Schedule. — (Amendments of Army Act.)

Home Guard Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1951.

Alert me about debates like this

Mr. Hutchison:

I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 23 and 24.

If it would be for the convenience of the House we might take the next Amendment also, because both Amendments cover the same point. Both are drafting Amendments and are required by the word "duty" having been decided to incorporate "training".

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 36, leave out from "when," to "on," in line 38.—[Mr. Hutchison.]

11.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The Bill has, I think, as a Bill received its baptism of fire and a certain amount of rapid fire from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—at one moment it was almost automatic. The fire from the hon. Member for Wands- worth, Central (Mr. Adams) was almost repeater. There has also been a certain amount of catapulting from hon. Members on the other side of the House. But, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is perhaps inevitable in a late sitting. There has been a great deal of repetition concerning one remark from the Under-Secretary during the Second Reading, but I suggest that some of the other remarks made by the other side of the House were equally criticised. Perhaps this aspect of the Bill will he left behind.

I apologise, and perhaps I am out of order for recalling some of these matters; but personally, and I say this with all humility, I think that the Bill at this moment is a better Bill than when it came before the House. I do not think either side of the House would like to claim credit for it. It is the function of this House to improve legislation, and personally I think the Bill has been improved.

May I, even at this late hour, say one very short word in amplification of the reasons for introducing the Bill. The reformation of the Home Guard at this time means it constitutes an essential link in our chain of preparedness. The Home Guard can be very rapidly expanded to perform an essential function in the country of guarding airfields, vulnerable points and assisting Civil Defence.

What we say—and this is the reason for this step—is that, were this Measure not introduced now, it would mean that, if war came in 1952—pray heaven it will not—our Territorial formations, which should be mobilising and preparing to fight at a very early stage, would be spread all over the country fulfilling this function, owing to the inability of the Home Guard to form sufficiently rapidly to relieve them of that duty. I repeat that, because it is the justification for this Measure.

In conclusion, I would only say that there is a great difference of opinion in the House concerning the reasons for the introduction of the Bill and the advisability of its being introduced at the present time. They have, I think, had a fair airing in the last two days, and I believe that, now the Bill looks as though it will, as I hope, go through, the House in general is united in the respect that it wishes the new formation shortly to come into being good fortune in their new role. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House, although, of course, criticising in any way any failure of my Department or myself, will, at the same time, exercise some charity during the growing pains of this new Force until it has grown into a very healthy and useful instrument.

11.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

We have come to the end of a fairly long debate on this Bill, and I shall not detain the House by recapitulating the arguments, put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and by very many hon. Members on this side of the House, why we do not think the main provision in this Bill—the more or less immediate enrolment of the Home Guard—is, on balance, a wise step.

Let me repeat, however, that there is force in the argument which the Secretary of State briefly recapitulated just now. Of course, undoubtedly, there are some advantages in the immediate enrolment of the Home Guard, but, for reasons which I myself and many of my right hon. Friends mentioned, on the whole, we think it is incontestible that they are outweighed by the disadvantages which we put forward, and we think the balance of advantage lies on that side. That is why we attempted drastically to amend the Bill in its main provisions.

On the other hand, we did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, and, of course, we do not intend to oppose it now. We do not intend to oppose it on Third Reading, for, as the Secretary of State has very fairly and generously recognised, it is unquestionably a very much better Bill now than it was on Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman quite fairly said that that was because of the combined action of both sides of the House.

I am bound to say that my impression is that, on the Committee stage, the share of the labours of improving the Bill was divided in this way; the suggestions came from this side of the House, but, I readily admit, the acceptance of those suggestions came from the right hon. Gentleman. I think he was wise, and that he did it with great generosity, when he accepted a great many of those suggestions, though not all of them. I wish very much that he had seen his way to accept, as still he might, the last suggestion that divided the House a few minutes ago.

