I wish to ask the Financial Secretary to the War Office one or two questions. Since we debated the Army Estimates there has been a change in the War Office. Unfortunately we cannot have the Secretary of State for War in this House, although, if I may say so, he has a very good substitute on the Front Bench. I am sure we are all in agreement that the sooner he is in the House the better, and we wish him a better time than his two predecessors. He has assumed office in a way which has become habitual to Secretaries of State—he has decided to review the qualities of all officers over 45 years of age up to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. It is a commonplace to say that youth will have its way, but if ever there was a conflict in which it could be said that it was a young man's war, this is the one. I do not exactly come from Scotland, but I come from a county near enough to have learned a little from that country.
It is quite impossible to resist their influence, and consequently I am not so apt to be influenced by catch phrases. I wish to ask the Financial Secretary to explain just what is the system whereby the War Office are to test the qualities of these officers who will come under review. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), when he was Secretary of State for War, made changes at the top just before the war, and his successor made changes on the women's side. We want to be quite sure that in the review that is taking place quality for modern fighting is going to be the real test.
The hon. Gentleman will have gathered from supplementary questions yesterday that there is some question in the mind of certain Members as to what would be the value of this test. There are others who think we ought to go much higher than lieutenant-colonel. There may be need of that, and I daresay the Government would not hesitate about it if necessary. I have long held the view that the real difficulty that the Army has to face is not the commands so much as their selection of the average type of officer, and I think the hon. Gentleman and those connected with the War Office ought to know that there is very grave question still in the minds of a number of people as to whether the quality of the officer is the test, or his social status, or the school he went to. We know of a certain gentleman who was asked what school he had been to. I know the War Office would not tolerate that kind of thing as far as they are concerned, but have they a proper grip of the selection machinery, of the people who select the men from the youths until final selection? I do not say that the old school tie is the only thing that you have to criticise. Everything points to the fact that you have to have a considerable stiffening of men of leadership, men of quality and ability who have had experience of the rough and tumble of life but who may not have academic qualifications at all. I hope that is borne in mind. You can get a good N.C.O. who has neither been to one of the old schools nor to a secondary school nor to college. I hope very serious attention is given to this factor.
I asked the hon. Gentleman yesterday whether they were extending Commando training to other units, and in general he said they were. I do not know just what that means. The Commandos properly are a force which acts as a rule with naval units and the Air Force, jointly, for some sudden descent at some unexpected point. The principle of the Commando does not necessarily mean cooperation with other Forces. What it means is that you have a small body or bodies of men who act under leadership, take very grave risks and go out "on their own." I do not think it would be stretching it too far to say that what is called infiltration, as practised by the Japanese, is one application of the same principle. I think you could also say that you have the same principle in operation in the guerilla forces in Russia and elsewhere. The Commando is just a form of guerilla. I do not know what the attitude of the War Office towards the Commando is. I do not know whether they have given sufficient thought to possible developments of the idea for the Fighting Services, but I hope the matter is receiving the attention of the War Office, because, if one thing is certain, it is that in this war we have to have a considerable number of detachments and units which are prepared, so to speak, to go out in the blue for that purpose.
I should like to put another question, in connection with the Beveridge Report. In dealing with their investigation into the waste of man-power into the Army, they propose the setting-up of a corps of mechanical engineers. They said they had been very much influenced by the result of the corps of instructors in the Navy, and they said:
The Navy is machine-minded. The Army cannot afford to be less so. The Navy sets engineers to catch, test, train and use engineers. Until the Army gives to mechanical and electrical engineers, as distinct from civil engineers, their appropriate place and influence in the Army system, such engineers are not likely to be caught, tested and trained so well as in the Navy. There is danger that they will be misused by men whose main interests and duties lie in other fields.
Have the War Office taken any decision on that matter, and have they decided either for or against the forming of a corps of mechanical engineers? I have always thought that the model of the Navy was one that the Army might well have copied long ago. I shall be very pleased indeed if the hon. Gentleman can give an answer to my question in the affirmative.
I want to raise the point that I raised on the Admiralty Vote, the question of the registration of young men between 16 and 18 who come under the cadet system. I understand that the War Office intends to go in for a considerable expansion, probably five-or ten-fold, of the existing numbers, but I think there is still confusion, because in the first registration the age for cadets is from 14 to 17. The age for the Home Guard is quite indefinite. In the first registration the numbers who belonged to an organisation have been swollen all over the country, especially in the rural districts, because a large number of young fellows between 17 and 18 have automatically joined the Home Guard. It was also discovered that quite a number between 16 and 17, and others who put their ages up, are also in the Home Guard. In the case of the Air Force there is a clear-cut pre-Service training unit of 16 to 18, and one boy in every five is in it. The scheme had as its head the director of pre-entry training until a few weeks ago—a distinguished educationist who was headmaster at Uppingham and was lent to the Air Force.
The Army is going in for an almost comparable expansion, and I would like to ask one or two questions about it. What arrangements have been made for the intake of, say, five times the present number of cadets? Why was an exclusive arrangement made with one of the voluntary associations? I do not object to the arrangement being made with that organisation—I think it is wholly good—but I have had complaints from a number of other organisations which would like to have been taken into confidence from the beginning. I would also like to ask whether there is not some young officer, preferably one who has been in action and been in the Commandos, who can be put at the head of this movement to inspire confidence throughout the youth of the country. Something of a dramatic nature is needed. The scheme was launched in a rather curious way, and it did not make a great appeal. The Air Force were given priority in starting their movement, a letter was sent to the mayor of every town, arrangements were made with the Board of Education, and a careful course was worked out. I suggest that there should not be a great deal of drill, only enough for disciplinary purposes, but that the cadets should be something like a junior Commando organisation. That is the thing that would appeal to boys.
The position of a headmaster who has three pre-Service training units in his school is rapidly becoming absurd, and it will before long become a matter for consideration whether between 14 and i6 there should not be some preliminary basic general training for all three Services. Specialisation could then be simply worked out for the Army, Navy and Air Force during the two years 16 to 18. At the present moment it is rather confusing. I am not aware of anybody who is in charge, with great respect to Lord Bridgeman who is in charge of the Home Guard. I should like to have somebody to whom the cadets can look, a young, inspiring man who has been in action, who will adapt the training to modern conditions and will give a lead to the movement. If there are to be 150,000 cadets, as there are in the Air Force, it will have to be carefully organised and dovetailed and integrated into the educational system and the youth organisations of the country.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), I note the changes on the Government Front Bench. The Financial Secretary to the War Office will soon be sitting in solitary glory with or without the moral support of the War Minister. On the last occasion the late War Minister, we thought, put up rather a good show. He is succeeded by the Permanent Secretary, who has served under four War Ministers, and some of us think that he was the man who ought to have been sacked. The new War Minister was introduced to the country as ruthless and, to use an Americanism, a "tough guy." We shall be interested to see how he introduces his policy of ruthlessness, whether he will practise it upon himself, and whether we are to have a new order, the undistinguished order of the bowler hat, introduced in a wholesale fashion at the War Office. I would like to speak of the Territorial officers and men who have been absorbed by the war Army. I hope that the War Office will bear in mind these men who have given years of service. In the Air Force and the Navy the fact that officers and men were in the Reserve was recognised when they were absorbed. I am hoping, if my remarks reach the War Office and this "tough guy," that the officers and men who were in the Territorials will be allowed to have the honourable "T" restored to them, for it showed that they had put in honourable years of service as Territorials before the war.
For two years I have been a member of His Majesty's Forces. I have no uniform, but I am an accredited member as a welfare officer. I have been most encouraged by the work which has been done by the thousand or so welfare officers in every command. In the Northern Command, to which I am attached without pips, I know of only one who is paid, and we have to pay him because he has to live. He draws the Army pay of an officer. I mention this because in the Debate on the Estimates the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) referred to welfare officers and imagined them in all the splendour of their uniforms, strutting about like peacocks. Most of these officers are doing their work without any spotlight. Their attention is concentrated on the small units, anti-aircraft searchlights and so forth.
Owing to this department of the War Office having been developed, first by Sir John Brown, and being now under its present distinguished head with his staff, it is very efficient. It is not now so much a question of the provision of amenities—draughts boards, games and so forth—as of the personal contact which is maintained by welfare officers. One welfare officer in Sheffield received 27 letters in one day from soldiers. I also get my share. As I am a civilian, either a soldier or the commander-in-chief can approach me for advice. We deal now with the personal problems of the soldier. For instance, a man's wife is ill, or, as happened the other day, he is concerned because he has not had a letter from his wife, which, I may say, is most refreshing, because among other things we have been asked how to get easy divorces. Other soldiers are concerned about the care of their children. I spend a lot of my time visiting the households of the wives of serving soldiers, and to try my best to be a cheerful visitor. One of the jobs which welfare officers are doing is trying to keep up the morale of the Army. In Britain at any rate the Army to-day is standing by and waiting, and it is monotonous, routine work, without a lot of excitement, but I am certain the men will be ready to serve in other ways and will be "on their toes" when the time comes. I wish to refer next to education in the Army. In pre-war days it had been greatly developed.
Then I will leave that subject. In regard to the personal care of soldiers—and I do not mean by that the coddling of soldiers—I very much value a little booklet called "Current Affairs," which is issued fortnightly. I wish it could be an Army instruction that every subaltern should receive a copy of "Current Affairs" fortnightly — those who do get it now find it very interesting—and that he should get his platoon together during working hours, not in the men's leisure time, and explain to them what "Current Affairs" has to say, because it has something of interest for every soldier who takes an interest in his country. I should also like to talk about padres and chaplains. I wish we could introduce into the Army the system that prevails in the Navy. I believe the padres would do their work better without pips on their shoulders and with not so much saluting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) mentioned the old school tie. The present Adjutant-General, when he was Commander-in-Chief, Northern Command, went through the list of pass-outs from an O.C.T.U. He told me so himself. He analysed the list of those in one O.C.T.U. which was supposed to be "rather the thing" and he found that the majority of the men who had passed out had not come from the great public schools. Those schools had their share, and we want them to have their share, because I am not going in for class distinctions and shall not say that Borstal shall not compete with Eton, because there is no reason why it should not. It was found that secondary school boys came out of that O.C.T.U. with greater distinction than the boys from some of our great public schools. Personally, I should like the whole lot to come out with distinction, and I draw no distinction between the secondary school and what is known as the public school. Finally, I would say that I hope that when the Financial Secretary to the War Office or his secretary looks at my speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow some of the questions I have raised which are of vital interest to officers and men will be dealt with sympathetically, looking forward and not looking backward.
