipment and training, and they have produced efficiency. Despite the weekly volume of criticism which we find in the Sunday papers, some constructive and some destructive, the War Office deserve warm congratulations from the country as a whole, especially at a time when they were refitting the Regular Army after Dunkirk, providing the sinews of war for the Army of the Nile and trying to meet the demands of the conscripts of the new Army. It is a fine achievement and, on behalf of other Members, and of the Home Guard also, it is fitting that I should pay this tribute.
There are one or two points, apart from the sucesses that the War Office have so far achieved, on which I should like to make suggestions. Hitherto, zone and battalion areas have been more or less made to conform with police divisions. That was all right at the beginning—it was the simplest way out of the difficulty at the time—but now that the Home Guard has been made to fit into the general defensive scheme of the country, strategic requirements should be considered and Home Guard areas and districts arranged accordingly. I now come to a somewhat delicate point, the raison d'être of zone and battalion commands. I may be introducing a very unique suggestion, but I am not sure whether zone commanders are not a bit superfluous. My view is that it would be better to create more sub-areas under efficient, selected, Regular officers and then take some selected zone commanders to help them as Home Guard advisers, just as has lately been done in London, and I think you would get greater efficiency and more direct contact between the sub-area commanders and the operational commanders under them. After a year and a half of experience I have come to the conclusion that the battalion is not the tactical unit. It is the company, and possibly sometimes the platoon.
I have been trying to inculcate the battalion esprit de corps in a battalion with which I am associated, and I find—I should not like to say this outside—that it does not work. The company is obviously the unit of action and the centre round which the men congregate and to which they give their loyalty. It is not the battalion. So I am wondering whether it would not be better to divide sub-areas into districts in which all the mobile units and all the static units—the utility units— would be under the operational command of the battalion commander. Call him the district commander. Take away the battalion idea altogether. It was a good thing in the early days, because it associated itself rather with the military role, but I am sure that the experience of other battalion commanders will confirm that the company, and possibly in country areas the platoon, must be regarded as the tactical unit. If the present battalion commander is given command of the static as well as the mobile units, he will be able to dovetail all the defensive schemes into a general defensive scheme for his area, whereas at present many battalion commanders do not know where their static units are, do not know their strength, do not know what weapons they have and do not know what standard of training they have. I am sure that is the right way of making each district in a sub-area responsible to a sub-area commander and responsible for the entire defence of his area.
With regard to the employment of women, I strongly support the point of view of the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill). I think she has been most convincing, as well as very persuasive, in her arguments. I have seen the job these women have done during the past year in the Home Guard units with which I am associated—clerks, cooks, drivers, orderlies, stretcher bearers and any kind of job that would release a man with a rifle. I can mention a lot of others. I understand that the A.T.S. are discarding their uniforms for a smarter and more up-to-date one. They would do very well for the Women's Home Guard auxiliary force. They must have uniforms, otherwise they will not be able to get about when the balloon goes up. I am certain that they would not only add to the pleasure of being a Home Guard, but they would also serve a very useful purpose. The women of this country have obviously decided that they are going to be in the Home Guard, and the Government had much better yield gracefully.
In a Debate last year I raised the question of paper, and I want to congratulate my hon. Friend on the diminution of the clouds of paper that used to descend upon us this time last year. There has been a great falling off and a considerable lessening of returns, so that the life of the unit commander has been eased and he has time to give to his proper job of training his men to be efficient soldiers. The Territorial Association seems to look upon the Home Guard as the child who has replaced their lost Territorial Force, and, like all tender mothers, they have naturally tended to give the child too many instructions. The only complaint I would make is that there is still some duality of control between the Territorial Association and the Area Command.
I would ask my hon. Friend to pay some attention to the present distribution of weapons, which is an important point. I think that the Home Guard are beginning to suffer from a superfluity of types and that there has not been a right judgment shown in allocating the different types of weapons to different areas. In the city, where there is likely to be a limited field of fire, machine guns, tommy guns, Browning guns and grenades are the obvious weapons, but among a lot of static units in the cities there are too many rifles which should be given to the country units where there is an ample field of fire. There should be a redistribution of the existing weapons so that the country units are given antitank weapons, Northover projectors and so on, which are far more valuable in the sort of invasion we are likely to face than any other weapons. This would give greater satisfaction to all the different types of Home Guard units and it would make the best use of the existing weapons. As regards the training of the Home Guard, I think that it is going on admirable lines, but I would suggest that there should be more lectures by first-class regular officers and other types of temporary officers. We know Captain Peter Fleming, who is an admirable instructor, and men like him should go round and help to break the monotony of life in the Home Guard. Films also should be utilised more. Courses, which are at present admirable, suffer from one defect, and that is that many men cannot afford to take part in them. Whenever a course is held volunteers should be paid for that period, because they cannot afford to attend if they have to give up their work for three or four days or a week. As the nation is seeking to make them more efficient it is only right that the nation should compensate them for the loss of their wages in civil life.
There is one question which I have been asked to raise, because it is fundamental to the strategic rôle which the Home Guard will have to play in an invasion. It refers to the London taxi battalion. They are a unique body of fine, virile men. They have approximately 1,700 vehicles, with drivers, and there is a maintenance staff of skilled artificers numbering about 170. Those men, who are divided into sections, with their own officers, and with garages at appropriate centres, are ready at any moment to take troops to a threatened point. In that way they will fulfil a most valuable function in connection with the defence of London. The age of the average taxi-driver is from 40 to 50, and under the new call-up nearly 70 per cent. of those men will be drafted into the Services and the whole usefulness of that battalion will be destroyed. The London taxi-driver is a most knowledgeable man, he knows his way about London better than almost any other class of people, and it will be just disastrous if we are deprived of his assistance in getting troops quickly to threatened points. Therefore, I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend, in the interests of the defence of London, to make representations to the Minister of Labour and National Service to leave these men in the London taxi battalion as they are. That is all I have to say, and I am sorry for having taken up so much time while so many others wish to speak. It is only because of my desire and determination that this grand force shall be used to the best possible advantage.