But there it is. The Bill is still not quite everything we think it should be. but we think it improved, and I echo the words of the right hon. Gentleman that, whether or not we think it the right moment to enrol this Force, as it is to be enrolled in the fairly immediate future, all of us wish that Force well, and will attempt to help it by constructive criticism or in any other way which we can do.

Finally, I wish to congratulate my successor in coming to the end of what must have been a considerable ordeal, the passing through this House of the first Measure under his charge, and one which was by no means uncontested, and going through not only the nervous and mental ordeal, but the physical ordeal of a very long Sitting in this House. I think that on personal grounds, at any rate, he deserves the warm congratulations of every part of the House.

11.56 p.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

May I, as the first Member to speak on this side after my right hon. Friend, congratulate him on having reached this stage? I think all of us must be lost in admiration at his patience and readiness to concede points about which some hon. Members felt so strongly. I know that so far as I was concerned I found it very difficult at times to be as patient as he was.

Before we part with this Bill, I wish to tell the House that during the course of the Second Reading debate, I came across a reference to myself about which I should like to say a few words. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is it in the Bill"?] I think I am entitled, am I not, Mr. Speaker, to make some reference to what was said?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The Rules of Order on Third Reading are much stricter than they are on other stages of the Bill, and an hon. Member is only entitled to refer to what is in the Bill.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I fully appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, and I do not, of course, wish to detain the House. But, with respect, Sir, it was suggested by both my right hon. Friend in moving the Third Reading and by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we should do every' thing we possibly could to make this Bill a success when it becomes an Act. It was suggested that I and one of my hon. Friends should join in making a military film with myself as Don Quixote and my hon. Friend as Sancho Panza.

So far as I am concerned, I should be very glad to do anything possible to promote the success of this Measure. I know that there are going to be extreme difficulties in certain places, and it would help me very considerably if my right hon. Friend could tell me whether my own division is east or west of the line which has been drawn from Flamborough Head to Selsey Bill. I realise—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman can ascertain that information by correspondence.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, we hon. Members were sent to this House to represent our divisions. Surely, therefore, it is our right to insist on knowing whether or not a Bill affects our division in a certain way. We know there is a differentiation under this Bill between the two parts of the country, one east and one west of a line. I am very near the border line, not only in respect to the Rules of Order, but so far as the demarcation line is concerned. I appreciate that there may be reasons of security why not too much publicity should be given to the exact areas in the matter, but surely it is my right as the Member for the Isle of Ely to ask if the division I represent is going to be affected by this Bill or not.

12 midnight.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I only want to give a postcript on Third Reading to our deliberations on this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War may have thought the proceedings were unduly delayed when he had introduced the Bill as a more or less harmless Bill, but I think he has already admitted that our apprehensions, such as they were, were genuinely and sincerely held.

There is only one thing included in the Bill now which the right hon. Gentleman may think will leave some bitter taste in our mouths in view of the assiduousness with which we presented our case, namely whether the Home Guard should be used in the way he might have wanted it to be used when he or somebody at the War Office apprehended a possible attack

I think he can have this assurance, and I am sure none of my hon. Friends and right hon. Friends, whether on the back benches or on the Front Bench, will disagree with what I am going to say. Success now depends on the efforts of those who can help to persuade their constituents, or, if they do not represent those constituencies concerned, those who will help form the Home Guard. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman—and I think he knows it—that, as in the past, he will receive the assistance of my hon. Friends as much as of hon. Members on that side of the House in trying to create a patriotic, useful Force such as the Home Guard were in the last war.

I feel sure that when it comes. as it may indeed come, that hon. Members on this side of the House will have to explain the Amendment in page 2, line 22, at the end, to insert: or (c) to carry out duties in connection with an industrial dispute. which the right hon. Gentleman was able to get through the Report stage, he will find we shall be able to advance all sorts of arguments to show that what the right hon. Gentleman said is what he meant to do, namely not to use the Home Guard in an industrial dispute.