I should like to refer to the question of air co-operation. It has been acknowledged that air co-operation in the Army has not been, shall we say, as satisfactory as it ought to have been, and I do hope that this matter will engage the very earnest attention of the War Office and, incidentally, of the War Cabinet, because to send troops on any modern expedition without the proper proportion of air support is just as absurd as it would be to send troops without their due proportion of artillery. It is an undoubted fact that again and again in recent operations the failure of those operations has been put down to the lack of air support and air co-operation. The last thing I want to do is to engage in any controversy, and this question has been side-tracked by controversy over the question of the dismemberment of the Air Force. I do not wish to advocate dismemberment of the Air Force, but I do want to advocate that every military formation should have its due proportion of Air Force allotted to it for such operations as it may have to undertake. For great, premeditated operations it may be necessary to have more than the ordinary proportion, exactly in the same way as more, and considerably more, than the ordinary divisional allotment of artillery is allotted, and always has been allotted, to troops about to take part in great operations.
I should like to see exactly the same principle in the allotment of Air Force. If it is a matter of command, then there can be no doubt that any Air Force allotted to work with the Army must necessarily be commanded by an Air Force officer, in precisely the same way as the artillery of a division, a corps or an army is commanded by an artillery officer, for technical reasons. But I do suggest, indeed, I go further and say it is essential, that in any great military operation the military commander must be the commander-in-chief, and that such Air Force as is allotted to him for the purpose of the operations he is undertaking must be under his command and at his disposal.
A very unfortunate state of affairs prevailed in the Middle East last year. The Air Force was under the command of an officer of equal rank with the military and naval commanders-in-chief, and it rested with him to allot his admittedly inadequate force to various theatres. He had calls from Libya, Abyssinia, Iraq and the Fleet, and subsequently from Greece, Crete and Syria. The result of his most unenviable task in trying to make a satisfactory allotment was that we were left strong in no single theatre. There should be a definite and normal proportion of Air Force allotted to work with military formations, and the allotment should be supplemented as necessary, no doubt at the discretion of the air officer commanding. The commander of the military forces must have all his forces, including the Air Force, at his disposal, for any operations which he may have to undertake.
The selection and testing of candidates for commissions is admittedly very difficult. Some hon. Members seem to jump to the conclusion that it was comparatively simple during the last war, because the men had been tested in the field, so to speak. I had considerable experience in selecting candidates and recommending them for commissions during the last war, and I can assure the House that it was not a simple matter. It was very much the reverse. The qualifications are, and always should be, very simple; they consist of a due proportion of education and strength of character. It is impossible for a man without education to acquire the technical knowledge which every officer should possess, and with strength of character should go power of command. It is easy to say those things, but it is not always easy to judge, and the inclination of anybody who has to make recommendations for commissions is obviously to take the best educated candidates. Sometimes, however, education does not go far enough. I have known persons of great educational attainments who had not the necessary strength of character to enable them to command men, which is the principal duty of an officer. On the other hand, one has known candidates with strength of character, possibly to a very considerable degree, without the education, and sometimes without the intelligence, to enable them to learn and to carry out the multifarious duties of an officer in the field.
I remember that divisional commanders were faced with a great shortage of officers at one time during the last war. There had been heavy casualties, but we were told to produce 12 candidates every month for commissions. Several of my brother divisional commanders and myself went to the Army Commander and told him that we would send the very best 12 candidates we could find, "but," we added, "we can tell you beforehand that 8 out of the 12 will probably not make good officers," and that was a fact. It was very difficult to find officers. I do not think that the difficulty is nearly so great in the present conflict, because, for one thing, we have not made the fatal mistake that was made in the last war of getting an enormous quantity of our potential officer material killed as private soldiers—inadequately trained private soldiers—very early in the war. This time we have the material in very considerable quantities, but still selection is difficult, and much must depend on those officers who have to make the recommendations, and particularly on those commanding cadet units whose business it is not only to instruct potential officers but to watch them carefully, draw out their characteristics, good, bad and indifferent, and make the final recommendations as to who should receive commissions.
In peace-time we had a system of promotion from the ranks, and it was not a badly-thought-out system at all, but it was difficult because there was a tendency among commanding officers to choose young men of good character and the best education. A certain amount of difficulty was caused by the fact that officers were told that they must send in names. No doubt that was a very good precaution in order to ensure that people who deserved promotion from the ranks were not merely glossed over. Very often the only way of testing was to find out a candidate's education, and naturally commanding officers took those who had first-class certificates of education, and good characters. The result was what I heard a distinguished officer allude to as a number of blameless clerks sent forward for commissions, and they were not always a success. They had got past on account of their military character, and incidentally by their education, but their power of leadership had not been tested. The best educated young men were apt to be put in the quartermaster's stores or some position where their educational attainments would have full play, and they were never tested to show whether they could command a section in the field or a corporal's guard. One cannot lay down hard-and-fast rules about the matter, but one should keep in mind two things of most importance; one is knowledge, which must be based on education, and the other is strength of character, which alone can give influence and power of command over other men, such as every officer ought to have. If we keep those points in mind, we shall not go far wrong.
The cadet unit is an immense advance as compared with the last war. In the last war it was only introduced in the last year or year and a half, and it at once produced a difference in the standard of the officers who were receiving commissions at that time. I cannot help thinking that if it is properly run now, and if there is a real test of these officers when they pass out of the cadet school, we ought not to go very far wrong, even though the system has not as yet been tested to any great extent in the field.
I would like next to refer to the question of discipline. I do so because there has been a great tendency, both in some of the newspapers and in this House, to decry the value of discipline as such and the value of what might be called the outward signs of discipline, which are smartness, saluting, general self-respect, appearance and so forth. One Member in the war debate, I think it was the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), said that our system of training was wrong and o went on to say that there was too much drill, discipline, saluting, physical training and spit and polish, if I remember aright. Discipline is still all-important, and good discipline gives a commander control over those under him, control which he must have for efficiency, and it gives the man a habit of instinctive obedience and of self-control, which is very important. The ideal, I would say, is the disciplined soldier with his body trained to make him fit for hard work and his mind trained so as to be receptive of the instructions which he has to receive and assimilate.
The outward signs of discipline are of very great importance, and human nature has a good deal to do with that. What are the outward signs of discipline? First of all, saluting. Undoubtedly saluting is the outward sign of the respect which a soldier ought to feel for his superiors in the Service. It is incidentally a matter of courtesy, and courtesy is not a small thing, either in the Service or elsewhere. Besides that, there is the manner in which a soldier addresses his superiors, and by his superiors I do not mean only officers, I mean also warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. They have to be addressed with respect, and I would say that if a man does not have to show respect, he is very apt not to feel it; it is very bad for him if he does not feel it, and there is something wrong with the discipline. Then there are the outward signs connected with the man himself. If he is smart, alert, active and self-respecting, he has at any rate all the outward signs of a good soldier, and I am afraid that all too often in these days, so far as the outward signs are concerned, they are apt to be absent, or at any rate not very conspicuous. On the other hand, there is a very great relationship between what a man looks like and what he feels like.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that the present dress of the soldier, battle dress, is designed for good discipline? Is it not a fact that this dress helps to create indiscipline in the sense of a lack of self-respect?
I was about to refer to that very matter myself, and I will do so in a moment. If I may just elaborate the the argument I was making, it is that if a man looks down-at-heel and rather like a tramp, he is very apt to feel down-at-heel and like a tramp, which is a very bad way for a soldier to feel. On the other hand, if he looks as if he has taken some trouble—and indeed must have taken some trouble—to make himself smart, alert and self-respecting, then he is apt to feel that way, and that is the way a soldier should feel if he is a really trained and reliable man.
I was about to refer to the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend about battle dress. It is rather hard on the Army to be put permanently into battle dress, because it is very difficult to look smart in it. One has even heard it said, I am sure unthinkingly, how very much smarter airmen look than soldiers when you see them in the streets. I think there is a good deal in it. The airman's dress is nearly the same, although of a different colour, but I personally think that it is a dress in which it is possible to look smart. It is very hard indeed to look smart in battle dress. I know the difficulty of producing—
Is not the hon. and gallant Member creating very considerable difficulties for those who follow in the Debate, because my reading of the situation at the moment is that it is a general Debate covering all the ramifications of the Army, and I am not quite satisfied. It is not the hon. and gallant Member's purpose or intention that I am challenging.
The hon. Member is not quite right in saying that this is a general Debate. It is a Debate on the particular Votes which are under consideration, the number of men, personnel and pay. It is a little difficult sometimes to decide what questions are or are not in Order, but generally speaking it is right to say that we cannot discuss on this Vote matters which come under another special Vote. Now there is a special Vote with regard to clothing, but I think the Vote on personnel does allow a certain amount of discussion as to the way in which the soldier is clothed, from the point of view of its effect generally upon his morale. I think that is about the best explanation I can give of the position. As to what is permissible, I think the hon. Member will permit me, if I hear him going beyond what is in Order, to stop him.
I did not intend to pursue the matter much further except to say that whether it is battle dress or any other dress, it is necessary to preserve the morale of the soldier as far as possible. I would only say one more word about appearances and particularly what is sometimes known as spit and polish. I do not think there is any hon. and gallant Member in the Navy present in the House at this moment, but if there were, I would ask him—and I do ask—whether anybody in that Service has ever heard of a dirty ship which was a good ship? Perhaps one might almost say that one has never heard of a dirty ship at all, but if such a thing did exist, would anybody say it was a good ship, or that any man in it who was a dirty man was a good man? If people ask, either outside this House, or Members inside, whether there is any example of really efficient troops who do very much go in for appearance and smartness, I would ask them whether they think that the Brigade of Guards is a good example of efficient troops. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Australians?"] The Brigade of Guards are, I believe, about the best troops in the world, and they are certainly not troops who disregard discipline, either real discipline or the outward appearances of discipline. I would go further, and say that there are troops in the world, and there are men in the world, who are absolutely first-rate fighting men by nature, but there is not one single one of such men and no body of such troops who would not be better if they were thoroughly and strictly disciplined.