I should like to remind the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summer-skill) that Hitler is not the only person in this world who believes that a woman's sphere is children, Church and kitchen. We can only hope that the Secretary of State for War does not agreee with Hitler. This Debate has been one long chorus of praise for the War Office. I do not think it is good for this House or the country that it should receive such undiluted praise, and I propose to take the other side. As I see it, the War Office has quite unnecessarily destroyed a free association of comradeship in duty, and is replacing it by a second-rate edition of the regular Army which will be much less efficient for the purpose we had in view in instituting the Home Guard.
What did the War Office want? Did they want more men for the Home Guard? In that case, why did they not encourage recruiting? Why was all recruiting left to the commanding officers, to be paid for out of their own pockets? What effort has been made by the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to increase recuriting for the Home Guard or to make the actual training of the Home Guard more popular? If they had had more ammunition, more grenades and more of those Brock's fireworks which have the appearance of real grenades but were not so dangerous in actual effect, as well as more supplies of other kinds, there would be quite an adequate number of Home Guards, people who were more anxious to remain in the Home Guard, than you could get by periodical speeches alleging that invasion was imminent.
What people want is live training. They have been given the live training, but without implements which would have made that training really practical and real. You could not have worked up the old Home Guard to provide your gun crews or your balloon barrages and others things that you want, by voluntary effort. The objection to women is merely an illustration that you did not want just a home defensive force. So I say you have destroyed unnecessarily the free society and the free association which was the essence of the old Home Guard. I am thinking of my little village, with its platoon, whose commander used to be my gardener, meeting night after night and going on guard. They were related to, or knew, everybody else in the Home Guard, and they called each other by their Christian names. It was a social club, a body of people who were making a voluntary sacrifice for what they believed to be the safety and honour of their country and their homes.
The man with two stripes or three stripes was one of them. They were all friends together. It was an admirable example of what every democratic Army ought to be. We are altering all that and smashing it, and substituting for it the old class, caste-ridden Army system, with discipline and officers instead of almost affectionate co-operation. I say that that is a danger to our objects. Can hon. Members deny that as soon as you make the Force compulsory you start the same distance between the non-commissioned officer and the private, and the non-commissioned officer and commissioned officer that we have in the old Army, and which requires rank to inspire respect instead of native leadership, friendship and comradeship? When, in the old days, the platoon sergeant said, "If you don't like it, you can leave," the man did not leave. Now the man has to obey or has to face a civil court, with a £10 fine and a month's imprisonment. Cannot hon. Members see that we are changing the relationship between the three-stripe man and the rank and file?. Instead of their being friends, you will get a servile attitude, the servant attitude. It is the sergeant-major attitude we all know in the Army. You lose the comradeship, the equality, and you gain what? A little bit more prompt obedience, possibly, but you destroy the spirit which was intended to defend England. Do realise, before you go into this, what you are losing. Not a word has been said about it to-day. Do you think there is nothing in a free society as compared with a bound association, bound by law and the threat of punishment? You will get your men, but they will not be the same men.
I now come to my third point. What are you substituting for this gallant body of men who are doing everything for the love of their country? A compulsory body, more numerous perhaps, but will it be more efficient? You are getting rid of the people like me, and others in this House; you are getting rid of all the people who fought in the last war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Ask the people in our own Home Guard. I want to know, Must we give in our notice within a month from now or a month from the issue of the Regulations?
The time by which we must give in our notices unless we wish to remain will be specified in the Regulations. That is all right. It will give us some time, and I hope you postpone the Regulations indefinitely. See what you are sacrificing. Is it not true to say that the real value of the Home Guard is that it is very well trained? They have been very well trained, infinitely better trained than the old volunteers, but it is not training alone that makes fighters. What matters is the practice of facing death in the defence of your country. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) instanced the taxi-cab drivers. I think they are most useful, both here in London and in other towns. How can they go on under the 48 hours a month rule? They cannot.
My right hon. Friend does not understand the position of the taxi battalion. They are not compelled, and they have not undertaken, to do any military training, but merely to turn out in military uniform for the job of transporting men to other parts of London where the danger threatens.
But are they not useful? Are they not as useful as you or me—especially the old soldiers? But they will have to return their uniform after all they have done.
Exactly. They will have to return their uniform and cease to be members. Would it not be possible to allow old volunteers to retain their uniform and to be called up in case of invasion? I can tell you, the best training you can have for fighting is fighting. The experience of fighting is of value, even if your training in modern methods may not be so good. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in which the infection of courage is more important than in actual fighting. Some of the old soldiers who were in the last war may not be so good at signalling or bomb throwing, they may not be able to do 48 hours a month, but they have their value as a stiffening to the rest of the Home Guard.
Did not the right hon. Gentleman listen to that part of my speech in which I said that this question of training would be dealt with in a sensible and sympathetic manner? His words are very wise; we do not wish the old soldiers to leave. We are as aware as anybody of the value of the "old sweats" who fought in the last war.
They are not "old sweats." That is all very well, but two months after these Regulations are promulgated they will be liable, unless they have sent in their resignations, to be subjected to the 48-hour rule.
