§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Whiteley.)
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
On a point of Order. We are 1886 now left with 3¾ hours for this very vital Debate upon which we are now entering. As the normal time is seven hours, and as this is one of the most important movements which has taken place in this country, can we not have some further opportunity to debate it, or through you, Mr. Speaker, would the Government afford facilities for those who are most interested in it to offer suggestions from their knowledge and experience?
§ Mr. Speaker
It has nothing to do with me. It is a matter for the House. We had better get on and see what happens. If hon. Members concentrate their marks to the shortest possible limits, shall get on very well.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Sir Edward Grigg)
I am aware that very large numbers of Members of this House are anxious to speak on this subject, and I am sorry if some of them will not have an opportunity to speak. I think, however, that it would be convenient to the House if I amplified the brief statement which I made here a fortnight ago, and I will try to do it in the shortest possible time. I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to be in possession of fuller details of the organisation.
The Home Guard is the product of two forces. One of them is the force of events, and the other, which usually rises superior to the force of events, is the force of British character and tradition.
When the world was darkened by the eclipse of France, one fact stood out. That was the extent to which mechanised raiding parties had terrorised whole countrysides, destroying communications and dislocating the national life. The result in a matter of days was universal confusion, crippling both the will and the power to resist. The horror of that spectacle stirred this country to its depths. At that time men of all ages in all parts of the country were eating their hearts out because for one reason or another they had no opportunity of offering military service of one kind or another. Some were too old; others were debarred by their occupations from joining the Fighting Services. Therefore, the demand for some opportunity of service was intense. From end to end of 1887 the country men swore that what had happened in France should not happen here. That was the origin of the Home Guard. My right hon. Friend realised both the greatness of the need and the strength, indeed the intensity, of the demand. He made his appeal only six months ago, on 14th May, and the Home Guard is the result. I am sure the House will agree that it is a lusty infant for six months, strong of constitution, powerful of lung and avid, like all healthy infants, for supplies.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Most infants are, I believe.
I have seen it suggested that the Regular Army leaders adopted a step-motherly attitude to the Home Guard. Really, nothing is further from the fact. The Regular Army leaders appreciated the military value of this Force from the very start and, despite the heavy administrative burden which the Commands are carrying, they did everything to promote its efficiency and prosper its growth. Co-operation between the Regular Army and the Home Guard practically everywhere has been excellent; indeed, the organisation and training of the Home Guard are least advanced where it has had least opportunity of contact with Regular troops.
Equally far from the truth is the idea that the Regular Army now wants to regiment or dragoon or overstrain the Home Guard. I have seen somewhere a phrase saying that the old soldiers want to make it "a playground for dug-outs and brass hats." That idea also is absurd. There is no desire to press any kind of unnecessary regimenting or uniformity upon the Home Guard. Uniformity is essential to a Regular Army. Without uniformity, without firm discipline, without drill and smartness and without the co-ordinated efficiency in all parts, like the parts of a great engine, a Regular Army is of no use. But that is only possible for whole-time troops. The Home Guard, as the Regular Army fully recognise, is a part-time auxiliary Force, and there is no need to organise it for mobility in large numbers, since it is organised to serve in small detachments purely in local defence. 1888 In that capacity it has a free and easy, home-spun, moorland or village-green, workshop or pithead character of its own. That character is essential to its strength and happiness, and it must be preserved. That the Regular Army leaders fully appreciate. They want the Home Guard to be efficient, because it is an essential element in our home security, but they want it to be efficient in its own way as a voluntary, auxiliary, part-time Force, and that, I think, is what the Home Guard itself wants.
Efficiency of that character, however, while it does not require anything like Regular Army organisation, does require good organisation of some sort. Everyone is aware that in the early stages of the Home Guard the system of command, the organisation and the administration were necessarily very largely provisional. The Force grew like a mustard tree, and its administration had hard work in keeping up with it. Experience now has shown us where the administration creaks, and it would be a catastrophe if the Force or any part of it lost heart through lack of sympathetic attention to its needs and difficulties. In consequence some measure or organisation is manifestly required. I would like, therefore, to give the House as briefly as I can a description of the system of command and administration which we propose now to introduce.
With regard to the higher command, it will, of course, remain vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, Sir Alan Brooke. He has for Home Guard purposes a general staff officer, first grade, in every area, who assists the Home Guard area commander. I do not think I need elaborate that.
But I should like to say a word about the appointment of Lord Gort as Inspector-General for Training of the Force. Lord Gort is a master of military training in all its aspects and, above all things, he is a practical soldier with great fighting experience. He has seen the German Army in action; he has seen the kind of thing that the Home Guard may have to resist, and I think, therefore, that his assistance as Inspector will be of very great practical use to the Force. We are particularly anxious that he should give that assistance in those areas where the Home Guard has had least opportunity of contact with Regular troops.
1889 I come now to training in the lower commands. The Commander-in-Chief will certainly do his utmost to facilitate it in every way. We have established a Home Guard school based on the admirable school which was first started by Mr. Hilton at Osterley. I have seen the Home Guard school; I have seen the Home Guard leaders and the volunteers who were there, and I was deeply impressed by it and by the quality of those who were going through the course. It is heartening to see the extraordinary ability and spirit of the men who are coming up for training as instructors to their units throughout the country.
In addition to these instructors trained at the Home Guard school, there will be permanent staff instructors for the Force—what the Territorials used to know as P.S.I's.—at the rate of one per battalion. In most areas I think there has already been provided the accommodation required for training during the winter months. I hope very much that this accommodation will not only give facilities for training but will also keep the units together and give opportunities for comradeship in the life of the Force.
What I would like to emphasise in regard to the training system as a whole is that the Home Guard must produce its own staff. There are something like 1,200 battalions, 5,000 companies, 25,000 platoons. It is an enormous Force, five or six times as great as the Territorial Army, and all the instructors necessary cannot be found from the Regular Army, which has got a considerable task to train itself. The Home Guard is simply full of talent available for training as instructors, and I am certain that it will be able to find its own instructional staff.
The Force, as I told the House the other day, will be commanded by its own commissioned officers. The grounds upon which His Majesty was pleased to direct that the King's Commission should be given to Home Guard commanders have been stated to the House, and I think they were approved. I have already said so much about the special character of the Force that I will not pause to deal with the suggestion that commissions are meant to regularise it or to take away its special character, judging by correspondence and the Press, that entirely mistaken idea is not very widely held. 1890 The commissions will be commissions in the Home Guard. The necessary Prerogative Order in Council has been passed. They will be commissions of the rank and title usual in the Army here. The precedence of Home Guard officers will be junior in rank to Regular officers of the same rank, and senior to officers of lower rank in the Regular Army. The commission will be attached to the appointment; that is to say, it will lapse when the appointment is no longer held. It will not carry with it the powers of summary punishment given by the Army Act to Regular officers, nor will it carry with it any special privileges in regard to disability pensions or any other special advantages. The Home Guard commissioned officer will, in regard to privilege, be on the same footing as any Home Guard volunteer.
I said a fortnight ago that these commissions would be given to approved commanders in the Home Guard. In order that they may be approved, some review of the existing personnel is necessary. These recommendations will be made by selection boards consisting almost entirely of members of the Home Guard itself. There will be several selection boards, in order that local knowledge may be adequate, one at least for each command, and perhaps two in two or three of the commands, to enable the work to be promptly and effectively done. The nucleus of these selection boards will consist of a chairman, who will be a retired officer with Home Guard experience, the Assistant Military Secretary of the Command, who will be the only Regular officer on the board, and one other Home Guard officer, very possibly the liaison officer of the Command.
The method by which the selection boards will work will be as follows: The boards will first recommend the area and zone commanders in their respective localities. When these have been approved, the area and zone commanders will be added to the selection boards for the choice of battalion commanders.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the existing area and zone commanders will also come under the review of the selection boards?
§ Sir E. Grigg
Yes, Sir. The nucleus of three officers, which I have described, 1891 will recommend area and zone commanders, and then, when these are approved or substitutes appointed in cases where they are not approved, these area and zone commanders will be added to the selection boards for the choice of battalion commanders. When the battalion commanders have been approved, they will join the boards for the selection of company and platoon commanders, and the company commanders will be consulted in regard to platoon commanders.
I emphasise that because it is of extreme importance that the commissioned officers in this Force should be suited to local circumstances, and that local knowledge should be fully available to those who have to command the Force. The boards will be required to satisfy themselves that any commander whom they recommend has been efficient in command and trusted by his subordinates. From battalions downwards officers must be physically fit for soldiering under active service conditions should an emergency require it. The age limit of 65 will therefore be adhered to from battalion commanders downwards. Above the rank of battalion commander, where the posts are purely administrative, it does not matter so much, but inasmuch as this force is a part of the defence system of the country which may be required for active service in case of emergency, it must be fit for active service from battalion commanders downwards.
Here are the principles on which the selection boards are to make their choice. Firstly, the sole criterion is to be fitness for command in the conditions of service laid down for the Home Guard. Secondly, an essential element in such fitness is the ability to command the confidence of all ranks under the special circumstances and conditions of the locality concerned. Thirdly, neither political, business, nor social affiliations are to be regarded as conducing in themselves to fitness for command. In the fourth place, previous military service, while it may be of great account, is not to be regarded as an indispensable qualification for commissioned rank. I hope the House will approve these principles.
There remains, in regard to commissions, the question of appeal, should any commissioned officer be called upon to 1892 relinquish his command. It is essential that such appeals should be considered with absolute fairness, with expedition and with full knowledge of the local facts. To ensure this, we propose that appeals shall lie in each case to higher military authority which will, where necessary, have the advice of the Home Guard officers who originally recommended the officer concerned and who know about the locality from which he comes. Appeals from area, zone, group and battalion commanders will go to the Secretary of State; those from company and platoon commanders to the General Officer Commanding in the Commands themselves. The House will understand that this right of appeal is not conferred upon existing Home Guard commanders, but only upon those who, having once been approved for commissions, are subsequently called upon for one reason or another to relinquish them.
When first established the Home Guard was organised in haste, and those who made the first appointments had no directions based upon a clear conception of the duties of the Force. Its duties, however, are now clearly laid down, and it is no reflection upon the character of any member of the Home Guard to say that the original appointment should be reviewed in that light. It would have been astonishing indeed if the appointments made in these breathless months had all, without exception, been proof against criticism of some sort.
In fact, as the House knows, there has been criticism on several grounds, including the ground of age, and we hope that the selection boards, without in any way reflecting upon the commanders concerned, will everywhere pick the right man and put criticism out of court. The principles of selection laid down are in keeping with the character of the Force, and I am sure that their application will be loyally accepted in the patriotic and disinterested spirit which inspires all parts of it.
In regard to release, the House will know that Regular officers hold their commissions at the King's pleasure. I think that in the case of Home Guard commissions there might be some hardship in that, since these are all part-time soldiers for whom circumstances may change rapidly in one way or another. We therefore propose that, if they find reason to do so, 1893 they shall be able to resign their commissions on three months' notice. Provision will also be made for speedier compassionate release in case of need.
The conditions of service for volunteers are unchanged, and the fortnight's notice stands so far as they are concerned. Despite various troubles, and despite some natural reaction after the first enthusiasm—which occurs in all human affairs—there have, I am glad to say, been extraordinarily few withdrawals of any kind from the Force, which maintains and indeed increases its strength. I hope and believe that that will continue to be the case.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Yes, Sir. But an officer may be called upon to resign his commission at once if there is ground for it.
§ Sir E. Grigg
A volunteer may be discharged. He can give a fortnight's notice if he wishes to resign, but he can be discharged at any time if that is considered to be in the interests of the Force.
I come now to the subject of administration. The Home Guard cannot fit into the administrative system of the Regular Army, because it is scattered about the country in small units. Commands in any case already carry a heavy administrative burden, and the machinery they use was developed to meet the needs of full-time troops, corps, divisions, brigades and so on, with their full complement of staff. It is not an organisation that could possibly meet the needs of the Home Guard. Battalions and companies in the Home Guard are not, indeed, battalions and companies in the ordinary sense; they are very much larger and are scattered all over the country in small units. There is, moreover, the fact that corps, divisions and brigades in the Regular Army may at any moment be moved. To make the administration of the Home Guard dependent on them would be to leave the Home Guard without administration if a corps were moved.
So far as possible, therefore, we want the administration of the Home Guard to stand by itself, linked to the static 1894 area commands which do not change. It will accordingly have its own administration from the Commands downwards. As it cannot be administered through the Regular Army system, it is obviously desirable to maintain the other system which we adopted at the start and to provide for its administration through the Territorial Associations. These will, where necessary, be strengthened for the purpose, inasmuch as the numbers of the Home Guard are much greater than the numbers of the Territorial Army ever were. The burden on the Home Guard commanders for administration must inevitably be heavy in view of all the things that the Home Guard requires. Equipment, for one thing; such matters as subsistence allowances, payment in respect of loss of wages, all those things involve administration and preparation, and the burden of administration—the burden of paper—is bound to be heavy, whatever we do.
