§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Boulton.]
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I understand that it would be agreeable to the House if I made some statement about the organisation of the Local Defence Volunteers. It had been the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make that statement, 239 and he asked me to make apologies to the House on his behalf for his absence, as the House will understand that critical decisions may have to be taken at any moment. The decision to raise this Force was taken on 12th May. My right hon. Friend made his broadcast on 14th May. By 20th May over 250,000 volunteers had come forward, and in many districts units had been formed and rifles and ammunition already issued. The process has been going on steadily since 20th May, and the number is now much greater than 250,000. In a very few days the process will, I hope, be complete. The House will feel that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the organisers who have undertaken this work and also to the patriotism of the volunteers who have come forward. It is a remarkable sign of the readiness of this country to come forward when it is called upon. We have called upon a hitherto untapped source of defence, and this experience shows what reserves of patriotism we possess.
The Local Defence Volunteer organisation is based upon the military organisation and is organised by areas like the military commands. Each area has been sub-divided into zones, and each zone is sub-divided into groups, the groups into companies, and the companies into platoons and sections. There is a regular chain of command the whole way down from the area to the section. At the head of each zone and group are voluntary organisers, and they and the officers chosen to raise the sections are, like the volunteers themselves, unpaid. The whole thing is voluntary. Military area commanders, after consultation with the lord-lieutenants of counties, for whose co-operation we are grateful, and also with the chairmen of county councils and other local authorities of that kind, have appointed voluntary area organisers, who in turn have appointed the zone organisers, and so on down the chain. I repeat that all members of the force, organisers, commanders and volunteers, are unpaid. It is an entirely voluntary service. There is, however, some need to meet out-of-pocket expenses which we cannot expect the individual in all cases to bear, and arrangements have been made to meet those expenses in the following way. Free petrol or third class railway fares are to be allowed for official journeys by area, zone and group 240 organisers. Office expenditure is also allowed for up to £10—for postage, stationery, telephones, and so on. It is £10 for each unit.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am dealing with the period during which we are raising the force. The method of carrying on afterwards we shall have to settle. There will also bean allowance of a half-crown per rifle for group organisers. With regard to compensation for disabilities incurred in the service, volunteers will get it on the same scale as for private soldiers. Uniform will consist of denim overalls and field service caps, or civilian clothes with khaki arm bands stitched to the sleeve, having the letters "L.D.V." stencilled on the arm bands in white. Volunteers wearing civilian clothes with arm bands will be issued with field service caps. Already 90,000 overalls have been issued, 250,000 field service caps are available, and a similar number of arm bands are on order, so that I hope that, so far as dress is concerned, the Local Defence Volunteers will be fully equipped immediately.
§ Sir E. Grigg
With the field service cap. The Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces is responsible for the operational control, for the organisation and the training of the volunteers throughout the country. Now I come to the functions of the volunteers, and since there have been many questions on this point, I should like to make it clear that the volunteers are a reinforcement of existing organisations for home defence. There is already in existence a very considerable organisation for home defence. We not only have many divisions in various stages of training in this country, but we also have our home defence battalions, and we have other trained troops in this country. The Local Defence Volunteers are, therefore, a reinsurance, an extra security, and will, I believe, be invaluable. They will be invaluable in particular in two ways. In the first place, they will prevent the dispersal of first-line troops in small packets. The first duty of the Army is to keep its divisions intact, for service here or overseas, as may be required, and they cannot be kept intact if men are dispersed for guard duties all over the 241 country. The second duty of the Army is to press on with the training and the equipment of new troops, and training, or advanced training, at any rate, becomes impossible if formations are broken up for various purposes of local defence. Dispersal for local defence would mean, in fact, the complete immobilisation of trained divisions and would also bring advanced training to a halt. The Local Defence Volunteers can, therefore, render absolutely invaluable service, alike to the Army and the country, by co-operating with home defence battalions in freeing the organised divisions of the Army from the need for meeting the immediate needs of local defence.
They have another function to perform, a very important function, which is described to some extent by the name popularly given to them of "parashootists". They are wanted to deal with small enemy parties landed from the air. We have seen what the effect of the landing of small groups by parachute or aircraft has been in other countries, and it is important to organise means of local action against the measures which these small parties landed in various places may take. The three main purposes for which the Local Defence Volunteers are wanted are these: First, observation and information. We want the earliest possible information, either from observation posts or from patrols, as to landings. The second purpose is to help, in the very earliest stages, in preventing movement by these enemy parties landed from the air by blocking roads, by denying them access to means of movement, motors and so on, and by seeing that they are hemmed in as completely as possible from the moment they land. Their third purpose is to assist in patrolling and protecting vulnerable spots, of which there is a great number everywhere, particularly in certain parts of the country where the demands for local guard duties are really greater than the present forces can meet.
§ Sir E. Grigg
They are very different things. Aerodromes are specially protected by measures taken by the General Officer Commanding the Home Forces, in co-operation with the Royal Air Force. In regard to tunnels, home defence battalions are already doing part of that work.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I hope they will take over a part of it. But I do not want to suggest that it is the duty of the War Office to issue instructions in detail as to how these Local Defence Volunteers should be used. We can say in general outline how we want them to be used. It is the duty of the area command to say how they can most effectively meet their purpose in each area. If we started giving instructions in detail the whole organisation would be at once tied up in voluminous red tape. Their local function is far better left at the discretion of the local commands.
In regard to the method of operation I am sure the House understands that the Local Defence Volunteers will be soldiers under military command and that they are not free to move about the country as they please as individuals. They will naturally, therefore, act in all sections under their commander, unless they are detailed singly, in pairs or in small parties, for individual duty of any kind. All soldiers know that the great danger to one's own troops arises from inadequately co-ordinated action in twilight or in darkness. The danger hours in this country in regard to air invasion are dusk at sunset and dusk at dawn. We do not want to run the unnecessary risk of a patrol of Local Defence Volunteers making mistakes and causing confusion which even the best trained troops sometimes cause when they are acting in the dark or in the dusk.
It is, therefore, generally understood that these Defence Volunteers will be acting in sections under command, and that it is not desirable that they should act as a rule as individuals roving at large. It is well that this point should be made clear. I am sure that many Members remember incidents in the last war of the kind which arose when armed parties without clear instructions wandered about in a fading light. There have already been, not in this country but elsewhere, examples of what may occur, and we want to guard against that as far as possible. Let me repeat again, therefore, that the action of these volunteers will as far as possible be in organised sections under their own commanders and that they are all as soldiers to act under the orders of the commanders of their sections.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
That does not necessarily mean that they will not have their arms when they are not on duty?
§ Sir E. Grigg
I will come to the question of arms now. As to the supply of rifles, there are plenty of rifles in the country, but it is not desirable for more reasons than one to issue rifles promiscuously to all volunteers unless special reasons exist. The question of whether they are to be issued to individuals or kept in one centre is a matter of local discretion with which we do not wish to interfere. It will depend upon the circumstances of the case Broadly speaking, we do not want a too great dispersion of these arms. Normally the volunteers will be operating in sections and there must be places where the arms and ammunition are served out While I lay that down as a general principle, in certain places it may be necessary to issue arms to individuals or to people living at a distance.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Obviously there will be a central armoury and there is no difficulty there. The difficulty arises in the more lonely places. That is why I think it is essential to leave the discretion to local commanders in this country. While that discretion remains it is important to lay down the principle that arms are not to be more widely dispersed than the circumstances necessitate. I come now to the question of training for the actual duties which this organisation is to perform.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but would he be good enough to indicate that his hon. Friend will reply to the discussion?