How can they know? It depends upon the battalion commander, I suppose. Really, you must make it clear to these people that any change in the maximum hours will not be used against them, that they will be able to resign afterwards without being punished. Why should these people, who would be extremely useful in case of an actual invasion, be debarred from helping their country later on? Why expel them? Why prevent them from returning if necessary, if they want to? I cannot conceive that this change can make for a more efficient Army. What I do see is that it makes for a more mobile Army. Those of us who cannot march long distances, who cannot throw grenades long distances but can still sit behind broken-down houses with rifles and Tommy-guns, setting a good example to the others, we shall have our part to play; we had our part to play in the old Home Guard. What is the new Home Guard for? Is it a victory of the War Office over the Home Guard? Are the Home Guard to be part of the Army like the old Territorials, mobile, or are they to be as they were originally intended to be, defenders of their own homes? What is the policy of the War Office in the case of invasion? Do they intend us to defend London street by street, our country village by village, to fight in the hills, to scorch the earth and let the invader secure nothing? Or do they intend to use the Home Guard, who would willingly die in defence of their homes, to manoeuvre, leaving their loved ones behind to the mercy of the foe? I say that that was not the object which brought men to the Home Guard, which inspired this movement. We do not want to be part of the Army. We want to defend our homes, and for that every man who can fire a rifle ought to be allowed to play his part.
I feel that the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has a complete misconception of the reasons for the creation of the Home Guard. Surely they were never so parochial as to defend their own doorsteps only. Surely their duty is to defend the community and the country. I find myself entirely out of sympathy with him when he suggested that the Home Guard would not be proud to join the Army or the Territorial Army. I have never understood why it did not become the Territorial Army in the first place, because the great Secretary of State who introduced the Territorial Force created a force for home defence, and what is the Home Guard? Many of the difficulties from which we have suffered in the Home Guard would have been prevented if we had been members of the Territorial Army. We should have had an Act of Parliament. We should not have been coming here every week with some niggling scheme of compensation, so that men should be paid for this and that; but we should have had drill halls, and all manner of things. I say to the Secretary of State for War, who made such a brilliant and clear speech to-day, and who produced proposals which will commend themselves to every man in the Home Guard, that I hope nothing that has been said here to-day will cause the Front Bench to weaken in the slightest degree.
The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) spoke of lack of training, and drew upon his own experiences. Because he is a Member of Parliament and a very important industrialist, his time is limited. That is not true of the majority of officers in the Home Guard. They have taken up that form of public service only, and they devote many more hours than 48 a month to the Home Guard. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) said that we must not take the 40-year-olds out of the Forces. I hope that they will be taken out of the Forces for higher service in the field Army. The Home Guard will make good any deficiencies. I would like to tell you what ran through my mind when the hon. and learned Member was speaking. My section sergeant was a man of about 40. He was too young for the last war and he was on the old side for this war up to now; but he was most efficient, a brilliant man with machine guns, and he did a great deal of good in our section. But he is now an Air Force officer engaged in ground defence duties on aerodromes, doing much more valuable work. I say, go ahead, and take these men: their Home Guard training will make them more efficient in the field Army. The field Army in many parts of the country has been denuded by being called upon for too many guards. Many of these jobs could be done by the Home Guard. Whatever hopes we may have had for this force have been more than realised. I would like my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider using the Home Guard to an even greater extent, for taking over the duties of the field Army at home, and releasing men for Libya and elsewhere. The fact that many of us are older than we were 25 years ago does not mean that we are no longer any use. We may not be able to run so fast, but we beat the Hun last time, and we will do it again.
I would like to see training directed more to attack. Going through woods without making a noise, without breaking a twig, is not the way to do that. We need to go at them. The Home Guard will fight as George Washington's army fought, and as the Boer armies fought. I have not the slightest doubt that, when the time comes, they will tear the enemy limb from limb. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will stand by his proposals, and that, in spite of anything that has been said, he will not give way, particularly in regard to women. There is no need for women in the Home Guard. We have 2,000,00 men. We have found it difficult to employ them, and to equip them. There are plenty of production duties—part-time work on munitions is one of them—and this great patriotic desire which has been spoken of by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) and by the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) can be directed towards such work. My post-bag, like that of all Members, is very varied, and I have not had one letter from a woman in my constituency suggesting that women should come into the Home Guard. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will stand by his guns.
I had no intention when I came to the House to-day of intervening in this Debate, although I think I am the only Member of the House who has had the rather sad distinction of being demoted from the rank of sergeant to that of volunteer. I hope it was not lack of merit; it was when I went off abroad, and I did not think that anyone had a right to retain stripes unless he intended to be on the job. In the first place, one of the difficulties about the Home Guard at the present time is that people have given up believing in an invasion of this country, and, therefore, you have more and more people tending to slacken off. It may be that there will not be an invasion, but I am convinced that the need for men of the British fighting services to go overseas will become greater and greater, and anyone who reads the papers and sees how the war is extending all over the world can have no doubt about the decided importance of having the largest and best trained Home Guard possible.
Nobody has a greater admiration in this House than I have for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), and I share his passionate desire that, as far as possible, the Home Guard should be retained as a force of individuals, and, as far as possible, as a force of volunteers, but I am sure that even that consideration must give place to the problem of man-power. We must have every man and woman who can carry and use a weapon trained in this country because the time may come when almost every able-bodied man will be called overseas to carry on the struggle in various parts of the world. It must not then be said that respect for this voluntary system, which, I think with the right hon. Gentleman, is so important, has in any way impaired the nation's efficiency. The Home Guard is a very remarkable organisation because it has succeeded with that particular British genius in combining the training of man-power for fighting with that equally vital business of keeping people in industry. There is still a tendency to under-estimate the drain that we shall have on our national resources in this country. If only we had more men and women in industry at the present time we would not have had such a dangerous situation, for example, as that in the Singapore area. We must combine a large force of trained men and women with a large production in our industries. How are we to do it?
