HC Deb 06 November 1940 vol 365 cc1347-54
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Sir Edward Grigg)

I ask your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to make a short statement on the Home Guard. The Army Council has had the rôle and requirements of the Home Guard under careful review and has taken decisions which I desire to submit to the House. The Prime Minister has said that the Home Guard are as much a part of the Army as the Grenadier Guards. That statement was no mere compliment; it was a declaration in terms which no one can mistake of the military status and value of the Force. The Home Guard consists, it is true, of soldiers raised to fight in small detachments near their homes, without that organisation into mobile battalions, brigades and divisions which is necessary for a regular Field Force. But its military value for the important purposes which it serves is in no way impaired—on the contrary, it is in some ways enhanced—by its special character as an auxiliary part-time force.

In this character it is essential to our defence system for the duration of the war, and we desire on that account to give its organisation, which has hitherto been largely provisional in character, a firmer and more permanent shape. But the House will, I am sure, agree that in doing this we should not seek to alter its local and friendly character. Though this is a deeply united country, it is immensely various; and the Home Guard reflects its almost infinite variety of habit and type. That home-bred quality must not be impaired in order to secure the uniformity and organisation which are necessary for armed forces of other sorts. We want the Home Guard to have a military status as unimpeachable as that of any Corps or Regiment; we want it also to be equipped with an administrative system which provides for its requirements without too much formality or what is called "red tape"; we want it, finally, to have all the opportunity of further training for which it asks. But we do not want it to be trained or strained beyond its powers as a voluntary spare-time Force.

First, then, as to its rôle and the training required for it. The Home Guard exists for home defence in the most literal sense. Its members have joined up in order to give to the defence of their own localities all the time which they can spare, by hard living, from their normal work. Its military rôle is, in fact, to reinforce the defences of the country by providing local garrisons for communications, vulnerable places and key-points, as also by giving timely notice of enemy movement to the commanders of mobile troops. With the longer nights, when normal employment over-runs both dawn and dusk, it cannot maintain its summer standard of vigilance. There should, however, be no difficulty in reducing the calls upon it during the winter months. Where the task of a section is to defend a locality in exposed conditions, it need only be held in readiness to man its posts at short notice, should the emergency arise. Watches, in-lying pickets and patrols can be limited to such as can be maintained on a shift system by those who can afford the time. Needless picketing or patrolling should be discouraged, and attention turned to training instead. A simple manual for Home Guard training has already been issued. Much of it can be carried out under cover, and authority has been given for renting or otherwise obtaining the accommodation required. Exercises can be carried out at week-ends when the members of a unit are free to take part in them.

I would add that the training of the Force is not as uniform in principle at the present moment as it ought to be; there are places such as factories and the central area of some cities where its rôle has not as yet been adequately worked out. Within certain broad limits its duties must vary from place to place; but those limits should be scrupulously observed, and every section should be clearly apprised of the duty for which it is needed and for which it should train. Drills and parades are not as essential to the training of Home Guard units as they are to that of Regular troops, though Home Guards, like all other good troops, like turning out occasionally for a church parade or other ceremony and marching for all to admire behind a band. That does good to everyone. Nor is the Home Guard intended to organise or train for mobile action on any but the most limited scale. The highly laudable military zeal of local leaders in these directions may at times have outrun its proper rôle. The higher commanders should watch and, where necessary, check such tendencies, in order that the strength and contentment of the Force may not be impaired.

I think, Sir, that the House and the Home Guard itself will be satisfied with this broad definition of its winter rôle. I would, however, add two things. In the first place, we are providing for the training of instructors and leaders, and have for that purpose taken over the school started with much public spirit by Mr. Edward Hutton at Osterley, with the Osterley staff. In the second place, we recognise that compensation should be paid for loss of wages, if the Home Guard is called out for whole time emergency service, which prevents its members from doing their normal work, under direct orders from the higher Regular Command. Such compensation would if the occasion arises be subject to the same limitations and conditions generally speaking as apply in the case of the Civil Defence Services.