§ Sir E. Grigg
My hon. Friend will certainly be prepared to take up any question that may be raised. With regard to training, it will be entirely under the general officer commanding the whole Force and the area commanders concerned. The central defence organisation is to be under a military commander in each case. I have been asked a question about motor cars, because many people are anxious to act as volunteer despatch riders or motor volunteers, or to help to move people from place to place. Those offers are greatly appreciated. The answer is that they should at once get into touch with the local area command. Any officer is prepared to assist anybody 244 who is prepared to help. I have been questioned about shot guns, whether they will be needed, and, if so, what would be the kind of ammunition. They can be used provided that they are not used with soft-nosed bullets. Shot guns are legal weapons.
§ Sir E. Grigg
They can be used, provided that it is not with soft-nosed bullets. I have already received a good many letters about the Defence Volunteers in factories. There are two points to be considered. We want adequate protection for all factories and particularly for the vital factories, but, in the second place, we do not want men engaged on production in these factories to render any service which will reduce their production. They must be able to work and to sleep. They will be doing much more for the country by being essential producers than by undertaking extra duties of this kind. In order to make sure that the defensive force is adequate and that we do not handicap factory production, we are appointing a security officer, who is a volunteer, with military experience in every factory, to give advice and see that the protection is adequate while the real productive work of the factory is carried on.
I think I have given a broad picture of the functions and of the organisation of this new Force. I should like to repeat the sense of gratitude that we feel in the War Office, and I am sure also in this House, to those who within a few days have undertaken the organisation of the Force, and our appreciation of the spirit of the volunteers who have come forward in these vast numbers. As a matter of fact, the only trouble has been the overwhelming response, and it is still going on. It is inexhaustible, and I am beginning to be afraid that we shall have to suspend it for a time here and there. But I should like to assure those who are told, as they may be, that there is no more room, that that is purely a temporary state of affairs, and we hope to be able to find room in due course for everybody who is prepared to serve the country in this way.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Training, as I have said, is in the hands of the local command, and I do not think I can go beyond that. There may be more opportunities in some places and less in others, but I hope that the opportunities for training will be adequate.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time, but I laid particular emphasis on the importance of issuing these rifles and the ammunition with discretion.
§ Sir E. Grigg
A great many questions of other kinds have been addressed to me and I am sure that questions have been addressed to hon. Members. If they are questions of principle I shall be happy to answer them if hon. Members will bring them to me, but if they are questions concerning local organisation and local defence it is best to refer them to the local area commander, who is in the best position to give information of that kind. I have received letters saying that such and such a place is a vulnerable point and not adequately protected. A question of that kind should be taken at once to the area commander whose responsibility it is, and I am sure that much more satisfaction will be received and more rapidly in that way.
§ Sir E. Grigg
If hon. Members are unfamiliar with the manner with which the country is divided by the Military Command they will get the information at once by addressing themselves to the local defence commissioner.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
We are directed to go to the local police. They know nothing. Then one may ring up Scotland Yard, and one is directed to go to somebody somewhere else, who 246 says, "Who are you? What can I do?" and "We cannot do anything at the present moment." Some information should be issued on this point.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am glad that hon. Members have raised that point. I did not realise that there was this difficulty as to who were the people to whom questions should be addressed. It would be quite easy to publish in the Press once again the names and addresses of the local regional defence commissioners, who can at once pass on the inquiries to the area command or the subordinate command, as the case may be. For another reason I would deprecate the asking of too many detailed questions in this House, not that I want to deny information to hon. Members, but that in regard to this organisation I do not want to broadcast too many details to the enemy. It is far better that hon. Members should satisfy themselves on all these points by going to the local authority and keeping the information or guidance that they may receive to themselves and those whom it may concern. That really is an important matter at the present time. The less information we give about our organisation and our measures the better for all of us.
I would like finally to express my gratitude to the House and to hon. Members opposite for passing with so much readiness the Motion which I introduced. We are living under conditions when imminent peril may descend upon us from the sky at any moment, in the dawn to-morrow or in the dusk to-morrow night—we cannot tell; and I think it is a tradition in this country that when we are placed in mortal danger of that kind not to talk but to act. I am sure the House appreciates the importance of action at the present time and that when hon. Members have useful questions to raise they will not raise them all here but will take them to the local authorities, where they will be settled satisfactorily at once without information being conveyed to those whom we are determined to defeat.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I think the House will appreciate now that the course we took with respect to the Bill was by far the wisest since my hon. Friend has had an opportunity of making that full statement, the value of which I 247 am sure the House will appreciate. The new body which has been raised is, as the hon. Gentleman has said, a tribute to the spirit of citizenship in this country, and I am sure that anyone who takes note of what has taken place within the last few days, of the large numbers in which these men have volunteered in these critical times, must feel proud of his fellow countrymen.
The hon. Gentleman has asked us not to ask too many questions, but there is one point I should like to raise. It is a well-known fact that the Regular soldier does not look too kindly upon the Territorial. The Territorial suffers in that respect. [Interruption.] There is no doubt about that, even to-day. I mention that, because I do not want this new volunteer body to be a kind of lost battalion. We want it to be not only respected by the citizens, but held in such respect by the rest of the Forces that there is perfect co-operation and liaison between their leaders. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for these men to do their job properly.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am glad the hon. Member has raised that point, because it enables me to say at once, on behalf of the Regular Army, that the co-operation of these volunteers will be welcomed wholeheartedly. The Regular Army has many tasks to perform, and the co-operation and help which these volunteers will give in local and home defence will be absolutely invaluable. There need be no anxiety whatever as to the welcome and treatment which these volunteers will receive.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am much obliged for that statement. I made my statement deliberately. I know that the liaison at the top between the Defence Forces is perfect, but, coming down the scale, that co-operation and liaison are not so good as they might be. I was afraid that this new body might not have its proper place. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Warsaid that no establishment had been fixed, and that the numbers accepted would depend upon circumstances in each area. Does that mean that there is to be a covering of the whole country where it is really necessary? For instance, lonely moors are the kind of place where parachutists may land. Even in some great industrial areas there are populations scattered widely over fells and moors. Are there 248 to be sufficient men enlisted to cover the country thoroughly, or is enlistment to be only in a limited way? I ask that because something has come to my knowledge which gives me the impression that the volunteers are to be taken and used only in hundreds, when they ought to be used in thousands. I put this quite bluntly to the Under-Secretary, because this Volunteer Defence Force is in its early stages and I think we should make up our minds that we are meeting not only a need but a very urgent need, as is shown by what has happened in other countries in the last week or two. If this Force is to be organised on a meagre scale, it will neither meet the needs of the moment nor give that entire confidence to the civilian population which should be given.