We hope, however, to lighten it for Home Guard commanders in two ways. In the first place, the Home Guard will have its own Director-General and Directorate in the War Office, which will deal direct with the Territorial Associations for administrative purposes. In the second place, we will give it more permanent assistance for administrative work. In charge of administration there will therefore be a Director-General at the War Office, with direct access to all the branches of the War Office to which he may have to address himself for Home Guard purposes. Under the Director-General there will be the Home Guard area commander, who will be assisted by the first grade General Staff officer in the area where he commands. Under the area commander w ill be the zone commander. A zone is usually a county, and he will have the assistance of the County Territorial Association.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have had some private conversations with him on behalf of the Territorial Association with which I am connected. Can he say whether it is now possible to allow the Territorial Association to budget ahead and to tell them what the probable expenses will be for the coming year, in view of the fact that in the past it has been very difficult to carry out the 1895 necessary administrative work on behalf of the Home Guard on account of the uncertainty caused by no scale of pay or allowances having been laid down?
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not want to be drawn into a discussion on details of finance, but I think I can give my noble Friend the assurance that the whole question is being considered in order to assist the Territorial Associations as much as possible.
§ Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman say what the Home Guard area consists of? Does it consist of an Army Command, and what is the rank of the area commander?
§ Sir E. Grigg
The Regular Commands are divided into areas which are commanded in the Regular Army by a Regular brigadier. Area Commands of the Home Guard will be the same as these areas, and the Home Guard commanders in the area will probably also be brigadiers.
Under the zone commanders will come the battalion commanders, whom we are going to equip with a full-time officer who will combine the duties of adjutant and quartermaster, and who must also be found from the ranks of the Home Guard. Then come company commanders, to whom we are going to give full-time company storemen. Finally there will be the platoon commanders, who also have a good deal of administrative work to do. In the capitation grant we hope to provide adequate clerical assistance for the platoon commanders.
The Director-General will be Major-General Eastwood, who learned to be a soldier in the same regiment as my right hon. Friend, who has been commandant at Sandhurst, and has lately held the command of a Regular division.
§ Sir E. Grigg
He comes under the Army Council as a whole. The House will realise that in appointing a young, active 1896 commander to this post the Regular Army is endeavouring to give the Home Guard of its best.
Apart from its headquarters and Regular general staff officers, I repeat, the Home Guard must produce its own staff. Permanent assistance of the kind I have mentioned cannot be paid by salary, since all these officers will be Home Guard officers, but we think that it will be right, inasmuch as their service is whole time, to see that they have allowances for that service.
The Director-General of the Territorial Army will continue in that post, as there is still a good deal of business connected with the Territorial Army to be done. I should like to pay a tribute to the work done, under great difficulties, by Sir John Brown and the Territorial Associations. It is very fortunate for us that they were at hand. We should have had an almost impossible task without them.
I will deal, very briefly, with the subject of finance. In future the cost of accommodation—for training and so on—of transport—mileage allowances and so on—and of subsistence allowances will all be dealt with separately; and the capitation grant will be of a generous character, to cover postage, telephones, clerical assistance and other minor charges. I am conscious that there are many difficulties in organising the Home Guard. I am conscious of the immense amount of time being given throughout the Force by thousands of patriotic men in the most disinterested manner. Where these difficulties can be put right, the new Director-General will do his best to see that they are put right. He will go into the whole subject, and I hope that the new instructions, which should be issued shortly, will meet the needs of the Force.
I will say only a word about arms and equipment. We have provided full armament for 1,000,000 men—twice the number anticipated when the Home Guard was first raised. In view of the fact that we have at the same time found personal and other equipment for an even larger number of Regular troops, including Dominion troops, I think that that is not a bad achievement, although I realise how anxiously the Home Guard has waited for weapons and equipment of all sorts. I should like to say how grateful we are to the Minister of Supply for the help he has given, and, in par- 1897 ticular, to Mr. Sinclair, the Director-General of Army Requirements, who sits on both the Supply Board and the Army Council, and who has taken immense interest in the matter.
I would also like to take off my hat, in the name of the Home Guard, to the President, Congress and people of the United States. The Home Guard must have made a special appeal to them, for we certainly owe a great deal to their sympathetic and understanding help.
I would conclude by re-emphasising the importance that we attach to the Home Guard. It is a national asset of not only military, but moral, value. The British people have a natural capacity for organisation of this sort. The Armada produced the "Fencibles," and Napoleon produced both the Yeomanry and a later vintage of "Fencibles," which was an organisation very much of this sort. Mr. Pitt was a captain of "Fencibles"—a noble ancestor for hon. Members of this House who have been shouldering muskets, when they could get them, for the defence of the Palace of Westminster. The Home Guard springs from that great historic tradition.
It is Britain incarnate, an epitome of British character in its gift for comradeship in trouble, its resourcefulness at need, its deep love of its own land, and its surging anger at the thought that any invader should set foot on our soil. That is the make-up of the Home Guard. St. George, St. Andrew, St. David—yes, and St. Crispin—are alive and marching in its democratic ranks.
§ Sir E. Grigg
As an example of its spirit, I would quote the help the Home Guard has given the Civil Defence services during the recent air attacks. Whole companies have been out, night after night, in spite of the fact that the men had their work to do during the day. Co-operation between the Home Guard and the Civil Defence services is very important, both in villages and in towns. They can do a great deal to relieve each other. The Home Guard is no slave to routine, but will turn its hand to anything. I am sure that that co-operation between these services ought to be developed.
1898 The morale of this country was never low, but action raises morale. The Home Guard has thus enabled all sorts and conditions of patriotic men to express themselves in service, with tonic effect.
Well that it has done so. Let no one imagine that because invasion has not been attempted, the danger of it has ceased to exist. The German Army is a formidable instrument. A large part of it stands marshalled behind the invasion ports. Its masters may launch it at us at any time, even in the winter months, particularly since their triumphs are beginning to look a little tarnished and their prospects in other theatres to contract. Invasion may yet be tried during the winter months, and the Home Guard must be ready. Ready it is, and, like the rest of the Army, yearning for the chance. I repeat that, Sir, that welded as it now is into the defence system of the country, the Home Guard is a national asset of literally priceless worth. It proves that this nation, for all its years, has the gift of eternal youth.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I am sure I shall be voicing a view held in all parts of the House if I express appreciation at what we have just heard, combined with the statement which my hon. Friend made a fortnight ago. If I may say so, my hon. Friend has said so many of the things that I wanted to say that he has taken away a great part of my speech, and has certainly robbed me of my peroration. I am very glad to be able to express that satisfaction at the beginning of my speech, because the duty of those of us who want to speak is to put forward points on which we want improvement, and that may tend to give our remarks a critical tone. If I call attention to defects, or matters on which there is room for improvement, I have the feeling that the general merits of the Force and the way in which it has been handled far outweigh any of the defects in detail. One must try to follow some sort of logical line, and, therefore, I will start with the organisation at the top. The proposal for the appointment of the Director-General, with a complete Directorate at the War Office, goes nearly 80 per cent. of the way towards meeting anything I have to say on the matter. Hitherto there have been two defects. The Inspector-General has had no power, and the Army Council, which has had to issue 1899 all the instructions, is really a very overworked body. I would like to say, in passing, how glad I am to know that General Eastwood is to have that appointment. I was afraid that we might be going to have another change.
Will the appointment of a Director-General, with his staff, meet all the needs of the case? All important measures will have to go to the Army Council. I wonder whether the Army Council is able to do what I might call the chewing-over of these important questions, and whether it would not be a very good thing if there were some organisation provided to perform that function. Theoretically at least—I do not know what the practical difficulties would be—I think it would be a very good thing if the Director-General of the Home Guard were himself a member of the Army Council. That would put the Force and its organisation into the right relation with the Army Council. In addition, the Director-General requires some sort of advisory body to assist him, which would be able to speak with authority and to present ideas to the Army Council in a properly digested form. There have been many suggestions that there should be a Home Guard Council: I have ventured to advocate that myself; but what I had in mind was, first of all, that there should be no suggestion of setting up a parallel, or a competing, body to the Army Council, and, secondly, that we do not want anything like a political body. I believe that the Director-General would be greatly helped if he could refer matters to a council selected entirely on its merits, without any regard to political representation. I will go further, and suggest that such a council might be, as regards half of its members, nominated by the Council of Territorial Associations, which would provide a link with the Territorial Army organisations, and that the other half might be chosen by the Director-General himself, and that those should be people with practical Home Guard experience. It is essential that there should be some body, representing something more than the experience of the Regular military officer, to advise the Director-General.
Without wishing to be critical, I want to refer to one or two things which have happened in the past, in order to illustrate the point I am making. I want 1900 to select cases where things have not gone as well as they should have gone, and which seem to me to illustrate the need for a council of this kind. Take the question of financial provision. Up to now we have worked in the Home Guard on two Army Council Instructions, one issued on 24th June and the other, I think, on 15th August. Many of us who have been concerned with the organisation of the Home Guard thought those Instructions defective in many respects, especially the latter one. That laid down a much more detailed procedure. It laid down, for example, specificially upon what sort of accommodation money should be spent. It made absolutely no provision for accommodation for the purposes of drill and training, other than such accommodation as could be supplied by the Territorial Army Associations themselves, being such accommodation as had not been taken over for use by the Regular troops. It was a very urgent need that there should be accommodation for winter training and instruction. As far as I know, nothing has been issued officially to make proper financial provision for that need until now, although I understand, from what my hon. Friend said, that in fact, the accommodation has been provided. That is an example of bad administration. The need has really been provided by finding ways round the written instructions. What has happened in this regard—and my hon. Friend was not ever able to-day to tell us what sort of financial provision the Treasury had approved, and I should question whether the Treasury have yet given a final decision—seems to illustrate that something is wrong with the machinery.
Matters are agreed in principle, happen to know myself, because I have had a good deal of discussion at the War Office on this matter, and I believe that there has been no sort of disagreement in principle on what was wanted, and yet week after week goes by and no official instructions come out, and everyone down below is left wondering whether he ought to deal with what he knows to be urgently necessary by taking upon himself the responsibility of the misinterpretation of the written regulations. I feel that there is need for some sort of machinery which will push these things through quickly. If the Director-General was backed up by an authoritative body 1901 of the kind that I have in mind, there would be some chance that these needs would go through quickly, and the Treasury might be more amenable.
I want to refer to another example—and again I do not want to be critical, but still I must use this epithet—of what was an ill-digested proposal. I refer to the question of subsistence allowance. I have had a very great opportunity of contacting organisations in connection with the Home Guard all over the country, and I am sure that it is correct to say that the vast majority of them never asked for subsistence allowance and really were very sorry when it was granted. They felt that the needs of the case could have been much better met by some sort of provision to give men reasonable meals at night and to see that they were able to get the tea, sugar and other rationed articles that were required. Here again I urge that, if there had been the sort of council I have in mind, which could have gone over the thing at the outset, we would have got a better provision than we eventually did.
There is another example of quite a different class of case which again illustrates my point about the need of some sort of thinking machinery. Take the case of the position of the individual who at the outset was called the area organiser. I understand from what my hon. Friend said to-day, that the Home Guard appointment which was called area organiser is now to become Home Guard area commander. At the outset there were area organisers appointed, who had no machinery with which to work and who had a great deal to do. They found, after they had been at work for about four weeks, that an Army Council Instruction came out appointing Regular L.D.V. Area-Commanders (as they were in those days), and Regular colonels were sent down to each area. On reading the Army Council Instruction and the memorandum that came out with it, it was clear that the Home Guard area organiser was going to be pushed aside altogether. He was mentioned in the Army Council Instruction as the person who could, if he wished to do so, continue his existence in an honorary capacity, but he was given no Home Guard rank and no official recognition of his status at all. That had gone on, as far as the official instructions were concerned and as far as I know, until today. The second Army Council Instruc- 1902 tion, No. 924, issued on 15th August, referred again to Home Guard area commonders, who were apparently the Regular colonels who were sent down. Actually in practice, I think I am right in saying, almost all G.O.Cs. of Commands refused to allow these Regular colonels to act as Commanders, and they were almost all confined to acting as G.S.O.Is. to the military area commanders.
§ Sir E. Grigg
The fact is that the Regular officers who were first of all called commanders were made chief staff-officers by the Commander-in-Chief almost immediately, and in most areas they have been acting as staff-officers through the Home Guard commander.
§ Sir G. Schuster
I hope that my hon. Friend is correct in what he says, but I can only tell him that I was sitting for two or three months side by side with one of these officers. He was always getting correspondence addressed to him from the War Office as Home Guard (or L.D.V.) area-commander. He was in a very awkward position, because he had been told that he was not commander but only a G.S.O.1. That went on until I left the area in which I was working, about the middle of September, and I have not yet seen—it may have been issued, but it never came down as far as us—the official communication which said that these officers were to regard themselves as G.S.O/'s. I am not making any point of this, because the whole thing worked out well in practice, but if now the so-called area organisers are to be made Home Guard area-commanders, I believe you will find considerable difficulty because a great many of them have practically ceased to function. It may be difficult to fill these positions. I have said enough to illustrate my point. I have given three examples of where, if there had been the sort of council such as I had in mind, it could have been carefully chewing over and digesting these proposals, and the instructions, when they came down to the people who had to operate them, would have been a good deal clearer.