On the whole, the White Paper goes a long way in the required direction, and it avoids destroying the spirit of the men who came forward in the early days of the Home Guard. That must be done as much as possible. I am convinced myself that most of these men will be glad of the measure of compulsion contained in the White Paper. That measure of compulsion will either remove the slackers who came in—there were not many of them, but we all know that there were some—or will make them do their duty. Inevitably, as the demand of industry grows more urgent and more men are called up on ordinary military duties, the rural areas will have a difficult time. Indeed, they are losing more and more men now. I think that those men who have done a very valuable job will be encouraged by the measure of compulsion in this White Paper, because it will get rid of the slackers. I think this is important. Men who work all day on a farm may not have a very great desire to go out all night, but it is in the country areas that the Home Guard will be most valuable in the event of an invasion. We must not destroy the keenness of these men.
I suggest that there is a lot to be said for the idea of allowing the original Home Guard to retain its voluntary status and allowing those who are conscripted to be conscripted as auxiliaries into, perhaps, separate units, or at any rate, given a special badge. I think you must make a division between those people who have been really keen about this business, and who have given a lot of time to it, and the slackers and those people who are now to be conscripted. Otherwise, I do not think you will retain in the original Home Guard the enthusiasm that is so important a factor of this great Force. Lastly, I should like to say a word on the question of employing women for the Home Guard. It seems to me to be the most damnable nonsense at a time when the country is in the greatest possible danger for anyone to have the nerve to get up and say that a woman has no right to defend her country. Invasion might happen at any moment. We have seen it in Greece and countries all over Europe which at the last minute found that they had not taken the necessary precautions.
For various reasons I will not in public Debate draw attention to certain lack of equipment which we know is felt by the Home Guard and the danger this entails, especially as regards signalling facilities. I do not believe that for a small country like ours we have anything like enough apparatus and machinery for making quite sure that this Force, which will have to hold areas until the regulars come up, has the proper means of communication. I do not want to go into that now, but it would be absurd beyond words, when we have had example after example of countries being overrun, if we were later compelled to say, "If only we had taken precautions at the time." We have examples in our own defences. If we had only taken sufficient precautions at Singapore we should not now be in such great danger there. Therefore, I wish hon. Members would not get up and say we must not teach women how to shoot and make silly, futile and petty old jokes about the sexes. I hope the Government will do everything they can to give every man, woman and child of 16, or anybody else, the proper training so that if the enemy should come they will receive the welcome which we want to give them.
I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words of welcome for the new proposals which have been put forward for the Home Guard. I know something about the working of our local Home Guard, because, by good fortune, I happened to be the first man in my district to become a member of the L.D.V. Now I am a platoon commander with three distant villages to look after. The problem with which the War Office have to deal is a dual problem. There are the city battalions which, no doubt, can be organised successfully, much on the lines of the Territorial Army, and there are the country battalions which are an entirely different problem. It would never do to try to treat them in the same way. What I am anxious to emphasise is that we must not stretch the country Home Guard on the Procrustean bed of Army organisation. They must be left a very large measure of discretion in training and in all other arrangements. I am glad to find in the first paragraph of the White Paper the very important word "elastic," because it is inevitable, if we are to succeed with our Home Guard arrangements in the country, that we must use elastic and not red tape. I am encouraged by the experience of the right hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Colonel Colville) to hope that we may see that done.
It was a great encouragement also to hear the Secretary of State say that he regards the Home Guard as being of vital importance. We have heard similar sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister. I hope that that belief will now drift downwards to the other people who are concerned. It is only a fortnight since an officer in a Norfolk battalion, who was being interviewed at a recruiting office, when he mentioned his qualification of being in the Home Guard, was told that the Home Guard did not count. I hope that spirit will be removed from all those who have to deal with the Home Guard in future, and that we may rely on those in charge at the War Office to see that that happens. I am sure that the measures of compulsion that are proposed will be welcomed by the present members of the Home Guard, whose only grouse of any moment in my district has been that certain men were walking about doing nothing when they ought to have been in the Home Guard. I do not think we need fear that the combination of the two will cause any trouble.
Another point that I want to make concerns again the importance of the Home Guard. The liaison between the Regular units and the Home Guard is not what it ought to be. I very much hope that steps will be taken to impress upon the Regular Army that they must form and keep up liaison with their local Home Guard. We cannot do it from the Home Guard side because the Army units come and go, but we are always there and they know where to find us and keep in touch with us. Even during manoeuvres that has not been done in the past. I am fortunate in having the headquarters of my own platoon in my own house, and at the last manoeuvres the armoured section of the local Regulars also made their headquarters there. After two hours of manoeuvres I happened to go into their room and found it empty. I was told that they had had orders to withdraw, and had gone. They had done so without communicating in any way with the members of the Home Guard. This illustrates that something needs to be put right.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State mention the question of the 16-year-olds, because I was disappointed not to find anything about them in the White Paper. Speaking for those working in villages, I hope very much that we shall be allowed to use the 16-year-olds for certain duties. In the three villages with which I am concerned, there are several boys of that age, who are very keen and are always turning up at parades and asking us to give them a job. I cannot for the life of me see why they should not be allowed to do something. These boys would be extremely useful in country districts where there are great difficulties in communications. I welcome these proposals, and I hope that the Home Guard, which I am sure will give a very good account of itself if called upon to do so, will be even more successful than it has been hitherto.