12.3 a.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I do not propose to keep the House long and I am certainly not going to cover the ground I covered before during the passage of the Bill. First, I wish the new Home Guard well. There has never been any doubt in my mind that the real issue between us was one of timing. If we must have a Home Guard, let us have the best Home Guard we can and ensure the utmost economy and efficiency. I still, of course, hold the views I have put forward during the debates on this Bill; but certainly in my constituency and in every capacity I shall do all I can to make the building up of this Home Guard go easily.

The Secretary of State for War said that some of the things said on this side of the House had perhaps cancelled out the hard things said on the other side. As perhaps an early casualty, though not a heavy one, I can console myself over the passage of the years for what I was called on Second Reading with what was once said by a great Liberal—that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I do not claim much vigilance myself, but I do not withdraw one jot of what I said at the beginning about the possible use of the Home Guard in an industrial dispute.

I accept the assurance of the Secretary of State for War. During the coming months he might bear in mind that what he is facing here is a crisis in confidence. He has to accept the fact that a Conservative Administration cannot do something in the industrial field that perhaps can be done with ease by hon. Members on this side of the House. I am not making a controversial point here. [Interruption.] Well, I do not want to put it in an acutely controversial way. What I am saying is that if the right hon. Gentleman had borne in mind what I said in the debate on the Address he might have avoided some of the difficulties he has had to face on this Bill. Whether he chooses to notice or ignore the view I have expressed is his business, but it is also the nation's business. This view is not mine only, and has not been expressed by me only. It is the view of the trades unions—their doubts; and doubts expressed by them of the people they represent. If he wants to build up rapidly a proficient Home Guard he will be wise to remember those doubts.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Lord Haldane was a very wise man. The Secretary of State for War may become a great Secretary of State for War. I am sure he may become a much greater man if he studies the teachings of Lord Haldane. The memory of Lord Haldane can live on in the formation of this Home Guard. I wish the Home Guard well, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on getting his Bill.

12.6 a.m.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I seek an assurance on one small point. The reason why I have left it so late is because of the sudden decision of my right hon. Friend to enrol women in the Home Guard—a decision which I received with very great enthusiasm. I hope women will be enrolled in goodly numbers. I notice in Clause 1 (4) reference is made to allowances, pensions and other grants in respect of death or disablement. I thought my right hon. Friend said that the code for the payment of those disablement pensions and allowances would be based on that operating in Civil Defence. I am anxious to obtain an assurance that women will receive equal payments should they require them for disablement or injury as men.

The Civil Defence code, if I may so call it, does provide for equal allowances for men and women. I recollect very well the tremendous battle we had to fight with the Coalition Government in the late war to establish that a woman injured in the defence of our country was entitled to the same compensation as a man. I should like to have it put on the record that now women are being enrolled in the Home Guard, and if the Civil Defence injuries scheme is going to apply to the Home Guard, Regulations will be introduced to secure equality in compensation as between men and women.

12.10 a.m.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester North West

There is just one small point I want to ask about. It is with regard to the position of rifle clubs. I have received a communication today in which there is some anxiety expressed as to what is to happen under the Bill in relation to these clubs.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I cannot see anything in the Bill about rifle clubs. If the hon. Gentleman will direct my attention to where rifle clubs are mentioned I will look at that passage.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester North West

This matter is connected with the subject matter of the Bill. I just wanted to know how these particular units were going to be used in the Home Guard. The clubs are constituted in the main of members who were in the Home Guard before. The 3rd Battalion of the Leicester Home Guard Rifle Club have asked me to inquire whether members of those clubs will be given an opportunity of joining the Home Guard and continuing their activities, and in what capacity they can be utilised so as to be of the best advantage to the country, and to the particular objects for which their clubs are formed.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

The Secretary of State for War represented the views of most hon. Members when he said that this Bill was a much better Bill than it was when it first came before this House. It was in the early days a very miserable little skeleton of a Bill. Thanks to various efforts made in various quarters—as to which it is not necessary to particularise—the Bill is very much better now than it was before.