This parachute business is a new thing which has come upon us, and we really have been slow to scent the danger. I hope that we are not going to be slow in dealing with it, and that we shall so organise this new Force as to be sure that they will deal adequately with the danger. The Under-Secretary has dealt with the question of training and arming, though I was not sure about the arming. Nobody wants to scatter arms about haphazard, but we do not want that to be made any excuse for delaying arming the Force in a proper way. I was glad to hear the Under-Secretary state that they were getting to work with the training right away. The policy of taking ex-servicemen, who would not in many cases be taken out of the Force later on but would be permanent members of it, should be made the basis for the acceptance of volunteers. It is good to hear that there are volunteers of 17 years of age as well as of 60 years of age. I understand that some members of A.R.P., the Auxiliary Fire Service and of the heavy squads and the light squads formed for Civil Defence have been accepted and some have not. I do not think that there is a settled policy about that matter.
§ Sir E. Grigg
It is entirely in the hands of the A.R.P. authorities as to whom they are prepared to release. The instruction was clear on that point; it was not to recruit A.R.P. personnel unless their own authorities were prepared to release them.
§ Mr. Lawson
An attack by parachutists might be the preliminary of an attack 249 from the air, or the two might take place simultaneously, and in the latter case A.R.P. and Auxiliary Fire Service men might be much needed. But, on the other hand, there are volunteer A.R.P. and Auxiliary Fire Service men who are also ex-servicemen, and the policy of accepting ex-servicemen, so long as they are not full-time A.R.P. wardens or something of that kind, ought to be made the basis of enlistment for this volunteer service. There are special constables who are familiar with rifles and machine-guns, but they are not allowed to volunteer because of the fact that they are special constables. I am sure that the House very much appreciated the fact that the Secretary of State for War so quickly responded to public sentiment upon this matter and asked for volunteers. The country was very satisfied and has been very much cheered by the number of volunteers. Do not let the War Office cramp them either as far as numbers are concerned, the use of them, or their proper treatment.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Sir P. Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I will not keep the House very long, because there is a number of other speakers, and I would very much like the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was recently Secretary of State for War, to give us his opinions. My excuse for intervening is, as I said a little earlier, that for four years in the last war I was responsible for the administration of a similar force. In November, 1914, there were rumours of a raid, and Lord Kitchener appointed Lord Desborough, General Sir O'More Creagh, and myself to organise what he called a guerilla force. He designed the "G.R." armlet, which was familiar for the greater part of that war and which got for the force the name of Gaudeous Wrecks. The armlet was more permanent—I have listened with great patience to the Under-Secretary, and when we come here to speak, I wish he would listen. He has already had a large part of the time of the House and may perhaps have this private conversation later. I was saying that the armlet designed by Lord Kitchener was of a more permanent character than the one which the War Office now suggests. It is important to have an armlet which is not easily copied, especially when you hear about Quislings and so on. If you have an armlet which can be easily identified, 250 you do ask for imitation, and I would put it to the hon. Gentleman that the armlet should be of such a character that it is not easily copied—
§ Sir P. Harris
Really, this is a serious matter, and it is not a matter to be funny about. The hon. Gentleman is a great humourist, but he might reserve his humour for another occasion. We were responsible in the early months of the war for the issue of these armlets and the administration of the force. At one time it consisted of 1,000,000 men, and we found that the best unit organisation was the county. We made use of the Lord Lieutenant and to some extent the Territorial Associations. The important privilege of carrying a rifle does require proper organisation and training. As a result of some months' experience of the last war, regulations in great detail were drawn up by my association to deal with every possible contingency and emergency connected with the organisation of a force of this character. For instance, there was the difficulty of rank and badges of rank and the whole series of military titles was designed to differ from those of the Army. These ranks were approved by the War Office.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I wish to interrupt the hon. Baronet only in order to apologise for my quite unintended discourtesy and to assure him that I have the fullest particulars about the force in which he played so distinguished a part in the last war.
§ Sir P. Harris
I am glad to hear that. All that I can say is that my services are at the disposal of my hon. Friend. I do not want a job—my time is fully occupied—but if I can give him the advantage of my experience during those four years, I shall be glad. I want to be sure that the time of the War Office is economised. When the present Minister of Information was Secretary of State for War I communicated with him on the subject of preparing plans for the creation of a Force of this kind on the outbreak of war. He assured me that a Force of this kind would not be required. I also communicated with the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) on similar lines, and he brushed the matter aside as being quite unsuitable for modern conditions. I think the two right hon. Gentle- 251 men were unwise. In war-time you want to organise and utilise every man who is ready and willing to be trained and to learn the use of a rifle as part of an organised force, and I am glad, although it is rather late in the day, that the Government now propose to do something of this kind.
I also hope that this organisation will not be limited to particular areas. Every encouragement should be given to every village and town to have a unit of this Force. In the last war we found that some of the most efficient units were in the countryside, where there were few counter-attractions, and where old soldiers and officers were willing to give their time to the training of these men. We also found that a great many men were exempt from military service because of their essential occupations; just as they are at the present time. These men were not only able but willing and anxious to do some service in the defence of their country. In our regulations they had to sign a form stating that they were not using this service in order to exempt them from their obligations to the Army, and I assume that my hon. Friend is making a similar provision.
My own opinion is that the Government would have been wiser to have revived the Volunteer Act of 1916, and the previous Acts dating back to 1863. That would have met the necessities of the case much more effectively than the present proposal. These Acts cover almost every problem; and in almost every emergency we have had to go back to the principle of a part-time Volunteer Force. Once again in an emergency we have to revive it. I hope there will not be too much red tape. There will have to be properly trained military units. We cannot have men running about wildly; that means anarchy and chaos and would do more harm than good. There must be properly organised and trained units, under proper discipline, and as long as there is not too much red tape and every encouragement is given to local enthusiasm and experience, I believe this Force will be a success. I shall be pleased to give what knowledge I have to assist the hon. Member to make this Force a success.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
I would not like to say anything which at this 252 moment would embarrass my hon. and gallant Friend, who has given us so lucid an explanation of these new proposals, or the Government, but it is better to say what one feels in advance of a calamity rather than to say it afterwards. My criticism—if it be criticism—of this Force is that it is neither one thing nor the other. It is neither a Regular Force nor an amateur Force. If we have to meet the contingency of an invasion, it will be a serious matter, and those who have to face the incoming troops, whether they be directly landed or landed by parachute, should be part of the proper military organisation of the country. Before the war we found it necessary to introduce the compulsory system. We did not do so because we preferred that system, for sentimentally we were attached to the voluntary system, and we knew that our people were ready to present themselves. It was efficiency that caused us to depart from the voluntary system, because we wished to have full-time soldiers prepared to meet the strongest foe that this country has ever had to face.
If we have made errors in the past, they have been errors of inadequate preparation. We have waited until a calamity came upon us before realising its full magnitude. When Norway was invaded we completely under-estimated the situation. We sent a small number of troops to meet a large number of troops. Hitler despatched to that country a far greater army than was necessary to achieve his purpose. He sent 100,000 men or more. But our conception was that we could discharge the task, if we could discharge it at all, with about 4,000 men. That was an under-estimate. Then we heard that Hitler was landing troops by parachute, and everywhere we read, "This new device, this stunt, is a complete failure." But it was not a failure, and a small detachment at Narvik is still holding out against superior British forces, and presumably being nourished to some extent by parachute.