I wish to differ on one point which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) in regard to battalions in the Home Guard. I agree that companies and platoons are suitable units for training, but in some cases circumstances differ. Some battalions have been fortunate, because the men in the companies have been engaged in the same civilian employment in the same neighbourhood. A great number of them are old soldiers who have the regimental spirit—they are used to being part of a battalion or regiment—and it is not so much a case of developing that spirit but of renewing it. The men are very ready to go into the streets in an emergency, and, in some cases, the best place to defend a building is outside, because there you can keep the enemy at arm's length. Some battalions, as battalions, have done a good deal of training in street fighting, and I believe that in this case they can do a very useful job in harassing enemy parties which have infiltrated, and in preventing them from establishing themselves. The organisation in districts seems to me to be perfectly sound. I believe that it is all the better for a district to have a mobile reserve ready to act and strike quickly. In one or two districts I know, some of the companies are purely static, and, by the very nature of their employment, they can be nothing else. On the other hand, there are companies which are mobile, and are prepared to be mobile, but in their case the men could not turn out in an emergency in sufficient force to do anything effective. If they were organised as a battalion, I believe that they could do an extremely useful job.
The hon. and gallant Member for Dover (Lieut.-Colonel Astor) has just given a fine example of the difficulties of organising the Home Guard, for, while much of what he said is undoubtedly true in some quarters of the country, it is exactly the reverse of what is true in my own part of the country. That is one of the difficulties we always have to keep before the War Office and the higher command. I do not think the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) really bear any relation to the facts whatever. It is a tragedy that one so gallant should be in the Home Guard but not of it. Had he been of it, he could not possibly have spoken of these proposals. in the way he did. But I think we have a very grave responsibility, in one connection, the moment that compulsion is applied. I feel that we must see that officers of the Home Guard—I speak as a junior officer myself—are up to their jobs and from the very fact that compulsion is being applied take them more seriously than they have been taken before. There is, possibly, a tendency to distrust the suggestion of compulsion unless the present volunteer is completely satisfied that those who are to command his unit are fully and efficiently trained.
To come back to the question of organisation, some have suggested the battalion, others the company, and others the platoon as the unit. I should say it is impossible to generalise on that issue But cannot we have a clear statement that there is no intention merely to copy the Army form of organisation and establishment? If it is possible to designate some types of area and district where compulsion should be applied, and others where it should not, is it not equally possible to designate certain districts where one form of organisation is desirable whereas an entirely different form is desirable perhaps only 10 or 15 miles away? I am terrified lest with the use on paper of the word "elastic" it should be considered that the peg to stretch the elastic must always be the existing Army organisation and not an organisation which relates to the efficiency of the Home Guard as a force.
There is one other point in the White Paper with which I am somewhat concerned and that is the actual maximum hours beyond which it will not be right and proper or legal for men to be worked either on duty or at training. If I apply those hours to the unit with which I am associated, we appear to have acted, for the last 12 months, contrary to the law as it will stand now, because I think that in any one month, over 75 per cent. of the volunteers served more than 48 hours on duty alone, without counting time for training at all. It is suggested that by a system of compulsion in an area such as that possibly more men will be pulled in, but I very much doubt whether that is the case when you consider those working on the land, and those engaged in Civil Defence other than in the Home Guard, and when you remember that those not on the land are, perhaps, working in factories. Many of them will join the local factory units and not the general unit in a rural district. Therefore I hope the hours will not be strictly limited to 48 in all cases. I am not suggesting that the door should be left wide open for local commanders to insist that more than 48 hours should be done, but if a platoon asks for permission to do more than 48 hours, I think that permission should be granted. It may appear an absurd suggestion, but if my hon. and gallant Friend examines the form that duty takes in scattered rural districts and the way it is being carried out, I think be will realise that there is some practicability in the point.
I support the plea that has been made for the enlistment of lads. I am not sure whether it is implied that they should be enlisted only for certain static forms of defence, in connection with antiaircraft batteries and so on, or whether they should be enlisted generally to assist the Home Guard but I hope permission will be given to enrol them especially to be used as messengers, runners and cyclists. They are of more use than more heavily built men as runners across open country and over the hills. I could not possibly agree with many of the remarks made about women being enrolled in the Home Guard. If that were to come about, I should not only seriously consider attempting to resign my commission in the Home Guard I should certainly do it. But that does not mean to say that women could not be trained in the use of certain forms of primitive weapons to assist in the defence of certain localities, which is a different matter altogether. In order that they should get that training there is no earthly reason why they should belong to the Home Guard. They could be taught the use of those weapons, but I can see no earthly reason for enrolling women in the Home Guard.
The House, which is always in touch with the feeling of the nation, could not, I think, have provided a more appropriate setting for this Debate on the new Measures which are proposed for the Home Guard than the discussion which took place on the point whether we should adjourn at Christmas for a shorter or a longer time. In that discussion Members in every quarter of the House showed their realisation of the intense urgency and gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves. I am glad to think that in this Debate, with one single exception, the exception of our well known individualist who belongs, very strangely, to a party which is not notable for individualists, Members in all parts of the House have joined in supporting the proposals which have been put forward by my right hon. and gallant Friend. I rise only for the purpose of taking up some of the very valuable suggestions which have been made in the course of this discussion, but before doing that I feel that as we are about to turn a new page in the history of the Home Guard, I ought for a moment to look back to praise those who made the Home Guard and thank them for their immortal services. I do that most gladly, because at the War Office I have been associated with the Home Guard from the very first moment when the appeal was made by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary.