It is not merely a question of the past. Looking ahead, I can see things of a similar kind in the future. There is a large number of very important questions which still have to be dealt with. There 1903 is the question, for example, of whether it may be possible to organise two different grades of Home Guard volunteers, some capable of much more active service than others. There is the question of the 14 days' notice—the so-called "housemaids" class. I fully appreciate the difficulties, but it does not seem that the last word has been said on that subject. There is the question of what sort of minimum obligation shall be undertaken by volunteers. Although they are not being paid, they are receiving valuable equipment, and I do not think that anybody should accept that equipment who is not ready to give a certain minimum amount of time for training and routine duties. I merely mention these as points which require very careful thought and in regard to which the sort of council which I have suggested might perform a very valuable service. They are points which the Army Council, with all its members so overworked as they are, cannot possibly have the time properly to consider.
There is one other thing that I should like to say about the top before I leave it. The other great and important task which falls upon those at the top is to define the duties, tactical and otherwise, of the Home Guard. My hon. Friend has in his last two statements done a great deal to clear up the matter, but I think it still wants further clearing up, and I want to say a word or two about that later on. Passing from the organisation at the top, I will go straight away down to the bottom. These are the two key points of the Home Guard—organisation at the top, and then the emphasis goes right away down to the platoon and section commanders. The intermediate commanders should recognise that their job is really no more than to help the people who will have to do the actual fighgting and will De in control of actual operations. The areas, zones and battalions have all to help the platoon and section commanders, and, in some cases, company commanders who will be in control of actual operations. When one gets to the bottom one finds extraordinarily varying conditions throughout the country. That is a point which has been often emphasised in recent statements. If one gets letters, as I have been getting recently from all over the country, it is amazing the variety of con- 1904 ditions that there are. You may hear from a battalion commander, say, on the East coast whose area has been throughout an area recognised as one likely for active operations, and he has had perhaps all the time the best trained Regular division of the Army in this zone. He has had admirable training facilities, and probably there is very little to be done to improve the condition of his units. Then you get people, say, in Skye, where they never see a Regular soldier and get very little help; or perhaps, for a still greater contrast, you can go to some area like the pottery towns in Staffordshire—the six towns—again an area where there have been in the past no Regular troops at all. Conditions are entirely different, and the needs are entirely different.
I want to emphasise that what is wanted now is really a survey of the situation, something like the farm survey which the Minister of Agriculture has been carrying out. We really ought to know the condition in each platoon throughout the country. I assure my hon. Friend that whereas the large proportion—well over a half—know what their job is, are well commanded and are well on the way to get the right sort of training, he will find a large number of cases where they are still wandering into the wilderness, not in the least knowing their task, without any sort of idea of what they are at. These are the people who need help, and they need it of two kinds. They require help as regards the clear interpretation of their task, and as regards training to get their men fit to carry it out. I wish to throw out one suggestion—perhaps it is a very unbusinesslike one. My hon. Friend referred to the value of the services which Lord Gort could perform owing to his practical experience of the function of Inspector-General. But Lord Gort cannot possibly get over the country and into touch with all these platoons. It is a question of detail. I believe it would be an extremely valuable thing if the Regular Army could select 100 intelligent officers, not too old, with some knowledge of practical fighting as it is to-day, and say to them, "Each of you will take an area in which there are 12 battalions of the Home Guard and go through it." It would be a manageable task, I think, because in at least half the cases nothing more would be required. It 1905 is the weak spots that want finding out and whether a platoon commander knows his job and is setting about training his men to do their job in the right way.
Many other hon. Members want to speak this afternoon, and I do not wish to take up an undue amount of time, but I would like to deal very briefly with one or two other points before I sit down. My hon. Friend dealt fully with the question of commissions. Some of us might have had different ideas about commissions, but anyone who has really gone into this question realises what difficulties there are, and I am quite prepared to accept the plan which the Government have announced as being the best in the circumstances. There will be a number of very difficult cases. Hitherto very often higher posts have been filled, not on the basis of military merit, but because particular individuals have not had the time to give to commanding a battalion or a zone. The result has been that there is probably a hierarchy which has been selected not entirely on the basis of capacity to command. Now that you are to regularise the position it will bring to light a number of awkward questions, but these questions must be faced. I welcome the statement which my hon. Friend made, because it shows that the Home Guard is being taken seriously, which, after all, is the point which chiefly matters. What I would like to say today, speaking to a number of Home Guard commanders, is that all of us should do our best to back up the Government in this scheme and stop unreasonable complaints. The Home Guard is a wonderful Force, and nobody admires it more than I do, but it is also a wonderful breeding ground for "grouses." We do want to see that on this question of commissions ill-thought-out complaints are not allowed to create discontent. One essential thing is that there shall be in the weeding-out a selection of men for commands on the ground of efficiency.
I want to say a word or two about finance. There is difficulty in speaking about it to-day, because all that my hon. Friend has done is to tell us that there will be adequate provision, and we must take that on trust. Therefore, I want to touch only on some minor points. Let us assume that there is, generally speaking, adequate provision for main needs. 1906 Is it possible to get the Treasury to agree to the provision of some sort of small discretionary fund which could be either at the disposal of the Territorial Army Associations, or of Home Guard Commands, subject to their survey, and which would enable small cases to be dealt with without undue formality? There are so many small cases coming up now which give cause for grievances quite disproportionate to their financial importance. There is the difficult question of the insurance of vehicles, particularly motor cycles. Owners of motor cycles allow them to be used, but sometimes there are accidents, and a very great majority of motor-cycle owners insure their machines only against third-party risks. They are not covered for general damage, and the Government scheme does not provide for any compensation if a motor cycle is smashed on ordinary Home Guard duty, apart from actual military emergency. There is a case here, I think, for some provision being made. I have discussed this with the financial authorities at the War Office, and nobody could have been more helpful, but I still feel that if there was some discretionary fund which would enable small cases of hardship to be dealt with quickly, it would be of the greatest possible value.
Again, there is the question of compensation for injury to the wage earner who quite easily may lose his earning power and be left in immediate distress. All sorts of forms and formalities have to be gone through, and it is a long time indeed before money comes along. I am told that if money is required, these men can go to the Unemployment Assistance Board. But surely it is not right to treat Home Guard volunteers in that way. Here again you have these Territorial Army Associations, who are thoroughly responsible bodies, which might be given a small fund which they can administer, and settle the small claims, which afterwards would be recovered when the claims went through and were approved. There are, too, other claims for which a fund ought to be available. A zone commander may arrange for a number of officers to go on a course in a certain district, but at present nothing can be done to cover the subsistence allowances of those going on such a course. Surely it would he possible to have some discretionary fund controlled by these Associations which 1907 would cover requirements of that kind? I would ask my hon. Friend seriously to consider that.
There is another important question: that of factory units, about which my hon. Friend did not speak. All I would say now is: Do not let us be dogmatic about factory units. Subject to arrangements in any particular area being adequate for general defence—and I am sure that all reasonable factory managers will recognise that overriding requirement—I think the greatest possible latitude should be allowed to factories to organise themselves in the way which best suits employers and men. Above all, I think we ought to get away from these priority lists of factories which, owing to the urgency of their work, are receiving favourable treatment in regard to equipment. That is often an unsuitable criterion. A factory which is engaged on highly important work may be in the centre of a large town site in Liverpool, and the special equipment may be very unsuitable. I think factory units should be dealt with in relation to the general plan of defence. My experience is that where a zone or battalion commander is reasonable, it is almost always possible, in any particular case, to arrive at a satisfactory agreement with a factory manager.
I want to say a word finally about the relations between Home Guard military duties and anything they may be called upon to do in co-operation with the Civil Defence authorities. I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend said about that; it is a subject on which I think it is necessary to preserve an open and a broad mind. It seems to me that the first requirement for the Home Guard is to satisfy their military task. Dispositions must be such that they can perform their military task, and their training must be such that they are capable of performing it. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the minimum amount of training which is required for that. But subject to that, it seems to me that the Home Guard can play a most valuable part in our emergency if they are allowed to adapt themselves to any local need as it develops. Nobody who has been about in the East End of London during the last few weeks can fail to have been impressed by the magnificent work which the Home Guard has done.
1908 I will only say, in conclusion, that while one has been dealing with a lot of practical points of administration, the thing that matters most is the spirit of this Force, about which my hon. Friend used words which I cannot better. This is a great Force and a great outlet for hundreds of thousands of men who are inspired by an urgent desire to do something for their country in this emergency, but who have been unable to find any other outlet. These men are often met with a sense of frustration because their ardour and patriotic desires can find no outlet. The Home Guard has given that: it is of tremendous importance to this country that we should realise its value, that it should be met with sympathy from above and that arrangements should be such as to give the Home Guard full power to develop itself.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I wish to join with the hon. Member behind me who protested that such little time has been given to this most important Debate. I can assure the House that I will bear that in mind in making my remarks, but I trust that opportunity will he given very soon to deal with this matter at greater length. The Minister was, I think, right, in his opening remarks, in taking the House back to the conditions under which the Home Guard was born. This is practically the first big Debate on the subject that we have had since then. Great events have moved so quickly away from those conditions that it is almost impossible to remember to-day that but a few months ago we dared scarcely breathe for the danger of the predicted invasion. I live in a region of the country which is a narrow neck of land with the sea before us and behind us, and I take heed of the words of the hon. Gentleman, who said that we are not altogether out of danger from invasion. With a casualness that is characteristic of the British people, we have almost forgotten that only yesterday the world was watching' us as though we were about to be invaded by a vast force.
It would not be a bad thing if the House could have one day in which to express its thanks to the men of the various Forces who saved us from that undoubted attempt at invasion. The Royal Air Force has been given great praise, which it has well merited. The Navy and the Regular Forces have been 1909 given great praise. The Regular Forces did magnificent work of a defensive nature on the beaches and in various parts of the country; that work, little known to the average citizen, was marvellous; it was the result of the tireless and secret work of the Regular Army. But the Home Guard by its emergence played no little part in standing off those who would have invaded this country. It is true that the Home Guard did not have much equipment; in the early stages they did not even have catapults; but it is a fact that the determination of the British people, expressed through the Home Guard, had a profound effect upon our enemy and played a great part in standing off the invasion. I thought it necessary to add those words to the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman on that score, for I am sure that the British people will be pleased to have an opportunity of expressing their gratitude to these men.
There are two or three points which I want to make briefly. I believe that factory, pit and works' guards are wrong in principle for this organisation. I have had an opportunity of seeing the pit and factory guards at work and hearing expressions of opinion. I have taken part in some very invigorating area and zone conferences on this matter, and I can say that if anybody thinks this force is being run by dead-heads and brass-hats from the War Office, he had better attend one of these conferences, which, for exhilaration, are almost equal to a good Socialist meeting. But the fact remains that the works' guards were an experiment, and they ought to he regarded as an experiment that has not quite succeeded in that particular form. To say that is to make no criticism of the commanders, the employers, or the guards themselves. I know places where their strength should be about 120, with one rifle to about four men, and they have actually from 400 to 500 men. In some cases the employers do not regard these men as being part of the Home Guard, and with the best will in the world on the part of the command, the men do not get the training. They feel very sore about this, and some of them resign, although they are very reluctant to do so because they feel that they are rather tied to the works and to their employers. I readily recognise that in the early stages, when the enemy was likely 1910 to come upon us, one of the things which he did was to descend by parachute upon special works, and it was wise to attach to those works only men who belonged to them. While I know that in a general way—in a far-off way—these guards are under command, I still Think it would be a good thing if they were asked to join the Home Guard, apart from the works, on the understanding that the commander could tell off for works, pits or factories, for guard purposes, men belonging to them. I believe this would be much better than the present method of organisation.
Another point I want to raise has reference to teachers. I understand that teachers belonging to certain schools are not allowed to join the Home Guard. I gather that in some cases the responsibility is left to the schoolmaster as to whether the teachers should or should not be members of the Home Guard. I can give the Minister certain data in this connection, and if the position is as I have stated, steps should be taken in the matter. What it means is that the employer of the school-teacher has command over the teacher's leisure time. I hope I am wrong in this matter, but I know that certain men teachers are not in the Home Guard because they have been prohibited from joining it by their headmasters.
§ Major Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)
I know of cases in which schoolteachers have been desired by the Board of Education to resign from the Home Guard.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. and gallant Member's interjection gives point to my remarks on this subject. I have been given some very definite assurances on the matter during the last few weeks, and I think it is scandalous if men are placed in that position. I think it is the result of the school-teaching profession having been placed, in respect of the war, in a privileged position in which they ought not to have been placed. I hope the Minister will investigate the matter, for it is a cause of heartburn to a number of young school-teachers.