When the invasion of Holland occurred, we saw how serious was this new menace. I am not saying this, I beg my hon. Friend to believe, by way of criticism. I am only trying to be constructive before the event. Hitler is a man who never undertakes an operation unless he has adequately and completely prepared for it. The surprise is caused to those who have not had the imagination to see that he will 253 do the thing, if he does it at all, upon a full and complete scale. If this country is to be invaded, for the first time since 1066, it will be invaded by troops who, however small in number, will be specially selected and trained for the task which they have to do. The troops of this Force are not specially selected and trained; they are volunteers who are going to give some spare time to this job, who are not organised—
§ Sir E. Grigg rose—
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I do not wish to over state the case, but I am presenting a serious argument. Hitler's troops will be heavily armed with machine guns, sub-machine guns and grenades, and the people who are to have the first contact with them are these volunteers who are to have the partial use of a rifle or in some cases the whole use of a rifle. I say that that is not fair. It is not fair to those men, and it is not fair to this country. Time is of the essence of the whole matter. If there is any delay in dealing with these forces, they concentrate; they destroy bridges, they destroy electric plant, they disorganise telephonic communications. Those who are to have the first contact with them should be the best troops we can in the circumstances provide. This is by no manner of means a sideshow. The very best trained troops we have are worthy to be employed, and the commander of this Force should be, as I understand he will be, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief the Home Forces. I have no doubt, because he is a very competent general, that he is—
§ Sir E. Grigg
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. I would only say, in regard to one of his remarks, that he had greater opportunity of using prevision and acting upon it than I have had. Apart from that, I think it is an improper assumption to make that it is our purpose to meet these troops of the enemy, as he says first-line, highly trained, highly equipped troops, with partially trained forces here. That is not the case. He knows better than anybody that we have a large supply of highly trained troops in this country. It is only to reinforce purely local defence that the Local Defence Volunteers are intended. The right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting the strength of this country at a dangerous moment, by taking the line he has taken just now.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I very much resent that. I think that those remarks by the hon. Gentleman would look very foolish if the worse contingency should befall. I am trying to be helpful while there is yet time. It cannot be denied that we have, hitherto, under-estimated the strength of Hitler. It cannot be denied that Hitler prepares on the most adequate scale for what he undertakes. Nor can it be denied that we have to meet the possibility of invasion by these troops, whether they land directly or by parachute, and the case which I am putting to the Government is that the whole forces to be arrayed against them, should be Regular Forces.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
This is a new Force destined to meet a new danger. Obviously, trained forces will be used against parachute troops, but these are to form the advance guard, the contact troops, the people who are to be on patrol and who may meet the first impact.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not like to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but I want to be clear about what he is proposing, because, as he says, this is a very important matter. Is he suggesting that highly trained troops should be dispersed all over the country, to be available wherever parachutists land? That appears to be the burden of his argument.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I certainly say that. I say that our troops should be so located and should be so re-located at this moment, to meet, as far as humanly possible, a very pressing and new danger. I certainly suggest that the Regular troops should be prepared for this new contingency and that all training units should be so sited that they can render the greatest possible assistance. Of course, even with your new Force you cannot cover every inch of the ground, but under proper battalion organisation you can cover as much as is humanly possible. I then say—I had reached this point when I was interrupted—that these men who land, if they land at all, will be armed with machine-guns, sub-machine-guns and grenades or incendiary bombs; that our men should be similarly armed; that 255 the machine guns should be employed and that these persons, whoever they may be, who have to meet the danger, should be trained in those forms of arms. I do not deal now with the question of demolition, but clearly, these people may have to do demolition work and should be provided with the proper instruments with which to do it.
My purpose in rising was not to deal completely with all the measures that can be taken, and should be taken, to meet this danger, but really to say to the Government that I think it will be found, as it was found before the war, that the proper way to meet a military danger is by a complete, full-time, disciplined military organisation. The whole purpose of our opening discussion to-day was to lead to such a conclusion. The first Bill which was introduced in the House this afternoon, to meet the serious situation which has arisen, claimed the right to use everybody, person and property, in this time of great danger. It was not to obtain service on a voluntary basis, because we were told that that would not do any more.
§ Sir P. Harris
Are there not hundreds of thousands of men working in factories who cannot be spared for full-time military service, and is it not useful to train them throughout the country so that they will be ready to assist the more fully trained forces?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I do not regard this matter as a side-show. I regard it as a primary military duty, and the first and most pressing of our military duties. One naturally welcomes the co-operation of all citizens, and one cannot praise it too highly. It was a splendid response to have 250,000 volunteers. That expresses the spirit of the country, but it must be organised under a full-time military system of discipline, and the commander must know exactly where he stands in view of this pressing danger. I only want to say that this Measure does not seem to me to be adequate. It seems an embarrassment that at this time when the danger is almost upon us we should have to institute an entirely new system. I am perfectly convinced that you are not going to beat Hitler by half measures.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Sir A. Southby
I listened with amazement to the speech which has just been 256 delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. If it be, and it is, our primary duty, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to provide an adequately trained and equipped force in this country to meet a danger like this, the question which arises in my mind and the minds of other Members is: Why did not the right hon. Gentleman do it? The fact is that vital years were wasted, and equipment vital for this purpose was never provided. It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to come down to the House of Commons at the present time and to complain because this volunteer force has to be raised now in a time of great emergency to repair a deficiency for which he was responsible during his period of office.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I am very sorry the discussion should take any personal turn at a time when we are all seriously trying to make our contribution. I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend, in the hope that it will dispose of any personal elements in the discussion, that I was responsible before the war for introducing a measure of conscription and after the war a National Service Bill which did give the country the right to call up the whole community in age groups, and, therefore, the whole system is in existence.
§ Sir A. Southby
Be that as it may, no particular provision was made for this danger, which should have been foreseen by those who were in control at the War Office at the time. I would like to join with the hon. Member who spoke from the Government Bench, and opened this discussion, in paying a tribute to those volunteers who have come forward in such a splendid way. I am bound to say that their splendid response did not meet with the reward it should have, namely, by the immediate and adequate provision of arms and munitions to enable them to carry out their duties. From all sides one hears the story of men who came forward to enrol their names, and after their names had been taken they heard nothing more.
It was not until during the last 48 hours that any effort has been made to provide them with weapons. The right hon. Gentleman was right when he said that this matter was vital and urgent. Speed is of the essence of the contract, and it is essential that this Force should be constituted as quickly as possible. It 257 is not right to suggest that it is to be used only as a kind of patrol. It may have to meet with parachute attack and must deal with it at the first moment. Experience on the Continent has shown that unless the parachute troops are dealt with immediately the danger is that they will consolidate their position and make it much more difficult to turn them out.
If this Force is to be of any use, it must not only be adequately organised but adequately equipped. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the least good asking men armed with shot guns to compete with men armed with the latest automatic weapons. Parachute troops come down with hand grenades, sub-machine guns, pistols, rifles, and even flame-throwers. These volunteers, if they are to be of any use, must deal with the first attack of parachutists before the Regular troops who will ultimately deal with the attack come up. It is idle to suggest that they will be adequately equipped if they have shot guns, and it is stupid to suggest that they should be armed with a variety of sporting rifles. They must be armed with Service rifles firing Service ammunition. It is no good if an attack takes place on a dark night in a wood for men to be armed with sporting guns—Mauser rifles, Manlichers and 303 rifles, all using different ammunition. The confusion which would result would be appalling. These volunteers must be armed with the best arms they can be given. They will need automatic sub-machine guns, grenades and rifles.