Lastly, I would say that the real test of discipline, the thing which makes the difference between really good, strict discipline and the reverse, is when things are going wrong, when things are difficult and dangerous, and when orders which have to be obeyed are disagreeable, difficult and dangerous to obey. That is a big test as to whether the officers have that power of command which enables them to take hold of weary, reluctant, perhaps even, I would say, half-beaten men and make them stand up to what they have got to do—[Interruption]—It has nevertheless got to be done if we are to be successful. No one who saw the retreat from Mons, which was not at all a pretty sight, or the retreat at the time of the German March offensive in 1918, would have had any difficulty whatever in picking out who were the well disciplined units and who were not.
I will say no more about discipline, but I would like to refer for a moment to the question of the introduction of a new rifle and bayonet. I see that a new rifle and bayonet is being introduced. I do not doubt it is an improvement on the old one.
As I am in Order, I would like to say something very briefly about pay and allowances. I believe that the pay and allowances of the single unmarried private soldier are perfectly adequate, not to allow him to live in luxury, not to allow him to have every amusement he wants, but to be perfectly comfortable in his unit and to get his small requirements for his reasonable entertainment. I believe from some experience, and from what I have been told by serving officers, that except in exceptional circumstances the pay and allowances for a single private soldier are adequate. It is a different matter when we come to the question of the soldier's relatives. There, to my mind, is the whole difficulty and secret of this matter. I believe that if the soldier can feel that his dependants, his wife and his family, have enough to live in reasonable comfort, he will not bother so long as he has enough for his small personal expenses in his own pocket.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he had consulted officers on this and that the allowances of a single private soldier were adequate. Has he consulted the men who are actually affected by his statement? Are they satisfied, or is it just officers who say that the men are satisfied?
I will tell the hon. Member of one case within my knowledge, of a young man of my acquaintance who was duly called up. He did not come of a poor family, and his father offered to give him an allowance, which he declined, because, he said, he had ample for his personal requirements in camp.
What I was coming to is this, that in my experience the pay of the non-commissioned officer ought to be increased. The non-commissioned officer has responsible duties, and if he is a good non-commissioned officer, he is very cheap at the price at which the Government get him. This applies in war-time; it would apply perhaps even more in peace-time, because the non-commissioned officer, the really good man, was tempted away from the Army when the Army had very great need of him, to go, for instance, to the police or to some other more remunerative job where his abilities could have full scope.
One point I should like to mention is about acting and lance ranks. In wartime, with the swollen establishments, and a very large number of posts, which are very conspicuous in London, for example, under the command of non-commissioned officers, many men, either lance-corporals or corporals, have to be given the acting or lance rank of sergeant or, in certain cases, of corporal, in order to take charge of these various posts and to take charge of those various duties for which noncommissioned officers are essential. Only the number on the establishment can draw pay for these lance ranks. I am perfectly aware of the difficulty which is caused by the question of establishments, on which the Treasury has a great deal to say, but I do ask that this matter be looked at with a more lenient eye. I would agree that there must be a limit somewhere, that there cannot be unlimited lance ranks, but I think that the present limit is inadequate and that discretion might very well be given to officers not below, say, the status of a brigade commander, to decide on the number of extra acting and lance ranks which might reasonably be allowed to draw the pay of those ranks.
I intend, if I may, to take the risk which you, Sir, permitted the House, a few minutes ago, and to ask two very short questions in regard to the Home Guard. I notice that the Estimate refers to the numbers of the Army, and as the Home Guard is now recognised as part of the Regular Army, I am taking advantage of your permission. I only wish to ask two particular questions which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to answer to-day. They are questions which very gravely affect the capacity and the morale of the Home Guard. One is the question of compulsion. As the House will recall, the late Under-Secretary announced some months ago that compulsion would be introduced and made generally applicable throughout the country. Unfortunately, although generally applicable, it is not generally applied. Therefore, a number of anomalies exist, which are disturbing and annoying and contrary to the best interests of the Home Guard. In the country districts, you will find that in one parish compulsion is imposed and in the next it is not, because it happens to be in a different command. I take it that the General Officer Commanding has the responsibility for introducing compulsion in his command. From all sections of the Home Guard come constant demands that compulsion shall be generally applied. It is felt unfair to continue to increase the burden on the willing horses. For over a year and a half these very willing horses have been bearing the burden of guards and picquets, and sometimes fatigues, uncomplainingly, and generously giving their short spare time for what they regard as an essential public duty. If compulsion is generally applied those fellows will be given a little more time, and they will feel that all the lazy or unwilling people—and there are still some in this country—are bearing their share.
There is another point, which is really in the same category, because it affects the numbers and efficiency of the Home Guard. That is the question of travelling allowances for men coming from their homes for operational instruction, Home Guard exercises, or instructional parades. Throughout this country, especially in the large cities and urban districts, there are a number of men employed in factories and offices at some distance from their homes. Sunday is the one day of the week on which the Home Guard can be really mobilised, on which instructional parades, and certainly exercises upon any scale, can be held. Members of the Home Guard want to attend these parades; they want to make themselves more efficient, but they have to pay their expenses themselves. That is not fair. It hampers these men in their desire to make themselves more efficient. I know that the subject is under consideration, and that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office will do all that he can to make the Treasury realise that it is right to pay these expenses, in the interests of the Home Guard—and, therefore, in the interests of the country, for we may have to depend upon the Home Guard. The Home Guard is the cheapest force that there has ever been in this country, and no stone should be left unturned in the effort to make it efficient. Those are the only two points I have to raise. I have curtailed my remarks, in order to give other hon. Members who wish to speak an opportunity to do so.
I think all hon. Members will find themselves in complete agreement with the views of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) on the question of Army discipline. I doubt whether any Member of this House has a greater claim to speak on Army discipline. I think it is the experience of Members who have served during the current war that battle dress does not help in that very difficult problem; but we have to weigh in the balance certain fundamental considerations. Is battle dress satisfactory when it comes to campaigning? That is the only acid test to apply at present. At the same time, the War Office can help by not discouraging those little regimental idiosyncracies, and by incorporating them in the uniform when they can, in order to give that distinction which means so much in esprit de corps. In other days the soldier used to take an instinctive pride in being able to recognise at a glance the regiment of another soldier, even in Service uniform, from the way his buttons were arranged, or from his regimental badge. This regimental spirit is being unnecessarily depressed, and that is not in the interests of morale or esprit de corps. In the early days of the war, the authorities decided that it was not desirable that our troops engaged in certain fields of war should be identified by having their units named. In the communiqués there was no mention of the regiment, the formation, or the arm of the Service, to which particular troops belonged. But in the old days, we found that when it was stated that one regiment had distinguished itself or that another regiment had had a very sticky time, it created an intense public interest in the welfare of individual regiments, which permeated down through the commands to the regiments, and gave the soldier that feeling of regimental pride which is so vital for morale and discipline. Everything that the War Office can do, within practical limits, to stimulate that spirit will be to the good.
Exactly. I rose mainly because I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff), who spoke about Army welfare. I am not satisfied that all is right with Army welfare. I am not satisfied that the organisation which the War Office has set up is the best. I may be old-fashioned, but I share the view that the most important welfare officer is the junior regimental officer. Anything that tends to dispel from his mind the idea that the welfare of his men should not be his first consideration would be a most unfortunate thing for the Army. But there are many problems in civilian life, arising out of war emergency regulations, which are outside the scope of the regimental officer, because he is not informed of them. He has not the time, and in many cases he has not the knowledge to give the right advice.
There are many legal questions which arise affecting the personal life of the soldier and the lives of his relatives and his next of kin at home on which even his regimental commanding officer is not in a position to advise him with the knowledge and skill that he would like to employ. Therefore, that is where the Army welfare organisation, which has been set up since the war, should operate, and I am not satisfied that it operates quite as well as it should. If we start at the top, we find that there is a Director-General, with a staff at the War Office which is combined with the Army and education services and presided over by a Territorial Major-General. On his staff there are certain deputy-directors and other staff officers, who, I assume, are adequate for the problem with which they have to deal. They are paid staff officers on the establishment of the War Office and receive pay and allowances as any other staff officers would do in any other military formation, but when we leave the directing head and come down to the unit and the individual, that organisation ceases to be of a paid Army character.
Each static command in the United Kingdom has a commanding welfare officer carrying the rank of acting-Colonel (unpaid). He is assisted by a deputy-director carrying the rank of acting-Lieut.-Colonel (unpaid), with a limited established staff, also unpaid, to carry out the work which comes to him through the regiment, the brigade and the division to the command headquarters. I well remember a short time ago, when two static commands were divided in the country—and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office will appreciate the commands to which I refer—it was necessary to set up an entirely new command establishment welfare organisation, and the general officer commanding-in-chief of the command concerned selected his man, who happened to be a very distinguished Regular Army retired major-general, who had recently retired from active command, to set up this organisation. I was privileged to have a conversation with him shortly after he was given the new appointment. He had to set up an organisation without adequate finance, without adequate staff, and without travelling facilities to reach the formations for which he was to be responsible, and he had an entirely inadequate organisation with which to deal properly with the problem. It was pointed out to me that it was necessary for him to have a deputy-director to spend the whole of his time in office organisation and to set up the organisation at the start. He would probably have to come from his ordinary place of residence and take up residence in a strange town where accommodation might be difficult and expensive to find, and have to set up an organisation entirely on a voluntary basis. This man was working 10, 12 and 16 hours a day without any pay at all. He was not to be given the facilities that were absolutely necessary to enable him to discharge his duties with efficiency. He was going to try and recruit from various sources other voluntary helpers to advise him on the legal problems to which I recently referred, such as housing questions and problems of allowances paid under this Regulation or that Regulation.
If the Army consider that it is necessary to have a welfare organisation in a static command in this country, they should admit that it is right and proper to have an efficient organisation, properly paid and administered, and acting under direct Army orders of the general officer commanding-in-chief. That would enable him to use the normal channels of Army communication through the division and the brigade down to the unit, and, if necessary, up to the War Office. He cannot use the normal military channels and he has not an adequate staff with which to deal with the matter. I do not think that it is fair to quote in this instance the question of the London district, which has been very fortunate in its organisation and its Director. It started in the very early days, and the officer who presides over that organisation in London was fortunate in collecting a large amount of public funds, and, being situated in London, to have at his disposal a large number of part-time, well-disposed civilians, authorities in their own field, who were able to offer part of their time. But where command headquarters are situated out in the blue, in some out of the way country district where these things are impossible, it is not fair to say that, if you can do it in London, you ought to be able to do it in the north, east, south or west. The problems are not comparable, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will look into the matter to see whether it is possible to give the command welfare officers, who are doing their best to discharge their office, the opportunity of doing so on a financially sound and adequate administrative basis.
