HC Deb 21 May 1940 vol 361 cc8-10
13. Colonel Wedgwood

asked the Secretary of State for War whether plans have now been made for effective civilian defence against invasion; whether he is aware that there is among the civilian population a great demand for instructions, training, rifles and organisation, as well as willingness to take their part efficiently, without pay, especially against parachutists; and what plans he has to meet this demand?

Mr. Eden

My right hon. and gallant Friend will be aware of the Local Defence Volunteer Force scheme, which was announced after he had given notice of his Question. Although I am not yet in possession of authoritative figures, I am able to say that the response has been most satisfactory. No establishment has been fixed, and the numbers accepted will depend on the circumstances in each area. Defence Regulations have been passed, authorising the enrolment of the Local Defence Volunteers as members of the armed Forces. Service in the Force will not, however, exempt a man from liability to be called up under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, and a short Bill is being introduced to provide accordingly. All volunteers will be enrolled as soldiers, and there will be no officers or non-commissioned officers in the ordinary Army sense of those terms, nor will there be any pay or other emoluments. Compensation, will, however, be given for injuries attributable to service. Service with the Force will be for the duration of the emergency, unless a man is in the meantime called up under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, but may be terminated earlier either by the competent authority at any time or by the volunteer himself on giving a fortnight's notice. The Force will be supplied with arms, ammunition and uniform.

Colonel Wedgwood

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the letters in the "Times" to-day from Lord Eltisley and Mr. Symonds, the first asking that the Observer Corps should be embodied and armed, and the other urging the importance of the people having their rifles with them?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. My attention has been drawn to them, and to a number of other valuable suggestions, which will not be forgotten.

Sir Percy Harris

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered putting into operation the Volunteer Act of 1916 and other Acts preceding it, which worked well in the last war, and through the machinery of which we were able to organise 250,000 men, with units throughout the country?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. The circumstances are different, but we are making use of all previous experience.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

When will regulations definitely be issued and boundaries put to each village detachment? There has been a great response to the right hon. Gentleman's appeal, but everybody is waiting for regulations, and does not know what to do.

Mr. Eden

That organisation is now proceeding. Area organisers, group organisers, platoon commanders and section leaders are all being appointed, with great rapidity, in view of the circumstances.

Mr. de Rothschild

Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure those who have volunteered for this force that they will be adequately armed, and not sent on duty without any rifles or ammunition?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir; as I have said, they will be supplied with arms, ammunition, and uniforms.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that there will be the minimum amount of red tape exercised in the work of this organisation?