I rather deprecate the fact that no immediate use was made of the organised ex-service men who could have been provided by the British Legion. It would have had one great advantage. In the Legion everybody knows his next door neighbour, and it is essential that nobody should get into the Force who cannot be guaranteed. At present any man may enrol. Let us be careful that nobody is enrolled about whom we are not quite certain. Ex-service men in the various districts know one another. It is essential that this Force should work locally, for local knowledge will be of the utmost importance. Therefore, the men ought not to be changed about a great deal. I have had representations made to me that some of the men who are volunteering are in doubt whether they will be used locally or transferred to other parts of the 258 country. The man with local knowledge of his own area will be worth a great deal if an attack takes place. It will be either at dusk or at dawn, and it is essential that the men should know their way about. If men are transferred from one part of the country to another, half their usefulness will go. I was sorry to hear the suggestion turned down that the men should be supplied with steel helmets. They should have the most complete equipment. They will have to meet the most adequately armed, trained and resolute soldiers that Germany can produce. A man who lands in enemy country will stick at nothing. These men must have tin hats. It is absurd to suggest that a forage cap, an armlet and a shot gun are enough for them.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Suppose—which God forbid—50,000 German troops were to land in an area by parachute, will you collect all these volunteers by whistle from the factories, workshops and mines? Surely you must have some permanent Force.
§ Sir A. Southby
I quite agree with the hon. Member. I do not think men in the factories should do anything in this Force except guard their own factories. It is essential that men in factories working machines should get adequate rest. They cannot be used for night patrols all over the country. The men of this Force are required to take immediate action, to patrol vital places like the vicinity of aerodromes and other objectives where it is essential that the enemy should get no footing, and if they are to do their duty properly, they must be properly armed. It is no good summoning them by whistle. It has been suggested that their arms are to be kept under lock and key in some central place. What is the good, on a dark night, of blowing a whistle, collecting these men in some place and handing them out a mixed grill of arms? Every man should have his rifle and ammunition in his own charge, so that when the emergency takes place he can go out immediately.
Further, provision for transport must be made. By all means have volunteer transport if that is the best that can be done, but it must be organised. Many of the men ought to be given motor bicycles, or even ordinary bicycles. Then there will be casualties. What provision is being made for first-aid for this Force? 259 There must be some form of medical assistance. I do not believe that in the main, men in reserved occupations should join this Force. Their duty lies where their skilled work is essentially needed. Nor do I think it is really a good thing to bring in young men of 17. One hesitates to imagine what would happen with an untrained young man of that age with a Thomson sub-machine gun in his hands on a dark night. What we want is the steady old soldier who has seen war and knows what to do. He will keep his head, he will carry out his primary duty, which is immediate contact with the enemy until the properly-organised trained Forces of the Army can come up. Of course, nobody suggests that these troops should be working on their own as a kind of roving guerilla band. They must work under the control of the responsible military authority, who will have a concerted scheme for defence and, if parachute troops arrive, a concerted scheme of attack upon the men landing.
I hope nothing will be done to belittle either the usefulness or efficiency of the Force. If the men are to be equipped only with a shot gun, an armlet and a forage cap and are simply to walk out on a kind of patrol, we had better not organise the Force at all. The men are keen to carry out what is a public duty and, indeed, a vital necessity at the present time. We have already wasted one priceless week. Arms could have been sent down to areas all over the country by lorry and have been in the hands of the men by now. I know that this has been done within the last 48 hours in some districts, but I could tell of districts which are vitally in need of protection where no arms have been provided. The men must be armed immediately. An attack may come to-night or to-morrow morning, and if it is to be repelled, it must be repelled the moment it comes and held until the special troops to which the right hon. Gentleman referred can be called up. I hope the Force will not be stultified by being treated as a kind of poor relation of the Army. It ought to be an adequate Force carrying out a specialist duty, and it must be encouraged and armed in the best possible way. More use should be made of the Legion organisation, which can do a great deal to help the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the control and the administration of the Force is one 260 Under-Secretary's full-time job. It is probably going to be the most important Force in the country. We have seen on the Continent the extraordinary success which has followed the use of parachute troops by the Germans. We have time now to arm ourselves and prepare ourselves to resist any such attack. To have wasted one week already is bad enough; do not let us waste any more time.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I think the gallant commander who has just spoken was mistaken about the real origin of this Force. I do not believe that the War Office originally formed this Force in order to resist invasion. I believe it was formed because the demand of the people in the country was overwhelming—the demand to be allowed to have some part, some weapons and some chance, in order to stand up to these devils when they come. I am confident that the War Office spoke through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. The War Office does think that invasion should be met by Regular troops. Everyone would agree with them—if we had enough Regular troops. The whole genius of this movement is that it provides an additonal force which could not be got at in any other way. It calls in all the people, who are desperately anxious, and who are demanding to have some share in the defence of their country.
We are grateful to the War Office for bringing down their tradition. They have graciously allowed this Force to be formed. They have done it with extraordinary promptitude. A fortnight ago, the Force was not formed, but already, as I understood from the speech of the hon. Baronet, 90,000 uniforms have gone out. That is very good work. I suppose also that a great many rifles have gone out. It is true that many people, like myself, registered, and have never heard anything more about it, because the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway thinks that I am too old. The real thing is that we have got the gift of a new Force inspired by the highest patriotism. The thing to emphasise is that these people are doing it for nothing except for love of country, and they are therefore singularly well suited to meet the 261 particular form of attack that is facing us at the present time.
They are particularly well suited also because they will not wait for orders. They are largely, probably to the extent of three-quarters at least, old soldiers. Every retired military man up to the age of 80, and every officer, has joined this Force, and put his age down as something else. These people are well qualified to do this work without going dithering about like sheep, as will happen to in experienced troops, asking somebody else what they ought to do. This may not be a Force trained in modern arms, but it is a body of extremely experienced people. In regard to the young people of 17, probably the hon. and gallant Gentleman has read "On Commando," the book published by Denys Reitz, the boy who went through the war at 16. You cannot say that he was not a brave man. These very young and very old people—the old people have not much to live for, anyway—are extremely useful and they are getting what they want. They want only to be used. If you only knew what the ordinary infantry soldier has to carry to-day you would not ask for anything more to be put on to these antiquated survivals.
In the first place, having got this body under the War Office, the most important thing is that they should be gradually absorbed into all the other unpaid or semi-paid services. I believe that the Observer Corps is under the Air Ministry, while A.R.P. is under the Home Office, and the War Reserves are under somewhere else. If this war goes on for a long time it will be well to absorb all these services of civil and military defence, which you cannot have separated perpetually as they are at the present time. They must all come under the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Defence, with the possible exception of first-aid ambulances and transport. The question solves itself if you combine all these forces.
