§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of the Bill which is now before the House is to establish the Home Guard on a voluntary and limited basis in time of peace. I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I start by giving some general comment on the Bill itself and then outline the structure and role of the Force proposed, together with an indication of the Regulations which will be consequential to the passage of the Bill. I then propose to say something of the reasons which have convinced His Majesty's Government of the necessity of introducing the Bill at this time.
With regard to the Bill itself, I think the majority of hon. Members will agree that it is a comparatively simple and straightforward Measure. There will, I know, be many comments concerning the detail of the Bill on the Committee stage, but as it is drafted the Bill follows closely the lines of the Defence Regulation which was put before the House in 1940 and which preceded the creation of the Local Defence Volunteers, which ultimately became the Home Guard.
The Bill is confined to matters of broad principle, but there is a general provision in Clause 1 (3) enabling details consequential on the passage of the Bill to be tabled and placed before Parliament, subsequent to its passage, in the form of Orders and Regulations.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
Will those Orders be of such a nature that they can be debated or prayed against?
§ Mr. Head
I am coming to that in a moment.
The House, I know, is both anxious and to some extent resentful of this particular method of legislation, but in the case of Bills dealing with the Armed Forces I think it is essential to use this procedure. Not only do I think it is justified in this case, but there is ample precedent for this system of legislation. I 578 draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that in framing the Bill in this way we are only following the procedure which was adopted in the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, and in the Army Reserve Act, 1950.
Most of these Regulations which will be laid before the House—and I will outline them in general terms in a moment—are almost entirely concerned with subjects which normally would be contained either in Army Council Instructions or in Army Orders. They can be subject both to Parliamentary Questions and to an Adjournment debate. The Bill as at present laid before the House differs from the old Regulations in that no powers whatever of compulsion are contained within the Bill.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Regulations can be subject to an Adjournment debate. Is that what he really means or does he mean that they can be prayed against?
§ Mr. Head
I meant exactly what I said—"Adjournment debate."
No powers of compulsion whatever are contained in the Bill. The Force proposed is entirely on a voluntary basis, and it goes so far that there are no penalties which can be given against a man who does not turn up for the execution of his duty. The only time in peace when a member of this voluntary organisation is subject to military law is while he is actually engaged in training or exercises, or in the execution of part-time duty or when he is mustered.
The Bill contains in Clause 3 (2, c) a definition of the conditions under which mustering can take place. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that mustering can only take place if it is justified forresisting an actual or apprehended attack or … taking part in measures for dealing with the effects of an attack.That is to say, mustering is entirely a war-time measure.
Hon. Members will, perhaps, want some added explanation of what is meant by mustering in the event of war. It is not proposed, and never would be proposed, that the whole of the Force in war-time should be mustered for any period. The only conceivable situation in which such a step could take place would be if there 579 were a threat of some very large scale seaborne invasion. The question of mustering is, in effect, limited, and is intended to be limited, to measures to deal with an immediate and local crisis: that is to say, if in some area an attack had occurred, it would be in the power of the Commander, U.K. Land Forces, or the G.O.C.-in-C. concerned, to muster some section of the Home Guard to deal with that particular critical situation. But it will only be used in a period of crisis and it will not be used over a protracted period.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am not clear about subsection (2), where both conditions have to be complied with. That is to say, the men must be both being trained and mustered—or should it be either one or the other?—before they will come under military law.
§ Mr. Head
I hoped I had made it clear that in time of peace, the volunteer in the Home Guard, when taking part in training or exercises, is under military law. He is not under military law when he is living at home and does not turn up for exercises. The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that if a man does not turn up, there is nothing in the Regulations which enables his commanding officer to take any disciplinary action.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. and learned Member knows more about words than I do, but the remainder of the House seemed to understand my meaning. When mustered to meet a critical situation, the members of this organisation would be subject to military law.
I point out also, in my references to the Bill, that there is a special and small Clause to ensure that any member of Parliament joining the Home Guard will be secured from becoming unseated. Unless this Clause had been introduced, a Member of Parliament joining the Home Guard might have been capable of being unseated for holding an office of profit under the Crown. I assure all hon. Members that there is no danger whatever in their approaching a recruiting office. Indeed, this safeguard about recruiting offices will, I am sure, be some assurance to the hon. Member for 580 Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who had a somewhat unfortunate time in those institutions.
As I have said, the Bill contains provision for the introduction of Regulations. I think the House will want to know the general details of the Regulations which we propose to introduce consequential to the Bill. I assure the House that we have worked out the broad lines of these Regulations. A good deal of detailed work remains to be done and that will be done in consultation with the Ministries concerned and also in close consultation with the Joint Advisory Council. In the conception which we propose for the Home Guard we have kept the numbers as low as possible. We have kept it, consistent with the tasks they have to perform, to the minimum numbers which we think capable, first, of fulfilling those tasks at short notice and, second, of being capable of rapid expansion if and when the need arises.
This figure, which I will give to the House, has been arrived at by accepting two different states of readiness for the Home Guard. As we see it the task of the Home Guard, in general, will either be the guarding of vulnerable points, particularly key industrial factories making important components for war, the guarding of aerodromes and kindred installations, and assistance of the Civil Defence organisation in the event of heavy air attack.
We have considered the various requirements of these commitments and we have found that the best solution to meet these requirements was to draw a line approximately between Flamborough Head and Selsey Bill, which, in its passage from North to South, covers the county boundaries. We have decided that east of that line the Home Guard battalions will be raised to effective strength and that commitment will be for about 100,000 men and that area will exclude the area of London. The remainder of England, Wales and Scotland will be put on a different state of readiness.
It is in that area that the main provision will be for vulnerable points and for that area we propose that the Home Guard battalions shall be on a cadre basis and that cadre basis we have estimated at approximately 50 men per battalion. These cadres in the remainder of the area will take all precautionary steps in order 581 to make them capable of fulfilling their task at short notice. They will be issued with, and store, arms. They will study the tasks they would have to fulfil on mobilisation and they will prepare plans in the light of that study which will enable them quickly to mobilise and fulfil the tasks they are allotted under the scheme. This commitment for the remainder of the country will amount to between 20,000 and 25,000 men.
In addition to the total of those two commitments, we have allowed ourselves some margin over and above so that when all the tasks, especially in the Eastern areas, are studied we can, in accordance with further study of those tasks, and in accordance with recruiting, exceed that number by a small margin—but it is not considerable.
§ Mr. Head
If the hon. Member will allow me, I am coming to that in a few moments and I will outline the conditions of the Home Guard. The question will be fully answered, but I think it better to do so in the course of my speech.
We have allowed ourselves some margin. I think I should tell the House that, on the assumption that this voluntary Force was recruited to full strength and making all allowance for such things as hirings and allowances and for the Home Guard itself, the absolute maximum cost in a full year—which, of course, will not be next year—would amount to about £2,500,000.
The tasks of this Force, as I have said, will be largely confined to the defence of vulnerable points and aerodromes and to assistance to Civil Defence. I know very well that in the House there has been a certain amount of talk regarding the possibility of combining the Home Guard and the Civil Defence organisation so that one could have a co-ordinated Force with the ability to switch from one requirement to the other. I am aware that that idea has certain attractions, but I can assure the House that we have gone into it very carefully and, after due consideration, found it unworkable. Hon. Members may say that even this limited recruitment of the Home Guard will interfere with recruitment and the gradual building up of Civil Defence.
582 I do not think that suggestion is valid, because I think it has been the experience so far that many men have been undecided as to whether they should join the Civil Defence or the Home Guard because they have not known whether or not any Home Guard would be created in peace-time. That uncertainty is now resolved and I believe the fact that that uncertainty is removed will stimulate recruiting for the Home Guard and also make their own position quite clear to potential volunteers who are uncertain about which Force they should join.
As I said when the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) interrupted, the House will wish to know about the general conditions of the Force we propose. Any male can join this Force entirely voluntarily between the ages of 18 and 65. The following will not be eligible: members of the Regular Forces of the Crown, members of Sections A, B or D of the Army Reserve, members of the Supplementary Reserve and members of the Territorial Army.
The following are eligible to join without any restriction whatever: Regular Army Reserve Officers, officers of the rank of colonel and above over 58 and lieut.-colonels and below over 53; members of the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers over the age of 51; and all members of the Z Reserve who are over 46. In addition, I would like to make clear to the House that any of those I have mentioned who are under those age limits may also join this Force with War Office approval.
I stress that because it is to be hoped that many officers and Z reservists under those age limits will join this voluntary Force. I can assure those who are considering it that the War Office will be most generous in giving permission. Any officer or man who is not immediately liable for Reserve recall will, so far as possible, be given that permission and I am convinced that their presence in a Force of this type would be of the greatest value, especially when those officers and men have had experience in the last war.
§ Mr. Head
This includes Class Z. As far as the Navy and the Air Force are 583 concerned, I cannot make an announcement today, but that will be made clear. I would stress, however, that the joining of this voluntary Home Guard Force does not absolve a man from eventual liability for his Reserve service. But I would point out, also, that a man who joins this Force and has not an immediate liability for Reserve recall but might stay with the Force for, say, six months after the outbreak of war during peace-time and in the early stages of war, would have fulfilled a most important task in the Home Guard.
Service in this voluntary Force will be for two years on engagement and it can be extended for one year at a time. Discharge—and this again stresses that it is an entirely voluntary conception—may be obtained by any volunteer consequent on his making application in writing to his commanding officer and the elapsing of one month from that date. As far as compulsory discharge is concerned, if any volunteer is considered unsatisfactory by his commanding officer he may be dismissed from the Force under the Regulation, "Services no longer required." No man in the Force, except when mustered, will be called upon to live away from home, to serve full time, or to be subject to military law, except when actually training.
There will be no pay whatever in the Force. Allowances will be granted on the general lines of those granted to Civil Defence personnel. They will cover subsistence and disablement and they will also cover such matters as travelling, motor mileage, and so on. All these allowances will be on a flat rate irrespective of rank; there will be no differentiation between the private and the colonel.
Administration of the Force will be by commands through the Territorial Associations. It is our aim to ensure that administration should be done to the largest extent possible by commands of Territorial Associations, and it is not proposed to build up any organisation within the War Office for centralised control. That, I think, will be popular among the Force itself and will ensure that there is no large organisation of form-filling paper work, "red tape" or staff. Some allowance will be made to the Force for a permanent paid administrative staff, as in the case of the 584 last war, in the shape of the adjutant quarter-master and P.S.I. storeman for battalions raised and the operational command of the Force will be carried out by the Commander of U.K. Land Forces through commands.