I come to the question of those officers of 45, who, as a result of the new Regulations, may be found to be unfitted to continue in their present commands. I do not want to touch upon the question of the Home Guard in any detail, but only wish to bring it in for a minute or two in relation to my general argument. If the Home Guard to-day is part of the Regular Army, and it is a real force upon which the authorities have decided to rely to a very large extent in the event of invasion of this country, there can be no half-way house, and everything we can do within the limits of our resources to-day to strengthen that military body should be done. There are many officers in the Regular Army to-day who for one reason or another may be unfitted to continue in their present command, and who, under the new Regulations, will be retired. Their services might well be utilised as group commanders or as zone commanders in the Home Guard. Nine out of ten of them have been serving continuously with the Regular Army since mobilisation. They may have been in the Regular Army, Reserve of Officers or the Territorial Army, Reserve of Officers, and, in any case, their experience is spread over a long period. Therefore, it would be opportune if the War Office found a way of utilising their services in these administrative posts to which I have alluded. But they should not be asked to do it on a voluntary basis. That would not be fair. A man is worthy of his hire to-day whether he is a soldier or civilian, and it is not right to expect a Regular officer to come into the Home Guard for the benefit of his health only irrespective of his financial obligations outside the service. I hope that this very valuable material will not be lost to the nation at a time when the Home Guard might be called upon in the near future to play a most important part in the defence of our own country and that the War Office will consider this suggestion.
I propose as briefly as possible to deal, as I believe I am entitled to do in this Debate, with four or five discon- nected questions. My first point is that of the Home Guard. I am not in the Home Guard, but during the past few months I have had an opportunity of coming into personal contact with the Home Guard organisation in a rural part of Britain. I want to back up what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). The Home Guard will not even retain its present degree of efficiency unless compulsion is applied, because it is losing heart. I would like to speak of a small town, which I know intimately, of 3,000 inhabitants. The Home Guard company in that town numbers 160, and not more than 50 or 60 turn up at the ordinary parades. Members of the Home Guard who turn up tell me that they are losing heart because there are so many men in that town who ought to be playing a part in the war effort but who are in reserved occupations and salve their consciences by doing a certain amount of fire-watching or something like that. I do not think it is fair to expect the Home Guard to be keen or efficient while they see so many people getting off their proper obligations.
Then there is the question of weapons for the Home Guard. I think the provision of pikes for the Home Guard, if it was not meant to be a joke, was an insult. With our immense war production, potential and actual, to-day I cannot see why every member of the Home Guard should not have a perfectly good and modern rifle. However, I will leave this matter there, as I see from your menacing gesture, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I should be out of Order if I pursued it. In a body of irregular troops—and I think I am right in calling the Home Guard irregular troops, because they were organised on that basis—there is one factor of supreme importance, and it is that they should be masters of their weapons. In the Home Guard not enough attention has been paid to training in the proper use of the rifle and how to shoot straight. There has not been enough ammunition, and there has been a lack of range facilities. The possibilities inherent in that organisation are immense, but at present not enough advantage is being taken of them.
We are having great changes at the War Office, and I want to say to the Secretary of State and to the new Joint Under-Secre- tary, who is here on the Front Bench, that if you study the history of war, either ancient or modern, victories are won by only two kinds of Armies. There is the old unthinking sort, the Army of Kipling, which we had to some extent in the last war, which does its duty and fights but is not encouraged to think too much about the political cause for which it is called upon to fight, and then there is the sort of Army which is imbued with the revolutionary spirit, the kind of Army which won the Battle of Valmy, the Army which conquered France for Germany and the Army which is conquering Germany in Russia—a crusading Army. Is it not possible that in our proper concern for other aspects of military life—education, welfare discussion groups, health and so on—we have allowed our attention to be deflected and have fallen between two stools? I have heard many speeches about the Army in this House, but I have heard very little from any quarter about the need for fostering the fighting spirit. Only a little of this is being done in a limited way by one small branch of the Army. It should be possible to set up in this country special training centres, ten or a dozen if you like, where junior officers and senior N.C.O.'s can be trained in initiative, can be hardened and trained in irregular warfare. I have seen it done in a small way; the results are magnificent, but they should be multiplied ten or twelve-fold. After all, the whole country and indeed all civilisation depend on whether we can make the Army fight hard enough to win the war.
As at present trained in this country the Army—and I say this categorically—is deficient in initiative in every rank. In the junior ranks not enough attention is paid to training in initiation, and the middle and senior ranks are overwhelmed with administrative duties. Take the relatively simple question of a court of inquiry into some loss of stores or a simple accident—how many hands has it to go through? How many people have to see the papers, counter-sign them and deal with them? How much money can a battalion commander write off? He is the man you trust with the lives of hundreds of men, yet you hardly trust him with a few pounds. You appear to think that he is either a crook or is incompetent, yet you put perfect trust in him when he is dealing with men's lives. The whole thing is ludicrous. Staff officers breed staff officers; paper breeds paper, and it is breeding at a terrific rate. While you have initiative and fighting spirit put into second place and questions of administration put into first place, and divisional or corps staffs concerned mainly with administrative detail instead of with fighting, it will be some time before our Army can win the war.
Thirdly, I do not think anybody who knows the true situation in the Army is content with the present degree of air cooperation, but I will leave this point at that. There is another matter, which is not of minor importance, and that is the attention which is officially focused on all troops, except English troops. Serious harm is being done all over the world by the implication that England is letting Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Empire troops do the fighting for her and that England is not doing her proper share. That also applies to some extent to the use of the word "British." We direct so much publicity and attention to Empire troops that what I think is a fact is forgotten—that British divisions come out of this war better than any other. I do not know if English or Scottish troops are better in battle, and if I did, I would not say so, because it would create enmity between two groups of people who stand or fall together and who are the best of friends. I think it is a mistake to let America think England is letting other people do the fighting for her, for it is not true.
I would like to refer to the question of men who are missing or who have been taken prisoner. I do not know if the House is aware of it, but it often happens that the wife of a man who is declared to be missing suffers a reduction of income because of that declaration. That, I think, is wrong. Take the case of the wife of a private soldier who is making an allotment from his pay. Suppose he is in a particularly difficult financial position and is receiving a War Service Grant. Seventeen weeks after he is declared to be missing it is assumed that the allotment from his pay has ceased; it automatically happens that the War Service Grant is cut off, and the woman is paid a continuing allowance, which, theoretically, is the amount she would receive as a pension if and when her husband is declared to be killed. It is an anomaly, although I know there is a lot to be said on the other side, that because a man is missing his wife should suffer a heavy reduction in income when her same obligations continue to exist. These War Service Grants are usually to help to meet obligations towards some building society or something like that obligation which continue. All this may appear to be small thing, but I should be grateful if those responsible would cause inquiries to be made. With regard to prisoners of war, a series of unfortunate answers—I say "unfortunate" deliberately—which my hon. Friend gave in the House seemed to stress the fact that the War Office placed the primary responsibility for the welfare of prisoners of war upon an outside and voluntary society.
I am glad to hear that flat contradiction. I am not making any personal attack on my hon. Friend; I simply want it to be made clear that the War Office accept full and complete responsibility for the welfare of British Prisoners of War. They may devolve some of the actual administrative duties concerning that welfare to the Red Cross, but the responsibility starts, and remains, with the War Office, and it is no good the War Office saying that the Red Cross is a voluntary society and that they can have nothing to do with, for example, arrangements concerning Mr. Adams, and at the same time saying that they, and not the Red Cross, are primarily responsible for the welfare of prisoners of war. If I have misrepresented my hon. Friend—and I hope it is a misrepresentation—then I think the War Office ought to make it known as widely as possible that they do not attempt to devolve any of their primary responsibility towards these unfortunate men. I apologise for my disconnected remarks dealing with various subjects, but I hope I have kept my promise to be brief.
The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) told the story of a lad who joined the Forces and refused an allowance from his father because he was so wealthy in the Forces. Last Monday night I spoke at a meeting in Nottingham, and after the meeting I was approached by a group of soldiers. The spokesman for them was a Welshman from Tonypandy, and he said, "Tell the Prime Minister we want proper pay, we want the abolition of the means test for our dependants, and we want something to do." If the soldiers had something to do, the question of battle dress would not arise. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) said that every subordinate officer ought to get a copy of "Current Events," and that he ought to get his men together, and give them the contents of "Current Events." The hon. and gallant Member for Farnham (Captain Nicholson) said that we need an Army with a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, I suggest that, instead of supplying "Current Events," it would be a very good thing if the Ministry were to supply every subordinate with a copy of the Communist manifesto, and if every subordinate made known those contents to his troops.
I do not want to contradict the hon. Member, but that is not quite what I said. I should be thankful if the Army had the revolutionary spirit or any other spirit as long as it was a fighting spirit. I said that the trouble is that we have not got the old-fashioned spirit or the modern revolutionary spirit, and that we fall between two stools.
I think it would be found that many of the lads in the Army already have a fair understanding of the contents of the Communist manifesto. I listened with attention to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield, and as I listened I got the feeling that he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing of all that has happened during the past few years. He talked about officers being capable of commanding, he talked about discipline, as though these were the things that mattered. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish between commanding and brutal bullying. The lesson that has been taught us during the past two years is that we want, not commanders, but leaders in whom the men have the most complete confidence. It is not so much discipline as initiative that is wanted amongst the rank and file. I am certain that the hon. and gallant Member has not understood that. It is not a question of marching great masses of men to be butchered. Nowadays, along with the massed forces, there has to be associated in the Army all kinds of groups, not only guerrillas, but motorised groups, cycle groups, patrol groups of every kind, all of them showing individual initiative. This initiative is needed not only on the part of certain officers who are in command, but in the men, who must be capable of taking individual initiative on every part of the front. Consider the lessons from the Pacific. What happened with the Japanese? Was it a case of marching up masses of men? No, it was a case of groups penetrating here and there, and of every kind of initiative being shown. The idea of the past, the dead idea, of marching out masses of men and forming squares to deal with thousands of unarmed natives—that was the idea in the Zulu War. That is what the hon. and gallant Member was thinking about—the Zulu War.