Hon. Members are aware that there are in this country a great many women who shoot extraordinarily well; many of them are match rifle specialists. I do not know why they should be ruled out on account of sex, and why this new Force should not have its counterpart in a women's movement, just as in the case of the Army, Navy and Air Force. So far as arms are concerned, we all put machine guns before rifles and automatic pistols, 262 but until the people have got them they should be allowed to use anything they have. I hope that the Under-Secretary will stand up to the War Office on this question of magazines. All along it has been the aim of the War Office to keep the weapons and magazines, dating back from the absurd idea that the working classes should not be allowed to have arms because they may start a revolution. The tradition of Peterloo still lingers in that eighteenth century establishment. We have to defend ourselves, and we cannot defend ourselves if first of all we have to go to the police for our arms—
§ Sir E. Grigg
May I interrupt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman? That is not what I said. I said that these detachment sections must be under a commander, and they have to come to a rendezvous. The easiest way of making certain that they have their rifles and ammunition is to serve them out at the rendezvous.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
That is exactly the arrangement I do not like. The arrangement of keeping all the rifles at the rendezvous means that the ordinary man is not armed except during the two hours at dusk and dawn; at other times he has not got this protection which he requires. I raised the matter on the question of factories. When factories were considered the Under-Secretary said that would obviously be one of the places where rifles would be stored. The danger is not of isolated parachutists dropping in the country. The real danger is that Hitler might drop 5,000 parachutists round, say, Ipswich. Within 24 hours ships might come alongside the port and we should be in an extremely difficult position. Hitler would have the port as a jumping off point for the tanks, and it is just that 24 hours which we have to guard against. The fighting in Rotterdam was mostly in the streets of the town. In the country they cannot do half as much harm as they can do in the towns, where they can seize post offices, railway stations, and shoot up all the telephone communications. That is where they can do the damage.
I do not see your patrol organisation meeting the case, because that invasion may come at any time of day or night, not only at dusk or dawn. In any case, you must not rely on this service to do that work. Certainly you cannot rely on 263 it in the least unless the people have their arms by them, where they work and where they sleep. Let me join with the right hon. Gentleman, and, I am sure, with the Commander, in saying that this force is not any substitute for a complete change of ideas as to how this country must meet invasion. This is not our counter to the new threat. That must be the War Office's job. When I hear from the hon. Member that the War Office rather welcome this move because it enables the training of the troops to continue, because sections will not be broken up, I hope that that does not mean that they are not using the troops at this moment for defence against the enemy.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I said that if you break up divisions you immobilise them. It is most important that divisions should be ready for instant action where required, and when they are ready for instant action they can continue their training. They should not be immobilised, as they would be if they were broken up.
§ Sir E. Grigg
There is training all over the country. There is no question of training being limited to any area.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Yes, but I should be better pleased if I saw a few divisions in all the ports on the East Coast. The danger is of an invasion on the East Coast. For that, you must rely on the Regular Army; and it must be, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the best of the Regular Army. The people who meet the first shock will be those on the East Coast, and the best troops should be on the East Coast. There should be naval defence as well. The whole situation as regards the Fleet and the Army has been completely changed as a result of the revolutionary ideas of the last six weeks. Six weeks ago we did not think invasion was possible. Now we know that it is possible. There must be a complete plan for the military defence of this country. "Parashooters" are a trifling addition to the defence of this country, though we all welcome them. I believe that the area organisations are exactly what we want. As we go on, each area will compete with others in equipment and ideas, and we shall get in time a very efficient Force. But this Force is not a substitute for the 264 serious defence of this country against parachute invasion.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
I listened with great interest to the resumé of the Minister of the duties of this new volunteer Force, and I agree with him that it would be very undesirable for him to say too much about the duties of that Force, otherwise it might be considered that those duties were the only duties necessary to meet the danger. But there is one point upon which I wish he had said something. What will be the relation between this new Force and the civilian police force? If parachute troops were dropped, a state of war would exist, which would enable that Force to have all powers, but at the present time they should be given certain powers that are already possessed by the police. They ought to be given the power to stop and to inspect motor transport, and the right of interrogating pedestrians at night. If the Minister can say something to relieve my anxiety by saying that they will be given that power, I shall be much obliged. I am confident that not only this House, but the whole country will appreciate the introduction of this Measure. It will create a new force, which, although perhaps at the moment somewhat limited in its operation, will increase both with regard to its duties and size. It will be able to take away from existing forces certain duties which can be performed equally well by this new Force, thus making those forces available for more important duties. It will satisfy a craving in the minds of many people in this country who want to serve some useful purpose in this war. If the hon. Member who is to reply can give some indication of the relation between the new Force and the police, I shall be much obliged.
I rather deprecate the idea put forward by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that it is only in towns that there is likely to be danger. I believe there will be very great danger in some of the wide country areas where the enemy will attempt to drop parachute troops if they come over. Railways and bridges are as vital—perhaps more so—in the wide open spaces as they are in the towns. These are objectives which must be guarded.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I wish to endorse what the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) has just said, that the danger is not solely in the towns and ports but in remote rural areas where there may be mines, as in my constituency, or important road junctions or waterworks, where serious damage might be done by parachute troops. Therefore we must consider these remote areas as possible places of attack, and that leads me to a point that I wish to put to the hon. Gentleman who, I understand, is to reply. I understand that the Under-Secretary to the War Office said that A.R.P. personnel are not ruled out. As a member of the A.R.P. in the part of my constituency where I live, when the call went out I sent in my name to the local police and asked them whether I could join the Local Defence Corps, but as I was a member of the A.R.P., I was told that I could not do so. That was only last week, and I want to know what the position really is. Could not an order be issued setting out the position? In remote rural districts there are plenty of ex-service men who are members of the A.R.P. In fact, local A.R.Ps. are to a large extent recruited from ex-service men or men who have had military training, but they are excluded from this Local Defence Force for that reason.
I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), who said that only members of the British Legion should be members of the Defence Force. I know plenty of agricultural labourers who were in the last war and who can handle machine and Lewis guns, and they would be excluded. They are in reserved occupations, it is true, but they could give their services when they have finished their farm work, at dusk. It is necessary to work out the relationship between this new Force that we are trying to organise and the A.R.P. and Special Constabulary. All can play an important role. We cannot expect these men to resist a large force of parachute troops armed with the latest weapons of offence, but it is quite possible for them to watch what is going on while another force is summoned. The A.R.P. authority of which I am a member has received instructions to keep a look-out and have obstructions ready to place across roads at any moment. This is being done. We have instructions to deal 266 with parachute troops as far as we can. We cannot do much, but the new organisation which is coming along will be armed. We must all assist each other, and I hope there will be proper instructions ond co-ordination so that we can do so.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I think the Government must have gathered the impression that while the House welcomes without reservation the opportunity given for the voluntary service of these older men, the House is, on the whole, considerably uneasy as to our whole defensive measures against parachute raiders. I suppose it is asking too much of my hon. Friend to expect him to give a full account to the House, at this stage, of the measures to be adopted throughout the country against these parachutists—
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that any full account I gave would also be given to the enemy. There really is some need for discretion.
I was not complaining. I was rather excusing my hon. Friend, but at the same time, while we shall not ask the Financial Secretary, who is to reply, to give details, I think the nature of the Debate warrants, even demands, specific assurances to the House that adequate and new measures have been, and are being taken on a most effective scale to deal with this new threatened attack. If we can have such assurances, I am sure we shall accept them most readily. They ought to be given before we go any further with this matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) began with a violent attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) for having criticised the Government, and thereupon followed with a still more violent criticism of the Government for all their actions in this matter. That is the difficulty we are feeling about this voluntary corps, and I say this as one who has to go on patrol in the early hours of to-morrow morning. The hon. Gentleman indicated what were the duties of this voluntary Force and said they were to carry out observation and give information if there was a raid.