I am against having any fixed maximum for training. I think hon. Members will agree that if we stated a maximum it might inspire the over-zealous commanding officer of a Home Guard to attempt to reach the actual target maximum. For that reason we have avoided doing that, but have laid down a minimum period of training over a long period of three months—to avoid any difficulty which might happen if the period were a week or a month—in respect of harvest, snowbound conditions, and so on. It has been laid down that every Home Guard formation shall carry out 15 hours' training per quarter—just over one hour a week—
§ Mr. Head
The right hon. Gentleman says it is as much as the T.A., but the T.A. have much greater commitments and I would point out that this is an entirely voluntary Force.
I do not believe that those who volunteer for the Force would wish it to become a farce in which they did not carry out their training properly. I am not at all anxious about the fulfilment of this modest commitment, but I am anxious that there might be too much zeal and too much training. Hon. Members will see that in this limited amount of training, the limited numbers proposed and the voluntary nature of the Force, there is no danger of any considerable interference with industry or with people's normal work.
Turning to facilities for training, the Territorial Army, as far as possible, will make available ranges and drill halls, but I am aware, as many hon. Members who are interested will be aware, that in certain areas there is congestion within the accommodation available for the Territorial Army and in the agricultural areas of the Eastern counties the drill halls available are too scattered and few to compete with the demand. Therefore, provision will be made for the hiring of local halls, and so forth, to facilitate training.
585 I wish to say a word about equipment. Every man will be equipped with a rifle or, where applicable, a sten gun and these arms, I assure the hon. Member for Dudley, will be stored locally and not taken home by the men.
§ Mr. Head
They will be stored locally under the control of the Home Guard organisation. I made some reference to P.S.I. storemen. They will be responsible for these arms; and I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no sinister motive in this Force.
The arms will be stored centrally in just the same way as in the Territorial Army, and there is no question whatever of men with arms being scattered all over the countryside. They will also be issued with a steel helmet and an arm band. I would like to able to announce today that we shall give to this Force battledress, greatcoats and boots, and I know equally well that the Home Guard themselves would like to have them. But the object of this Force, as I shall come to in a moment, is to increase the preparedness of our Territorial Forces; and if the issue of uniform were made at the present time, it would to some extent be defeating our object, because it would be made at the expense of the stores now earmarked for the rapid mobilisation of the Territorial Army.
It is our intention, as soon as the situation permits, to issue the Home Guard with uniform. But until that moment arrives the Home Guard will be given, in lieu, an allowance of £2 12s. per year to defray damage done to their own clothes when carrying out training and their duties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not think that is unreasonable, and I also hope that at a reasonably early date it will be supplanted by the issue of uniforms.
Hon. Members and would-be recruits will wish to know when registration for this Force will start. I am quite certain that whatever hon. Members may think of the Bill, they will agree that it is important to start the registration of volunteers as soon as possible after the passage of the Bill through the House. It is proposed that this will start after the preliminaries have been completed, and that should be very early in the new year—
§ Mr. Head
I do not believe that it is very relevant to the recruitment of volunteers whether or not the House is sitting. I do not anticipate that some recruits, burning with enthusiasm to volunteer, will say, "I must wait until the House is sitting."
I am afraid that I have wearied the House to some extent with a great deal of administrative details.
§ Mr. Head
I did explain that that was following precedent in these matters. I have so far as possible outlined to the House the intention of the terms and Regulations we propose to introduce subsequent to the passage of the Bill. But there are many hon. Members, especially on the other side of the House who will say, I think, "Why are you introducing this Measure now?" [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can see that my intuition has not failed me. They will say. "Why go beyond the stage to which the late Government got, of earmarking battalion commanders for this Force?"
The first point I would make, very strongly, is that the introduction of this Measure is not because His Majesty's Government think that war is any more likely—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member will contain his impatience I will elaborate a little more on that. I think all hon. Members will agree that if war does come—and pray heaven it does not—we would be complacent not to realise that it would come with great suddenness. We cannot expect a long period of ultimatums, and so forth, nor on a long period of what was termed the "phoney war." Therefore, hon. Members will agree that this country must have the ability to defend itself if war should come very suddenly.
They will, I think, also agree, it is an unescapable fact, that the present foreign situation is not one in which any Government could find it easy to retain a large number of prepared Forces in this country. Therefore I say, quite apart from other matters which I will raise, that the existence in this country of a Force of the nature I have outlined, capable of rapid expansion in war-time, is a very considerable asset in that respect. 587 But there is a more important reason than that for taking this measure at the present time.
I am convinced that the absence of a Force of the type I have outlined in this country does to a large extent stultify the steps which the late Government pursued, and which we are continuing, in order to increase our military preparedness now.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member says "Nonsense," but I hope he will do me the honour of listening to what I have to say. For the last two or three years what has been the policy of our late Government? It has been to call up the majority of the young men in this country years, and to put them on a liability of three-and-a-half years'. Reserve service. A major portion of these men went into the Army. Why? What is the justification for that use of manpower and for our very high expenditure on re-armament?
I would say to hon. Members that the main justification is that we are creating a Territorial Army which, through National Service and their part-time training, and the preparation of their arms, is capable of mobilisation and preparing to fight at very short notice. Hon. Members will agree that that is the main object of the policy of the Government in the past, and it is entirely different from the old system whereby it took a long time before the Territorial Army could mobilise. That is our effort and it has cost us a lot in manpower and money.
May I now call the attention of hon. Members to the likely situation if war suddenly came? Hon. Members will surely agree that we would be complacent and foolish if we did not expect that at the outbreak of war there would be a series of what one might term "incidents"—for one thing, sabotage. There are, and we cannot avoid it, a great many potential saboteurs in the country. A few explosions in factories would lead to a widespread demand for guards at vulnerable points. We cannot ignore that; it is a fact.
Secondly, with the present development of methods we should be extremely complacent also entirely to disregard the 588 possibility of even small-scale parachute raids on aerodromes and other important targets. We cannot dismiss that. Thirdly, we have inevitably to face the possibility of large-scale attacks on our cities, and in consequence, a demand by the Civil Defence authorities for assistance from military troops.
I want to direct the attention of the House to this point. Supposing war suddenly came upon us, and suppose the Home Guard was constituted in exactly the same way as the Government propose, and as it now is. For the first three or four weeks or more on the outbreak of war, the Home Guard, as at present constituted, would be engaged in forming, in getting volunteers and issuing arms and preparing itself. The demand for guards for vulnerable points and for aerodromes and from the Civil Defence authorities would have to be met. Who is going to meet it? The answer to that question—and of this I am absolutely convinced, because it happened in the last war—is that it would be met by Territorial Army divisions.
With those Territorial Army divisions we have National Service, we have three and a half years' part-time training and we have a re-armament programme to enable them to prepare to fight rapidly. Is not it a negation of that policy to accept that if war comes suddenly they will be scattered all over the country guarding vulnerable points, helping Civil Defence—
§ Mr. Head
I will give way after I have finished making this point. I suggest most seriously to the House that if we continue on that policy the money and the manpower we are expending on that high rate of preparedness is forfeit, because of this very liability; and I say, therefore, that the Force which we are proposing to form is an essential link in our general preparedness.
§ Mr. Head
I am saying that the Force we are now proposing, and hope to recruit, will be able to do that at once. That is the object of the Force and the justification for it. It is to free those Territorial divisions which we have created at such expense and effort. That is, in my opinion, the main justification for this particular Measure.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a variety of happenings which may occur. What he does not deal with is the use of the Home Guard in case of strikes. He himself, in a speech in this House on 13th September, 1950, advocated the forming of a Home Guard to deal with civil disturbances and strikes. Why does he not deal with that point now?
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman said:… there will be a serious danger of an outbreak by Communist sympathisers of sabotage and attempts to incite civil disturbance and strikes."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 13th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1233.]And he advocated the formation of a Home Guard along the pattern of that in France to break strikes.
§ Mr. Head
I can assure him that there is absolutely no intention in the creation of this Force of forming any strikebreaking unit. It is, I think, only fair to myself to point out that the excerpt quoted by the hon. Member was dealing with the outbreak of war—if and when 590 war comes. I do say, and I repeat again—
§ Mr. Head
If the hon. Member will let me reply to him, what I am saying is that this Force is to be created to deal with the difficulties of a situation which will arise in the event of war. I do not retract from anything I have said, and the hon. Gentleman is putting his head in the sand. He should realise that if we get into a war we have to face the likelihood of sabotage, and the likelihood that some elements in this country would strive to create unrest. What I am saying is that it is important to have a military Force prepared to fulfil this task and thus free the Territorial divisions.
§ Mr. Head
No; I do not think there is very much point in my giving way. I would say this to hon. Members and I would underline it very strongly: whatever they may think about this Force it is defensive in nature and deterrent in effect. I do not think that anybody can be disturbed by the proposition which the Government are putting to the House or that the Government can in any way be accused of being aggressive.
Hon. Members have often accused the War Office of preparing for the next war in terms of the last. The last war started with a very long period of "phoney" war. It is my contention that the existing organisation of the Home Guard is preparing for the next war in terms of the last, and I think it is very complacent and unwise. To meet the event of war occurring suddenly, we should organise such a Force in time to be able to fulfil these functions, and that, in our view can only be done by accepting the limited scheme which I have put before the House.
This new and entirely voluntary Force will be the heir to the example and standard established by its predecessor during the last war, and I think the House would like me once again to pay tribute to the selfless service which the Home Guard gave in the last war in rigorous and often very wearisome conditions. I feel confident that, after the passage of this Bill, the new Force will emulate and perhaps even excel the attainments 591 of the old Home Guard. I can assure the House that I am absolutely convinced of the necessity for this Measure, and, for myself, I count it a privilege that it has been my task to commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point? It is not a question of a dirty mind, but one of the Home Guard being concerned in the event of industrial unrest in peace-time. Would the Home Guard be mustered or called upon to take any part? May I have a categorical assurance? There is no question of a dirty mind.