It is often said that the War Office, the Army Council and the Army generally do not show adequate appreciation of the Home Guard, and I wish to take this opportunity of saying that there never was a force more thoroughly appreciated by the military authorities than the Home Guard. A most astonishing feature of the Home Guard—almost a miracle—was the speed with which it was enrolled. Statistics are tiresome, but I think that if I give the House the figures of those weeks, they will be more eloquent than any sentences which I can frame. The appeal made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was made on 14th May last year. The Regulation establishing the Home Guard was pased on 17th May. By the end of that month, in less than a fortnight, many hundreds of thousands were already enrolled. Before the end of July over 1,500,000 men enrolled, and the numbers were still mounting so rapidly and the prospect of finding weapons for them was so remote that the War Office was obliged to call a halt and say that there was to be no more enrolment in the Home Guard except for filling gaps or creating certain new units in factories and so on. That is, I think everybody will agree, an absolutely astonishing record. Clearly such an achievement would have been impossible unless the appeal had met throughout the country a passionate desire that already existed in men to defend their country and had released that spirit like a flood of pent-up waters. It was a reflex of the spirit which breathed in the Prime Minister's speeches at that time, when he spoke to us and the Home Guard of the resolve and determination with which the nation meant to meet the frightful danger in which it stood.
The formation of the Home Guard reacted on the moral of the nation as a whole. It stiffened our sinews, it summoned up our blood and gave an edge of steel to our national resolve. The effect at home was paralleled, moreover, by the effect abroad, for it undoubtedly made a great impression oversea—more particularly in the Dominions and in the United States. It is also perhaps worth noting now that the German broadcasts found it necessary at that time to counter the effect of the formation of the Home Guard by declaring that we were having to release delinquents serving sentences in prison in order to find men for its ranks. All this would have been impossible, of course, without the spirit which the emergency evoked, but it would also have been impossible without the services of the men who came forward to help in organisation.
Before we turn this new page I want to say that we in this House cannot really estimate the debt which the country owes to those who took part in the first organisation of the Home Guard —to the Territorial Army Associations, which fortunately were still in existence, to many old and distinguished officers in the Services who came forward without thought of time or anything else and devoted themselves to the work, to the lords-lieutenant and to a whole host of patriotic men throughout the country in every village, town and city, who worked without stint in order that the Home Guard should be built up. My hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Charleton) said this was done without much help from the War Office. That is true. I do not know how the War Office could have undertaken the task at that time. It was a task which the country had to do for itself. My hon. Friend said the War Office did not give much help at first with arms, but that was not the fault of the War Office. It was the fault of this House and the whole country. The War Office could not produce arms on demand. We were paying for an attitude of mind which goes back many years. That ought to be remembered when taunts are thrown at the War Office for not doing this and that. Who is responsible? Surely it is this House, not the War Office.
The first phase, the improvisation of the Home Guard, ended with the Battle of Britain. The second phase came into existence a year ago, when we went in for considerable reorganisation, estab- lished commissions, introduced greater efficiency into the training, improved, although we did not complete, the equipment, and made for much closer co-ordination in actual defence schemes with the Regular Army. This gave rise to a much complained of flood of paper, but I am glad to hear from some hon. Members during this Debate that that flood of paper has abated now. We have done our best to see that it was reduced. Those two phases are over, and we open a new chapter to-day. The spirit expressed in the Debate exactly reflects what I believe will be the patriotic spirit in which the Home Guard will accept these new measures. I do not for one moment believe that they will weaken the Force, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood). I believe on the contrary that they will raise its fighting character and efficiency to even greater heights. We have to face the fact that in introducing compulsion in relation to a given force it is difficult to do so in regard to some men and not in regard to others. Uniform obligation is the hall-mark of comradeship in arms. That is the meaning of "uniform." Everybody who has served in a military force will recognise the truth of that statement. It is very difficult, when you have men in the same village, or in the same street, under totally different obligations in regard to the Home Guard, one man saying, "I don't think I will turn out this morning, as it is rather wet," and another man being obliged to turn out. That would be an intolerable situation inside any unit. The Home Guard itself recognises, and so does everybody else, that once you bring in compulsion it must be universal.
The only way, therefore, in which it will not be universal is in the raising of extra men. The compulsion to train is established all over the country, and powers to raise men by compulsion are also established all over the country; but these recruiting powers will be used only where more men are required. We do not want to use them where men are not required. The reason why we want them in some districts and not in others is the distribution of the population in this country. I hope that that will be understood. There has been a great deal of talk in this Debate about inequality of compulsion. What is the fact? The Home Guard is not well distributed, from a military and operational point of view, because, in this country as in all other countries, great masses of population live in the cities and much sparser populations in the rural areas. The Home Guard is naturally strongest where the population is most dense, and is naturally weakest where the population is thin. We shall need to think of compulsion only where the population is thin. Whereas in some parts of the country the Home Guard needs only a comparatively small proportion of the available men, in other parts it needs every available man. That position has still to be faced, and that is why there will be compulsion in certain places for all in the raising of men, and no compulsion elsewhere. In that, there may be differences between one part of the country and another, but there will be no difference whatever in any other respect. The Home Guard will all be organised on the same plan, subject to the same principles, the same sanction and the same discipline.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said—I took down his words—"You will get your men, but they will not be the same men." I say to him with absolute confidence that we will get our men, and that they will be the same men. They will be exactly the same as the men who have already, during the past 18 months, rendered splendid service to the country in the ranks of the Home Guard, and their spirit will be the same.
Without keeping the House too long, I will now turn to some of the points which have been made in various speeches, but before I deal with points of detail, there are three on which many hon. Members have insisted and on which I should like to lay particular emphasis. The first is with regard to use of discretion in requiring the maximum of 48 hours during which people may be compelled to turn out for duty or training. I want to emphasise and re-emphasise that the utmost discretion will be used in this respect by the local commanders, who know local conditions. I would also like to point out another thing to the House. After all, the sanction behind this is a civil court. The military authorities will not go to the civil court with a bad case, and, furthermore, the employer who feels that his men are being unreasonably de- tained can state his case, as well as the man himself if he feels that he is being unreasonably treated.