They were also to protect vulnerable places. At the same time he explained 267 that the Regular Army was not to be dispersed and could not be used for this purpose. One understands that. But these volunteer soldiers will undoubtedly have to meet these parachutists and cope with them. The hon. Gentleman has told us that the Army cannot be expected to cope with these parachutists, and therefore, if the Regular Army is not there, you will have to depend on these volunteers. If, in addition to patrolling, they have to stop and open fire, and destroy the parachutists, then you must arm and equip them to do the job effectively.
The right hon. and gallant Member in reply to my interjection said that steel helmets were not necessary because shrapnel will not be used. Surely that was not intended to be a serious answer. I shall certainly wear my steel helmet, which I had during the last war, upon my patrol to-morrow night, because I wish to be ready for an attack by a parachutist using modern arms, and I should regard myself as ineffective if I went on duty without being properly armed. A tin helmet is not very difficult to wear, nor is it so uncomfortable.
On the contrary, I speak from practical experience in the last war, and it does send off bullets. I hope the Government will reconsider this matter and will give these men not only adequate arms but adequate protection. There is one small point which I hope the Financial Secretary will deal with. In the rural districts there are people like gamekeepers, shepherds, rural postmen and others, who are constantly doing a tour of duty. Is there any reason why these men should not be armed and carry their weapons while doing their ordinary duties? It seems to me not only appropriate but necessary. There is another point. In my part of the country we are carrying out patrol from dusk to dawn. Thereafter we cease to perform that duty. Is there anyone who is looking for parachutists from dawn to dusk? I do not want a detailed answer, but I want an assurance that someone is detailed to do the job. It was my Question on 13th May which drew from the War Secretary the first public announcement that this Corps was to be formed. 268 I suggested that there was a vast body of men, not otherwise engaged in any form of national service, who wanted to offer their services in this way. I do not deprecate the value of these volunteer soldiers. I regard their services as of the highest value. I ask that their services shall be recognised by using them in the right way; equipping them properly, arming them effectively, and backing their efforts by the strongest general protection provided by the Army against this new form of attack.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Many hon. and right hon. Members have suggested to the Under-Secretary of State—and the House seems to have given them a measure of support—that each man in this new Force should be allowed to have his own rifle and to take it home with him. I beg the House most earnestly to reconsider this pressure which it appears to be putting upon the Under-Secretary to take a course which at this stage, I think, would be extremely undesirable. There will be in this Force many young and old people who have never handled weapons before, who do not realise, and cannot realise until they have been trained for a considerable time, what they are doing. Surely, it is not suggested that every citizen is, at his own whim and fancy, to put his head out of the door and "have a pop" at a German. That would lead to chaos. My conception of this Force is that it is an organised and proper Force. It is to move primarily in sections and platoons, and the suggestion that you blow a whistle and everybody runs out and gets his rifle is quite absurd.
I believe that, in the first instance, at any rate, there will be more than sufficient volunteers to enable patrols to be organised for different hours of the day, and to provide each man with a rifle would be to provide four or five times as many rifles as would be necessary, which would be a waste of effort. If, for example, in 24 hours there were six patrols of four hours each, one set of 12 rifles would do for those patrolling through the whole 24 hours; but if every man were to take a rifle home, it would mean providing six times as many rifles, with all the inconvenience and difficulty that would arise. I think the War Office are right, and I hope, at any rate in the early stages, they will issue a general instruction that the 269 arms are to be used only under the supervision of officers and in proper sections, and that only in exceptional cases are officers to use their discretion and allow the men, and particularly the boys and those who are inexperienced, to take weapons home with them.
I want now to make an observation which occurred to me while the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was speaking. He criticised the Government, I thought most unjustly, for having improvised this Force at the request of this House and the country. He suggested that these highly-trained parachutists, skilled men, practised men, brave men, must be met by the best troops which we can provide, and not by half-trained amateurs. No doubt we would wish that it were possible to have highly-skilled men fully armed with automatic weapons in every part of the country where parachutists might appear, but I think we all know—and none better than the right hon. Member for Devonport—that it is not possible for us to disperse our highly-seasoned and well-trained troops all over the land in small sections of six and 12.
I would not ask the War Office what dispositions they are making to meet this threat. I have every hope they are making wise and sensible dispositions, but I would hesitate very much to recommend, as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to recommend, that our existing Regular troops, who are no doubt placed in the proper place where they should be, should be dispersed over heaths and moors and in small towns here, there and everywhere, in order that the best troops should meet these parachutists. Surely, our people have shown themselves willing, inadequately armed as they will be, inadequately trained as they will be, to be the vanguard who can hold up these troops, perhaps for some short time, until the more trained and better troops can be brought up to deal with the situation. That is all I imagine will be asked of this emergency Force, and if it renders that service it will be rendering a very great service and will be filling a breach. To suggest that it is either inadequate, or that the efforts now being made by these citizens should not be appreciated—as the right hon. Gentleman did—because they are not fully armed and fully trained seems to me to miss the whole point. We may have been late in foreseeing this danger, but, at least, it seems to me the 270 War Office should have the thanks of the House and the country for having acted so promptly in bringing this emergency Force into being.
I would put one question to the Financial Secretary to the War Office. What has happened to the "dungaree force," as it was called? Would it not be wise to revive the idea—perhaps in association with the Local Defence Volunteers—of providing machine-guns for factories to be used against low-flying aeroplanes? I am aware that the Under-Secretary said to night that special factories of great importance were adequately provided for, and, no doubt, it is the case that it would be impossible to provide for all factories individually and that all are provided for by the general defence of the areas in which they are situated. There are, however, some isolated factories doing important work, though perhaps not so important as to justify special Army units being placed near them, and these might well be protected by machine-guns and what used to be called the "dungaree army." Could not that idea be revived in connection with the new Force?