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry, but I did not wish to make an all-embracing remark about a dirty mind, and, in that respect, I have made no charge of having a dirty mind against the hon. Member. Indeed, I am obliged to him for his question. The mustering of the Home Guard can only be done to meet an apprehended or actual attack. This is a peace-time Measure, and there is no arrangement whatever for the mustering of the Home Guard in peace-time.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War began by describing this Bill as simple and straightforward. I think it is simple, but certainly not straightforward. I now discover that, however simple the Bill is in its presentation, the explanations given by the right hon. Gentleman are very complicated indeed. They are far from simple, and I wonder that, in the presentation of this Bill, more detailed information was not given to the House.
If some of the specific items mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman had been included in the Bill, we should certainly have had more time for their consideration, and I am bound to say that, so far as my recollection goes, it is something in the nature of a precedent, except in cases of emergency. To introduce a Bill of a skeleton character, which is merely the framework of proposals which are in contemplation by the Department, seems to me to be quite unnecessary. After all, hon. Members are entitled to be furnished with a little more information when a Bill is presented, and I must 592 protest against the technique adopted by the Government in this case. However, we have to make the best of the situation, and that is what we propose to do.
The first matter to which I would direct the attention of hon. Members is the subject of delegated legislation. I always understood that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite resented the introduction of legislation of a delegated character. Indeed, I am not so sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself did not make many speeches on this score, or on this head. At any rate, some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they sat on these benches, made many speeches on this subject and always appeared to dislike delegated legislation.
§ Mr. Head
I entirely agree that a great many speeches were made on this subject of delegated legislation, but not in regard to provisions for the Armed Forces of the Crown. In every case, we supported legislation concerning the Armed Forces of the Crown, and there is a precedent for this particular Measure.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That only indicates a difference in sentiment. When it is a matter affecting the economy of the country, social conditions and the like, hon. Members opposite resent delegated legislation, but, when it is a matter of militarism, there must be no question about it.
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is, as I understand it, exactly where we are. It is a difference of outlook, and it is as well that it should be placed on record.
I want to know something about this form of delegated legislation. I have looked at the Bill, and the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman seem to me to be unconvincing. As I understood him, and he will correct me if I am wrong, he said that, as regards this form of legislation, the matters may be raised in the form of Questions and on Adjournment debates. Do I represent the right hon. Gentleman fairly? Very well.
Surely that is not enough. After all, to ask Questions in the House and to get the fatuous answers which we have already experienced from the Front Bench opposite is certainly insufficient, and, as for raising matters on the Motion for the Adjournment, the right hon. Gentleman 593 knows that we cannot raise questions involving legislation on Adjournment debates. I do not know whether he is already aware of that, but, if not, he will learn in time. However, I am not concerned with what the right hon. Gentleman knows; I am concerned with the rights of the House.
§ Mr. Head
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The whole point of this Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman, who is a former Minister of Defence, knows full well, is that, whenever such legislation is introduced for the Armed Forces of the Crown—and it is not a question of militarism on the part of the Government at all—it has been found impossible to make it subject to the negative Resolution procedure, for the reason that it concerns a mass of detailed administrative instructions which are normally given by Army Council Instructions and Army Orders. If the right hon. Gentleman were Minister of Defence, introducing a Bill like this, he would be in complete agreement with me.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am anxious to yield to the right hon. Gentleman if he wishes to interrupt me. This matter must be cleared up to the satisfaction of hon. Members.
Two distinct phases are contemplated. One is the registration of men, the congregation of men in certain places—and I shall refer to that subject a little later—and the other is the actual mustering of the Force. When it comes to the mustering of the Force, which means the embodiment of the Force for the purpose of dealing with an attack, obviously, hon. Members on this side—and I am venturing to interpret their views—would not seek to introduce Prayers or to deal with this form of delegated legislation in the normal fashion.
If we are subject to aggression, obviously, we have got to meet it, but before mustering takes effect, surely we have a right to adopt the methods of the Prayer, and the other devices so frequently employed by hon. Members opposite when the late Government was in power, for ensuring that the men concerned are being properly treated and that the rights and privileges of hon. Members are maintained?
I am not at all satisfied that we would agree to permit even an Army Council 594 Instruction, and goodness knows how many Army Council Instructions are devised almost every day of the week, of which hon. Members are not aware, except some few who are interested in the subject. I would never agree that an Army Council Instruction which affected men not actually embodied or mustered should not be subject to some consideration by hon. Members and I am afraid that this matter will have to be considered very seriously on the Committee stage, and I give the right hon. Gentleman warning.
The right hon. Gentleman, having dealt in his speech with some of the details which are absent from the Bill, then proceeded to give some reasons why the Bill has been promoted. His reasons were unconvincing, and I will give the reasons why that is so. No doubt my hon. Friends behind me will fill in the gaps. First of all, what is the actual reason for promoting the Bill at this time? Does the right hon. Gentleman apprehend danger from overseas? His answer is in the negative, and, indeed, he is fortified by the view expressed by the Prime Minister some time ago in the defence debate.
When I gave the figures of Soviet strength, the right hon. Gentleman considered, from my observations, that I was assuming that an attack was apprehended. Of course, I meant nothing of the sort. If no danger is imminent—and we are all delighted to know that it is so, and we hope that it will continue—why the registration, why the training of these men? Is it necessary to form this Force at this time? In our view, this Measure is mistimed.
The late Government did agree, and it is on the record, that a Home Guard Force should be raised in the event of an emergency, and I quite agree about that. I agree that, if a Government, in their wisdom, decides that the time has arrived when a Force should be raised, because danger is not remote then, obviously they are quite entitled to do so, and I would agree with them. A Force which is only to be raised when there has been mobilisation of the Regular Forces or the Reserve would not be of very great value. The Force has to be raised in preparation for an emergency, but I am of the opinion that this is not the time.
On the other hand, even assuming that this is the time, my reply is that there 595 are adequate Forces at our disposal. The right hon. Gentleman did not say anything about that subject, and so I would like to fill the gap. Let us consider what we have got. Let us not forget that the position today is quite different from what it was in 1939; it is vastly different. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly, the situation is perhaps more dangerous, in some respects, but, on the other hand, the strength of our Armed Forces is far superior today to what it was in 1939. In the event of an emergency, there are far more men available. We have the Regular Forces, which by the way, are very much larger in numbers than they were in 1939, although, at that time, we had the Indian Army at our disposal. The Army today is larger than it was in 1939.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that, relatively, we are stronger now, as compared with a potential enemy, than we were then?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am giving the conclusion to which I have come, and I really think that we shall have to have an open defence debate to discuss some of these matters and have it out then. I do not want to have a defence debate now; I am merely illustrating my first point that, in terms of Regular strength, we are stronger today than in 1939, although our Forces are scattered all over the world.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is a senseless interruption. If hon. Members object to what I say, they can speak later; we will afford them facilities.
I have dealt with the Regular Army. We have had National Service men subject to a Territorial liability of three and a half years, and these men are coming back into the Territorial Army at the rate of 9,000 a month. Within the next 12 months, and I have not got the exact figure in mind—I have not been in touch with the War Office lately, and, may I say, having left the War Office and the Ministry of Defence, I am not going to either of those Departments to ask for information, and that I do not expect any leakages either—I should not be at all surprised if there were 150,000 or 200,000 ex-National Service men associated with the Territorial Army.
596 Then we have the Territorial Army which now numbers over 100,000, and we have something more. In 1939, we had no Class Z or Class G men. Now we have more than three million Class Z reservists, and last year about 200,000 or so of those men were called up for 15 days' training. If there is apprehension about some danger or emergency, that vast reservoir of men can be tapped, and, therefore, there appears to be no reason at all why at this time we should have got this Measure.
Before I pass on, I want to comment on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and supported by my hon. Friend below the Gangway. It is whether this Force is to be used in times of industrial dispute. I can understand that when the men are mustered—because war will have begun by that time—they must be used to deal with civilian disturbances. I would not object to that in war-time, but can we have a quite definite assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that before the men are mustered and in training they will not be used during an industrial dispute? If we are to have such an assurance, it is better to have it in the Bill for then we should know where we were, because I will tell right hon. and hon. Members opposite—though they may not like it—that I would not trust the Tory Party promise in the matter.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the intention was to begin registration in January, that the men were to be asked to enrol voluntarily, and that when they enrolled they were to be incorporated into 50 battalions, I think he said. These battalions would be scattered about from Flamborough Head to Selsey Bill which, by the way, looks very odd to me. Why this particular geographical situation unless an attack is apprehended? If the Force were to be used all over the country sporadically, and perhaps spasmodically, I could understand it, but why this particular geographical situation? What is 597 the reason for it unless an attack is apprehended?
I return to the point that the right hon. Gentleman has declared quite categorically that the men are to register. They will number 50 battalions, and no doubt their numbers will be added to from time to time, perhaps during the next year. But we do not know what the numbers will be in the course of 12 months. What I particularly want to know is whether these men can be called up at any time of industrial dispute. If the right hon. Gentleman replies in the negative, then I suggest it ought to be in the Bill so that we may know where we are. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It does not matter if hon. Members interrupt me, because I intend to go on with my speech.
So much for that. I now want to deal with the point about competition with Civil Defence. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe that the raising of this Force would compete with Civil Defence. I am bound to say that I do not find that at all agreeable. I understand—and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that the Civil Defence Force at this time numbers about 130,000 persons. That is far from adequate.
If we do apprehend an attack of some sort, surely the right thing would be to build up the Civil Defence organisation and then proceed to enrol the Home Guard. Having decided to enrol the Home Guard, men will decide to go into one or other Force. Quite clearly, therefore, it will mean that those who want to go into the Home Guard will do so, and, by the same reckoning will not go into Civil Defence, with the result that we shall get a small number in Civil Defence and a relatively small number in the Home Guard.
In fact, we shall be getting the worst of both worlds. It seems to me that that competition is hound to take place, and the first thing the Government ought to do is to build up the Civil Defence organisation until it is regarded as relatively adequate—I hope hon. Members will note my qualification—and then proceed with registration for the Home Guard.
I come now to the question of finance, and I am bound to say that I am very much astonished. May I direct the 598 attention of hon. Members to the Financial Memorandum? It says:It is, therefore, not possible to estimate either the capital cost of setting up the force or the subsequent annual maintenance cost.But, having made that statement in the Financial Memorandum, the right hon. Gentleman then told us what it is going to cost—£2,500,000 a year.