I want now to refer to a matter for the purpose of getting a definite statement from the Secretary of State. When the conscription Bill was passed through the House, the Secretary of State was asked 1911 whether he would give a promise that the men, when taken into the Forces, would not be used in connection with industrial disputes. I know there is no possibility of the Home Guard being used for that purpose. When one considers the spontaneous way in which these men made the War Office take them—because long before the War Office asked for them, the desire to give this service was strongly expressed—when one considers that the pride with which they march is equalled only by the pride which the people in their locality take in them, and when one compares their emergence with the furtive way in which we had to get Territorials, one must agree that this movement represents the people as hardly anything else has ever done in our military history. But as there are always people who want to be explicit on these matters—and sometimes mischief-makers—I think it would be just as well if the Secretary of State would give a guarantee that these men will never be asked to intervene in industrial disputes.
§ Major Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)
Last May, when the Local Defence Volunteers were raised, I was invited by the county organiser, General Sir George Jeffreys, to organise a subarea in my own part of Hampshire. As I am now a zone commander in the Home Guard, I can claim fairly to have seen its growth and to know all the difficulties of the Home Guard from the very beginning. If this Debate had taken place a few weeks ago, and particularly before the statement that was made to the House by the Under-Secretary of State on 6th November, I should have had a great many complaints and requests to press upon him, but his statement showed that the War Office did realise the needs of the Home Guard and were endeavouring to provide the equipment which was still so necessary. Therefore, I shall not be unduly critical in my remarks, and indeed, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the statement he has made to-day and his appreciation of the work done by the Home Guard. That statement has carried us a good deal farther on the path.
Going back to the statement that was made on 6th November, I want to welcome my hon. Friend's promise that com- 1912 pensation will be paid for loss of wages if the Home Guard are called out for whole-time emergency work. My hon. Friend has answered a question which is always being put to battalion and zone commanders by the rank and file, and he has given what is obviously the correct answer. A statement is also wanted as to what is to happen about wages, and possibly loss of employment, if a proportion of the men are asked to stay away from their work in a pre-emergency stage, and what authority is to ask them to do so.
The position with regard to equipment has much improved, and is improving every week, but there are two items, of which my hon. Friend spoke, the urgent need of which I must emphasise, because the Home Guard feel so strongly about them, even though, personally, I know my hon. Friend is doing all that he can in the matter. I feel sure he will have anticipated, that I am referring to steel helmets and greatcoats. By all means give us trench capes instead of greatcoats if the greatcoats are not available. I am not at all sure that a trench cape is not really to be preferred in the wet weather which the Home Guard have had to experience recently. But do look at the weather and give them trench capes or greatcoats quickly. I must warn my hon. Friend that, in spite of the Latin tag, I cannot accept half an issue as a discharge of the debt in full! The demand for steel helmets has perhaps become a bit of a symbol for equipment as a whole, but it ceases to be a mere symbol when a man is out on duty and hears fragments from our own anti-aircraft shells falling all around him, and none too gently at that—to say nothing of machine-gun bullets. All parts of the country do not need steel helmets equally, but the most dangerous places in the country—and my zone comes in for its share—must be supplied first. In the meantime, do complete the issue of field-service caps sc that at least we may go on parade dressed as soldiers. This particular incompleteness is bitterly felt. A man feels an awful fool if he has to go without military headdress when he is in uniform—and will my hon. Friend also remember that it is the larger sizes which are particularly wanted?
I want now to turn to some things which the Under-Secretary did not mention. Telephones are the lifeblood of the 1913 Home Guard at two different stages—first of all, in the early part of an emergency when it is necessary to collect the men to their posts. Let it be remembered that, particularly in rural areas, companies are far removed from battalion headquarters and platoons and sections from company headquarters. The Under-Secretary spoke of sections being in readiness to man their posts at short notice, but they have to be warned for that duty. In the Home Guard motor cycles are scarce. Not one has been officially issued for the use of any dispatch rider. The young men who normally scoured the countryside on motor cycles are now for the most part in the Armed Forces, and their machines have been sold or laid up. Pedal cycles are slow, while the distances to he travelled are often very great. It is essential in these turnout stages that telephones should be available down to sections. Time is of importance. The call on the telephone lines at this stage will not last long, and the local lines will almost entirely be those which are used by company commanders and platoon leaders. Therefore, it will not block the main trunk lines or even the lines between towns.
The second stage at which telephones, if uncut, should be available is when scouts or outlying sections have something really important to report such as the advance of enemy troops along a road, the approach of tanks or the landing of troop-carrying aeroplanes. The Joint Under-Secretary himself stressed, as we in the Home Guard have been stressing for the last six months, that the prime object of the Home Guard is to give timely notice of enemy movements. It is the most important duty of the Home Guard to give early information to the Regular troops. These calls will not be numerous, but they will be vital. At the present time if a section leader were to pick up his telephone and try to give a report of that sort, he would obtain no reply, because he is not on the priority list. But an A.R.P. warden, however remotely situated, can receive air-raid message Red or report that a bomb has fallen in an open field, whereas the Home Guard section leader cannot report by telephone advances of troops along a road, hostile tanks or planes, when such early information is vital. Last June, at a conference at the headquarters of the Southern Command, in the hearing of the 1914 present Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, I spoke strongly on that point, and in due course Southern Command indicated that the Home Guard would be on the telephone priority list down to platoons. I understand, however, that that has never been confirmed between the War Office and the Post Office, and that at the present moment the only members of the Home Guard who are on the priority list are zone commanders and possibly battalion commanders. I cannot press this point too strongly on my hon. Friend—to provide the use of the telephone, if uncut, down to sections or to give us an adequate supply of motor cycles. If the list of priority calls seems too long, leave it to zone and battalion commanders to cut down.
My second point concerns the provision of reserves of iron rations at certain defended points. A.C.I. 924, Section 20, makes arrangements for these rations to be set aside for isolated sections and they are to be kept at police stations. As a matter of fact, in the villages where these isolated sections live, there are no police stations. All there is is a police cottage, and there is no surplus room in it for storing rations. That Instruction has not been put into effect in my zone, but I am much more concerned that there should be a supply of iron rations at company headquarters and platoon headquarters. Why waste time in moving rations from police stations to Home Guard headquarters when operations are on and there are so many other final preparations to make? The company commander is perfectly capable of seeing that these rations are not used unless it is absolutely necessary and unless orders are given. The shift system of sending men home for their meals will in practice become ludicrous and break down. It may leave posts dangerously short of men when a sudden attack is made. Platoon headquarters are the proper place for emergency rations.
The Home Guard battalions are to become numbered battalions of county regiments. That is well and good, and we shall be very proud of it; but we should also like to keep, in brackets after the number, our present Territorial designation. It must be a help to division and corps commanders, who are dealing with a dozen or more of these county battalions, at a glance to see the 1915 Territorial designation as well as the number. It paints a picture. Such information will not tell the enemy anything he cannot guess. There are plenty of precedents for this from the last war. My own regiment, and many other yeomanry regiments, on going into machine-gun corps fought to maintain their Territorial identity and succeeded. Place names for battalions, companies and platoons were rightly stressed in early L.D.V. days.
Please consider authorising the issue of proficiency and specialist badges with pretty strict qualifications to make them really worth earning. A help to recruiting would be the issuing of a small metallic badge to be worn when in civilian clothes. I know that such badges are on the market, but I should like every member to have one officially. Then there is the question of the upper age limit, which has been fixed at 65. I would suggest that fitness, physically and mentally, should be the test rather than the birth certificate. Let men of 65 who want to stay on be passed as fit by Army doctors or boards. Tell them that they stay on at their own risk as far as health is concerned, but if a man is wounded by a bullet, he should receive the same treatment as far as compensation is concerned as those below the age limit. This rule, strictly enforced, would hit North Hampshire. They would lose not only their zone commander, but two battalion commanders and one second in command. I do hope that my hon. Friend will give some indications that these points will be carefully considered, although I realise it may not be possible to concede all of them now. Finally, I would again stress my two points—telephones and rationing.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I daresay there may be some people who thought that it might be better to have a Debate on the Home Guard in secret. But I am sure that the progress of the Debate has shown that it is quite unnecessary, although a certain restraint has naturally to be observed. There are two important reasons why this Debate should be held in public. One is to show the 1,750,000 members of the Home Guard the very deep interest which Parliament is taking in their organisation and in their future, and, secondly, to show to the enemy also that we are taking a very deep interest in 1916 this organisation and that we wish to make them even more efficient than they are at the present time. It is perfectly true that one of the reasons why the invasion did not take place in the summer was because of the existence of the Home Guard. The enemy knew that they were there, and we all feel the deepest gratitude to them for the work they have done. They have been working under a very great strain for the past months. The members have their own jobs to do, and very often they are up all night once or twice a week. I am sure that the country appreciates what they have done.
I believe that the reforms put forward by the hon. Member to-day, and the other day, have met with general acceptance among the ranks of the Home Guard. I was very glad to hear what he said about the conditions and tests which are to be applied in future in cases of commissions. It is perfectly true that the great majority of officers throughout the country are fully competent and efficient for the task, but there are some who are not. I was glad to know that it is intended to take into consideration the knowledge and efficiency of the proposed officer and his ability to command the confidence of his men. I am sure that these are two very important conditions which will have to be closely looked into. It has been made clear that the Home Guard is just as much a part of the Regular Army as are the Grenadier Guards, and that is generally recognised; but there are still a few Regular officers who do not seem to appreciate that fact, and it would be just as well if they made up their minds from now onwards and realised that that statement by a representative of the Government is a fact, and that they must treat the Home Guard as being in all respects full members of the British Army.
There is a point, which so far has not been touched upon, to which I should like to make a brief reference, and that is the question of local liaison. I believe that there have been certain cases where there has not been the contact there should have been between the Home Guard, the Regular Army, the Anti-Aircraft, Searchlight and Balloon Barrage units, and the R.A.F. It is vital that these contacts should be made and that each should appreciate who is in command, and in what particular way they propose to operate. It seems that as the 1917 Home Guard is the static unit and the others are moved about sometimes very quickly from place to place, it should be the duty of any new unit coming into an area to report at once to the battalion commander of the Home Guard. Immediate steps could then be made to hold a conference and establish a full working arrangement and decide who should be in command among all the different services. The same thing could be usefully adopted in regard to the Civil Defence services.
Now I should like to say a word about something which was touched upon by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), about which a number of representations have been made to me—that is, the question of the 14 days' notice. It is the case that there are a number of officers and a certain number of men who feel strongly that the time has come to do away with the 14 days' notice and re-enlist men for the duration or for a period of six months or something of that kind. They feel very strongly on this, because it would make their work very much easier and help with discipline. It is equally true that there are a number of officers and a very large number of men who take the contrary view, who would very much deprecate any change of this kind being made. If they were asked to re-enlist for the duration, no doubt there would be a certain number of resignations, but they would not all be the men who are not efficient. It would mean that some of the best men would be affected, because those who are engaged as key workers on important munitions work would think twice, and so would their employers, about tying themselves up for as long a period as that without quite knowing what they would be asked to do or where they might be asked to go. It may be that from a practical point of view they would be wrong in taking that attitude, but we have to consider their psychology. My own feeling is that, now that a great step forward has been taken by the reforms which have been announced, we should consolidate the position. We should see how we get on with these changes, whether it is not possible to obtain the discipline that is required and wait for some future time to consider whether any step such as the alteration of the 14 days is necessary. If the country contemplated making any change, it could only be under conditions in which the great 1918 bulk of the men themselves were in favour of it, had thought it over, appreciated the position and were willing and consenting parties to the change, and I do not think that that at present is the case. [Interruption.] I am not in favour of it. I do not think it would be a wise course to take.
§ Mr. Mander
I am endeavouring to put forward the views of a number of officers and men in the Home Guard with whom I am in touch, and I am doing my best to put their point of view before the House. It is more important that that should be put than my own particular point of view.
With regard to the question of medical examinations, there have been none up to the present, but it has been represented to me that there is a case now for a very mild type of medical examination. It is said that there are in the ranks of the Home Guard persons whose patriotism is a good deal better than their physique and who in a moment of crisis, owing to circumstances over which they have no control, might become quite incapacitated for carrying on the task which they are willing and anxious to perform. I would suggest that some consideration should be given to the question of a mild test to weed out persons of that kind. The question of systematised control from the top has been mentioned. During all these months people in different parts of the country, town, or suburban or rural, have been working out their own particular methods, and it has been left very much to them to do it. I think the time has come to lay down, for the guidance of units in different areas, very much more definitely than is the case at present, the sort of thing that it is suggested they ought to do. I hope steps of that kind can be taken.
With reference to the case of works' guards, there was certain criticism some months ago of a situation which I hope is now changed. It was said that the Minister of Aircraft Production, with his well-known vigour and enthusiasm, was getting things for factories in which he was interested which it was not possible for other factories to obtain, and we know that there is some truth in that. While 1919 we admire his energy, we could not let that remain as a permanent situation, and I should like to know whether it is not the case now, as is reported to me, that matters have been straightened out and that such equipment as exists for the Home Guard is being made equally available to factories of all types under whatever particular Ministry they may come.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
Will the hon. Member be a little more specific as to the equipment he has in mind?