One or two hon. Members have said that they would like an appeal to a tribunal. But there is a tribunal, the established civil tribunals of the country. What more do they want than that? It is true that the sanction is only in the background, but the fact that the military authorities have to be able to state a reasonable case before a court is a great safeguard even in regard to what my hon. Friend opposite was pleased to call the "Prussian type" of officers, who are, I think, much rarer in the Army these days than he supposes. I do not believe for a second that the military authorities will abate the consideration which they have shown in the past for the conditions under which men serve. They have known all along which men were slacking when they did not turn out and which men were really unable to turn out, and they will continue to do so. Even in the case of the occasional officer who may be inclined to outrun his powers, it should be remembered that there is an appeal behind him and that he must prove his case. There need therefore be no anxiety whatever that the compulsory power to call out for duty or training for 48 hours a month will be used unfairly to the men concerned, or to the detriment of their work in the factories or on the farms. Local commanders know that the cows have to be milked and so on, and I, personally, believe that we can give a most complete and absolute assurance to the House and the country in that respect.
Another point which has been made by many speakers is the need for consideration of the older men. We do not wish that the older men who are still fit should leave the Home Guard. They are most valuable, and are a part of its spirit, but if they find that it is becoming too much for them, I think they may count on the most generous consideration in obtaining their release from Home Guard duties. I want to give an assurance about that too. The same applies to men who, having accepted the obligation, find that, because their occupation has changed or because they have moved about the country, they cannot carry out the obligations they have undertaken. They will receive the utmost consideration from the military authorities. I have not seen any- thing in the 18 months' history of the Home Guard showing any lack of consideration in this way by Home Guard officers and remember, the great mass of Home Guard officers will be the same, carrying out exactly the same duties in the same way.
The hon. Gentleman did not quite answer the question as to what the position would be where it is found necessary, in order to carry out duties in an efficient manner, to do more than 48 hours in a month.
Forty-eight hours is the maximum for which compulsion will be applied. Many units train for many more hours than that already. Nobody is going to interfere with volunteers if they train all day and night if they want to. Finally, it has been suggested, in one or two speeches only, that the character of the Home Guard might be altered by this, that it might be more closely linked up to the Regular Army in the way of discipline, formality, routine and so on. Let me assure all Members of the House that there is to be no change whatever in the character of the Home Guard. We are introducing this for the sake of giving it real efficiency, and to protect those who have done their duty in the Home Guard against those who so far have not done so. Apart from that, we are not going to alter the character of the Home Guard at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Charleton) spoke of the delay in the issuing of signalling lamps. There has been delay, but a very good distribution of them is forthcoming almost immediately. I do not think he need have any anxiety on that account, although it was a perfectly sound point that he made. He asked about utility units—railway units and so on. The difficulty about bringing them into other units of the Home Guard is that the men in the railway units, etc., are constantly moving from place to place. Others, like the Post Office, are really better organised by their own utility undertaking than they would be by any local battalion of the Home Guard.
Where that is the case, we will look into it. The main reason for these separate units is that men are moving about. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Marlowe) addressed us in a maiden speech on which I should like to compliment him. I hope we shall hear from him often in the future. Since he did introduce a controversial note, I must say a word on that point. He wanted every man and woman in the country trained by the Army for defence. They are all being trained for some form of defence, but not, of course, by the Army, which is responsible only for armed defence. After all, the defence of the country does not only mean being able to fire off rifles and throw grenades. Other services are equally vital, and I should like to say that also to the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill). The idea of concentrating on one form of defence to the exclusion of others would mean complete collapse of the Civil Defence services. But quite apart from that, I hope the hon. and gallant Member realises. when he calls upon us to make of the Home Guard a self-contained Army, not secondary troops, that that would mean depleting factories and paralysing agriculture. The Home Guard must remain a part-time service. We must go on recognising that its members have their first duty elsewhere, and that they are making the most only of the time that they can spare for military service in the Home Guard. That is the answer to all who say, "Organise the Home Guard more completely, and enable it to take its place as part of the Regular Army." It can never do that so long as it is a part-time force, organised to fight in the immediate neighbourhood of the soldier's home.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Midlothian and North Peebles (Colonel Colville) made a speech for which I am most grateful. His support of our proposals I particularly appreciate, because he has rendered very high service to the Home Guard, is working in close touch with its administration, and knows its difficulties and problems very well. He emphasised the need for more officers for training, as did many other Members. We recognise that; and, as he knows, the struggle to find permanent staff instructors has been a very serious one. We also recognise that officers are now being relegated to unemployment who have very special qualifications which might be valuable to the Home Guard. We are going very carefully into the question of using them to help the Home Guard. We want to guard against imposing upon the Home Guard, however, any commander who is not suited to the particular locality or battalion. I do not think that the Home Guard would always welcome strangers to its own countryside who do not understand the particular district to which they are sent. But I think we could do a great deal to help by using highly-trained soldiers who are out of employment to lecture and advise.
I am glad of that interruption from my right hon. and gallant Friend. That is the point. Such men can do more service in the way of training, supervision, and so on than in actual command.
I cannot go so far as that. I only wish that there were more P.S.I's. But we are getting them as fast as we can. With regard to calling-up for the Army, my right hon. and gallant Friend asked that men who were absolutely indispensable for the Home Guard should not be automatically called up for the three Services. I am afraid it is impossible to give such a guarantee. It is clear that each case must be made before the district board, under the National Service Act. What can be said is that the importance of a man's position in the Home Guard is one of the factors that will be taken fully and sympathetically into account. It will be open to commanding officers to make their representations on that point before the boards. I hope that it will be possible to avoid depriving the Home Guard of a number of men who are indispensable to them. But I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend will realise that that can be done in only a limited number of cases. It cannot be said that, because a man is doing excellent part-time military service, he should be exempted from whole-time service. It must be shown first that he is more valuable as a part- time soldier than he would be as a whole-time soldier.