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
I have not, to my loss, had the opportunity of listening to the whole of the Debate, but I wish to say that, as far as Tyneside is concerned, I have had indications by telephone and post of the desire that such a Force as this should be formed. A great friend of mine—my agent—who was formerly a sergeant in the Army, came to my house to urge that such a Force should be formed, in order, as he said, that he would not feel too soft if these parachutists came clown and would have something to which to defend his wife and family. It seems to me that in connection with the Force use could be made of air-raidwardens' posts, which are already sand-bagged and equipped with telephones and in communication with the police headquarters. When I asked the chief constable of Gateshead what he thought about the project, he said he had already issued revolvers and ammunition to senior officers. In connection with the suggestion that voluntary workers should be used, working in shifts night and day while continuing with their ordinary-avocations, arrangements could be made for these men to report at air-raid wardens' posts, which are to be found 271 every few hundred yards in most of our cities and towns. The sound of a whistle can be heard for a quarter of a mile, and on being summoned in that way the men could go to the nearest air-raid wardens' post and find their instructions as to their duties. For purposes of co-ordination of effort and making available both men and materials, the use of air-raid wardens' posts would be valuable.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Richard Law)
At the beginning of this Debate, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary appealed to the House that no question should be asked of a character which would be embarrassing to the military authorities, if it had to be answered, or which would involve giving information to the enemy. I think that anyone who has listened to this Debate must agree that no such questions were asked and no such embarrassment has been caused. It has been an extremely interesting Debate. It has shown that the House is alive, as the country is, to the danger which threatens us from this new and perhaps rather ruthless form of warfare. But it shows something more than that. It shows that we are not going to be intimidated by this new threat. We are all of us determined to take every possible step to counter it. I think that everything which has been said in the Debate is such as will inspire and encourage the military authorities and not such as to hamper them or cause them any embarrassment at all.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who is not in his place, asked a question which was really, I think, more of an exhortation. He asked whether the establishment of this new Force would be big enough to cover the whole area of the country, or whether it would deal with just selected areas. I think that the answer must be obvious. It is the intention of the Government to see that this new Force does cover every area so far as is possible, and that there shall be no gaps. The House will realise that the scheme has only just been instituted, and that it may be a little time, although we hope it will not be a long time, before complete cover is provided. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) drew attention to what was done in the last 272 war with regard to the voluntary forces, and, as the Under-Secretary of State informed him, the history of the last war has already been considered and a good deal of valuable hints have been provided by what was done then.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), speaking with obvious authority as former Secretary of State for War, pointed out, I think with justice, that this threat with which we are faced is an extremely severe one and that we cannot afford to be complacent about it. As he pointed out, we have been too late before, and we cannot afford to be too late again. I can assure my right hon. Friend that that is the view of the Government, and that we do not intend to be too late this time, but I think that my right hon. Friend does somewhat misunderstand the purpose of these local Defence Forces. It is not the purpose of these Forces to provide the whole protection of this country from invasion from the air. It is proposed that they should act as a kind of vanguard for the purposes of observation, communication, blocking of roads and so on, until such time as the Home Defence units could be brought up to deal with the parachute invasion. Obviously you could not expect a Force of this kind to be left to deal with an invasion entirely by itself. But that does not alter the fact that it may be able, and will be able, to do work of a most valuable kind in consolidating, or rather preventing the enemy from consolidating their position.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. J. P. L. Thomas.]
§ Mr. Law
My right hon. Friend will, I think, admit that this Force will be able to do something and do a good deal to give information of the movement of these troops and keep them under some kind of check until such time as the regular Forces come up. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) made a most surprising and, I thought, gratifying speech. I thought it was surprising because I have heard many speeches from him, and this is the first time I have ever heard him criticise the Government.
§ Sir A. Southby
I am sure that my hon. Friend's point of view will change considerably now that he has moved to the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Law
My hon. and gallant Friend will have noticed that as well as being surprising I thought his speech gratifying because I believe that criticism of the Government is a good thing for the Government. I think I might fairly add that if my hon. and gallant Friend had begun his criticism a little earlier, there might have been earlier results.
§ Mr. Law
I said that I heard a great number of speeches from my hon. and gallant Friend, and that this was the first one in which I had heard him criticise the Government. So vehement was his criticism, and so impatient was it—I do not blame him for his impatience because this is obviously a matter of extreme urgency and the more impatient we are the better for the safety of the country—that he said that we had wasted one week already and that we ought not to waste any more time. I cannot help feeling that that is carrying impatience a little too far. After all, it is only just a week since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made this announcement. In that time we have had enrolled this vast army; area, zone and group organisations are already being set up and over a great many parts of the country they have been set up; uniforms have been issued, and the issue of arms and ammunition is proceeding. I do not think the House can say that really is a bad result for the first week. It is a result that will have to be kept up, and it will be kept up, but it is putting it a little too strongly to say that we have wasted a week and must not waste any more time.
My hon. and gallant Friend also put in a plea for the organised ex-service men in the British Legion, and said he would much sooner have seen this organisation transferred to a body of that kind.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member had better let the Minister make his speech at this late hour.
§ Mr. Law
I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. and gallant Friend, but I understood him to say that the British Legion should take over the organisation. A great number of other people have made that suggestion, and in case there are other Members who hold that view—apparently my hon. and gallant Friend does not hold it—I would only say that it would create rather an invidious position if one such organisation, however patriotic and disinterested it may be, were singled out and other equally patriotic organisations were not consulted. My hon. and gallant Friend can reassure himself that the fullest use is no doubt being made of the British Legion through local organisers in the Defence Corps. He pointed out that it was important that members of the force should be vouched for by those who knew their antecedents and character, and that is true, because we do not want any Quislings in the Force. I think he may be assured that it will be extremely difficult for any doubtful character to get into the Force, because each volunteer will have to be vouched for by his commanding officer all the way down the scale, and he will be vouched for personally and from personal experience.
With regard to his point about medical services for the Force, the position is that they will come under the Army medical services and they will also have the advantage of the local A.R.P. services, so they will be looked after fairly satisfactorily in that respect.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) made a most interesting speech in which he showed that that he, too, had a real grasp of the problems which face us in regard to this parachute menace. There is only one point on which I would differ from him, and that is his objection to the rifles being stored in magazines, as he described them, and his preference for their being handed to the volunteers themselves and kept as their personal property. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Lonsdale Division (Sir Ian Fraser) really gave a complete answer on that point.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I hope that the hon. Member really understands that many of these people join in order that they may have a weapon to defend their homes and families. It does not meet 275 the point if they are deprived of that opportunity.
§ Mr. Law
I think we understand that point of view, but I do not think it will deprive them of the opportunity if the arms are centrally stored. The effect of storing them would be, first, an economy in the use of weapons, and, secondly, that the control and discipline in the organisation would be better. We would not just leave it to the individual to take pot shots from his bedroom window at parachutists as they descended. That would introduce a certain amount of chaos. There must be full discipline and a certain amount of organisation in the Force. Members of it when going on duty must report at a centre and they can receive their arms when they report.
There is one other point, which my hon. Friend did not mention. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said that the real thing behind this decision was the desire that no rifles should get into the hands of the working class. That, if I may say so, is complete nonsense. There is a fear behind this, of which the House must be aware, of arms getting into the hands of some unknown persons of the Fifth Column. That is another reason why they should be kept in a central magazine, and not distributed among people who, however careful they may be, may lose track of them and allow them to get into the hands of individuals who should not have them. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) asked for an assurance that other and new measures were being undertaken to deal with this menace. I can give him that assurance, but it is obvious that it would be impossible to give details of what is intended, because to give such details to the House of Commons and to the public is to give them also to the enemy. My hon. Friend may be assured that this problem is regarded with the utmost seriousness by the War Office, and that the most earnest and serious efforts are 276 being made to solve it and to combat the menace of parachute troops. I should add that nothing that has been said in the Debate to-night will in any way embarrass the authorities; on the contrary, everything that has been said, even in criticism, will inspire them to see that everything possible is done to make this Force a real effort in the defence of this country.
§ Sir J. Lamb
Might I ask my hon. Friend for a reply as to the relations between this Force and the police force?
§ Sir J. Lamb
I made the special point that during the war these people might be necessary to stop traffic or to stop individuals and interrogate them.
§ Mr. Law
Perhaps I may inform my hon. Friend about this matter after the Debate. The point raised by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price), was whether or not a member of the A.R.P. organisation could join the Local Defence organisation. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said at the beginning of the Debate that whether or not a member of the A.R.P. could join this organisation was left to the discretion of the local A.R.P. authority. The hon. Member said that he had tried to join up and had not been allowed to do so, on the ground that he was engaged in the local A.R.P. The only conclusion one can draw from that is that he is too efficient an A.R.P. worker.
§ Question, "That this House do now Adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter after Eleven o'Clock.