§ Mr. Mander
As it is a matter of the past, I do not know that I need occupy time by going into detail about it, but it is well known that in the early days there was a good deal of truth in what I was saying, and it is, no doubt, a great credit to the Minister that he got a move on at that time. It is very important to have it recognised that the works guards are a part of the Home Guard, that they do not belong to the employers or to any Government Department, they are simply the Home Guard and nothing else, and that they should be treated in a way which will assimilate them with the other members of the Home Guard who are getting training and doing other kinds of Defence work. The Home Guard has already rendered valuable services to the country. It will he training during the winter to fit itself to render still greater services, and, in doing that, it has the full confidence, support and sympathy of the House of Commons.
§ Captain C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
I listened with very great interest to the various reforms which the Under-Secretary has enumerated and which it is hoped will be introduced into the Home Guard in the near future, but I feel that this magnificent organisation is being saddled too heavily with an unwieldy organisation at the top. You have areas, you have area commanders, you have zones, and zone commanders and groups and group commanders, and then you really come down to the people who matter more than most, the battalion commanders. There are two different things which the Home Guard have to consider. One is operational instructions and the other is administration. It has occurred to me, after discussing the matter very fully with Home Guard battalion commanders, that if the Home 1920 Guard from their own ranks were able to produce a general staff, officers who are attached to commands, one first grade appointment attached to corps, a second grade appointment attached to division and a third grade appointment attached to brigade, you would be able to dispense almost wholly, if not altogether, with zone commanders, group commanders and such like. Then you would have a state of affairs in which the corps commander, through the staff officer, conveys his wishes to the divisional commander, and you have a normal chain of communication—corps to division and brigade and so on—to the Home Guard battalion commander. I submit that that would work quite satisfactorily, operationally.
Then you come to the realm of administration. You have in being a very first-class body, which may have to be strengthened in view of the extra work which would be imposed upon it—the Territorial Army Association. It would be quite able to deal administratively—the supply of uniforms, equipment, providing accommodation, etc.—direct with battalion commanders. The staff officers who would be attached to command or division or brigade would be drawn from the ranks of the Home Guard, and they would remain in the areas to which they were first appointed. In this way one would get a certain amount of continuity. One would get staff officers who had been in constant communication with Home Guard battalion commanders. In the event of a corps, or division, or brigade moving from any particular area, you would find that the staff officer would remain behind and be attached on the G.O.C. staff or brigadier staff of the incoming division or brigade. I know that a great many Home Guard battalion commanders feel that at the moment there is tremendous duplication and a tremendous number of orders passed down from Home Guard or military channels. In other words, there is a great sense of divided command. I hope, before any definite instructions are issued from the Army Council, before any more changes are made within the Home Guard organisation—goodness knows, they have had sufficient changes to date—the possibility of being able to abolish your area commander and your area organisation, your 1921 zone commander and zone organisation and your group commander and group organisation will be very fully considered.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
We have had a very instructive speech on the Home Guard from the Under-Secretary, and it was certainly very warmly welcomed by the House. I heard with particular interest the statement as to its training and the rôle required of it. The Home Guard exists for Home Defence in the most literal sense. Its members have joined up to defend their own localities, and they give all the time they can spare from their normal work. When they were first instituted I admit that I looked with suspicion on the formation of guards for factories and workshops. They were eager to defend their hearth and home against invasion, but it was not very long before some of them employed in factories and workshops saw their mistake in joining the factory group instead of the guard in their own locality. Some of these men work many miles away from their homes, and married men saw their mistake and preferred to do night duty near their homes and desired to transfer from the factory guard to the real Home Guard. In one firm that I know of trouble arose. A number of ex-Service men were employed there. They were very enthusiastic. They went so far as to make dummy rifles in order to carry on their drill. The general manager was the commanding officer. An ex-Service sergeant-major did the drilling, but to the disgust of the ex-Service men a young lad in the office, who was something in the Boy Scouts, was put next in charge. When men wanted to resign they were subjected to bullying by the ex-sergeantmajor and threatened with dismissal. A number were actually dismissed, but 23 out of the 86 who had joined resigned. When I took the matter up with the firm, they would not admit that it was because of the men resigning but that it was due to re-organisation. Men with many years' faithful service were dispensed with.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I shall be grateful if the hon. Member will send me particulars, because I world like to investigate that case. It obviously requires investigation.
§ Mr. Leslie
I should be very pleased to send them. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that I approached him on 1922 one occasion and asked whether men could resign, because in a particular firm they were told that they could not resign and that if they did, they would be dismissed. That is the firm in question. My contention is that a proper reorganisation of the Home Guard on the lines indicated by the Under-Secretary should suffice for the protection of factories and business premises. The Home Guard defending their own locality would embrace firms in the locality, and it would be a Home Guard in actual fact.
§ Mr. Peat (Darlington)
I would like to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsall (Sir G. Schuster) and apply myself to the agricultural communities where the population is few and far between. My hon. Friend referred to the possible need for distinguishing between various parts of the country and the Home Guards therein. In the sparsely populated agricultural districts conditions are so different from those in the urban and well-populated districts that a great deal of help is needed in them. The functions which are now imposed upon the Home Guard mean a considerable amount of training, a lot of time and a good deal of help administratively. In the districts to which I refer we get snowed under with literature, but the distribution of equipment is very slow and uneven. We also have difficulties in getting the correct leaders. It is easier to get section leaders in some outlying villages than it is to get platoon leaders. My experience is that we want considerable help in getting the right men as platoon leaders. We want men who have had some training and have a certain amount of time.
I am sure the House appreciates the hours of work and application which are needed to carry on agricultural pursuits. In the part of the country about which I am talking a man has to get home and milk the cows. Later, when the beasts are moved into the farm buildings, he cannot get away for a week-end even. Training on Sunday mornings and evening instruction are difficult for him to attend. The result is that we have a residue of keen fellows, men who are gardeners and people of that sort, who can attend parades, and they are making themselves efficient. I should think it is true of similar parts of the country that 1923 we are lucky if we get 50 per cent. of the enrolled members at the training parades. Are we in these circumstances to expect volunteers to train themselves into efficient fighting troops or are we really to consider them as reinforcements to the police? They can use rifles, and some can use light machine guns and could fight doggedly, but they do not know anything about field operations of the most elementary kind. I ask my hon. Friend to consider the difficulties of districts of the sort I have in mind. It is very galling to some of us, when we see the great efficiency that has been arrived at by Home Guards in other parts of the country, and we realise the extreme difficulties which face the sparsely populated district where transport is so difficult.
May I refer to one or two points which present themselves to all districts of this kind? The most important is transport. If these men are to have platoon training, and certainly if they are to have company training, they have to be transported for fairly considerable distances—too far to go on bicycle or on foot. That means they must have buses or lorries. We have instructions that all transport has to be drawn from the local R.A.S.C., which happens to be 40 or 50 miles from the district I have in mind. We have to indent for this transport. That takes a long time, and very often when it comes it comes to the wrong place and on the wrong day. I suggest that in districts of this kind the Home Guard on the spot should be authorised to hire their own transport. We are really not able to make indents for a long period ahead because it is difficult for the men to know precisely when they can meet although we try to have a definite programme.
Another point is equipment. We have had a galling time in some of the sparsely-populated districts, because, naturally we are not regarded as being vitally important. There are important districts near the coast and in the big cities which have received their equipment in front of us. We appreciate the necessity for that, but sometimes the difference in a few miles one side of a road or of a river is so big that the men become very dispirited. On one side of the river the Home Guard has one rifle to three or four men and a few great coats, and not all of them are dressed in the denim 1924 overalls. On the other side of the river there are completely equipped platoons with rifles and sometimes more than they want, and plenty of light machine guns and full equipment. I feel that some big effort should be made evenly to distribute the equipment and to have the elementary necessities of rifles and battle dress issued. I would put in a strong plea for battle dress being issued in place of the denim overall, especially in the northern climes from which I come.
With regard to the subsistence allowance, the countryman is a pretty hard nut, and if there is some money going, he is prepared to have some. I am surprised when I hear the altruists in other parts of the country saying they do not want anything, because a great number of the men with whom I deal are prepared, if there is a subsistence allowance, to have it. As it stands at the moment, however, the allowance is not satisfactory. An issue in kind would be a good thing, but it would be better still if there could be some form of payment related to a man's efficiency and the amount of work he puts in. Some such basis as that would be more satisfactory than the subsistence allowance. As we have to certify for it now, it is a difficult thing about which to be honest. If a man is on duty for over five hours you have to certify that he has had to supply himself with food and drink which in the ordinary way he would have at home. It is sometimes difficult to do that if one is to be completely truthful.
In my opinion, some of these men are faced with considerable difficulties. A village in an agricultural part of the world is not always an easy community to live in. There is a good deal of jealousy and often a certain amount of enmity. In some of these villages men have joined the Home Guard, and others, not so keen, have avoided doing what I consider their duty. We have that distinction between those who are prepared to do their duty and others who call them fools for doing it. I do not know how far that is true about the country as a whole, but I know it is true in certain parts and that it is true of other services besides the Home Guard. I hope that some day we shall see some form of conscription which will look after everybody's spare time. That would put the Home Guard on a much more satisfactory basis. In these days of national effort and total war, we cannot 1925 afford to have divisions in a village between those men who are keen and patriotic and others who are laughing at them. Something must be done about that. I would pay my tribute to the agricultural workmen and labourers with whom I associate in the Home Guard. The work they put into it is sterling work, and it is done at great sacrifice to their rest and recreation and even to their pockets. I would like to pay that tribute, because it is richly deserved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Boles (Wells)
I should like to support the previous speaker who said that the organisation of the Home Guard was rather top-heavy at the top. It seems to me that if the area commander were to have certain additions to his staff he could cut out all the intermediaries between himself and the battalion commander, and he ought to have somebody on his staff who understands the country. A staff officer is very much inclined to deal with matters from either a paper point of view or from the town point of view, or, rather, from the aspect of having all his units under his hand in a way which enables him to deal with them easily and send them here, there and everywhere. In certain parts the Home Guard is scattered over a very big area—200 or 300 square miles to a battalion. Even the wretched section leader has probably 20 square miles of country to cover. If the area commander could have a country Home Guard on his staff and a quartermaster, who might also be a Home Guard, in addition to the present three staff officers, who function occasionally somewhat indifferently, the organisation would be much more efficient. That arrangement would save the poor Post Office, which is apparently labouring under extreme difficulties, dealing with a mass of correspondence which merely goes from one of these gentlemen to another.
An hon. Member has said that we are "snowed under" with papers, and that snowstorm is largely due, I think, to the question of payment, because, with all due deference to the previous speaker, payment is not desired in every case. It has become a great nuisance. A lot of people, to my certain knowledge, refuse to take payment. There is a section leader with an area of, perhaps, 20 square miles, and the signature of some man living on the outskirts of it has to be obtained 1926 before he can get rid of this 1s. 6d. which he has been carrying about for I do not know how long—waiting to meet this man at some local meeting place. I think it would be well if we decided that the money should be forfeited if a man did not turn up within a certain time to claim his 1s. 6d. We know how difficult it is in the Army to get rid of 1s. 6d. once it has been handed over to you by a paymaster, because it has to be accounted for and cannot disappear. This is a great burden on section leaders, and entails an enormous amount of work at battalion headquarters.
Another difficulty arises from the methods of Army paymasters when it comes to a question of paying for mileage. The paymaster insists upon some Home Guard who has to go on duty going to his platoon headquarters before he proceeds to his allotted post, presumably because he checks up from the Automobile Association handbook to find the mileage from the man's headquarters to the post. Often the man's home is much nearer than the platoon headquarters to his post of duty, and his going to the platoon headquarters first means that he has to go back on his tracks in order to reach his post. There was a case in point where a man's home was only two miles from his post, but he had to travel seven miles in order to earn his mileage allowance. That is the sort of red-tape system which works very well in the Army, as a check on things, but is not suitable to an organisation like the Home Guard.
I wish to raise also the question of employing the Home Guard outside their villages. A case occurs to me in which the Home Guard were told to take up a position in a certain part of a line. That particular part of the line happened to be, according to the general idea, behind their home village. The Home Guard are terribly uncomfortable in a situation like that, because their families are in front of them instead of behind them, and I feel that they would not defend that line with quite the same zeal if their families were in front of them and had already been "mopped up," as they would if they were in front of their families. The defence of his local village is the first and last idea of the average country Home Guard. If we require, a mobile unit in the Home Guard it can 1927 be found more surely from among the townsmen. The country Home Guard is the defender of his local village, and his training must be based on that assumption.