§ Mr. Head
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he did leave out some of the earlier words in the Financial Memorandum. It says that it is not possible to estimate the numbers who are going to join. I do not know how many members will be in this Force six months or a year from now. All I told the House was that on the assumption that it was recruited up to the absolute ceiling, for a full year it would cost x, but I have not the faintest idea of what it will cost.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman has not told us what the ceiling is. Has he any idea of what it is going to be? I understood him to say that he intended to raise 100,000 in the first instance and a further 25,000 in various other parts of the country. But, surely, that is not the ceiling intended. Surely the ceiling must amount to many more than the numbers suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I should have thought that the ultimate ceiling would be in the nature of 1,000,000. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give me some idea?
§ Mr. Head
What I said was, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly states, that there would be 100,000 in one area and about 25,000 in another. We have allowed ourselves, on the peace-time basis, some margin to go beyond that figure. That maximum peace-time ceiling is about 170,000, but in peace-time we shall never go beyond that ceiling.
§ Mr. Shinwell
And that ceiling, on the assumption that it is reached, is to cost £2,500,000 in a full year. There is no provision for that in the Army Estimate for this year, and, therefore, we shall require a Supplementary Estimate which will increase the global expenditure on defence.
I understood we were not to increase our expenditure on defence, and that, having decided on a £4,700 million programme for three years, although we were not certain that we would spend the 599 money in that period—we might have a hangover—that was to be the limit. But now we are told, after the Government have been in office for only three weeks, that they are to increase military expenditure by another £2,500,000 in a full year. I suppose this is only the beginning. This is the Government which was going to cut down expenditure. Of course they are, but not on the military Services—that is a last consideration.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to the £4,700 million, I was told in reply to a Question which I asked that the cost of steel has increased by £20 million?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend, but that is another matter.
Now I want to come to the question of remuneration for these men. It is perfectly true that the patriotism of the Home Guard during the last war was beyond reproach. They enrolled and served voluntarily, and they asked for no remuneration of any kind, which was a credit to them. But, surely, the position is now rather different. The men are to be enrolled and are to undergo training equivalent to 60 hours a year—15 hours a quarter. An hour's training is one thing, but the men have to go to the place of training and return home, and I reckon that in all about two hours are involved.
The men are to receive no remuneration at all. Sixty hours a year means 60 drills a year, which is, in fact, more than the Territorial Army are expected to take in order to qualify for the £12 bounty. The Territorial Army are expected to undertake 30 drills a year, although it is true that they have to attend annual camp. I do not know whether it is intended that these men should attend annual camp.
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head but, at any rate, 60 hours a year seems to me to put these men on the same basis as the Territorial Army, and I cannot for the life of me understand why they should not receive some remuneration.
The right hon. Gentleman went a bit beyond this. After all, in days gone by, it was not unusual for hon. Members opposite when they sat on this side of the 600 House, to ask for more remuneration for men in the Forces. The right hon. Gentleman himself did so on many occasions. Indeed, he was never satisfied with what was done, and I look with eager and anxious expectancy to what the right hon. Gentleman will now do to raise the pay of the men in the Forces and to carry out some of the many suggestions he made when on this side of the House.
As I have said, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to go beyond what has been suggested in the pre-mustering period. When the men are mustered, he expects them to guard vulnerable points. Are they to guard these vulnerable points in their spare time, say, an hour or two a night? If they are to guard these vulnerable points, then, obviously, they are going to be employed most of the time—almost full-time, I would say. Unless we are to have vast numbers of men available to guard vulnerable points in this country, then, surely, it would require full-time employment. The right hon. Gentleman has certainly not given this any consideration at all. He does not know.
§ Mr. Head
The whole point is that in the event of war this Force will be expanded to something comparable to that in the last war—possibly up to 900,000. In those circumstances, supposing the right hon. Gentleman commanded a battalion of the Home Guard, he would have a Force of, say, about 1,000 men. [Laughter.] He would have two or three vulnerable points to guard, and he would make arrangements whereby a man in his battalion would be on duty to guard that point perhaps one night in eight or nine. He would volunteer to do it, and do it as it was done in the last war, but it would not be a full-time job.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I think we had better wait and see what happens. I should not be at all surprised to find these men undergoing this training and finding the training getting more intensive as time goes on, and, when mustered, asking for similar remuneration to that received by the Territorial Army.
There was, by the way, a little laughter about this Home Guard question in relation to myself. I happen to have been a member of the Palace of Westminster Home Guard and if I may say so—I do not know whether it is strictly in order 601 Mr. Deputy-Speaker—there were hon. Members in the Conservative Party, who had said a great deal about militarism in days gone by and had bragged of their military prowess and endurance and the like, who served with me in the Home Guard. All their activities and mine consisted of walking up and down the Terrace calling, "Who goes there?" and having innumerable cups of tea. They included some ex-brigadiers.
I am not going to refer to accommodation and similar matters, as I know my hon. Friends are anxious to speak, but I should like to conclude on one point. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considers that at this time it is desirable to proceed with a Bill of this character. I have already agreed that a time may come when it is essential to do so, but only the other day we had a speech from the Foreign Secretary indicating his desire to solve international problems by negotiations.
The United Nations organisation is meeting in Paris. There is a new atmosphere. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Certainly not as a result of the advent of a Tory Government; but there is a new atmosphere in the world. President Truman's declaration and the statements made by a number of other people at the United Nations Assembly and the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in Washington and Ottawa all contributed to what I believe is an improved atmosphere—I will not rate it higher than that.
Surely this is a wrong time to proceed with a Bill which apprehends immediate danger. Moreover, what will our friends overseas say about this? We have large Forces. We have more than 10 Regular divisions overseas, we have more than three million Class Z Reservists, apart from Supplementary Reserves and the like, the Territorial Army, National Service men, and so on. Now we are to set up this Force at home to deal with airborne attack. Does this mean we regard Europe as expendable? Will that satisfy our friends in France, Belgium, Holland and elsewhere?
It seems to me to be the wrong thing to do at this time, and although it is not our intention to oppose the Bill on Second Reading, because we agree with the formation of a Home Guard in time 602 of emergency, or when an emergency is apprehended, we shall introduce Amendments on the Committee stage to insert into the Bill safeguards on behalf of the men concerned and, in addition, safeguards to protect the privileges and rights of hon. Members and to ensure that nothing is done by this Tory Government to increase militaristic fervour in some parts of the country.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Brigadier Ralph Rayner (Totnes)
Unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I welcome this Bill with great pleasure. I was one of the first of Private Members to put down a Motion asking for the revival of the Home Guard, and I think this Bill will probably take us quite a long way.
I am not one of those who think war is inevitable. I think that Communism is a type of religious passion, and the way to quell a passion is to ennoble it and contain it and let it burn itself out. I feel that if in the next few years we can stop Communism from spreading and breaking out of its present borders we have a pretty good chance of a long period of peace. But today we have more legislation for more Defence Forces at more cost to the country, though my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has said that the cost of this Force will not be Very high because we are trying to revive a force which in the past was the best-equipped and best trained of any unpaid force in the whole world.
But I think it will be far more difficult to raise that Force on this occasion than it was last time. Last time every man who joined it had the great incentive of war, the feeling that by joining he was able to do something to save himself, his wife and his family and other people's families from having their backs broken by the rifle butts of an enemy who might make a landing. Now war is only a rumour, a possibility and a threat, and other incentives will have to be arranged. I am not quite sure what they will be.
Uniform, when it can be provided, is not much of an incentive to a great many men; and many of the old attractions of the Army, such as competition between platoons and companies and "get togethers," will be very difficult to organise in widely dispersed battalion areas. Therefore, leadership is vitally important on this occasion. If we can 603 get absolutely first-class battalion commanders they will collect first-class officers round them, and they will be able to attract men and keep them enthusiastic. I hope my right hon. Friend will take a long time and a great deal of care about selecting these leaders.
I was rather disappointed to hear him say that certain battalion commanders have been earmarked, because I should have liked a great deal more thought to have been given to the subject. I should have liked the War Office to have collected together ex-military secretaries and have an advisory committee to decide how the best local commanders in the areas could be selected. They are not necessarily the chaps with the most medals, or battalion or brigade commanders in the last war. It is local men with a great local standing and popularity who will bring the men in and keep them enthusiastic. I hope, therefore, that great attention will be paid to this question of leadership. If it is not, I am perfectly certain that the scheme envisaged by the Bill will be a flop.
On the question of mobility, I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that on this occasion we cannot expect to have that period of twilight, of moving from peace to war, we enjoyed in the past. We shall have to expect a sudden impact of the war next time, and maybe widespread parachute landings. Therefore, we have to regard this Force from the beginning as a mobile force. I suggest that together with the constitution of the Home Guard there should go forward the registration of owners of lorries and motor cars who, only if an emergency arose and not in the case of training, would be prepared to roll up battalion by battalion and section by section and make the Home Guard immediately mobile.
It is rather sad that at the end of 10 years of trying to make the people of this country socially secure from the cradle to the grave we find our society less secure than it has ever been in history—and that is the reason why we have to discuss this Bill this evening.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I rise to say a few words as one who played a very small part in the last Home Guard from the time it started 604 until it finished. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) that it will not be an easy proposition now to recruit the Home Guard again. Last time the present Foreign Secretary was able to rouse the patriotism that rests in almost all of our people, and they responded magnificently at once to the call for a force which would deal with any invasion.
But it seems to me the Government have introduced this Bill without any clear thought of what they mean or what the results are likely to be. I have spent some time looking through the records in HANSARD of references to the Home Guard by Members of the Opposition during the last Parliament and the replies given by Members of the Government. I found that, in particular, the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) figured largely in these Questions and debates.
It seems to me that now they might be usefully employed in a film prepared by the War Office for recruiting, with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely as a kind of Don Quixote with a bag of pennies which he could throw at his imaginary foes and the hon. Member for Maidstone with surplus apples from Kent.
But, to be serious, I pass to what the Minister said in his opening speech—that he conceived this organisation as one to deal with sabotage at the outbreak of war. I think that is something most unlikely to occur to any extent at all. It did not occur last time. It did not occur in the First World War. I well recall a lecture which I attended during the last war as a member of the Home Guard when someone from the War Office came down to tell us that in the event of invasion there was a potential army of saboteurs numbering 500,000 because, he said, there was that number of men unemployed. I resented that statement then; I resent the implication still, and I resented what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister said in his opening speech today.
There is no need to provide a Home Guard for such a contingency. I am not opposed—and I think my hon. Friends are not opposed—in principle to a Home Guard when a Home Guard is necessary; 605 but we object to such a Bill being introduced at this time when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has explained, there are very adequate Forces available for the defence of our country if an attack comes.