I was not thinking of anything of the kind. I wonder whether the hon. Member is thinking of anything at all, and whether he has ever taken part in any kind of operations in any war.
I have not taken part in any operations in war, but I have taken as much part in modern warlike operations as has the hon. and gallant Member. I suggest that the hon. and gallant Member and all officers of the Army ought to go to the Tatler Cinema and see the film "Suvarov." Here was a field-marshal who was dismissed because he refused to treat the men as automatons, because he refused to concern himself very much with such things as battle dress, and so on; he dressed as a private and 'went about the field of battle among his men, without his coat on, and in his shirt sleeves. Matters of dress are not of great concern. If the men are properly treated, if they have confidence in and are inspired by their leaders, and if they have something to do that is worth doing, they will not be very much concerned about dress. Why, I am told by some of my colleagues that in Scotland, in a snowstorm, a group of men had to polish their boots, polish their buttons, polish everything, and turn out for a special parade to meet a new padre. That is not the sort of thing that encourages the men.
Take the Russian Army. The Russian Army has discipline, but when the men are off duty, there is not that stiff and superior attitude on the part of the officers towards the privates, and the privates do not salute at every step they take. The officers and men mix together, they go about the streets together, they go to cafés together, they play games together, and associate in the same clubs. Can hon. Members imagine, in this so-called democratic Army, a private soldier coming down the Strand and meeting the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield, in the full military uniform of a brigadier-general, and saying, "Hallo, Johnny, how are you? Going in for a glass of beer?" Can hon. Members imagine that? No. Why not? Cannot hon. Members understand that the old world is gone for ever, that an entirely new situation confronts us, that an entirely new kind of Army is wanted, a new type of army in which every man counts?
On this Estimate we are discussing the number of men in the Army. There is something I want to tell the Secretary of State, the Financial Secretary, and the Under-Secretary, whom I am very pleased to see on the Front Bench opposite. I do not know whether I have ever said that about any other Member on that Front Bench. I hope it will not count against the Under-Secretary. I do not know how many men there are in the Army, but there are two short, ex-Lance-Corporal Willis and ex-Corporal Mick Bennett. These two men showed the greatest possible qualities in the Army, and their commanders have discharged them with the highest possible characters. The predecessor of the present Secretary of State for War refused to give any reason why they were put out of the Army. Why were they put out of the Army? It was because they were young Communists. There are thousands of our party comrades in the Army, but these two were well known. One of them, ex-Lance-Corporal Willis, spoke a few words at what is known as the People's Convention. The general Press kept his name out of the papers, but a gentleman of the name of Hannen Swaffer was kind enough to reveal who he was in one of his articles. Had he been reprimanded, he could have understood it, but months afterwards he was discharged. Mick Bennett, who never committed an offence of any kind, was also given a high character by his commanding officer. These lads were anxious to give their best services in the Army.
I have written to the new Secretary of State on the matter, asking him to take it up and put an end to this sort of thing. You can never hope to build up an Army or win a war where anything of this character is going on. I remember an earlier Secretary of State for War, who was recently in the East, asking me why I was so concerned about these young lads and young Communists being in the Army. He pointed out that any supporters of Capitalism in Russia would be put out of the Army. In the Soviet Union the Army is for the defence of the workers and the peasants and for the defence of the Soviet people. Is any Member on the other side of the House, or the Secretary of State for War, prepared to get up and say that the Army in this country exists for the defence of the capitalist class? If anyone says that it does, I agree there should be no young Communists in it. But, if you claim the Army exists for the defence of the country and the people, then there can be no political discrimination against young Communists.
I want to join with those who are dissatisfied about the situation in the Home Guard. I have been approached in this connection by my constituents, and I have attended various meetings of the Home Guard in Fife. I received a letter the other day, and I will read part of it to the House. It comes from a lad in the Home Guard. He is a very keen member. As has been said, the Home Guard may become vital for the defence of this country at any moment, and we do not want the casts-off from the Army as a result of the review of officers over the age of 45 put in the Home Guard. We want to use the initiative and leadership of the masses who are in the Home Guard. This lad states that the Home Guard in this area should be doubled in strength. He says:
Nothing has been decided and no information can be obtained from battalion or zone headquarters. All that has happened is that volunteers have been turned into conscripts.
He points out that the position is much about the same in the whole county, which is so much under strength as to be unequal to the task of putting up an effective defence against invasion.
The Ides of March draw near, but decisions are delayed and the man-power which
is available to bring up the strength of the Home Guard so as to make it really effective is untouched. Will you please ask the Secretary of State for War why these decisions which are so obvious and could be made by the ordinary intelligent man in a day take the military experts months?
That applies not only to the War Office but to other Departments as well. I said in the course of my remarks on the Navy Estimates that a Commando landing should be made in Whitehall to clean out all the Departments. They should clean the whole crowd out and get more energetic and active people in the Departments. I have had some experience of this. I raised a question with the Home Office, and the Home Office referred it to Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard referred the matter to the chief constable in the area affected and the chief constable referred it back to the Home Office. It is the same thing with these lads in the Home Guard, and they feel a sense of frustration because decisions are not made. This lad goes on to say:
Would you please ask Captain Margesson or his-successor
—fortunately it is his successor—
who is responsible for the issue of pikes to the Home Guard, and when may we expect the bows and arrows and slings?
You are not going to encourage the lads if you talk about the Home Guard having to meet the onslaught of an invading army with pikes. It is necessary for the War Office to take a decision and get the Home Guard up to strength, and to see that everything possible is done to ensure the utmost confidence will be inspired in those who are participating in the Service. I suggest that the War Office should send a representative to Fife to have a consultation with the four Fife Members and representatives of the Home Guard to consider what can be done to bring the Home Guard up to strength and to inspire confidence among its members. In conclusion I ask in all earnestness that the Secretary of State for War takes up the question of the restoration of ex-Corporal Willis and ex-Corporal Mick Bennett in the Army.
I should like strongly to support what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) in support of compulsion for the Home Guard. It is quite certain to my mind if we continue with this idea that only in certain areas are you to have compulsion, all keenness will disappear from that organisation. As far as I can see, it is impossible to say one zone is a danger area and another zone is not. It savours much too much of the business of having all your guns facing outwards round the coast. In one small town that I know, in what seems to me to be a very vital area, they started with a Home Guard of 80. Owing to calling up it has now gone down to 40, and they feel very strongly locally that there are a great many young men who might be doing better things, but who are now only doing tire-watching and that sort of thing. After all, the Home Guard has to be on duty for at least 48 hours a month. In the town to which I refer it is more than 10 weeks since they had an alert and the fire-watchers have needed to do nothing at all during that period. In country districts, some of which are not supposed to be dangerous areas, unless the Government develop compulsion you will lose a grand and vital spirit.
In the second place, may I suggest that in the reorganisation of the Army which is coming the Government should seriously consider whether there is not some method of giving better opportunities to men in the ranks, or junior officers, to get ideas considered. A man may have an idea for improving the efficiency of the Army—it is chiefly the people who are doing the job who get those ideas. He submits it to his platoon commander, who, if he is not too busy with all the papers about which we have heard, reluctantly sends it on to the company commander. It goes all the way up, and probably before any action is taken the circumstances have changed. I should have thought it was possible to develop a machinery whereby any man, whatever his rank, could make a suggestion without any fear that a superior officer would resent it. Cannot the Government consider some more efficient procedure?
I agree very much with what has been said about the terrible amount of administrative paper. Although I have not the honour to be in uniform I have heard a great deal about it. There are a great many papers which could be signed by non-commissioned officers but you have to hunt about for a commissioned officer, and he often signs it without the faintest idea of what it is about. A battalion commander has a considerable number of men under his command but has no secretary to help him. You could not imagine similar conditions in business.
An adjutant has a great many other things to do. Looking after 1,000 men is a very big job. The hon. and gallant Member for Farnham (Captain Nicholson) referred to Commandos. I find among men in the Army a growing feeling that unless we are very careful we shall develop the belief that the Commandos have all the dirty and risky things to do.
I understood the hon. and gallant Member was referring to them. I withdraw my reference to his speech. But I believe that unless we are careful we shall develop a belief that only in certain regiments is there any fighting to be done. When we send abroad such small expeditions as we recently sent to France—to the great joy of most people—we should as much as possible attach men from other regiments so that they can get trained in these ideas of carrying out defence by attack.
I should like to make a suggestion regarding cadets. You have the three Service Departments all training young cadets, and they are doing very good work indeed but, as I understand it, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry are all competing for these young future recruits. Would it not be advisable to have one national service for these cadets, and that they should all wear the same uniform? It must surely be very wasteful to dress some in blue, some in khaki and so on. They should grow up in one service and later be transferred to the particular service for which they seem most apt. If you did that you would develop in the fighting services the spirit of co-operation between the three Departments which is so necessary. I find, especially in country districts, the feeling that it would do these boys a great deal of good if they received a general military training and were later transferred to the job for which they showed themselves most useful and apt.
I intervene because I was interested in the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) dealing with discipline. I should never hope to enter on equal terms into a discussion with one who has such a distinguished record as the hon. and gallant Member, but I am rather inclined to think that he over-emphasised the gentility and the appearance of the average private soldier. I agree that there should be discipline and mutual respect between those serving in different ranks. But I am not inclined to agree that the fighting qualities of the soldier are determined by the uniform he wears. I know of no better fighting soldiers than the Colonials, who have not a very high regard for what are considered the ordinary decencies of discipline in our Forces at home, namely saluting and taking part in all kinds of flummery.