Another question which is troubling the country districts a good deal is the prohibition upon the ringing of the church bells. Nobody is allowed to ring the church bells unless there are at least 25 parachutists landing. Some of the bells are getting very rusty. I am told that if church bells are not rung at intervals they are apt to come to grief when they are really wanted. The villager who wishes to banish the thought of war for one day in the week, if he can possibly do so, and go to church in the ordinary way, would appreciate it tremendously if he could be called to worship by his church bells. After all, they would not sound the same as they would if they were being rung by the vicar when 25 parachutists had arrived. I do not think the jangle on such an occasion would be confused with the proper ringing of the bells. If, on the other hand, the bells are to be used as a summons for the Home Guard, they would be invaluable if they could be used for calling them together in a case, for instance, in which an enemy aeroplane has been shot down and the occupants had baled out and the Home Guard were wanted to round them up. A case occurred in which airmen who had baled out were seen by a Home Guard. There were four of them, and they had to be rounded up, and it takes time to collect the Home Guard. If they could be summoned by the ringing of the church bells the Home Guard could be collected in a quarter the time occupied in sending messengers for them on bicycles.
We have heard a lot about equipment. I know that the best that is possible is being done, but there are cases where machine guns are still arriving incomplete. I was recently rung up by a battalion commander, who said that he had been delighted to receive 48 machine guns, but on inspection he found they had no sights, nor had they any tripods upon which the gun could be held while it was being fired. He asked what he was to do with it, and he was told to rest it on a sandbag, but a lot of these 40-acre fields have no sand- 1928 bags on them. There is no means of resting the barrel of the gun, which gets very hot after a few short bursts have been fired. There is no means of holding a gun that has not a tripod, and the gun is of no use without its sights,
Another battalion commander apparently arranged for sights to be made locally for his issue of gun, and he sent out a specification and a price. The idea was turned down. He was told that he was not to do anything about it, although it would have cost, I think, only 4s. 6d. to make the sights and the tripod. He was not allowed to make any of them locally and that was rather disheartening. This man had got his gun issue, but it was quite useless. This may be a temporary arrangement, but we should be told what the arrangements are to be and whether sights and tripods are to be issued. In the meantime, it is rather disheartening.
The question of transport was raised by an hon. Member opposite, and it is a very burning question. We had exactly the same experience. We wanted to get an extra lorry to take a party to a lecture, but it was quite impossible to obtain. Up to a week ago we had always hired a local lorry, but now we had to give notice in various directions, and go some miles away for it.
§ Dr. Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I wish to deal with one question which I have already raised with the Minister, and that is to ask him whether he will include women in the Home Guard. I venture to introduce this matter to-day, because his answer the other day was of an encouraging nature. Perhaps I may, this afternoon, help to disperse the lingering doubts of the hon. Gentleman. I want to make it clear that I am not asking for women to be included solely as cooks and clerks in the Home Guard but in the same capacity as men, with equal rights and no privileges. Before I pass to the particular argument, I would deal first with the answer which the hon. Gentleman gave me the other day.
He said that the War Office had considered the matter but had decided not to include women, for two reasons. One reason was that there was a tremendous demand for women in the Civil Defence services. I would point out to him that that demand is not for women only but is also for men, in the vulnerable areas, and 1929 this is not an answer. In the villages about which we have just been hearing there are numbers of healthy, strong, and energetic women, with ample part time to spare, who are only too anxious to go into the Home Guard, and who are not wanted in the A.R.P. services because their areas are not vulnerable. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that in these days you cannot answer a question of this kind by saying simply that there is plenty of women's work.
Who will dare to define women's work to-day? We have only to look around the country to find women working in all the industries. You find that the Government have, at long last, decided to train women engineers. I suggest that that decision is a year too late. It has taken the Government a year reluctantly to recognise women's capabilities in that sphere. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to waste another year. In a year's time, when we are taking the offensive and when we shall want every intelligent, healthy human being to form a Home Defence Force, for the Government to wake up to the fact that a healthy woman can do picketing and patrol work just as well as a healthy man, will be too late.
I recognise that this is a volunteer Force. I am not asking that every woman in the country should go into it, because, as hon. Members know, many women are not fitted for the work. In exactly the same way as a woman nurse is not fitted to be a woman engineer, a woman engineer is not fitted to be a nurse. There are all types of women—big, small, pretty, plain—and they all have inclinations in different directions. I think that the time has come to realise that women are as diverse in Their aptitudes as in their physical attributes.
The second point relates to uniform. I have sat here and heard hon. Members opposite say that a man cannot appear outside in the wrong clothes because he feels such a fool. I have been surprised to hear these sentiments expressed. The hon. Gentleman told me the other day that one of the reasons why women could not join the Home Guard was that he had not the uniforms for them. I am not talking theoretical terms. A women's unofficial Home Guard Force has been in existence in this country now for some little time, and it has offices in town. Hundreds of women are anxious to join. 1930 We had a recruiting meeting in London some time ago at which 200 or more women turned up every night, anxious to do their bit. I have asked these women whether they would be upset if there were no uniforms immediately, and they told me that, far from being upset, they would be quite willing to take the discarded armlets of the old L.D.V.—as a beginning, of course. When the equipment is ready a uniform would be very helpful in maintaining discipline and order. Moreover, women in these days realise that uniform is infinitely more becoming in many cases than civilian clothes. A woman is no longer a victim to the dictators of fashion if she can wear a uniform.
Those are my main answers to the hon. Gentleman's objections to women joining the Home Guard. I want to put my case to him, and I promise that my remarks shall be short. I must thank the House for its sympathetic hearing of this case. I realise that I am almost in the same position as were speakers 20 or 30 years ago when they asked for the franchise for women. I realise the tremendous prejudices which still exist in the male mind. I want the hon. Gentleman to realise that women are suitable for this work, and I should like to quote some remarks which he made last week. He said, in the first place, that this Force was an auxiliary, part-time Force. There are women doing good jobs in the country. Think, for instance, of our women agricultural workers. Think of the land girls milking the cows and doing the hard work of the farm—big, hefty, healthy girls with strong nerves. Are they not fitted to do a few hours' part-time work as pickets or patrols?
Secondly, the Minister said that this Force existed for Home Defence, in the most literal sense. Here again, surely nobody could be more fitted than women, who can remain in their own homes and in their own towns and villages, and can be called upon when wanted. He said further that drills and parades were not essential. Therefore, the people who ask me: "How can a woman do a route march of 30 miles with a pack on her back?" must realise that it is unnecessary to do so in the Home Guard. In fact, the hon. Gentleman said last week that it would not be encouraged. He said: 1931Home Guards … like turning out occasionally … and marching for all to admire, behind a band."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th Nov. 1940; Col. 1349, Vol. 365.)I can assure him that women would like that, and I also suggest that it needs very little training to be admired. His other point was that the Home Guard is not intended to organise or train for mobile action on any but the most limited scale. In other words, the military activities are to be strictly limited. From what I have heard of the Home Guard to-day, I feel that one can regard it perhaps as the eyes and ears of the Army, and that when a parachutist is in sight somebody must immediately get in touch with the local Regular unit. Here again, women are quite capable of doing this kind of thing, and I believe that in many rural parts of England they are organised. I believe that in the South of England we have a mounted women's unit who do this particular work. If it is suggested that in spite of this, women are not physically fit for it, I want to remind the House that we have a Force which includes senior school boys. They are not asked to produce their birth certificates, I believe. Boys of 15 can join; men of 65 are in it, of course, and there is no doubt that there are men of 70 and over in this Force. It seems to me—and quite right too—that it is the spirit rather than his physique which determines whether a man is fit for the Home Guard, and it also seems that the efficiency of the Home Guard is not necessarily dependent upon stamina. Under these circumstances, can you logically exclude a fit woman with a cool nerve and a steady eye from work of this kind?
I am coming to the strongest argument which my my opponents have—a good argument, a chivalrous and gallant argument—and that it: We must not expose our women to danger, because the enemy will regard them as combatants. My answer to that is this: During the last two months, has the enemy shown this kind discrimination? Perhaps it may be said, "But that is different. You must not allow women to provoke them in the event of an invasion." Is it conceivable that if there was an invasion, the women of London, Liverpool or Coventry would immediately retire to their houses in order not to provoke the enemy? Is it not much more likely that the women 1932 would come out into the streets, bringing their household goods if necessary, and barricade fire streets? Who would applaud them the most? Their menfolk. One must get rid of this idea that women are still weak, gentle creatures who must be protected. Hon. Members may think that, but the modern enemy does not. Why, therefore, if women are treated in this way, should not they also be allowed to defend themselves? Let us cast aside all the prejudices and dismiss the 19th century conception of womanhood. Let us recognise the sterling work of our women in this battle, and give them a chance to join this Home Guard so that they may defend their own country.
§ Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward (Hull, North-West)
The hon. Lady who has just sat down will excuse me if I do not follow her along the lines which she has adopted, except to say that had she been down in the East End at night during the last two months, as perhaps she has, she would recognise that the right kind of hat, namely, the steel hat, is of very definite assistance. I should like to emphasise one or two of the remarks which were made by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), particularly his applause of the Under-Secretary's tribute to the work which is being done in the bombed areas by the Home Guard. I have seen for myself what has been going on in that respect. Commanding, as I do, a zone in the East End of London, which comprises among other places Stepney, Bethnal Green, Bow, Poplar, and that group of boroughs, I have seen the work that has been going on there, and I can tell the House that every night for the past two months there have been anything from 250 to 300 of the Home Guard out every night, helping the police to do their various and very difficult duties. They have been keeping order in the streets, keeping the crowds back, keeping order at the entrances to the shelters, digging people out of ruined houses, and going round picking up innumerable incendiary bombs. I think I can, say that people who have been doing that work will very much appreciate the tribute of the Under-Secretary.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) rather criticised the factory units or, what I believe he called, the 1933 factory guards. I do not think that he could have taken part in the early days of the movement in attempting to raise units of the Home Guard, because if he had he would recognise that we had absolutely nothing with which to begin. Then one found that, at any rate, a factory was a nucleus. It was something to start with, and I do not think I am far wrong in saying that, at any rate in my zone, these factory units are among the most efficient units existing. I do not think that there is any feeling among them that they are being run for the benefit of the managers or the shareholders or the directors. The men realise that they are there for a purpose, which is to assist in the protection of the locality where they live.
These factory units are useful in more ways than one. In the majority of cases they have agreed that their activities are not to be restricted to the particular factories where they work. In the majority of cases they are prepared to go outside their factories and do their part in defending certain areas on the perimeter of the zone. Tank traps and road blocks have been allocated to certain factories, and the men there are prepared to move out and occupy those points when an emergency arises. There is another reason why those factory units are so useful down in the East End of London. As everyone knows, a great deal of the East End consists of waterfront, and along the waterfront there are factories, wharves and docks. In many cases the warehouses are very strongly built, and should an enemy succeed in obtaining an entry and occupying any of them it might easily take the best part of a brigade to turn them out. Let us not forget what happened in Rotterdam, when barges full of Nazi troops slipped unobtrusively along the wharves and occupied the factories, Trading, to a very large extent, to the collapse of the fighting line.
The Home Guard, having been in existence for something like six months, is now, in my opinion, coming to a difficult stage in its existence. Resignations have been pouring in at a very high rate, and if we want the Home Guard to perform the functions which it can best perform it is up to us to see that this tide of resignations is stemmed. What is the reason for these resignations? I think there is no doubt that in many cases it is due to a tendency to demand too high 1934 a standard of efficiency from the Home Guard. After all, the Home Guard is the last line of defence, not the first, and if we demand too high a standard of efficiency from the men' their numbers are bound to decrease.
For many years, from the very inception of the movement until a few years ago, I was a Territorial, it was realised then that the number of men in the Territorial Force depended very largely on the amount of work they were expected to do. After all, they were a part-time corps, and in a body like that a very large amount of work could not be expected. It almost boiled down to a kind of rule-of-thumb, that if you doubled the amount of work and efficiency required, to all intents and purposes you halved the number. My conception of the Home Guard is not a small number of highly efficient soldiers. If the men have time enough and are fit enough to attain a high state of efficiency, they ought to be in some other unit. My conception of the Home Guard is a very large number of partially trained men. I do not think one can reasonably expect a much higher standard of training and efficiency than obtained in the rifle clubs in the days between the South African war and the Great War. Those rifle club men formed the most magnificent recruits for the Territorial Army during the early days of the war and it appears to me that that is about the standard one should expect from the Home Guard.
A Home Guard of something like 1,750,000 or 2,000,000 men, is the number I should aim at myself. I am not sure I should be satisfied even with that, for I should like to see every able-bodied man in the country a member of the Home Guard. Every agricultural labourer when he goes out to work should have a rifle and a few rounds of ammunition. I should also like to see every farmer with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a few rounds of ammunition in his pocket. I believe that that is the way in which we can most effectively deal with the parachutist and with an air-borne invasion. If and when the invasion develops, or the threat of invasion comes along again, as it probably will early next Spring or Summer, we want large numbers of men everywhere to deal immediately with diversions of the kind to which I have referred. They could be dealt with much more easily if they were tackled at once, 1935 before the invaders had time to recover themselves and to form themselves into groups. Do not let us forget what happened in France. There, when the parachutists came down, the civilian inhabitants made no attempt to deal with them. Not only did they supply them with petrol and other requirements, but they just let them do what they liked. In other words, they behaved like sheep.