I am still not satisfied with what the Minister said when he spoke of an attack, because he did not say specifically that that would be an attack by a foreign Power. I hope that that is what is intended in the Bill and that that will apply. I have seen words in Bills and Acts twisted to mean all kinds of things and I am alarmed, too, that this simple Measure, as it is called, is to give powers of delegated legislation for almost the whole of the things which the Bill covers. I feel that instead of our having a Home Guard which has the unanimous support of the whole of the people in the country, the Government want to bring in a Measure which will divide the country almost irrevocably.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
I could say a lot of very controversial things, particularly after having heard the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell); but a lot of hon. Members want to speak and I shall not do that. I would say, however, that I think hon. Members opposite should be a little cautious in what they say about the use of the Home Guard or the Armed Forces in connection with industrial disputes in time of peace, because the two Socialist Governments since 1945 made greater use in peace-time of the Armed Forces against strikers than any other Government in this country have ever done.
I welcome the Bill, but I think it is very important to have, at the outset, quite clearly in our minds what the rôle of the Home Guard is to be. It is to be substantially different from what it was in the last war, and it is to have different functions in town and country. I have not got the "Collier's Weekly" mentality. I see the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has a copy of that particular offending issue. I do not regard war as inevitable, but I do realise that if ever war comes in our life-time it will be with Russia and her Communist satellites. I believe the Home Guard can be one of the de- 606 terrents to war. I believe that the call for volunteers to defend their own homes will still strike the same response as it did before.
I am bound to say that my conception of the rôle of the Home Guard in the countryside is not quite the same as that of my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill. He referred to the mustering of the Home Guard for the purpose of repelling a sea-borne invasion. I think its major rôle in the countryside is much more likely to be the repelling of an airborne invasion. I think it will have to deal with landings by enemy airborne forces if a war ever takes place. After all, the last war showed us—and I have some bitter experience of it myself—that if an airborne landing is not contained in its initial stages and if the invaders succeed in establishing dropping areas and landing strips, the situation becomes more and more dangerous every hour. I think the rôle of the Home Guard would be vital in repelling an airborne attack in the first hours.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the rôle in the towns would be very different. The Home Guard would assume responsibility for the protection and guarding of power stations, docks, railways and plant on urgent war production. In the event of attack it would have to hold strong points and block roads. I agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) to this extent, that the Nazi fifth column was never any real menace in the last war, but I do believe that in any armed conflict with the forces of Communism the Red fifth column might be a much more formidable proposition.
After all, we have to consider—I am not going into any details—what would be the rôle of the Home Guard in the event of the occupation of any part of this country by enemy forces. The Home Guard is, of course, a volunteer organisation, and I think it is most important that it should have the strongest possible local associations in hamlet, village, factory, docks, railway depôts, and so on. That was largely responsible for its success in the last war.
I remember going down to Essex to umpire a Home Guard exercise which had involved the retirement of the Home Guard of Coggeshall upon the adjacent 607 village of Earls Colne. We assembled afterwards in a place of refreshment and I asked the Home Guard what they thought about the exercise. They said they thought it had been very interesting and useful. Then one of the sergeants said, "You know, Sir, there's one thing we don't hold with, and that is fighting for Earls Colne. We joined the Home Guard to fight for Coggeshall. We're Coggeshall chaps."
That is the spirit which inspired the Home Guard, although it might not have been very convenient from the umpire's point of view. I make that point because I am rather perturbed about a statement I read, said to have been made by a high ranking officer, to the effect that the Home Guard must be a highly mobile Force. Mobile it must be, for the reasons I have explained, but mobile in the area it knows well and in which it is interested.
There is this question of mobility—the question of moving the Home Guard quickly within their own area. Luckily, a vehicle has been developed out of the Jeep which is used very largely in the countryside for civilian purposes, but which is eminently suitable for cross-country work. There are also in the countryside a considerable number of former Army vehicles which have been converted to agricultural use. I support the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner), that we should now take a census of that type of vehicle. It should also be borne in mind that the Home Guard have a possible use in giving necessary training, as volunteers, to persons in reserved occupations. I am not suggesting there should be any compulsion at all, but the Home Guard can obviously have such a use.
I suggest that in forming the new Home Guard we pay very careful attention to what has been done in Switzerland, because that proud and brave little nation has achieved a remarkable feat. In Switzerland every man between the ages of 20 and 60 who is fit and well is today a trained soldier. They keep their rifles and equipment in their homes. I am not going to argue whether that is the right thing or not, but that is what they do. As a result of that system of training, Switzerland could mobilise half a million men in three days and still have reserves 608 of about 350,000. I believe that we can learn something from the Swiss.
I want to make a suggestion to my right hon. and gallant Friend on the question of uniform. Could we not issue each member of the Home Guard with a suit of denim overalls? After all, we shall not want a tremendous number of them, and I cannot help feeling that the men would sooner train in some sort of uniform and, incidentally, something which they could wash quite easily at home after days in the field.
My final remarks are these. In the last war the Home Guard had a wonderful esprit de corps and morale. I should like to tell the House one more story which was told of my county—I expect it was told of every county in the country—about a young soldier home on leave at the time when we were retiring fast towards Alamein. A little pot-valiant, he said to some members of the Home Guard, "I cannot think why you old boys want to spend all your time strolling about in uniform and playing at soldiers." A sergeant with a Mons medal said, "I will tell you why, young man. These Nazis have made a job of chasing you out of Norway. They chased you Regular chaps out of France and Belgium. They are now making a good job of chasing you out of North Africa, and we are here to make certain they don't chase us out of here."
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I have no doubt that many old soldiers and Home Guards could reminisce in the way that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) has, and entertain the House with some acceptable and some unacceptable stories of their experiences.
But we are discussing this Bill, and at the outset I would disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner), who suggested to the Secretary of State that some former military secretary should be appointed to go through the list of potential battalion commanders to see that we get the best possible leaders. The Secretary of State said today that the War Office are not going to centralise this organisation, and I think they are wise, considering that it is to be organised on a territorial basis and, I presume, will come largely under the administration of the Territorial Army.
609 I think that on reflection the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that the best people to select the battalion commanders will be people who know about the possibilities of these men locally, and not a former military secretary who has been located at the War Office advising the Secretary of State on Regular Army appointments.
§ Brigadier Rayner
I suggested that a collection of ex-military secretaries should advise how commanders should be selected locally. I wish to emphasise that local selection was the point I had in mind. My point was to see that the best men should be selected.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That seems to be making confusion worse confounded. If, instead of one ex-military secretary, we are to have a committee of them, they will get bogged down right at the start. I think we had better leave it in the way which prevails at present, at any rate in regard to some of the junior appointments in the Territorial Force.
The only argument that I could gather from the speech of the Secretary of State which seemed at all convincing was the one he used about releasing a large proportion of the Territorial Army to perform some of these routine duties so that their time could be devoted more to work of a military nature. That sounds, on the face of it, a very plausible reason for the introduction of this Bill, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said, we on these benches would have no thought of preventing the Government from recruiting the Home Guard if the necessity were so urgent.
I cannot think from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks this afternoon that the situation is so urgent, or, if it is, that he is going to get the results for which he seems to be aiming. Take, for instance, the training obligation. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman told us that it would only amount to a matter of one hour or so a week, but he will know only too well that the old Home Guard had much more rigorous training than that, and the Home Guard which it is proposed to set up, if it were mustered in wartime, would have to undertake many of the duties which the old Home Guard performed during the war.
610 After all, if we are to accept the right hon. Gentleman's words at their face value, or at their nominal value, we cannot have a Home Guard trained to cope with possible invasion by sea or air with the meagre training which I understood the Secretary of State to say was to be undertaken by the Home Guard.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Surely the situation is very different. In the last war they were training men who had no war experience at all or who had been out of the Armed Forces since the 1914 war. In this case we shall have men who fought in the recent war and who have war experience. Very little training will be needed to bring them up to the required standard.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I doubt the force of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intervention. The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to say that Z Reserve men over 46 years of age are free to join, without any qualifications whatever, and no doubt they have considerable recent military experience.
Even so, I beg leave to doubt that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right when he says that many of the old Home Guard, in the last war, were men who had small military experience. It is true that their military service went back to the First World War, but they had what we hope many Home Guard will have—the soldierly virtues and experience which enabled them very quickly to assimilate such training as they had to do during the last war.
I have no reason to doubt the right hon. Gentleman's good intentions. Indeed, I have a "clean" mind on this matter. I think this Force would not be used to break strikes or anything like that, even if it were possible under the Bill to use it for such a purpose; because when we are recruiting men voluntarily, we do not get men in the Home Guard or elsewhere who would be willing to fight against their own comrades in a trade dispute.
We are long past the days when we could turn out the military in order to quell men who were demanding, often very vociferously and not by any pleasant methods, better wages or better working conditions. I would reject at once, therefore, any possibility that the Force could be used for such a purpose.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Every one who knows the history of this country knows what the Yeomanry did against the people in Manchester. My right hon. Friend should also know what was done in 1924 and 1925.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Both my hon. Friend and myself have been in the Forces and we know the type of men, whether they be the young conscripts or those, like many of us, who fought in the First World War. Moreover, just because of the reasons which my hon. Friend has advanced, and from past experience, we know that it is impossible for any Government today to utilise any military or para-military force for a purpose like that.
I say this to my hon. Friend—and I hope he will agree, because he knows that I agree with him quite often on military matters: he has that patriotism which sent him into the First World War as a volunteer, as it sent many more of us, and he knows what is the basis of any voluntary military organization—patriotism, love of country and love of one's countrymen, too. I hope he will agree with me, therefore, that nowadays, at any rate, we have an Opposition which is sufficiently strong to prevent any Government from undertaking any action of the sort he suggested, even if they felt inclined to embark upon it.
Let us keep to the essentials of the Bill. What I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman is this: if he wants these men only for guarding vulnerable points, I am not at all sure that he needs this type of organisation. Guarding vulnerable points is a special police job, on the lines that were followed in the First World War. If he wants only to guard vulnerable points—factories, and so on—he could probably recruit his men from the factory workers, who would look after their factories; and I do not think we need to have them in the Home Guard.