One part of the hon. and gallant Member's remarks which made a peculiar appeal to me referred to the question of promotion from the ranks. He was quite correct in saying that the commanding officers had difficulties in selecting those who had a good sound education and recommending them for commissions. The implication of his remarks was that such a recommendation could not go forward unless the man had the necessary educational background. The point that I want to raise is what is to happen to discipline where those in the ranks are educationally and intellectually superior to the commandant and have imposed on them insolence instead of discipline. I raised the point in connection with discipline in the women's service—the A.T.S. I agree that an army without discipline becomes a mob. We must have discipline. There must be mutual respect. That mutual respect must run through all ranks of the Services. There is an obligation on those who hold the highest commands to have at least respect for those who are under their jurisdiction. The complaint I made here was that my fellow countrywomen were positively insulted, and that they were intellectually superior in many instances, and in no case inferior to the person who insulted them. When they tried to make themselves more efficient by seeking counsel and guidance where they ought to have got it, they were told to shut up. When the complaint was made in this House, the Financial Secretary was vehement, and said: "Bob's your uncle. I believe what the commandant says and I do not believe one of the other officers."
This is not a question of a commandant speaking brusquely to a serving soldier, but of a commandant speaking to those who had given distinguished service in the organisation before the commandant had had anything to do with it. I agree whole-heartedly that if we are to have an Army marching as an Army, there must be discipline, but if there is no respect accompanying that discipline the Army, soner or later, will become just a howling mob. I ask the Financial Secretary whether he will, at least, let the A.T.S. officers in Scotland know that he takes the view that there is something to inquire into. Not into my conduct, however. I have got past the stage when I have any charms even for A.T.S. officers, although it was suggested that I had in some way made them the unwilling conveyors of this news. I do not think that I could have cast any spell on the ladies to make them give this information. I say, however, that at least 39 distinguished countrywomen of mine were insulted in their own capital city by a person who expressed the hope that she would never require to conic back to Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman can do nothing more, I hope he will see that she is not disappointed in that hope.
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) referred to the question of the soldier's appearance. I know a unit which last week-end had to parade to receive a new padre. They had to brush their boots, polish their buttons and so on—what for? To meet the man who is supposed to be their spiritual guide.
I am not saying that it is intentional. I may not look it, but I am a religious man myself. I say, however, that at a time like this it is criminal to waste time for such a parade. It is no outward sign of discipline to impose these things on the men. The sooner it is realised that the Army to-day is a democratic institution the better. There are boys in the Army whose parents never dreamed that they would be there and who, by their early upbringing, had an objection to militarism in every shape and form. They are in it now, not because they were compelled, but because they considered it to be their duty. If you want to break the morale and spirit of these fellows, then carry on, but the sooner we realise that the Army is a democratic Army and the sooner we get a return for the money we are spending, the sooner we will get that co-operation from all ranks which must end in ultimate victory.
I can hardly imagine any subject of greater interest to the enemy or more likely to provoke him to invade this country at an early date than the discussions which take place in Public Session on the deficiencies of the Home Guard. My purpose in intervening is to ask my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary whether it would be possible for a Debate to take place on the Home Guard in Secret Session, as there are many things that some of us would like to say.
My hon. Friend will no doubt address that request to the Leader of the House in due course when Business is being discussed. We have had a wide Debate to-day, and I cannot hope to answer all the points that have been raised. If I am not able to deal with any of them, I assure hon. Members that they will receive from me some answer in the near future. There have been several speeches, particularly in the latter part of the Debate, which have touched on the questions of smartness, spit and polish, discipline and welfare. I agree with much that was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham (Captain G. Nicholson). In considering what should be our policy in regard to these matters and what value should be attached to them, the only test that ultimately counts is the extent to which these and other factors contribute to the fighting spirit of the troops.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans) spoke about welfare officers and suggested that they should be put on a paid basis. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff), on the other hand, complimented the welfare officers upon the fine unpaid work which they were doing. I do not propose now to go into the administrative questions which my hon. and gallant Friend raised. If he has had experience of any serious difficulties of this kind, perhaps he will communicate with me, and I will have the matter looked into. I should, however, like to take this opportunity to express to the welfare officers throughout the country the gratitude which the War Office feel for the untiring and extremely valuable work which they have been doing without receiving any remuneration and very often at great person sacrifice to themselves.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of welfare, with regard to the welfare organisation with our Armies abroad, the Director-General of Welfare has recently returned from an extended tour of our Middle East and Far East fronts, which presupposes that there are welfare organisations in being with the field commands and base headquarters there. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether they are conducted on a voluntary basis or whether the officers employed on that duty are borne on the establishments of the commands?
I shall also be glad to discuss that question with my hon. and gallant Friend. There have been several speakers who have referred to the Commandos. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked about the tactics and training of Commandos. I can assure my hon. Friend, without going into details, that the organisation of the Commandos is as flexible and as adaptable as one could possibly desire. There are no hard and fast preconceptions as to tactics. My hon. Friend may be quite sure that the experience which has been obtained in the Far East of Japanese infiltration tactics and of Russian guerilla methods has been studied and that the lessons will be applied under suitable conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) said very rightly that we must not leave all the fighting to be done by the Commandos. That principle is, of course, fully accepted. Training of the Commando variety is already being extended to other classes of units, and in the latest raids some of these other units have been included in the expeditions. For example, detachments of the South Wales Borderers and of the Royal Fusiliers took part in a recent raid. This development is proving most successful, and there is every intention of extending it further.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham asked about division of responsibility between the War Office and the British Red Cross Society in relation to prisoners of war. I am glad to make the position clear, though I did not realise there was any misapprehension on the point. In regard to detailed Service questions, the individual Service Department is naturally responsible. On the other hand all general questions of policy concerning the welfare of prisoners of war, of all three Services, are the responsibility of the War Office. The War Office has entrusted to the British Red Cross Society the task of sending to prisoners of war parcels containing food, medical comforts and clothing, and also the task of despatching next-of-kin parcels. The War Office take full responsibility for having decided that the British Red Cross Society, with its international connections, was the best organisation to undertake this task. The War Office cannot on the other hand accept responsibility for the detailed day-to-day administration of the British Red Cross Society. The position is that if at any time we felt the British Red Cross Society was not discharging these duties to our satisfaction, it would be our responsibility to decide whether a change of arrangements was necessary. There is, however, no reason to suppose that anything is amiss, and the War Office is satisfied that these important functions entrusted to the Red Cross are being well and efficiently discharged.
What is to happen in regard to the inquiry into this very matter which was to be carried out by the Lord Privy Seal? Is it now to be carried out by somebody else, or will it have to wait until he comes back? In view of the great urgency of the matter, could the hon. Gentleman see that arrangements are made for an inquiry to be held by somebody else and for it to take place immediately?
If my right hon. and learned Friend is not able to carry out his inquiry before he leaves, I can assure my hon. Friend that alternative arrangements will be made to deal with the matter on the lines announced to the House.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said to clarity the position, but can he say whether the War Office keeps an eye upon the activities of the British Red Cross Society with a view to anticipating any breakdown which may occur, anticipating it some way ahead in time for steps to be taken to deal with it? For instance, if a breakdown were to take place two or three months hence and parcels ceased to reach our prisoners of war, would it come as an unpleasant surprise to the War Office, or are they in constant consultation with the British Red Cross Society to see that such a breakdown does not take place, because there are always apprehensions that such breakdowns may occur?
Some arrangement satisfactory to the House as a whole will be made, and if my right hon. and learned Friend is not able to undertake this task before he leaves, a statement will be made to the House explaining what is proposed.
There is no question of a Departmental inquiry. The British Red Cross Society is not part of the War Office. A question was asked by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street about a proposal, which was supported by the Beveridge Committee, to pool the mechanical engineering resources of the Army. In the Debates on the Army Estimates, I stated that a decision on this subject would not be very long delayed. I am now able to announce that it has been decided to bring together the greater part of the Army's engineering maintenance services and form them into a new and separate corps. The new corps will be made up of three principal components; first, the entire engineering side of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps; secondly, the maintenance personnel of the Royal Army Service Corps, with the exception of formation workshop platoons and independent companies; thirdly, it will embrace a large part of the mechanical maintenance personnel of the Royal Engineers.
This far-reaching measure of reorganisation will entail not only extensive administrative changes, but also large-scale transfers of personnel. I must, therefore, warn hon. Members not to expect that this can all happen overnight. It is bound to take a certain amount of time, but there will be no avoidable delay.
I thought that the House would like to receive that information as early as possible. The question of further debate can if desired be considered later. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) asked me about two matters. The first was travelling allowances for the Home Guard. I think I told him recently in answer to a question that this matter was being sympathetically considered. I hope to be in a position to make an announcement shortly. His other question was in regard to the use of the powers of compulsory enrolment for the Home Guard. At the time those powers were granted it was explained to the House that the question as to when and where compulsory enrolment should be introduced would be determined by the operational needs in each area.
I now have to inform the House that in certain parts of the country where voluntary recruitment has been insufficient, it has become urgently necessary, on military grounds, to bring Home Guard units up to strength. It has accordingly been decided to bring into force the powers of compulsory enrolment in Civil Defence Regions Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 12. These regions correspond approximately to the areas embraced by the Eastern, South-Eastern, and Southern military commands. As regards the rest of the country, compulsory enrolment will be introduced in further areas as and when it becomes necessary.
Will a warning be given about the imminence of compulsory enrolment, in order that there may be a final opportunity for those who have not enrolled to come forward?
It applies at present only to those regions which I have mentioned. If and when it becomes necessary on the same grounds to apply it to further regions, that will be done in the same way. I do not share the view of the hon. Member who asked for a further opportunity for voluntary enrolment. It could hardly be described as voluntary enrolment once people knew that if they did not enrol voluntarily they would be compelled to do so.
In areas where it has been found necessary to compel men to join the Home Guard, are the units in question fully equipped at present? It is no use calling men up if you cannot equip them.
Areas which manage to keep their units up to strength without the introduction of compulsion should be proud of the fact.
Perhaps the most important topic that has been raised in the course of the Debate is in regard to the recently announced review of officers. The rapid expansion of the Army at the outbreak of war gave rise to many difficult problems. None was perhaps more difficult than that of finding, and finding quickly, large numbers of reliable officers. Every available source was drawn upon. Officers were recalled from the retired list and from all the various classes of the Reserve. Many of these officers were no longer very young, nor were they perhaps as fit and active as they had been before. But they saw that the country wanted them. They answered the call, many of them at great personal sacrifice, and they have given of their very best. The nation, and, I am sure, this House, will always feel indebted to those men for the service which they rendered, at a time when it was greatly needed.