When the invasion comes, if it ever does come in this country, we do not want the population to behave like sheep. We want them to behave like wolves, to turn at once and tear up the invaders. To enable them to do that they require the uniform and arms of the Home Guard. It is, in my opinion, on those lines that the Home Guard should be run. Do not let us forget that by demanding a too high standard of efficiency we shall reduce the numbers of the Home Guard very appreciably. And this is perhaps the only occasion on which I can say that quantity is, if anything, preferable to quality.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
In a Debate of this kind it is obviously impossible to deal with this subject in more than a perfunctory manner. We have had the opportunity of listening to a number of diverse and interesting speeches from private Members of this House which I hope the members of the Army Council charged with the duty of looking after the Home Guard will have an opportunity of reading. When the Home Guard was originally formed there was some feeling in Regular Army circles about its amateurish status. There was perhaps a tendency to dismiss too lightly the effectiveness of the Home Guard. But I am very pleased to say—and I had an opportunity of testing this feeling myself when I was in the Army—that after two or three months of observing the work of the Home Guard, the Regular Army officers had been able to change their minds considerably. To-day, therefore, we have much more voluntary co-operation between the Regular Army and the Home Guard.
Of course, it was vitally necessary to lay down the operational role of the Home Guard. I am very pleased to see that in the training memorandum issued by the War Office we do get a clear exposition of what the operational function of the Home Guard is. I have no fault to find with it. I do not know whether hon. 1936 Members have read it; I cannot refer to it in public, because it is one of those documents which the War Office put out which are not supposed to be communicated to the Press. Nevertheless, it is, in very compact form, crammed full with good advice. With regard to training manuals, I can only say that I hope it will not be the same as it was in the Army: The War Office was constantly putting out training manuals and memoranda and hon. Members who have some acquaintance with the Army know the voluminous volumes on infantry training methods on which the training of the Army is supposed to be based. That may be all to the good for the Regular Army, but not for a body which has functions entirely different from those of a field army. I would suggest to the Secretary of State for War that he should reduce the paper as much as he possibly can, because in the training and administration of the Home Guard it is not necessary to have the same volume of documents as in that of the Regular Army.
With regard to the operational functions of the Home Guard, since they are given definite jobs to do in the event of invasion taking place—mainly, observational and informative jobs, and jobs connected with communications with the Regular Army—it seems to me that they will have to come under the Regular Army formations of corps, divisions, brigades and so forth. In so far as they have to do that, their training is bound to be based to a large extent on that adopted in the Regular Army formations. But I would suggest that those considerations do not apply in the same degree to the administrative side. I believe that it would be worth whole to try some experiments in this experimental Force. We can cut out a lot of the things which are taught at the Staff College and which may be necessary in the Regular Army, although I have my doubts about some of them. In my experience of fighting in France some very unconventional methods were used by the Germans and were successful. If we are to counter those methods with the Home Guard, as we shall do with the backing of the Regular Army, we also shall have to adopt unconventional methods of training.
In that respect I think the War Office has done right to take over the Osterley Park organisation. Although no doubt 1937 it will be regularised, rationalised and militarised, methods were being taught there which, to a large extent, proved successful in Spain and would prove successful in this country if we were ever invaded. Personally, I am not one of those who have been convinced that we shall be invaded. Nevertheless, that seems to be the prevailing opinion in the highest circles, and we must of course prepare for it. I am certain of this: We shall need no compulsion in our methods w hen it conies to defending our shores. That is the reason why the Home Guard sprang up as it did. It was not because the War Office wanted it, but because the people of this country were determined to defend their own homes and hearths.
I would like to fire at the War Office one or two suggestions, as indeed other Members have done this afternoon and as it is only possible to do in the limited space of time allotted to us.
In this training memorandum considerable space is given to a feature of Regular Army training about which, at the appropriate moment, I shall have a few words to say. That moment will be when the Secretary of State speaks about the Army, itself. Bayonet training has been a central feature of all our training in the Regular Army for many years. I believe that a certain amount of it is necessary now in the Regular Army, but do not let us forget that a large proportion of the men in the Home Guard are not young and have not that physical strength which is necessary for bayonet work. Also, if we ever get to close quarters with a German army of invasion I am not sure that the limited amount of bayonet training which could be given to the Home Guard would be adequate to the methods that the Germans would show us. I suggest that that training should be reduced as much as possible—reduced to a greater extent than it is in the training memorandum—And that there should be concentration on the methods which some of us saw at Osterley Park: what we might call guerilla methods. Those methods are very effective against tanks and machine guns. I am pleased to see that the memorandum of training pays little attention to what one might call ceremonial drill; but, because of the lack of up-to-date instructors in the Home Guard, many units are concentrating on ceremonial drill. They are 1938 teaching the men not only to slope arms but to present arms, though I am glad to see from the memorandum that the order "present arms" is not to be given in the Home Guard. I would have liked an opportunity of surveying this subject as widely as the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) did; but I realise that a large number of Members wish to speak to-day, and, therefore, I have purposely limited my remarks.
I end on this note. I hope that the spirit which has been raised among a large number of our people will not be allowed to die out at the end of the war. Although I am a passionate advocate of disarmament, I believe that it will be necessary at the end of this war to perpetuate that spirit, in order to prevent future wars. That may sound paradoxical; but if we had been prepared with that kind of spirit plus this sort of training, we might have avoided the war. I hope that this organisation will not be merely grafted on to the War Office, as another Department with a director-general. I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall that we want direct representation on the Army Council. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall have something quite unique, quite separate from the Regular Army, quite different even from the Territorial Army, in this machine: and that when it has served its purpose during the war, it will be utilised after the war.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I feel reluctant to rise so late in the Debate especially as I must follow the example of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in restricting my remarks so as to enable my right hon. Friend to reply to the various criticisms. I would have thought that, subject to your approval, Mr. Speaker, and to that of the Government, it might have been advisable to devote another day, or another half-day, perhaps, to this question of the most stimulating and most tremendous movement which we have known in our time. Therefore, if I am preventing another hon. Member from speaking, I hope he will comfort himself with tilt thought that there may be an opportunity for him later on.
The whole country will welcome my hon. Friend's overdue statement on the status and functions, and on the future, of the Home Guard. It will also give great satisfaction to members of the Home 1939 Guard themselves, who, perhaps mistakenly, have for nearly six months thought that there was lack of enthusiasm for, and indeed of interest in, the Home Guard at the War Office. I frankly admit that I have shared that view. I do not share it now. My hon. Friend has cleared up a lot of doubt to-day. He has shown that the War Office have been pondering over the future of the Force, and that, in the midst of great difficulties, they are trying to find the best role for the Home Guard. But I was rather disturbed when he said that the object of the Home Guard—and I gather that that must be the War Office point of view—was simply to release a pent-up desire for service. With all respect, that is not the attitude which should have been adopted.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I hesitate to interrupt, but my hon. and gallant Friend misunderstood what I said. I said that the country needed no urging to form the Home Guard, and that my right hon. Friend had released a desire for service which was there already. I never suggested that that was the only purpose of the Home Guard.
§ Sir T. Moore
I accept that explanation and I apologise if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. But it was by the sheer weight of the determination, enthusiasm and patriotism of the people that this Force was brought into being. The members have insisted, sometimes without great guidance, upon making themselves efficient, ever since 14th May, when my right hon. Friend called the Home Guard into being. I, like one or two other hon. Members, and unlike some others, have had most of my experience in regard to the Home Guard in London itself. I would like to add my testimony to that of other hon. Members. No one who has not been intimately associated, by day and by night, with the Home Guard can appreciate the self-sacrifice and devotion to duty of these men, who, after a long day's work, go out with the fire-fighting service, the police, the A.R.P. and other Civil Defence bodies. To my knowledge, they have never failed. For that reason alone, I am glad that the War Office have now come down so strongly on the side of giving them all support and all the assistance and all the leadership and guidance that they deserve. I am glad also that the War Office had decided to put the Force 1940 into a mote soldierly shape. That, according to my information, meets with the general desire of its members.
I am a little perturbed however—although I welcome it—about this granting of the King's Commission to Home Guard officers. That raises grave problems. I am relieved, in a way, that my hon. Friend has announced this widespread setting-up of committees to review the claims and capacities of the various Home Guard officers before they are given commissions. I would like to go even further. At the present time it is possible with the appointments held by the officers of the Home Guard to remove them when you find by experience that their knowledge, training or temperament unfits them for Home Guard officers. With the King's Commission it is going to be a little more difficult. Therefore I suggest that no rank higher than that of second-lieutenant should be granted under the King's Commission, and that thereafter the War Office, on recommendation, should increase its ranks by acting ranks. I am sure that that would ease the position of many battalions and zone commanders when they come to the very important business of recommending to His Majesty that the King's Commission should be given to certain individuals. I hope that the Director-General, whose appointment I greatly welcome, will be appointed a member of the Army Council. I also welcome the fact that he is to have Home Guard officers on his staff. You must have officers who have experience of command of the various units in the Home Guard so as to give the regular commander or Director-General, or whoever he may be, intimate knowledge of the actual working of the force.
There is one point about which I am not happy. Under the system of my hon. Friend when you have appointed your Director-General and your Inspector-General which I also welcome, you then come down through various military commands to one defect, which I see, although my experience has not so far been mentioned by others. It is a certain quality of control in the present Home Guard. It comes partly from the regular military commander or the district or area commander on one side, and on the other side the Territorial Association, or the secretary who speaks for it. That 1941 must be cleared away. There is one authority too many. The only authority should be the regular military commander taking his authority from the Director-General, coming down from the War Office through Sir Alan Brooke and the various military organisations represented, down to the battalion commander. I am not speaking, believe me, against either individuals or the Association as a whole, but against the Association in sending round instructions and circulars which very often conflict, overlap and clash with the Army Council instructions, and instructions received from the district commander. We get our regional orders and our command or training orders from the military commander, but how is he to give these instructions without knowing exactly the position of the equipment and stores that make that training possible? The equipment and stores are the responsibility of the Territorial Association and there is, as far as I know, very little contact between them. The Territorial Association should be the clearing-house of stores, equipment and weapons both for reception and distribution, and also the post office for finance and accounts. Unit commanders would experience great relief if they felt they were dealing with only one command and were not likely to be confused by the various Home Guard circulars which very often clash with others.
I ask the attention of my hon. Friend on the question of paper. There was a circular issued some time ago. I brought it along with me because I felt that, unless I could produce the written word, the House would hardly believe me. It is Horne Guard Circular 25 in which paragraph 3 sets out that there are seven Army forms and 24 Army books, and a number of other odds and ends to be kept, by one man, without any paid assistance—until the announcement today—with no machinery, no staff, with a business of his own probably. He may possibly be a Member of this House with his constituency to look after. How is it humanly possible to do that efficiently? It can only be done at the expense of the health and well-being of the commander himself. The Home Guard battalions for the past six months have been treated by Territorial Associations just as the old Territorial battalions were treated. They have been given all the burdens which 1942 units normally bear and without any recognised machinery or office staff to make the burden tolerable.
This was eventually recognised and when the administrative-assistant to the commander was appointed, it was a great help. What was the position then? We all set about looking for this administrative-assistant and trying to find the right man for the job. When, after going through one's unit, one found the right man and persuaded him to resign from his normal work and take on these very important full-time duties, the next thing was the issue of another administrative Home Guard circular, No. 36, to say that the administrative-assistant must under no conditions be a member of the Home Guard. Was there ever any more senseless statement? I am sorry if I have to speak so strongly, but I have for over six months—we are all doing the same—been giving almost my whole time night and day trying to make' the thing as efficient as it deserves to be.
I want to give one or two instances to justify the criticisms of the Territorial Association. We were told a short time ago that we would get no money to start our impress account to enable us to carry on, and the Government's subsistence allowance unless the proper Army form No. 1508 for the previous month had been surrendered. At that time that form had not even been published, and yet we were supposed to have surrendered it. I have something here which is almost unbelievable, but my hon. Friend should know it. The battalion with which am associated was refused permission to spend some 6s. 4d. in altering the neckband of the denim overalls. It was a neck-band which had more relation to a waistband than a normal suit, but the expenditure had not been authorised by someone in authority so the 6s. 4d. apparently was to he found out of my own pocket. It was not, as it happened, as I refused to submit.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Boulton.]
§ Sir T. Moore
Then there was the final absurdity of ordering through the Ordnance Department caps which had no relation to the size of a man's head. One 1943 small company is quite unable to wear 40 first-class battle suits because there are no caps. I imagine that any ordinary head would have provided the basis for the necessary information as to cap sizes, but right from the start caps have been a failure. Why should it be assumed that battle dress was to be made for giants while caps were to be made for children? That is the attitude of the Ordnance Department to this matter.