If, on the other hand, he wants them to guard airfields—and does the right hon. Gentleman mean that?—what is to become of the R.A.F. Regiment? Will that task not be undertaken by the R.A.F. themselves, defending their own airfields? 612 Such a task would be much more of a military affair than could be undertaken by a Home Guard which has been given very little training.
I do not know what rifle training a man can have in one hour a week, or how much Sten gun training, or how much other training which we know would be essential if he were to cope with a sudden incursion of airborne troops or with a sea landing. I do not want to spend too much time on the Second Reading of the Bill, because if this organisation is urgent and necessary, then I do not think we on this side of the House oppose the principle involved. What we are concerned with is whether this is the right time to introduce a Measure of this kind.
May I ask whoever is to reply for the Government what opportunities there will be for training facilities with the Regular Army? That is the only way the Home Guard got the necessary training in the last war—or through the special schools which were set up. That is the only way they will get the training this time if they are needed for the purpose suggested.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington that if we are to give any uniform allowance or allowance for wear and tear of civilian clothes, then £2 12s. a year, or a 1s. a week, is a paltry allowance. We might as well go the whole hog. If we are to ask them to turn up in their own clothes and to go through all sorts of strenuous exercises, then let us put them on the same level as the Territorial Army, who, I believe, have battle-dress issued, or certainly at least let them have denims, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Canterbury.
Consider what we have to pay for a civilian suit of clothes today. How far would one shilling a week go? It would be better either to pay nothing, as they are volunteers—and we should get quite a number of willing men to join—or to pay them the same sum as that paid to the Territorial Army.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman has compared this Bill with the 1907 Territorial Forces Act. As he knows, the 1907 Act is much more extensive than this Bill. Probably that was necessary at the time because on that Act was based the organisation of the Territorial Forces of this country, as an outcome of the investigations of Mr. Haldane, as he then was, and of those who assisted him.
613 There was one Clause in that Act which I regret is not in this Bill—Clause 6; and in it is enshrined a principle on which this House has insisted for many years. We have always limited the right of the Crown to recruit armed forces. We know that today the Crown is advised by Ministers, but that Clause contained this provision:It shall be lawful for His Majesty to raise and maintain … number of men as may from time to time be provided by Parliament.I think such a Clause should be included in the Bill. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington may have occasion to move an Amendment on those lines on the Committee stage. That Clause deals with the principle.
It is true that the Secretary of State has told us what is in the mind of the War Office and the numbers they propose to enrol; and I suppose those numbers will appear in his Estimates when he presents them early next year. But this House should insist that there should be some Parliamentary limit, other than that provided by the Estimates, in a Bill of this nature. There should be some Parliamentary provision controlling the right of the Crown to recruit armed or paramilitary Forces for whatever purposes they may be required, and in all seriousness I urge the House to consider this point, especially in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has compared his Bill with the 1907 Act.
Finally, I do not think there is much difference of opinion on the principle involved. At times we may perhaps be a little suspicious, but as long as we know that there are safeguards against any Government, and this Government in particular, using such a Force in the wrong way—and I am not suggesting that they would—and ensuring that they require the Force only for the purposes outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, then I do not think there could be any opposition today.
I am bound to say, however, that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington that it does not seem to us that this is the time to present a Bill of this nature to the House of Commons; and if it is the time for such a Bill, then this Bill is not the right one and is totally inadequate.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
We in Northern Ireland are most grateful that we have been fully incorporated in the Bill. During the last two wars we played our full part in the defence of freedom, both in the field and in many industrial spheres which are essential to the war machine. I am confident that the people of Ulster will volunteer in satisfactory numbers for the Home Guard.
There is one matter I should like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend, and that is how the Bill may affect recruiting for the Territorial Army and other voluntary services in Ulster. As the House knows, we have no conscription. All our auxiliary Forces are purely voluntary and we have no intake of National Service men completing their engagement on the Reserve. I have promised to speak for only two minutes, and in conclusion I assure my right hon. Friend that in all matters connected with defence he will have the full support of the Ulster people.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am not so sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin) does not represent a part of the United Kingdom where there will be great difficulty as a result of this Bill, because I imagine that some of his constituents might be under the apprehension that people will be recruited under the Bill not for the purpose of fighting the Russians but for the purpose of attacking those on the other side of the Border.
He speaks of a country which has no conscription, and I cannot imagine that the people will rush enthusiastically to join the Home Guard. I think there will be so many remarkable anomalies in Northern Ireland that if I were a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament I should support the opposition to an indefinite continuation of this Bill.
§ Mr. McKibbin
The reason why Northern Ireland has no conscription is not their fault. The Ulster Parliament asked for conscription when the 1939 war broke out. The Members of the Ulster Party in the Imperial Parliament—
§ Mr. Hughes
If Northern Ireland wants conscription it can have the conscription from Scotland.
There are good points about this Bill. One is that for the first time in six years I heard a speech from the previous Minister of Defence with which I largely agree. It is quite true that the previous Minister of Defence is not a pacifist, but he is coming on. He said something about militarism and about objecting to the Bill because it meant a greater degree of militarism in this country. I have been talking like that for six years. During the last six years I have thought that I have been throwing my pearls before unresponsive benches, yet here I have, half-converted the ex-Minister of Defence.
The Leader of the House told us in his speech on the Address that there were a lot of the skeletons hanging from the candelabra in Whitehall. There have been skeletons in the Ministry of Defence. The proper thing to do with the skeletons in this case is to throw them out—send them to the dust cart; but here the Secretary of State for War has taken over those skeletons from the previous Government, and dressed them up in military uniform—and this is his first contribution as a measure of defence.
I understand the point of view of the Secretary of State for War because he was so kind before the election as to send me an interesting pamphlet he had written called, "The Pattern of Peace." I read it very carefully, and I quoted from it extensively during the election. I appreciated his courtesy in sending me his pamphlet, so, as a reprisal, I sent him a pamphlet I had written called, "Arms and Mr. Bevan." All I hope is that, as a result of reading my pamphlet, the Sectary of State for War will at some stage in this Session introduce legislation based on the pamphlet I wrote.
I cannot find a similar degree of enthusiasm for this Bill in the Conservative Party. I believe that this Bill is largely the result of the personal enthusiasm of the brigadier infused into the forefront of politics. During the election I read the manifesto of the Conservative and Unionist Party, and although there was some reference to the Home Guard in the Secretary of State's pamphlet there was certainly none in that Manifesto of the Conservative and Unionist Party.
616 I suggest that the reason was that during the election the Conservative Party were very anxious not to be thought a warmongering party; and so the Prime Minister, who wrote this Manifesto, for some reason or another omitted to mention the formation of the Home Guard in what crystallised as the election policy of the Conservative and Unionist Party.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not one who has called the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for War a warmonger. I have never done anything of the kind. All I have said about the Prime Minister in that respect is that no one has ever nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, and I have never gone any further than that. I do suggest that really there is no mandate for this particular Bill, and that there is no hurry for it, and I certainly will support the Opposition and the former Minister of Defence in seeking to postpone it as long as they like.
I want to mention one or two good points about the Bill. So far as I can gather, it is not compulsory and, further, a man can resign from the Home Guard with the greatest facility. That is the only way this Bill can become operative and popular, and in which the War Office can get the millions of men it ultimately will require.
I shall move in Committee that National Service men shall have the opportunity to opt for the Home Guard that the National Service men shall have, as every British subject should, some degree of choice where they will serve. As far as I can see the National Service men of Scotland will be enthusiastic in opting for this Home Guard, which is not compulsory, and from which, presumably, one can resign after giving a reasonable 14 days' or so notice. It is only in that way that I foresee that this organisation will become the success that the Secretary of State anticipates.
Reference has been made to airborne attack upon this country; and, of course, there is the possibility. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) referred to the fact that I had in my possession an American magazine which gives us what is called a preview of the next war. There, with great 617 pictorial detail, we have a story of how airborne troops are to be used in the next war, and there is a picture across two pages of how troops will be parachuted into the Ural Mountains. These are not Russian troops but American troops.
This use of parachute troops is one of the fundamental ideas of the next war. Of course it has local possibilities as far as this country is concerned. We know that in the last war there was an airborne attack upon the Italian centre which had Mussolini as a prisoner. I believe that it was organised and directed by Hitler, and Hitler was very anxious that airborne troops should recapture Mussolini.
It is quite possible that the Soviets may have the same idea of capturing the Prime Minister of this country. They may say to themselves that the Prime Minister is the brains of this military system in Britain and that they will send over a small parachute detachment to capture him in Downing Street and take him over to Russia. I should bear that with my customary fortitude, because presumably he would, on reaching Moscow, direct the next war from Moscow, and that would be about the best kind of strategy for losing the war so far as Moscow is concerned.
As to the danger from the air, there is one point we should consider, and it is this. It is quite likely that the Russians have been thinking along these lines. What has commended this argument to me is that in his book, "The Defence of the West," Captain Liddell Hart, whom I have previously quoted in the House, argues that if we were to have a Home Guard, and the Russians knew that it was formidable, with large numbers and able to destroy any parachute force, they would be deterred if they were to contemplate airborne attack on this country.
However, that does not finish all the argument. We have to consider this argument a little further. If we have such a strong Home Guard that the Russians decide not to come by air it is likely to stimulate other ideas amongst the Russians, and then they are more likely to try to destroy key points in this country by atom bombs or rockets or something of that kind. I suggest that against the broad background of the possibility of a great war— and possibilities that the Prime Minister has on two occasions suggested in this House, 618 and recently at the City Guildhall—we may be at a great disadvantage in this country as the result of our having become a base of American activity and of the American atom bomb squadron.
We may, as a result of this very dangerous policy, be in what the Prime Minister has called the forefront of Soviet antagonism. Instead of thinking that there will be a war in which we can build up the Home Guard, we should think that we may have a sudden atom bomb attack—very suddenly, as the Secretary of State for War pointed out—so that, in two or three days, all this paraphernalia of the Home Guard would be almost irrelevant.
So I say that we are not facing the realities of 1952 or 1954 in building up the machinery of the last war, and that, against that broad background of possibilities, the creation of a Home Guard is trifling and irrelevant. It is building up false hopes. It is not giving greater security to the people of this country, and I shall have much pleasure in supporting the Opposition Front Bench if it is decided to try to postpone the Bill indefinitely.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
I wish I could agree with hon. Members who have spoken from the other side that this is not a time in which we need create a Home Guard, but, unfortunately, neither I nor they have any means of knowing. We all agreed in the last Parliament that we should build up our defence Forces as well as we could and as quickly as we could, and I cannot help thinking that the immediate creation of a Home Guard will be an important part of what we then decided.
