HC Deb 23 July 1940 vol 363 cc575-80
9. Sir T. Moore

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the possibility of interference with normal communications in this country, he will consider authorising the issue of telephones, portable radios and motor-bicycles or cars to all group headquarters of the Local Defence Volunteers?

Mr. Eden

Telephones have recently been authorised for group headquarters of the Local Defence Volunteers. I am not prepared to make a public statement as to any arrangements which may be necessary in regard to the use of motorcars, motor-cycles or portable radios.

Sir T. Moore

If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to make a public statement, will he send me a private statement?

Mr. Eden

I will gladly give my hon. and gallant Friend any information that he desires.

Mr. Thorne

Why should the hon. and gallant Member know any more than anyone else?

22. Sir P. Hannon

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take into sympathetic consideration the applications for the issue of a medal to ex-Servicemen now serving as Local Defence Volunteers who served in the last war and joined the Colours in 1914, but who, for reasons over which they had no control, were not drafted overseas?

Mr. Eden

As my hon. Friend is, no doubt, aware, the decision not to grant a medal for home service in the last war was reached only after the fullest consideration and it is clearly impracticable for me to re-open the matter now. To give a medal for home service in the last war only to those who serve in the Local Defence Volunteers in this war would, as I think my hon. Friend will agree, be inequitable and illogical.

Sir P. Hannon

Can my right hon. Friend not give some sort of distinction to these ex-Servicemen of the last war who are now doing such admirable service with the L.D.V.? They would naturally feel at a disadvantage compared with the new persons coming into that organisation?

Colonel Arthur Evans

Would my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that ex-Servicemen of the last war are also serving with the regular army in this war?

Mr. Eden

The ex-Servicemen gained that distinction for their services in the last war, and we are happy to have their services again.

Sir P. Hannon

Does my right hon. Friend realise that these men were prevented from going overseas because of the organisation of the. Army? Why should they be deprived of some decoration?

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will it not be time to hand out medals on a large scale when we have won the war?

26. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for War whether the title of "Local Defence Volunteers" is to be changed to "The Home Guard"?

Mr. Eden

It is proposed to submit for His Majesty's approval an Order in Council giving the Local Defence Volunteers the title "The Home Guard." Armlets will be adapted as convenient to the initials "H.G."

34. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a full statement on the organisation of the Local Defence Volunteers; their numbers and the provision of equipment; the method of selection of officers; whether sections are being formed by works and colliery managers and in such cases who is responsible for the selection of men; why applicants in certain areas must submit their names to the British Legion; whether men are allowed to join solely for the purpose of guarding works or collieries or are available for general defence purposes; and whether he is in a position to say what the general state of efficiency of this organisation is?

Mr. Eden

I am glad to have the opportunity of making this, statement. The Home Guard is a voluntary unpaid part-time force having its origin in the desire of patriotic citizens engaged in ordinary civil occupations to make some active and voluntary contribution to defence, especially to the defence of their own localities. The object of the force is to augment the local defences of Great Britain by providing static defence of localities and protection of vulnerable points and by giving timely notice of enemy movement to superior military formations. The force has been assigned a definite role in the defence plans of the country and its value lies not in the individual action of its members, but in proper co-ordination with the other parts of the military machine.

The organisation of the Home Guard is under the control of the War Office. The Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, exercises operational control and is responsible under the direction of the War Office for the training of the force. Under the War Office and General Headquarters, the chain of command and organisation is through the Army commands and military areas. At the headquarters of each area commander there is an officer holding the appointment of Home Guard area commander whose duty it is to supervise the Home Guard in the area. Area commanders have the benefit of the assistance of an honorary organiser. The military areas are divided into zones and into groups as necessary and thence into battalions, companies, platoons and sections.

The local administration of the force is conducted by Territorial Army Associations. Appointments in the Home Guard are made by those holding the higher appointments. Battalion commanders and upwards are appointed by area commanders. Sections are being formed in works and collieries: the men register at their works and the registration forms are then deposited in bulk at the nearest police station before the men are enrolled by the company commander. There is no necessity in any area for applicants to submit their names to the British Legion. Men are allowed and encouraged to join units for the purpose of defending industrial undertakings when these are of sufficient importance to justify the diversion of men and arms from the defence of the locality as a whole. Many such units are being formed, but they normally form part of the local Home Guard organisation. Their use in schemes for the defence of their factories is under the general supervision of the military authorities and their members are in all respects members of the Home Guard.

Hitherto there has been no fixed establishment of the force, and the response to the appeal for recruits has been so magnificent that its strength already exceeds 1,300,000. It has therefore been decided temporarily to suspend in the near future recruiting except in those districts where strengths have not yet met immediate requirements. This decision will enable provision of equipment for all accepted volunteers to be pressed forward: it is already sufficient to ensure that the Home Guard shall play the part allotted to them efficiently, but it is not complete. The breathing space thus afforded will also enable commanders to assess their requirements more accurately and to remedy any defects in the organisation which may come to light. The suspension of recruiting is a temporary measure, and applicants may continue to register at their local police stations, but after recruiting is suspended they will be put on a waiting list and will not be enrolled or form part of the local defence forces until vacancies occur or recruiting is reopened.

As to the general efficiency of the force, disparities are inevitable in a force of over a million and a quarter men which has been raised and officered in a period of little more than two months. But rapid progress has been made with organisation, training and the allocation of duty to units. The Home Guard area commanders are responsible for this and should be consulted when doubts or difficulties arise. I am satisfied that in equipment, in efficiency and above all in fighting spirit the Home Guard are a valuable addition to the Armed Forces of the Crown and a formidable reinforcement to national security.

Mr. Shinwell

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that his answer will give general satisfaction both in this House and in the country, but will he direct the attention of area commanders to what he has specifically said about the appointment of local commanders and also to what he said about the British Legion, because there are many complaints coming in to which I shall direct his attention by letter?

Mr. Wedgwood

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly in his description of the duties and scope of the force? Did he omit from the duties of the Home Guard the duty of guarding and fighting for the home?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir. I think that was very much implicit in all that I said. As regards what the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell) said, there are, of course, bound to be teething troubles, but I am very glad of the opportunity which this Question has provided of showing how very valuable this force is to the nation at the present time.

Sir Francis Fremantle

What arrangements are being made for medical care for these men when on duty?

Mr. Eden

Certain arrangements have been made. Perhaps the hon. Member will put down a Question.

Colonel A. Evans

As it is clear that a battalion commander of the Home Guard will be responsible for a command of 1,600 men, would it be possible to provide him with a full-time adjutant drawn from the Regular Forces?

Mr. Eden

That problem is also under consideration, but this is a volunteer force, and we ought to be very careful to guard that spirit.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing gum boots to the Home Guard?

36. Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is now in a position to say what action he proposes to take with regard to the case of Mr. James Bostock, group commander of the Stafford Local Defence Volunteers?

Mr. Eden

As the result of my hon. Friend's previous Question, I am in communication with the Home Guard authorities concerned, and I will write to my hon. Friend as soon as my inquiries are complete.

Mr. Lindsay

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I brought this matter to the attention of the War Office some days ago; that it is the case of a man who had six years in the Territorials, who responded to his broadcast appeal the following day, has been in charge of 800 men, and was summarily dismissed? Will he give the matter his immediate attention, because it is causing great dissatisfaction?

Mr. Eden

It is because my hon. Friend brought this matter to my attention that I made inquiries, but I must allow the local authorities time to make their report.