HC Deb 17 September 1940 vol 365 cc86-9
7. Mr. R. Gibson

asked the Secretary of State for War how many applicants under 65 years of age for enrolment in the Home Guard have failed on physical grounds to satisfy the medical officers; how many applicants have satisfied the medical officers on grounds of fitness but have been refused the right to serve in the Home Guard because they were over 65 years of age; and whether he will now remove the bar attaching to the upper-age limit for admission to the Home Guard and allow enrolments where the medical officers report the applicants to be fit for special or general duties?

Mr. Eden

There is no medical examination of applicants for enrolment in the Home Guard. As regards the age limit, I would refer my hon. and learned Friend to the answer which I gave him on 13th August.

Mr. Gibson

Will not my right hon. Friend reconsider this matter? Am I to gather from the first part of his answer that it is now possible for men over 65 to enrol in the Home Guard?

Mr. Eden

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is assuming much too much.

Mr. Gibson

Is there no hope for these men over 65?

8. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a battalion commander in the Home Guard is required to keep seven different accounts and to furnish 10 different returns weekly or monthly and, in effect, to fulfil all the obligations of a Regular Army unit without any staff or machinery to enable him to do so; and what action he proposes to take to rectify this position?

Mr. Eden

Instructions have been issued that work of this kind is to be reduced to a minimum, and battalion commanders are provided with administrative assistants to help them in carrying it out. My hon. and gallant Friend will realise that the amount of administrative work will vary from area to area according to the density of the population and the nature of the duties to be performed, but he may rest assured that the Home Guard authorities are fully alive to the importance of this question, and that every effort will continue to be made to keep down the number of returns.

Sir T. Moore

May I ask, not that the Home Guard authorities should be made aware of this, but that the War Office, which is inevitably the final arbiter on this question, should be made aware of it? In view of the fact that Home Guard battalion commanders are busy men, occupied from day to day with other duties, it is perfectly impossible for them without an adequate accountancy staff to maintain their returns.

Mr. Eden

I fully appreciate that, but I am not sure that the War Office is the final authority. I think if it were, there would not be any paper at all.

Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise

Does my right hon. Friend realise that unless there is an improvement in the situation, the system will break down? I hope he is aware of that and that, if he is not, he will take this matter seriously.

Mr. Eden

I have been into this matter, and I entirely sympathise with what my hon. and gallant Friend says. It does vary from area to area, and we are trying to secure uniformity so far as conditions permit.

18. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for War whether consideration has been given to the altered nature of the duties and organisation of the Home Guard during the coming winter months; and when he expects to be able to make an announcement?

Mr. Eden

I agree with my hon. Friend that winter will necessitate some reconsideration of times and conditions of duty assigned to the Home Guard. I am not prepared to make any further statement in public.

Mr. Mander

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement, in secret perhaps, as to the changes contemplated?

Mr. Eden

I do not know about that.

19. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for War whether permission can be granted to zone commanders in the Home Guard to purchase steel helmets for those under their command in areas where special precautions against falling shrapnel are required and where the War Office is unable to provide supplies; and whether he is aware of the special requirements in this connection of certain areas to which his attention has been called?

Mr. Eden

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is taking over any stocks of steel helmets which conform to the War Office specification, including any which had been rejected for minor defects but which are considered to give adequate protection. These had been rejected when stocks were ample for the Regular Forces. Steel helmets are being issued to the Home Guard as rapidly as supplies allow, preference being given to those areas where the military need is judged to be greatest.

Mr. Mander

Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied with the very small percentage supplied with steel helmets in certain industrial areas to which his attention has been called?

Sir William Davison

On a point of Order. Is it desirable that these things should be made public?

23. Mr. Wedgwood

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a Major Bisgood sent to Members of Parliament a letter stating that he commanded a battalion of the Home Guard, criticising the refusal of the War Office to allow the use of regular military titles to area, group, section, etc., commanders of the Home Guard; whether he is aware that the same gentleman, controlling the Isleworth Home Guard, requested the resignation of one of his privates for attending the Osterley training school; and what steps he proposes to take regarding this commander?

Mr. Eden

I am aware of the letter to which my right hon. Friend refers, and it has been pointed out to the writer that, while advocating a formal military system of ranks for the Home Guard, he has himself departed from one of the principles of military discipline in making his representations otherwise than through the normal channels. As regards the second part of the Question, the officer concerned denies that he has dismissed any member of his battalion for attending the Osterley Park School.

Mr. Mathers

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very strong and widespread support for the point of view expressed by Major Bisgood?

Mr. Eden

I am aware that there are two points of view in this matter as in many other matters.

Mr. De la Bère

Is it not all a question of common sense and good will?