I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who said that it would frighten people on the Continent into thinking that we intended to withdraw within our coasts and not go to their assistance should, unfortunately, war sweep across the Continent; but I should have thought that it would have given them just the other impression. I do not know what the military plans of this country are, but I have always understood that should war unfortunately come the whole idea of the strategy of the Atlantic Treaty Powers would be to build a military wall across the Continent. In that case, no doubt, our best troops would be employed on 619 the Continent and would not be in this country to do the sort of job which my right hon. Friend mentioned in his speech.
If every hon. Member who served in the Home Guard and who is now of a certain age were to endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, we should have a very long debate, because in the war so many of us served in the Home Guard, but I should like, in the few minutes I shall address the House, to say a word or two from the point of view of one who had a certain amount to do with the administration of the Home Guard during the war. I had experience both as a company commander in a Civil Service formation in London, and later, for two years, as the commander of the 1st County of London (Westminster) Battalion, which was the general service battalion for this part of London.
It seems to me, on reading this Bill and considering what my right hon. Friend said, that there are certain problems with which he is faced now with which we were not faced at that time. The Home Guard, as he said, was formed in 1940, first of all as the Local Defence Volunteers, and there was no great difficulty then in deciding who could join the Home Guard, because those who were going to volunteer for the Regular Army and those who, within their age groups, had been conscribed into the Regular Army, had already gone into it. Civil Defence had also to a great extent been built up, and, therefore, the nucleus of the people who could join the Home Guard was obvious, and the volunteers flowed in. In making this point, I suggest that those people who are accepted as volunteers now—and I understand that the age group is from 18 to 65—should not be people who would almost immediately be wanted to leave the Home Guard and join some other formation.
I shall be interested to know later on what is the position in London. Naturally one is interested in the place where one has served oneself. London appears to have been left out of the vulnerable area in which it is proposed to recruit the hundred thousand. We should like to know whether there is any prospect of recruiting cadre formations in London, and whether some of the Civil Service battalions, which got themselves into a 620 fairly good state of efficiency during the war, are to be raised again.
One or two hon. Members have mentioned as essential the character of the commanding officers of the future Home Guard. I would point out that, in my view, it is not perhaps the good battalion commander so much as the good company commander who is essential. In London, my Westminster battalion did exercises quite often as a battalion, but I think that this was very exceptional in the country, because of the distance that the men had to travel. I therefore make the point that the character of the company commander is of the greatest importance if we are to have a successful Home Guard.
Further, I think that the officers, both battalion and company—I would not go beyond that at this stage—should be people who served in the last war. I was then comparatively young as a battalion commander, and the difficulty was that those who were available to do this job had no experience of modern weapons and had to learn about them from the Regular Army. I have heard—but I think that this is only a rumour—that some of the battalion commanders who have already been earmarked—and I do not know a single name—are people who have not had experience in the last war, but who were successful battalion commanders in the late Home Guard. I hope that point will be looked at, because I am sure that it is essential to get the right people.
We all get a little older, and there must be people who were most successful in the last war as battalion or company commanders who are now beyond the age limit at which they will be required to serve again. Another important thing—and I think that my right hon. Friend mentioned it—is to have a good quartermaster, adjutant and sergeant instructor, who were the backbone of many of these companies and battalions in the last war.
I want to make only one further observation, as there are many hon. Members who wish to speak, and that is on the controversy of whether the formation of a Home Guard will interfere, or otherwise, with the Civil Defence organisation, and whether there will be competition between the two. My experience was that we worked with the 621 greatest friendliness with the Westminster Civil Defence at a time when London was under pretty severe bombardment and in pretty severe straits. There was no competition between the two. I do not think that the Home Guard and the Civil Defence were striving for manpower against each other.
§ Sir A. Hudson
Certainly. When we were formed we found that we could work together in the greatest friendliness. As a Home Guard, we in London, on account of the flying bombs and V2s, were out pretty nearly every night, and there was no overlapping with the Civil Defence. We occasionally had to do rescue work, help the police in the prevention of looting and cordon off streets where shop windows had been broken during the night. We found that in our work with the police and the Civil Defence there was no friction whatsoever.
Then, in general with the Home Guard throughout the country, we had to guard vulnerable points. We had no difficulty in getting our rotas and the people to take over the vulnerable points and do a very difficult job. It never occurred to the Home Guard at that time that they would be employed for strike-breaking, but I think that this matter has been fairly adequately dealt with in the debate.
§ Sir A. Hudson
If strikes should occur Regular Forces may have to be used for essential services, but it did not occur then, and I do not think that it will occur now. I think, however, that there will be difficulty in peace-time with regard to premises. During the last war, we in London had the advantage of the Territorial drill halls which were then not in use by the Territorials. I think that is a matter which will have to be carefully looked into, because I am not sure that the sharing of premises by the existing Territorial formations and the Home Guard will be a good thing. They may have different ideas on how things should be run, and this might create a certain amount of friction, which is best avoided.
I welcome the formation of the Home Guard. I am glad that no effort is being 622 made to raise enormous numbers of men at the present time. I feel that they will have a job to do almost immediately should war unfortunately come, in guarding vulnerable points at a time when the Territorial Army and Regular Forces will be required elsewhere. We have made a modest beginning, but I think that the formation of the Home Guard is a valuable part of our defence service.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
I want to say a brief word on some of the tactical conceptions which seem to underlie the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the mustering and employment of the Home Guard in case of emergency. I do not think there is any doubt about the broad strategical position. With the new type of warfare, we in this country can no longer look to fighting a war on other people's battlegrounds. Therefore, ground forces have to be organised in three echelons. There has first to be a standing force to be used quickly at home or overseas, secondly, a large mobile and trained reserve to expand that force, and thirdly a potential local reserve for local employment.
We have at the moment our standing divisions and standing forces and our National Service men already mobilized and available if a sudden emergency has to be faced. They could quickly be brought into readiness and be available in this country for use. We have the Territorial Army with its National Service component available to expand the Regular Forces. In addition, we have vast reserves both of the Z men who will no longer be called up because they are working in reserved occupations and also members of the Home Guard of the last war.
We have thus the three composites of military ground forces if they are required—the immediate standing Army, the immediate Reserves for expansion of that standing Army and local Reserves for local use and local deployment. What is more, we have them now, and we shall continue to have them under the conscription scheme. As soldiers pass out of National Service and the Territorial Army period of engagement, they will then be available as trained soldiers for ultimate use in any invasion of this country.
623 Tactically the argument put forward from the other side is that we must have available at button-pressing notice large numbers of Reserve troops who could be employed on guarding vulnerable points and in readiness to repel a sea-borne or air-borne invasion. There are two different points of view about that. I think that it is a mistake to assume that we can use this kind of Force for anti-sabotage duties, as mentioned by the Secretary of State for War. Anti-sabotage duty is not just a question of standing guard with rifles and Sten guns. Sabotage does not mean people suddenly popping up from the hedgerows and making assaults on factories and power stations. It is done more subtly than that, and the mere presence of soldiers with Sten guns and rifles is not going to prevent sabotage.
What we need is some kind of special security police who have the power—and incidentally the Home Guard would not have the power—of search and inspection, and who have knowledge of the people who are normally in the vicinity of a particular area, so that they can spy strangers. The Home Guard, therefore, would be of very limited value in that kind of anti-sabotage operation. Where, of course, it would be extremely valuable is in repelling some kind of airborne or seaborne invasion.
Here again, I suggest there would be time to mobilise and create an efficient Home Guard. It is a mistake to assume that a seaborne or airborne invasion could be launched quickly. It is a mistake to assume that we can suddenly be confronted with aircraft overhead and paratroops dropping from them. Such an invasion would require the establishment of forward air bases and supply dumps, and with seaborne forces available to relieve the airborne forces once they have been dropped. This kind of operation takes a considerable time to build up.
Therefore, it is most unlikely that, for the purpose of an airborne or seaborne invasion, we should require in this country at press-button readiness large forces immediately available when an emergency is declared. For those two reasons, I do not think that the immediate tactical note envisaged for the new Home Guard as put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is very realistic. They will not be much use for anti-sabotage work, and there will 624 be time to prepare and mobilise an efficient and cohesive Force for anti-invasion work, whether the invasion is airborne or seaborne.
There is one other great difficulty. If the right hon. Gentleman had told us that there was an immediate danger now, then, of course, we would have been prepared to accept the immediate mobilisation of possibly a very large Home Guard, but, as it is, we are only being faced with the creation of a phantom army, equipped with arm bands, with rifles and sten guns in store around the corner. Whatever happens, there is going to be quite a lapse of time before this phantom army can become an efficient Force for use in any of the contingencies that I have outlined. Possibly, there will have to be an expansion of this Force in very rapid, double quick time from some 200,000 or 125,000 to 900,000 or possibly one million.
Therefore, if the tactical conception is of a very large Home Guard Force to be mobilised quickly on the outbreak of war, we are going to suffer from A and Q indigestion in the Armed Forces of this country, because at the same time while the Government are trying to carry out their proposal of expanding a 125,000 force into a force of millions, there will be the Z Reservists and the Territorial Army to be mobilised and there will be countless other mobilisation functions to be carried out within the Armed Forces.
§ Commander Maitland
Surely the hon. Gentleman has answered himself to some extent by indicating the great difficulty of mobilisation. The point of the Home Guard is that it can be easily mobilised while these other very difficult projects are being carried out?
§ Mr. Fienburgh
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised that point, because the rest of my argument deals with it. On the Government proposals, we have to face this enormous mobilisation in order to fulfil their tactical conception of using the Home Guard immediately war breaks out.
My argument, on the other hand, is that the immediate mobilisation of the Home Guard should not be envisaged on the outbreak of war, but that the Government should first be concerned with expediting the mobilisation and the equipment of those already in the Armed Forces for home or 625 overseas service. Then they should tackle the enormous task of mobilising the Z Reservists. When this has been achieved in an orderly manner—and phased in with it—to use a well-known military term—gradually we can begin to build up the Home Guard at a time when it will really be needed, because (a) there has been time for the enemy to prepare his military operations against this country; and (b) the Regular Forces will increasingly have had to leave their normal locations in order to move overseas.