It is, however, inevitable that, after 2½ years of war, a proportion of these older officers who are filling posts which are normally held by much younger men, should be beginning to show signs of strain. Under this scheme any officer who, for one reason or another, is no longer able to discharge his present duties with full efficiency will, if so recommended, be transferred to some other less exacting military appointment. If, in the last resort, no suitable alternative employment can be found for him, he will be released from the Army and will be free to take up civil employment. I would like to make it clear to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, in view of one or two remarks he made, that there is no question of applying any rule-of-thumb or any arbitrary age-limit to these officers. The only test will be that of suitability for the job which they hold. I was interested by a letter which I saw in the "Times" this morning from Field-Marshal Lord Birdwood on this subject. In this letter he writes:
There exists among the older type of officer some apprehension whether the 'possibility of less exacting alternative employment' is, or may be, a mere form of words.
I should like to take this opportunity of making it quite clear that this is not a mere form of words. Strenuous efforts will be made to find alternative military
employment for these officers. As part of this effort, a more intensive comb-out of younger men in sedentary staff jobs is to be undertaken. Nevertheless, there will be a certain number of officers who will have to return to civilian life. Accordingly the War Office and the Ministry of Labour are together doing everything possible to place those who are thus released in suitable jobs. The Ministry are setting up special machinery to deal with applications from officers who have been released under this scheme. In addition, the Regional Man-Power Boards have been asked to consider these officers for civilian appointments which are now held by younger men, who could then be released to join the Armed Forces. As a result of these arrangements I am hopeful that there will be very few of these officers who are released from the Army for whom useful employment cannot be found.
Will my hon. and gallant Friend remember the Home Guard in this matter? These are just the officers we want, men who have experience and knowledge, and who, while perhaps not quite young enough to carry on in the Regular Army, are absolutely first-class men for the lighter duties of the Home Guard.
It is not necessary for the hon. and gallant Member to remind the War Office of the existence of the Home Guard. I am hopeful that one of the results of this scheme will be to increase the strength of the Home Guard. As for the problem of filling the vacancies which will be created, I can assure the House that there need be no anxiety about finding suitable officers to take the places of those who will be retired under this scheme. To-day there is no longer the shortage of officers which was so serious a problem at the beginning of the war. Ever since then the O.C.T.U.'s have been steadily turning out a succession of picked young leaders, trained in the latest theory and practice of modern fighting. Nor will there be any difficulty in filling vacancies in the higher ranks of major and lieutenant-colonel. There are in the Army to-day, I am quite sure, plenty of fit, able and experienced officers who are well qualified for promotion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street and others have asked why the higher ranks of officers are not included in this review. It is of course confined to officers of the rank of lieutenant-colonel and below. It has been suggested that this is due to a tenderness of heart for senior officers, but I can assure the House that that is not the case. The reason is that in the higher ranks it becomes increasingly important not merely to ensure fitness and efficiency but to see that each individual officer is, as far as possible, personally and individually suited in character and qualifications for the particular appointment which he holds. The method of a single, general review, such as the one which has been recently announced, would not adequately secure this result. The only way this can be obtained is by closely and continuously watching the performance and achievement of each individual officer. This process is going on constantly, and hon. Members can rest assured that there will be no undue hesitation in replacing senior officers who do not come up to the higher standards now required. The principle by which we are guided is that if there is any reasonable cause for doubt about an officer's capacity to command, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the men whose lives are in his hands
The review about which I have spoken deals of course with only one side of the picture. There remains the problem of ensuring that any vacancy which may at any time occur, shall as far as possible be filled, regardless of all other considerations, by the man best fitted for the job. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) asked about the system of selecting officers for commissions. In this connection, it may interest the House to know that it has been decided thoroughly to re-examine the existing methods of selecting officers, not only for commissions but also for promotions and for the higher appointments, and to consider any changes in procedure which may be necessary to ensure that the best possible use is made of the available officer material of the Army. I do not wish to suggest that the present system of selection is failing to produce the best men. On the other hand, this is so vital a matter, that it is just as well to make quite sure.
Much has been said and written about the need for aeroplanes, tanks and guns. These are, of course, the essential tools of victory. But battles are not won by equipment alone. Leadership, perhaps more than any other single factor, will determine the success or failure of a campaign. Our resources of leadership are amongst the nation's most precious assets. We must make sure that they are not wasted.
I am raising certain matters on which the new Joint Under-Secretary to the War Office is to reply, and I understand that he has just left the House in order to get certain information. From the welfare point of view, a large proportion of the A.T.S. stationed in the London area are not being properly looked after, and, as a result, a number of them are miserable. My attention was originally drawn to this state of affairs by a senior Chaplain of the Forces concerned. For months now A.T.S. have been quartered in billets, or in empty houses situated all over the metropolis, and many more A.T.S. are arriving. The chaplain concerned has taken me round. In many cases there is nothing in the sleeping rooms except double-decker iron bedsteads and small wooden lockers for each occupant. There are no chairs, and of course no curtains, and not even a small bit of matting by the bed-side. In many cases there has been no heating throughout the winter. Many of these rooms have had a damp atmosphere for months. I understand that some time ago the authorities promised better conditions, but nothing has come of it. Sometimes these quarters have what are called rest rooms. I have inspected one or two of the so-called rest rooms, and I can assure the House that those I have seen are just about as dreary as a morgue.
Can it be wondered at that in the evenings the occupants of these houses want to get away from such surroundings? Those who have no friends or relations in the London area are at times able to go to the cinema. More often they go to a Lyons Corner House, which is inexpensive and where, anyhow, they can get some warmth and bright lights. But most evenings they are unable to afford that, and consequently they have nowhere to go, and so they remain in their cheerless quarters and get depressed. In the St. Marylebone area the Y.W.C.A. have been good enough to offer to the A.T.S. authorities what accommodation they could spare. I have seen that proposed accommodation, and it amounts to a large draughty passage. I understood that a stove would be placed in that passage. When furnished it is unlikely that it would accommodate more than 30 women. It might be inadvisable, if I were to say publicly the number of members of the A.T.S. in the St. Marylebone area alone, to say nothing of those who are expected, but I can inform the House that the total is considerable. The provision of suitable rest and recreation rooms for these Service women should not be left to charity, nor is it the function of Lord Nathan's welfare organisation. That organisation already has sufficient headaches. It is the responsibility of the Government, who have taken these women away from their homes, and it is the duty of the War Office to look after their well-being.
As to providing some suitable place for these members of the women's services to go to when off duty that does not necessarily cost them money. The solution is a simple one. One or two empty houses in the Central London area should be converted into non-residential clubs, and it should be the aim of those who might run such clubs to try to get away from the official atmosphere and to provide a "homey" place. I suggest that large houses should be used for this purpose so that a start could be made in a modest way on the ground floor, leaving room for expansion. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to reply that that expansion would be required very soon. The Mayoress of St. Marylebone has a very capable and willing committee of women helpers who are prepared and well qualified to run such a club as this for women in the Services in the North London area, and I estimate that, with voluntary assistance, the amount that would have to be provided by the War Office would, at the most, not be more than £800 to £1,000 per year. Such a club would meet the needs of the North Central London area.
I would like to put this straight question to the representative of the War Office. Incidentally, I believe this will be his maiden effort as a Minister, and I take this opportunity of wishing him luck in his new venture. I am also very glad that I am to supply him with his baptism of fire, and I shall do that from now on, with my own particular type of submachine gun. I hope that his fighting spirit, while at the War Office, will be more apparent than it was in the last speech which he made in this House as a back-bencher. I put this question: Would the War Office be prepared to agree to a year's trial of such a club, and would it not be possible to give an answer to that question to-day, at the risk of every Member present in the House fainting? Or is it necessary that for an interminable time, such a small matter as this should be referred to various departments and committees, a process which, as many of us know to our cost, generally ends in the long run in the answer coming back in the form of a very small wizened lemon.
This is an important matter. These unfortunate conditions have been in existence for many months. The amenities provided for women in war industries are much better, and I think that the comparison is unfair to women in the Services. Surely, £1,000 or £2,000 would be well spent if the result was that many women in the Services, especially in the London area, were made more contented? I use the expression "more contented," because I somehow feel that an absolutely contented woman is just about as rare as eidelweiss on Hampstead Heath. What I am drawing attention to is a serious cause for complaint. A little consideration and expenditure on the part of the War Office would pay magnificent dividends in the shape of better work and more efficiency, to say nothing of the better feeling concerning the women's Services that would be engendered all over the country. That would start as soon as these women in the Services in the London area were able to write home in happier vein.
On this question of contentment in the Services paving a dividend out of all proportion to the expenditure involved, I want to know what the much-publicised "new brooms" at the War Office are going to sweep up for the families of soldiers, who at present are getting a very raw deal. I hope that Sir James Grigg has every intention of demanding an adjustment of present conditions to the extent that the standard of living of the soldier's family shall be the same as that of the average industrial worker's family. Until that is done, I say quite frankly, and at the risk of being called every name under the sun by the authorities, that you will not get the majority of married soldiers to put their hearts into their work, or into their fighting. Government spokesmen can indulge in as many heroics as they like, of the kind that we once heard from the ex-Under-Secretary for War when I and another Member of this House were raising matters that concerned the rate of pay of soldiers, and I was making comparisons between the pay of our soldiers and those of other soldiers that they meet in this country. Such heroics will be of no value, because the cold fact remains that if a soldier's dependants are not looked after fairly, you cannot expect to get the best out of him.
I recently told the last Secretary of State for War that if he could not manage to arrange that his soldiers, especially those of the lower ranks, were no longer underpaid, he ought to go. On a subsequent occasion, and on the same subject, I informed the late lamented Under-Secretary for War that he was quite incapable of moving with the times. When, soon afterwards, the Ministerial services of these two gentlemen were dispensed with, my heart warmed to the Prime Minister; but soon afterwards I became perplexed as to why, if the right hon. and gallant Member for Rugby (Captain Margesson) was considered an unsatisfactory Minister, the Permanent Under-Secretary to the War Office who, as we all know, was co-responsible for policy, should be the right man to take his place.
In that case, allow me to conclude by saying that the realisation of better pay and allowances for soldiers and better conditions for A.T.S. quartered in London would go a long way to provide me with an answer to that conundrum about which I have been perplexed.