I come now to the questions of status, administration and command, which are to some extent intertwined. Operational command of the Home Guard is vested in the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, who exercises it through the regular Commands. This arrangement is, of course, essential, since the Home Guard is an indispensable element in the system of military defence for which the Commander-in-Chief is responsible. On the administrative side, however, this new Force, which is five or six times as large as the peace-time Territorial Army, is in our opinion now entitled to a Director-General and a fully equipped directorate of his own. We have therefore decided that the Inspector-General on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief shall be replaced by a Director-General, Home Guard, who will have his headquarters in the War Office and will bring together the administrative staff which has hitherto worked partly under Sir Alan Brooke and partly under Sir John Brown. There will still, however, be an Inspector-General as well as a Director-General of the Force, and that post of Inspector-General will be filled by General Lord Gort, who will combine it with the other duties already entrusted to him.

Not less important is the question of rank. At present, as the House knows, there are no ranks in the Force, but only appointments with unfamiliar titles to various ranges of command. This is not an altogether satisfactory arrangement, though, thanks to the Home Guard itself, it has served for a period of emergency very well. Its defects are obvious, and I need only summarise them very briefly. In the first place, the fact that under this arrangement Home Guard commanders are only private soldiers vis-a-vis the officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers of the Regular Army imposes upon them and also upon the higher Regular Command a disability which might prove serious. This is no mere question of punctilio. The Home Guard numbers in its ranks many officers of wide experience in the three Armed Services; and the Commander-in-Chief has drawn attention to the fact that one of these might very well be the most reliable commander of troops in his locality, should that Locality find itself isolated in the mixed fighting which an invasion or an air-landing might produce. Unless, however, that Home Guard commander held an active commission of some sort, he could not be placed in command of any but Home Guard troops and would in fact be subordinate to any Regular officer or non-commissioned officer who happened to be on the spot. In the view of the Army Council and also of the Commander-in-Chief this very serious limitation to the responsibility which may be laid upon Home Guard commanders should be removed; but that is impossible under the Army Act unless Home Guard commanders are granted King's Commissions in some form. Some such change is therefore essential if the country is to have full value from the first-rate soldierly material which the creation of the Home Guard has mobilised.

In the second place it is a constitutional rule in this country, long safeguarded by this House, that all commanders of armed forces should be bound by a definite responsibility to the State—that is, to the King in Parliament. To fix that responsibility there must be some commission or charge which sets it out in terms. Last but far from least is the matter of custom and sentiment. Members of the Home Guard are using the familiar military titles for their commanders, despite the Army Council Instruction setting out the list of unfamiliar titles by which those commanders are supposed to go. It is, indeed, natural to assume that a Force which forms part of the Army should be commanded by colonels, captains and corporals, as the rest of the Army is; and we have had strong evidence from all ranks of the Home Guard that it will never feel assured of full and unassailable military status while these familiar ranks and titles are denied.

All these, Sir, are potent arguments, and they have overcome our anxiety lest the militarisation of the Home Guard in this way should impair its present informality and introduce an undesirable rigidity into the relations of officers, non-commissioned officers and men. We are, indeed, satisfied that the necessary change can be made without consequences of that kind. His Majesty has therefore been pleased to direct that King's Commissions shall be granted to all approved commanders in the Home Guard, and that the Force shall also have a suitable complement of warrant and non-commissioned ranks. The commissioned, warrant and non-commissioned officers will bear the traditional titles of their rank. The necessary Order-in-Council will in due course be laid before the House, and a full statement on the nature of the proposed commissions will then be made. The commissions will be commissions in the Home Guard and normally limited to the exercise of command over Home Guard troops; but they will enable the higher Regular Command to place Home Guard officers in command of all troops, Regular or other, in any given locality should a specific emergency require. They will also define the Home Guard officer's responsibility to the King in Parliament, and they will carry with them the military titles traditional for each rank. But those will be the only changes which they will introduce. The conditions of service in which volunteers are enrolled will not be altered at all. For example, officers will have no rights to disability pensions other than those obtaining for private soldiers; they will have no power of summary punishment; and discipline will depend, as at present, upon the team spirit of all ranks. We are indeed satisfied with the informal but effective discipline now ruling in the Force. It breathes the spirit of the old train-bands, and we do not wish to impair that democratic and very British spirit in any way.