It depends upon what you are going to do with the whole-time soldier, and whether his employment as a whole-time soldier will be a greater contribution to the national effort than his contribution as a part-time soldier in the Home Guard.
These are points to be made before the district board. I should like to add that we greatly appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said about the directorate of the Home Guard. It has had a very difficult time, and the Army Council are very grateful to the three directors who have been in charge of the Home Guard and to all those who have worked under them in that directorate. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) raised the point as to the 48 hours' training, and I hope that I have satisfied him that the utmost discretion and consideration will be used. He also mentioned the variety of weapons. Members who attack the War Office for not giving the Home Guard more weapons or a too great variety of weapons do not seem to realise that the War Office is not a supply or a producing Department. We ask for what we want and take what we can get. We are in fact in exactly the same position as the Home Guard. We have asked for what we need. We try to satisfy ourselves, and on the whole we do satisfy ourselves, that what can be done is being done. But it is not our responsibility. We must accept the fact that in the supply of munitions to be produced, a very wide discretion must be used, and that we cannot make more than a certain number in this country alone, however we strive, at one time. Personal equipment in some forms is still short for a proportion of the Home Guard. But many new weapons are available, and I think that everybody will agree that the Home Guard is now a well-armed Force who would be able to give a very good account of itself if the country were attacked.
I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham has returned, as I must say a word about her speech. She argued eloquently and cogently for the inclusion of women in the Home Guard. I can give her very little hope. The opinion of the Home Guard itself is greatly divided on the point, and I would point out that when people say in the same breath, "Why is ammunition short for Home Guard training?" and "Why do you not train the women of the country to shoot?" they cannot train the women without still further reducing the amount available for the existing Home Guard.
My hon. Friend should really not make verbal points on a matter of this kind. I expressly said that while the armament of rifles was not complete, the all-round equipment of the Home Guard would enable it to give a good account of itself everywhere.
I think the hon. Gentleman had misrepresented me a little. I rather fancy that he is a good shot, and, if so, he will know that one of the most important things about shooting is to learn how to handle a rifle and to sight a target. You do not need ammunition for that purpose.
I do not want to join in a long discussion as to whether one can get far with a rifle without using ammunition, but I would point out that we have already had complaints—quite justifiable—about the lack of instructors in the Home Guard. Those we have are fully extended at the present time. In all these things it is really lack of material and personnel that caused the limitations, and not any discrimination against women as such. Therefore, I hope the hon. Lady will accept that explanation.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) made an interesting speech, and I would like to thank him for the support which he gave us and for the kind things he said about myself. He spoke in particular about turning the trained met. into a reserve and of organising recruits in separate units. Well, in the Home Guard that is really out of the question, because where new recruits are brought in compulsorily they will be for those units that are short of men. The only assurance I can give him is that the older men will not be made to go through their recruit training all over again with the younger recruits, but I cannot give the undertaking that old soldiers and new recruits will not be organised in the same platoons. That will have to be so. He also mentioned the question of the reorganisation of the Home Guard by districts rather than by battalions—a suggestion which was attacked by other hon. Members. I would only say that battalion organisation is certainly less well-fitted to some parts of the country than to others. That is equally true of the present position of zone and group commanders. I will only say that where reorganisation is likely to increase the efficiency of the Home Guard, simplify its administration and improve efficiency from the operational point of view, it will certainly be undertaken.
If I have overlooked some points—and I must have done so—I hope hon. Members will write to me or bring them up before the Home Guard Committee which has been established by the House of Commons. I am delighted that this Committee of Members of this House, serving in the Home Guard, has been formed. We regard their help as valuable to the War Office and to the Army Council, and I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State will attend when he can. I will always attend myself if he is unable to do so. There is only one other word I would say, and I want 1o say it from this Box to the Home Guard which will hear of these proposals in detail by broadcast to-night and in the newspapers of tomorrow morning. I think the whole Home Guard movement will recognise that this new call on the spirit of that force is in keeping with the facts of the situation. It is vital that that should be appreciated. What are the facts? Recent events have stirred our people very deeply, and rightly stirred them. Men and women throughout the country are asking themselves individually whether there is anything more that they can do to further the war effort, and they are also showing a much greater impatience with those who are content to watch the war effort rather than to share in it. Both those tendencies have been becoming more and more marked for some time inside the Home Guard—the desire to do more, and impatience with the people who are not doing enough. These feelings, I am sure, spring from an absolutely just appreciation of the emergency in which we stand.
The Government, in bringing forward these measures, are not imposing them upon on unwilling Force, but are meeting the desires of that Force half way. I am sure that in this matter the Army Council and the vast majority of the Home Guard are of one mind. Therefore, we count on Home Guards throughout the country to respond like Home Guards to this new call—and I could not use a phrase which would express a stronger patriotism. They will, I am sure, realise that these new measures are a speaking proof of the high military value which is attached to them. We should not trouble about making up their numbers and raising their units to the highest possible efficiency if they were not an absolutely vital part of our system of defence. The danger in which the country stands is such that we must give the Home Guard every ounce of strength and quality that lies in our power. As a Force it has already made its mark on history. No soldiers in the world, I believe, are prouder of their uniform than the men of the Home Guard, and I am sure that when the response to this new call is known, their right, and their legitimate right, to be proud of their Home Guard uniform will be stronger even than it is at the present time.