I now wish to deal briefly with the matter of organisation. I feel, as many hon. Members have said, that one day our Expeditionary Force will fulfil its allotted and inevitable task of going abroad again. Then the Home Guard will be the ultimate defence of this country and will come into its own. It will be given the task of defendiry; Britain. If that it so, can we face the future with comfort? Will it not be necessary to divide the Force into two main divisions—a whole-time mobile division and a part-time static division? At the present time it seems to me that some such provision will have to be and some instructions will have to be issued as to the training of the different types of Home Guard units, that is, city, suburban and rural. That has not yet been tackled by the: War Office, although I realise that they know the difficulty. I would like to see every Home Guard company enrolling a local doctor to look after the physical side, just as we have the Royal Army Medical Corps doing this in wartime. Perhaps it may not meet with general approval, but I would like to see every Home Guard company enrol a parson to look after the spiritual side. The parson should be given commissioned rank. I think that will meet with my right hon. Friend's agreement.
As regards the holding of the Home Guard together during the winter, this will be a problem. The position has not vet been faced by the units with which I have been associated; indeed, numbers have gone steadily up instead of down, but I realise that it is a burden that will have to be borne and a problem that will have to be faced. There is another point in connection with the Home Guard, and that is the use of bands. I was happy to be able to bring to my right hon. Friend's notice two or three months ago an offer of a band of 30 instrumentalists 1944 to be attached to the City of London Home Guard. I have received nothing beyond a courteous acknowledgment. This was an offer of a first-class band which would have roused and stimulated the Home Guard and the people who watched them go by. I think every company headquarters should be made a social centre, with wet and dry canteens under proper management. There should be a ladies' night every Saturday. This is not a laughing matter. It is only by making the company headquarters a natural rallying point to which men desire to go that you will get them to turn up for training and submit to the lectures which you wish them to have. Finally, I am doubtful about the 14 days' notice. I am not sure that enrolment should not definitely he for the duration and that resignations should take place only after due reasons, which have been approved. I think the present position weakens the status of the volunteer himself and the company. I am sorry that I have been so long, but it was only because of the tremendous interest which I take in this Force It is a grand Force, and I want to see that the fullest justice is done to it and the fullest use made of it.
Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-arise (Maldon)
In view of the late hour, I will forego making the speech I had been hoping to make to-day in order that I might ask for guidance and help on a more important matter which has faced me as a zone commander of a Home Guard battalion during the last six months. I will confine myself to making one suggestion and will forego any criticism. There has been an authorisation of one permanent staff instructor to each battalion of the Home Guard, who have been charged with finding that instructor from their own personnel. I have been endeavouring in my own zone to get from battalion commanders the names of their selected men, and I find that there are not enough to go round. I have 14 battalions in my zone, and I am rather doubtful whether more than half-a-dozen suitable men will be available as permanent staff instructors. That is a very important matter. It is not that the personnel does not exist; there is a large number of men who from every point of view would be qualified, but they have either businesses 1945 of their own in civil life or remunerative employment which they cannot afford to give up, with all that that means. Therefore, I think there will be a shortage of instructors within the personnel of the Home Guard. How is that shortage to be made up? The Army, I know, cannot afford to dispense with their own training personnel. I am more than grateful to the military authorities for the assistance they have given us in the past; we quite understand that they are not able at this moment to give us any more.
The suggestion I have to make to meet the deficiency is this: Within the Regular Army at this moment, including the Territorial Army, there is a large number of men about 30 years of age who have every kind of qualification. They are men experienced in leadership, even though they may not have led soldiers, and I believe that if 500 or 600 of these men were given an intensive weapon training course forthwith, they would make up the deficiency in the number of permanent staff instructors required for the battalions of the Home Guard. No time should be lost with the winter training of the Home Guard, which is vital, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be good enough to give this suggestion his most careful and sympathetic consideration.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Eden)
I and my hon. Friend the joint Under-Secretary of State are extremely grateful to the House for the observations that have been made in the course of the Debate. Perhaps I may begin my reply by thanking my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir H. RugglesBrise) for his suggestion, which I will have examined. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, the difficulty is that with the very rapid rate of expansion of the Regular Army we are deperately short at this moment of the Material from which to make instructors either for the Regular Army or for the Home Guard, but I will look into his suggestion and see what can be done. Before replying to detailed points, I want to allude to one comment that was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) when he spoke of the danger of resignations from the Home Guard. I do not want any false impression to get about in that respect, because, as my hon. and gallant Friend is no doubt 1946 aware, so far the number of resignations has been extremely small, amounting to only about 4,000 out of a Force of 1,700,000; and if we could open the floodgates to recruiting, I have no doubt that we could greatly increase the numbers now, but we do not want to do that, because we do not want to have a Force larger than we can hope to handle.
In dealing with the detailed points that have been raised, perhaps the House will forgive me if my reply is discursive, because the comments that have been made were sometimes discursive also. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest and Christchurch (Major Mills) spoke about telephone priorities and about an iron ration. Both those points will be looked into, and I will communicate with him about what we can do to meet them. The difficulty about telephones is that the number of priorities is great and increasing, and we have to watch carefully that it does not reach such proportions that priorities become valueless to all concerned. With regard to steel helmets, I agree that they are the symbol of the interest which the Army appears to take in the Force. That is why I am disappointed that it has not been possible to get an issue made more rapidly, but now supplies are coming forward better, and although I am not going to make any promises, I hope the situation will soon be greatly improved. The difficulty has been to meet a very heavy demand for the Army, the Air-Raid Precautions Services and other services at the same time; but I want to make it clear that the Army and the Home Guard have done very well in their allotment, and it is not true to think, that some members of the Home Guard seem to suspect, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has "pinched" the lot.
I should like now to refer to the question of county regiments. I took the view—and I accept responsibility for this decision, which I am confident is the right one—that instead of trying to devise some elaborate badges for the Home Guard, as has been suggested from time to time in the newspapers, we could not pay them a greater compliment than to give them the names and numbers of their county regiments. We did that. I do not see why that should exclude the local type being kept, and I will see whether that cannot be contrived.
1947 As to the point whether commanding officers cannot be given a certain amount of latitude in small matters of expenditure, I think there is a good deal to be said for this, although no doubt there would be financial difficulties. I will gladly look into the matter and see what can be arranged. Although I have felt for some time that something of that sort was needed, I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) overstressed a little some of his criticisms. He spoke of numerous forms having to be filled in without an assistant, but he must be aware that for some months an assistant with a salary of £300 a year has been allowed to every unit of 1,500 and upwards. My hon. and gallant Friend also spoke very derisorily of the caps of the Home Guard, and I quite admit that the size of the Home Guards' heads has proved to be larger than the caps, but surely my hon. and gallant Friend must be aware that what we had to do, with an expanding organisation of this kind, was to place at its disposal what we had. As we get larger resources, so they will be made available, but with the re-equipping of the Army and the creation of the Home Guard at the same time. I think it is a little unjust to tilt at the Quartermaster-General's Department. As regards the position of the Territorial Army Associations, it is exactly as my hon. and gallant Friend said he would like it to be. It is a clearing house and a post office—nothing more or less—and as far as operations are concerned, the Home Guard are under the control and direction of the Commander-in-Chief through the Director-General.
There has been a complaint about machine guns having been issued without sights. I must admit that is a well-founded complaint. They were issued as they came from across the Atlantic: the sights were provided as they could be provided, and are still being provided. However, authority was given for local manufacture of these sights, and local manufacture was carried out in many cases, because the bills are now rolling into the War Office for payment. That point is being met, but it is true that much of this equipment has been improvised, and I think everybody is well aware of that fact. My hon. Friend the 1948 Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) spoke of the attitude of the Army towards the Home Guard, and he appeared to think that some at any rate of the Army wanted to have their position strengthened. I must disagree with the hon. Member about that. I agree that, generally speaking, the officers of the Army have shown a very quick and sympathic understanding for the Home Guard's position.
§ Mr. Eden
So small that I should not be able to find them. Generally speaking, the attitude of officers of the Army has been sympathetic, and I think it is because they understand how invaluable the Home Guard are to the Army and how they fulfil duties which otherwise would fall upon the Army and prevent it from getting the training which it should-have. We must also be very careful in these matters not to apply too rigid regulations to the Home Guard. The hon. Member suggested that the time would perhaps come after six months to look at the position and to tighten up the rules. I quite agree about looking at the position, but I am not so sure about tightening up the rules too much. The Home Guard varies from one locality to another, and I should be very sorry to interfere with that. Perhaps in this respect I am more of an individualist than so distinguished a member of the Liberal party as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. If ever there was a force where local individuality should be allowed full play, it is the Home Guard, and therefore, I say that our control should be as elastic as possible.
I want to say to the hon. Member, and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs, a word about the idea of having different strata of Home Guards. I am not in favour of a scheme of that kind. I do not think it would be workable, and I do not want to bring about a state of affairs in which any part of the Home Guard thinks it ought to do more than it was originally enlisted to perform. Its existing duties are very important, but they are definitely static, and the Home Guard should not be called upon to perform the mobile duties of a field Army without equipment and supporting arms of all kinds, which 1949 cannot be made available. In that respect I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull who, from his own experience, gave us some very valuable advice.
I will turn now to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and deal with one or two of the important points which he raised. He asked whether it could be arranged for the Home Guard when they went on courses to receive financial payment. They are looked after by the Army when they are on courses; they are fed by the Army free of charge for the period of the course, and their travelling expenses are paid. My hon. Friend complained—and I think with some justice—of the delay there has been in finally approving from the War Office the financial authority necessary to enable the Home Guard to get their drill accommodation for the winter. There was some delay, but we did try to cause the delay to be as little objectionable as possible by authorising the Home Guard to go ahead in the booking of their training accommodation, and sending the financial authority afterwards. My hon. Friend then raised the very difficult point of the higher command, but before referring to that, I want to make some reply to his comment on some of the less fortunate of the Home Guard battalions, some of which he described as wandering in the wilderness. I think that his criticism there also is just. It is inevitable that an organisation of this size, created so quickly, will be uneven and in some parts much better than in others. Sometimes it depends upon the officers, and it is precisely that state of affairs which we hope to remedy by appointing a Director-General and by having Selection Boards for officers. By that means I think we can remedy it.
Now I come to the most difficult point of my hon. Friend, when he spoke about the higher command and what was to be the position of the Director-General. The Director-General will have access to all members of the Army Council; that is obviously necessary, because he will need to go to the Quartermaster-General for one thing, the Adjutant-General for another and myself for another. And so he has access to the whole Army Council. He cannot be a member of the Army Council if for no other reason than that it is very large already. But, as I say, he will have 1950 access to all members. So far as what I may call the Parliamentary and political aspects of the Home Guard, which are not unimportant—and I use it in its widest and best sense—so far as all these aspects are concerned, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has charged himself with these duties, and the House will realise from the admirable speech he has made to-day that he has a real grasp of the subject. He will be constantly in touch with the Director-General. So far as "chewing over" is concerned, my hon. Friend will carry that out.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) thought it was a good thing to look back to the origin of the Home Guard, and I agree with him. It is quite true that in the beginning I do not think any one of us expected the organisation to attain this size. I most certainly did not think so, although I thought we might perhaps have a most useful auxiliary force of 100,000 or 200,000. It never entered my head six months ago, at the beginning of this experiment, that there would be a Force of this size. It was clear that this Force could do two things. Firstly, it was an invaluable auxiliary for the Army, and, secondly, it would be the means of giving service for the thousands of people in this country who were waiting and willing to give it. And so the rate of expansion has greatly exceeded anything that any of us expected. No one will claim for the Home Guard that it is a miracle of organisation, especially after listening to some of the speeches which have been made to-day; but many would claim that it is a miracle of improvisation, and in that way it does express the particular genius of our people. If it has succeeded, as I think it has, it has been due to the spirit of the land and of the men in the Home Guard.
But what of the future? I want to say a word about the very important future of this organisation. In the Government's view the rôle of the Home Guard this winter, and in the campaign of 1941, must be as important as, if not more important than, it has been up to the present time. The danger of invasion is not less. The German Army are still there, massed behind the Channel ports and in front, and Hitler has not forgotten, nor is he likely to forget, that so long as Britain stands and fights, the gains he has won elsewhere are in great and growing jeopardy. 1951 That being so, his desire is to humiliate and overthrow us, and, as he can only do it finally by invasion, the danger is not likely to have passed away. It is the Government's view that the threat of invasion stands, and we should be foolish to relax our efforts in any respect. Then we come to the campaign of 1941. Hon. Members are not going to ask me to lift the veil on any ideas we may have for that campaign. It is clear that the Home Guard could never act wholly as a substitute for the field Army, and it would not be right to try to encourage it to do so; but it can be an auxiliary so valuable as to release important elements of the field Army to go and fight elsewhere, and that is the rôle which we hope to see the Home Guards play in 1941.
This organisation has had a brief and momentous life, and it can have a future 1952 of even greater significance. In that future this House can, and I have no doubt will, play its part. I can assure hon. Members that all the suggestions that they have put to us to-day will be gone through with a fine comb by my hon. Friend and myself to-morrow, and we shall do our best to benefit by the advice which has been given. It is only fair that at the conclusion of this Debate I should thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the generous help they have given to the Home Guard, for the patience they have shown with the difficulties of the War Office, and for their willingness to help us in every turn. Looking back and forward, I am confident in the future of this great organisation and its ability to play its part.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.