I wish to emphasise the query put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) as to the arming of the Home Guard. It is notorious that the equipment of the Home Guard is entirely inadequate. I can present to my hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary a few lines for his notebook:
Here lies a man who fought the Hun;
He had a pike, the Hun had a gun;
When his time comes to go aloft,
Whom must he blame—the Hun or Page Croft?
[Laughter.] This is no joking matter, and I should be delighted if my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary—whom we congratulate upon his speech—could treat this question a little more seriously, because we know, and the country knows, that the Home Guard suffers from serious lack of equipment. I would like my hon. and gallant Friend to promise that he will make a personal investigation into this matter of equipment, and that he will make quite certain that when additional men are called up for the Home Guard there will be adequate equipment waiting for them.
I desire only to add a few words to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid). I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend who is going to reply—and I congratulate him upon the opportunity he has of replying—will treat this matter seriously. He has just come back from the Army, and he must know that many of the things my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Marylebone said about the conditions of the A.T.S. in London apply in many parts of the country. Although many improvements have been made, arrangements for their comfort remain elementary. We expect something more than a trite answer. Nowadays we want actions, not merely words. It is not a question of not being able to find material, but of convincing the Treasury that they would be well advised to spend a little more on the welfare of the Army in general. The question does not apply to the A.T.S. only. I remember that in my talks with welfare officers, I learned that they had immense difficulty in providing these girls, not only in the London area but in much less civilised parts of the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—much less developed parts of the country—with the most elementary amenities of existence. It has been left to charity in the past. It is not good enough in these days, when we are asking girls who have been brought up quite well, in most cases in comfortable homes, to leave those homes and serve their country in the hour of trial, to say that they shall have to suffer the same rough conditions as men are expected to undergo. These girls in many cases have taken over the bare barrack rooms that men have left. In many cases they have had to go into not only uncomfortable, but insanitary, conditions.
I would particularly direct the attention of my hon. and gallant Friend to the Ack-Ack sites, where women are serving with men in the mixed batteries. The conditions there, as far as personal hygiene is concerned, are not entirely satisfactory. We who are parents, although we have some compunction in allowing our children to go, realise the necessity for it, but we expect the War Office to leave no stone unturned to see that these girls enjoy reasonable amenities of life. I assert—and I believe that my hon. and gallant Friend knows this to be the truth—that that is not the case to-day. The House expects him to improve the welfare part of the War Office, which is badly in need of it. He should, first of all, obtain more money and insist upon the Quartermaster-General's Department of the War Office providing more amenities such as electric light in some of these outstations which do not possess them to-day. There is a great necessity for electric light even if they can get no other amenities. When they are off duty they want to be able to read a book in reasonable comfort, and it is not asking too much, surely. These conditions prevail in the Army to-day, not only among the A.T.S., but among the men as well. We do not want to mollycoddle our Army, neither the girls nor the men, but we ask that they shall have comfortable conditions comparable with those which my hon. and gallant Friend has experienced as an officer serving in the Army. It is up to him, as one who has recently served in the Army, to see that the reasonable demands that we have made are acceded to, and we shall judge him not by what he says, but by what he does. If he gives the Army these things he will be a great success in this House.
I would like to ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he is going to reply to that somewhat serious accusation which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). Either it is true or it is not, and if it is not true, it should be disposed of in this House at once. I refer to the allegation against the Director of the A.T.S. If the suggestions of my hon. Friend are not true, they ought to be disposed of in this House, otherwise that lady will be suffering under a sense of grievance. The late Secretary at State for War, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Captain Margesson), made a statement in this House previously, and evidently my hon. Friend has thought fit to bring up this case again to-day. Will my hon. and gallant Friend dispose of it once and for all, because if it is not disposed of, there will be a continuing feeling among certain parts of the A.T.S. that the supreme leader of that force is not the type of leader one would naturally expect? I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend is in a position to reply to the statement that has been made in the House to-day, but it ought not to he allowed to go unchallenged.
I do not propose to intervene for more than a minute, but as the vexed question of the Home Guard has been mentioned, I would like to make a suggestion to my hon. and gallant Friend. The difficulty in the Home Guard really is one of trained officers, and possibly some of the officers who may be too old for active service in the Regular Army might be allowed to continue to some extent their services with the Home Guard. The other point concerns the question of instructors for the Home Guard, particularly in the remote districts. There is a difficulty in regard to these instructors, and I wonder whether there could be a corps of instructors in the Home Guard, perhaps of older men who have the time to give instruction or whose services might be employed although they were too old for active service. If these two points can be placed before the War Office, I shall be very grateful.
I rise to support what was said by my hon. Friend and near political neighbour the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) regarding the Home Guard. My hon. Friend amused the House, as he invariably does, by quoting some lines regarding the present condition of equipment of that very valuable corps. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that things have shown a marked improvement over the last 21 months since that body first came into existence, but there still remains a very great deal to be done. I hope that the new Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who I understand is to reply—and, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid), I heartily congratulate him upon having obtained Front Bench rank—will be able to lift the curtain a little more on this matter.
There is another point which was touched upon by my hon. Friend who has already replied on behalf of the War Office regarding the question of compulsion or conscription for the Home Guard. My hon. Friend mentioned three or four regional areas where it is intended to introduce some measure of conscription or compulsion forthwith. No doubt I shall have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries in saying that I am very sorry that Scotland has not yet been included. The area of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) does not concern me so much as does my own area and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, as we represent very wide and scattered areas. The two of us represent over 100,000 people, stretching from Gretna Green to the Mull of Galloway, over 100 miles, and a very scattered and highly vulnerable area, where the ordinary citizens are seriously disturbed about the state of affairs. I know that the question of whether conscription or compulsion is to be introduced is very seriously exercising the minds of those who are responsible for running the Home Guard. I have not had an opportunity of bringing the matter to the notice of my hon. and gallant Friend, and I had no intention of speaking had not the question appertaining to the Home Guard not already been raised, but I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend and those who are responsible at the War Office will take this matter very much to heart. It is a very serious point indeed. Those who are responsible for running this very valuable body of men want to know where they stand in these very vulnerable areas. I wholly dissociate myself from the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), who expressed the hope that there would be a further opportunity of withdrawal for those who wish to withdraw from the Home Guard.
May I have an opportunity of putting the hon. Member right? I asked that before, finally, compulsion is applied some warning should be given in the area where it is found necessary to apply compulsion in order at least that it is known that compulsion is definitely coming in unless sufficient recruits are obtained, so that those who have not yet responded to the call may have an opportunity of making that response. I think that they ought to have an opportunity of getting the force up to strength without any necessity for compulsion being applied.
I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, and I at once apologise. I thought that he was making a plea for a further opportunity to be given to members of the Home Guard to withdraw, and I was going to say that, as far as Scotland was concerned, there was no objection to compulsion. I did not hear him correctly and I apologise, and I hope that the War Office will seriously consider the points raised forthwith, or as soon as practicable, and let those who are responsible for running the Home Guard know the result.
I hope the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) will not be disappointed if, craving the indulgence of the House, at any rate on this occasion, I do not reply to some of the points which have been raised in this discussion. I can, however, assure him as well as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Lieut.-Colonel Guest) that the points which have been raised will certainly receive the consideration of the War Office. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) has said with reference to myself. As he said, I have just returned from the Army, and I hope that, although I served as an officer, just as he did himself, none the less my interest in the welfare of all members of our Forces will be found to be just as great as that of those who have served in other capacities. I have no doubt that he and I may differ from time to time as to what is desirable or necessary, but I can assure him that, at all events, my intentions will be as much above suspicion as, I have no doubt, he would like his own to be viewed.
In regard to the reference he made as to the alleged conduct of the Director of the A.T.S., I am afraid I shall have to disappoint him, because at the moment I have nothing to add to what was said by the late Secretary of State for War when he replied to a Question on this subject and said that he had satisfied himself that her conduct on the occasion referred to was wholly correct. That is the position which we take up on this particular episode. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) raised the question of the conditions of the A.T.S. in the London district. I apologise for not being in the House for the first few minutes of his speech, but, as I understood, he was drawing attention to what I think is a transit camp in his own constituency.
Well, I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that I will give my personal attention to the allegations he has made. I will have inquiries made, and I will endeavour to satisfy myself that, if conditions are as he says, everything possible will be done to improve them. I am sure, though, that he does not expect me on this occasion to be able to deal with any particular hostel or hostels which he has in mind, but in so far as he has mentioned a particular hostel or other billet, I will certainly have a precise investigation made with a view to putting the matter right so far as it may be wrong. But in all fairness I should refer to the general position in London though I cannot, of course, speak from my own personal knowledge. I have been in the Department only four or five days, and I will not attempt to suggest to the House that I can speak on matters within my own knowledge. But I am advised that, as far as the London District is concerned, the conditions generally are reasonably satisfactory. That does not mean that in certain cases there may not be conditions that are not up to the required standard. I hope we shall be able to put them right, and to that extent we appreciate the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intervention in bringing them to our notice. If hon. Members bring these things to our notice, we shall be only too glad to try to put matters right
However, I think it is only right to say that, generally speaking, conditions in the London District, as far as the A.T.S. are concerned, are reasonably satisfactory. The House may be interested to know that the 1,000 to 2,000 members of the A.T.S. who are stationed in London—the figure is a fluctuating one, of course—are accommodated in the married quarters of barracks, a number of requisitioned hotels, flats, and large private houses; there are roughly, 30 separate buildings which are being used for military purposes. I do not say that in every case the conditions are entirely satisfactory, but it is right to say that, in the main, these places have adequate heating arrangements, the sanitary arrangements are on the whole satisfactory, there are recreation rooms, and I think the sleeping accommodation is such that there is no question of any allegation of overcrowding. In three or four cases it was found that billets were not up to the required standard, and I am informed that improvements to rectify them are in hand at the present time. But, of course, even the War Office is dependent upon the availability of material and labour, and this is one of the difficulties which we, just as any other Department, have to contend with when it comes to a question of repairs. Although the hon. and gallant Member spread his net rather wide—and in vain—because I am not prepared here and now to commit the War Office in relation to the experiment to which he referred, I hope he will derive satisfaction from my statement that certainly I am prepared to consider any proposal that he puts forward.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member, and other hon. Members, that any suggestion put forward affecting the welfare of the A.T.S., or any of the troops, will certainly receive consideration. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not have to use his machine gun too often on me, but if he does, I hope that I shall be able to make a successful counter-attack on him.