There is only one difficulty which still stands out and which is regarded as a blemish by a number of hon. Members on this side of the House, and that is, of course, the position with regard to the possible use of the Home Guard in connection with industrial disputes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps find time to consider the possibility of making some change in the Bill in another place—a change which ought not to be beyond his capacity, and which may satisfy the legitimate doubts that still exist in the minds of certain hon. Members.

Personally, I consider that the power that he has taken unto himself on the subject of the use of the Home Guard on industrial disputes in war-time is quite unnecessary. If a situation should arise in war-time when an industrial dispute merges into something much more menacing to the safety of the State, all kinds of other powers are available to the Government by way of Defence Regulations which any Government in time of grave emergency in war would, with the backing of public opinion at the time, be entitled to use. I want to join with those who wish the Home Guard well.

12.15 a.m.

Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire

I have sat in silently during the Debates on this Bill, and I have been wondering at several points whether the right hon. Gentleman has not been doing what he has been accustomed to do as a soldier, taking the worst case, and in doing so unwittingly misleading hon. Members opposite. It is clear from what my right hon. Friend said that that is the only case in which a Home Guard could be used in an industrial dispute.

I can understand that it may well be necessary to muster the Home Guard in anticipation of a parachute attack. But in the last war it was always considered that it was only in the case of an immediate threat that the Home Guard would be mustered. The chances of their having to be mustered, and later used in an industrial dispute, are much more slender than hon. Members seem to think.

I hope if my hon. Friend is going to reply to this Debate he will deal with the point, because I think it would clear up a great deal of misconception in the minds of hon. Members opposite. They have opposed this Bill to some extent, and moved Amendments, in the belief that this is not the right time for this Bill. The purpoe of it is to ensure that we have a trained body of men available for the purpose, and it would be wrong to wait for the fire before you train the brigade.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

It has always been said that these men would be fit, to perform their duties as soon as they were called up. There has never been any question of their needing any lengthy period of training.

Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire

That may be so in many cases, but in the last war it was not simply a question of equipping the Home Guard with a rifle. They were progressively trained in other weapons, they had to learn techniques, to be brought together to train as a team, and to learn their territory thoroughly. The period of training is bound to be longer than during the war, and we ought to do it the right way.

12.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Hutchison Mr James Hutchison , Glasgow Scotstoun

In reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), it would be unfortunate if it were to be thought in the country that there are going to be facilities for women to join the Home Guard immediately. It certainly will not come about for some little while, but it is fair to say that when the conditions under which they will be enrolled are being considered, we shall ensure that they will not be worse off than their sisters in Civil Defence. They will also get in relation to Home Guard work what their sisters in Civil Defence are getting.

On the question of the rifle clubs, I can recall Home Guards forming these clubs, and in my opinion they are valuable. They help to keep the spirit together, and it will be a question for the local commanders to decide how many members of the rifle clubs they can absorb. If I were a commander, this would be one of the first places to which I would look.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester North West

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman issue instructions, or at least give some sort of directive, that a club as a whole could be enrolled? After all, a club would doubtless contain people who have been in the Home Guard before.

Photo of Mr James Hutchison Mr James Hutchison , Glasgow Scotstoun

No doubt they will come forward, but in answer to the hon. Gentleman, I would point out that there might be more people in a club than the formation wanted; in these cadre formations, of 50 people or so, there might not be room, but his suggestion is something of which we shall not lose sight. Since the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) has mentioned the question. I would say that there is extremely little between us in practice on this question of industrial disputes. One can readily realise how repugnant it would be to a member of the Home Guard to be put in any form of duty such as has been visualised. The real problem was to get the form of words which exclude all other kinds of possible incidents, but virtually there was nothing between us at all.

I should not like to close this Debate without being able to express the greatest appreciation of the ready way in which the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association has shown itself prepared to share yet another burden. This means a considerable amount of extra work on its shoulders, but those concerned have never shrunk from the duty and will not, I think, shrink from helping to make this new Home Guard a success.

Bill accordingly read the Third time. and passed.