I would, in conclusion, deal briefly with equipment and finance. The present grant of £1 per head was provisional and has proved unsatisfactory in some respects. The cost of transport, training accommodation and subsistence allowance varies greatly from county to county and cannot therefore be fairly met out of a capitation grant which is per head the same for all. We propose accordingly that these shall be dealt with separately. The new capitation grant will be limited to clerical assistance and miscellaneous charges such as typewriters, postage, stationery and telephones. For these purposes, which are all important now that the Home Guard is taking permanent form, we hope to give the County Associations not only adequate funds but reasonable discretion in the use of them.

As for equipment, a very considerable range is now on issue to the Home Guard. I need not trouble the House with all the items on the list, but will confine myself to the most important, namely, arms and uniform. Rifles, automatic rifles, machine-guns and grenades will very shortly be available for the Home Guard on a scale which represents full armament for 1,000,000 men. Discrimination has, of course, had to be exercised in the issue of these arms, not only between area and area, but also between Horne Guards enrolled for general duty in their locality and Factory Guards, since the latter are organised in numerous watches and could not make adequate use of a full complement of arms; but we hope to complete the issue before long. With regard to uniform, battle-dress is being issued on a large scale and will before long be available for the whole Force; denims will be withdrawn. Greatcoats cannot be supplied in adequate numbers before the winter comes on, and we have therefore arranged for a large issue of trenchcapes, a warm and serviceable garment made of waterproofed service serge. There has been a serious shortage of steel helmets for the Home Guard at a time when they were urgently required, and we realize how galling this has been, particularly since the Civil Defence Services, which were earlier in the field, have been fully supplied. But my right. hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has made new arrangements, and we hope for a much larger weekly issue in the near future.

I hope the House will forgive me for inflicting these details upon it. All are of importance to the efficiency and contentment of the Home Guard, which richly deserves all the consideration that Parliament and the War Office can give it. Never was a Force so formidable more quickly or more cheaply raised. Sir, the debt owed by this country in recent weeks to many sections of its population, city dwellers and industrial workers no less than those who carry arms, is beyond compute; but no section has rendered finer service than those who, through the length and breadth of the country, have given their energy and ability to the organisation of this Force, and given them without stint. The War Office makes no claim to the achievement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's appeal did not create, it simply released, a pent desire for service which has given us more than three times the numbers at which we aimed. From end to end of the land patriotic men have devoted time, pains and in many cases private resources as well to the manifold needs of the Force. We hope by these new arrangements to show that the high value of their services is recognised by the State.

Mr. Lawson

I am sure the House has heard with considerable satisfaction the hon. Gentleman's statement on this very valuable Force. I should like to ask him whether it is intended to bring more actively into the organisation that important section of the Home Guard known as the Factory Guards. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the equipment and training of the Factory Guards leaves very much to be desired, and that there is great dissatisfaction among the men because they feel they are considered as guards of special enterprises rather than as members of the Home Guard?

Sir E. Grigg

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. We are extremely anxious that Factory Guards should not be regarded merely as guards of private enterprise, but as guards over the safety of their locality, and steps will certainly be taken to see that that principle is carried out.

Sir P. Harris

I wish to ask the Patronage Secretary whether we may have a very early opportunity of discussing this important and most comprehensive statement, which ought to be the subject of a full Debate?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Margesson)

Certainly, if it is the wish of the House that there should be a Debate on this subject, the Government will do their best to provide for it.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward

Will my hon. Friend have his statement printed in pamphlet form and issued to all ranks of the Home Guard, as I think it will give them very great satisfaction?

Sir E. Grigg

I will consider that.

Mr. Bellenger

With reference to the hon. Gentleman's remark that the Home Guard are as much an integral part of the Army as the Grenadier Guards, does this foreshadow any change in the terms of service?

Sir E. Grigg

No, Sir. I said that there will be no change in the terms of service.

Mr. Bellenger

I was referring to the notice they can give when they want to leave the Service.

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