In this way we would apply an integrated programme for the balanced expansion of the Armed Forces following upon the declaration of an emergency. First, the Z Reservists and the Territorial Army would be called, and when the military machine had digested this operation, we could then proceed to call up, around the skeleton organisation which all Members are agreed should be evolved, an organised Home Guard for use at a time when it is likely to be called upon to perform an anti-invasion role.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
One point to remember is that this force cannot be used for anti-sabotage duties in this country; and, secondly, it takes some considerable time for any possible enemy to prepare, mobilise and launch an airborne invasion of this country. During that time we would be able to mobilise the Home Guard with all the appeal of spontaneous enthusiasm instead of trying to whip it up in an atmosphere of panic and scare, which is the only basis for the creation of a Home Guard at this moment.
To serving officers in the Territorial Army like myself there are grave defects in the present structure of Territorial Forces, which I hope will not be repeated in the Home Guard should this proposal be pushed through and the battalions enroled. It is important to remove the suspicion on this side of the House that the Home Guard now proposed will not be a truly democratic type of organisation. It is important that the officers of this Home Guard shall be drawn from all ranks and sections of society. We do not want to see the creation of a Praetorian Guard of elderly Tory buffers. Although the procedure, machinery, techniques and schedules are all available for 626 the promotion of people from the ranks and the giving of commissions to people from all walks of life, very largely, both in the Territorial Army and elsewhere, they are entirely abortive at the moment, for the simple reason that some hon. Gentleman like the Prime Minister, like to wear uniforms, medals and organise occasions for the display of this kind of military finery.
I happen to belong to a Territorial formation which does not go in for this sort of thing very much. Many Territorials formations do. They ask their officers to buy patrols and service dress which together can cost £120 guineas if one is not very careful. They go in for expensive dining in nights and so forth. I ask that this kind of flummery should be cut out of any Home Guard which might be created at this moment, because that kind of thing is an effective barrier to a large number of otherwise very efficient officers who find themselves quite unable to bear the expense of these unnecessary fripperies of military service.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I think we are all agreed that the officers for the Home Guard should come from all classes of society, and we well remember how admirably all contributed towards the success of the old Home Guard.
Many excuses have been given by hon. Members opposite as to why they are only going to give half-hearted support to this Measure. Some of the speeches made strike me as being a genuine contribution towards our thoughts on this question, as, for example, the speech of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). Others, however, seem to me to have settled down to say, "We ought to find some reason for opposing this scheme, but perhaps we had better not for that will be a bit unpopular. So let us see if we can find all kinds of cock and bull arguments"
I thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was deplorable, but at the same time characteristic. He said that this was the wrong time for this Bill, because there was a new feeling in the air of Europe, America or here. But why is there a new feeling? I know that I would not be able to take this argument 627 very far, but I suggest that the reason for the new feeling is because the Western democracies are showing that they are prepared to arm themselves.
This modest Measure is a demonstration by His Majesty's Government that they are continuing the process begun by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, and are carrying it a stage further. It seems to me that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the speech of a man who felt that he dare not oppose this Bill, but wanted, if possible, to smear it at its beginning. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] That is what I thought and felt. In almost every sentence there was that bitter manner of his. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), put the point of view that the right hon. Member for Easington was moving as gently as he could towards a pacifist attitude towards re-armament That was a shrewd point.
This modest and sensible Bill will enable a number of people to get accustomed to the organisation which must be developed very quickly should the need arise. It will give the War Office the opportunity of feeling their way with public opinion, with the appointment of officers soon. It will enable them to collect a number of junior commanders of all ranks and pass them all out as commissioned officers. It will enable widespread study to be given to the many problems which a new Home Guard will have to meet in the new circumstances. All this surely is a wise thing to start.
It will begin to get equipment into the hands of a few people here and there, who will be able to study it, think about it and learn or re-learn how to use it. It will get the equipment distributed and in various ways it will make provisions which will be sensible provisions to make early. I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this modest Measure, and my right hon. Friend for the effective way in which today he made his first major speech as a Minister of the Crown from the Despatch Box.
The Bill, I think, speaks about one of the duties of the Home Guard as being able to deal with the effects of attack. I do not know what that means, but I assume it means a kind of disturbance which is caused by bombing—one of my hon. Friends spoke about cordoning off 628 streets. But that is going into the realm of Civil Defence. I want to reinforce a point which I made in a Question I put to the Prime Minister, and I hope for a more satisfactory explanation now of the Government's attitude in this matter.
I cannot but feel that it was an accident that Civil Defence and the Home Guard were two forces and not one. It was an accident in time and in history, and if we ever have the time to think again I hope thought will be given to the question whether these two forces are not really one. I am not competent to say very much about the big towns, but have heard many people in them, particularly those who have had experience on the Territorial Associations, say that Civil Defence and the Home Guard were one service. However, I have not the personal experience to guide me in forming that opinion.
When it comes to the country districts I am sure that I am right in what I am about to say. In the small villages and in the hamlets there are only a limited number of men fit to do this work at all. They are so few, in fact, that the same men must be used to resist parachutists and to put out fires which may be caused by bombing. It is no use saying that such men must be mobile and ready to go somewhere else. The real value of the Home Guard is that its members defend their own homes. That is what its name implies. The members will want to defend their homes from fire as well as from enemies.
It may be said that they will co-operate with Civil Defence as they did the last time. Surely they would co-operate better if they were integrated in the same service. My right hon. Friend said that the Government had thought about this very deeply —they did not have much time to do that —but they did not think it was a good thing. He did not give us any reasons why not, and I should like an assurance that nothing in the Measure will prevent a close association or integration of Civil Defence and the Home Guard if that is found to be a good thing. I hope as time goes on and there is opportunity that that question will be considered.
I have one last question. I do not understand why the line should be drawn from Flamborough Head to Start Point or Selsey Bill. Wherever you draw a line there is always trouble. Why is this country more vulnerable east of such a 629 line than it is west of such a line? I should have thought, in these days of swiftly moving aircraft, that the airman himself would not know whether he was over Flamborough Head or 50 miles further west.
There is a possible answer, which is that it is better to take this thing in bits, and that if we are to start anywhere we may as well start with the east because it is nearer the enemy. I can see that psychological point. There is some sense, too, in starting in a part of the country so that we can get to know our job before we start on the whole of the country. I cannot see any military reason for it unless all the targets are in the east and not in the west; but that I cannot believe either.
I welcome this re-creation of the Home Guard. I wish the War Office good luck in their working of it, and the officers and men who will join it success in their undertaking I add a prayer that all their good intentions and all their good work may never be needed.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I should like to begin by complimenting The Secretary of State on the very lucid and charming manner in which he presented this Bill, and indeed on the charming manner in which he has answered all his questions up to date. My only criticism is that he suffers from a number of preconceived notions. I hope that he will soon get rid of the remainder of those preconceived notions which he had before he went into the War Office. We are really having an awful lot of them at the moment.
First we had his preconceived notions about overseas allowances for Korea which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman has now discovered it would be an entire breach of the Regulations to grant. He and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had preconceived notions about a Secret Session on defence, which they have now fortunately dropped. Now we have their preconceived notions about the new 280 rifle, which they knew nothing about before they came into office but had decided to abandon before they came into power. I hope that they will soon find out the true facts about that matter.
The present Bill is another example of the right hon. Gentleman's preconceived notions. There is still another one which 630 I hope we will not hear any more about. He had preconceived notions about an increase in the number of divisions which could be obtained from the present number of men in the Army. I hope he will soon come down to the House and apologise for his mistake.
We can see how hastily this Bill has been thought out and how ill-conceived it is because it is based on the Regulations issued in 1940 for the Local Defence Volunteers. The Bill is practically word for word the same. Something which is merely copied from the. Regulations of 1940 can hardly be suitable for the present time.
There are a number of objections to mobilising the Home Guard at the moment. One of them, perhaps almost the principal one, is that it is unnecessarily alarmist. This is one of the things which hon. Friends of mine and I said, during the election, was the sort of thing the Tories would do if they got into office. We said that they would do things which unnecessarily created panic.
If we establish a Home Guard we are bound to create an atmosphere of extreme urgency and make people, feel that war is just around the corner. That is not a healthy atmosphere to try to sustain over a long period. We are bound to make people wonder; and people in Europe will wonder also how serious are our protestations that we are earnest about our contributions to European defence when they see that we are once more falling back upon the Home Guard.
It seems to me that the whole question whether this Bill is appropriate hinges on the timing. The right hon. Gentleman told us very carefully and distinctly that he did not think the danger of war was any more likely today than it was when the late Government were in office. I see that the right hon. Gentleman assents to that. During the course of his speech I questioned him on the amount of time he thought would be necessary to train the Home Guard before they were ready and able to do the tasks for which he wants them. He said he thought that they would be ready at once.
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent—
§ Mr. Wyatt
This is a very important point and I want to get it clear. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that once these men are enrolled he would regard them as being able and ready to perform the tasks for which he wants them. If that is correct it does away entirely with the need to mobilise the Home Guard now. I shall try to explain why.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that we never know when a war might begin. There is some force behind that argument. It might happen suddenly, but it cannot happen as suddenly as all that. If there is to be an outbreak of war we are bound, through our Intelligence Service, to get some inkling of it beforehand. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is unthinkable that the Russians—these are the people we are worried about—would suddenly launch an attack upon us without bringing more forces up to their forward areas than they have there today.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The right hon. Gentleman must display more confidence in his own Intelligence Service, for which he is now responsible. He will find that they will assure him, when he has an opportunity of a few conversations with them, that it is quite unthinkable that there could be a sudden attack without some preliminary warning that there had been a build-up of forces towards that end.
Suppose that build-up only took place over two months, and that would be a very rapid operation, a very quick time for a war to be launched from the beginning of a buildup, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree; that would be the moment to mobilise the Home Guard, when the emergency had become very real and apparent to the entire country when it had become clear to everybody that the danger of war was right upon us Then the right hon. Gentleman could come to this House, get the Bill, and, in a matter of hours, get it passed through. 632 He would get all the men he needed and, on his own showing, they would be ready in time to perform the tasks immediately which he wants them to perform.
Our case against the Bill is that this is not the right time to introduce it. What will happen? The right hon. Gentleman will get some volunteers into this Force. After about six months those volunteers, unpaid, unsung, will lose their enthusiasm. The right hon. Gentleman, by introducing this Bill prematurely and when there is no need for it, will destroy what will, in the event of war, be a very good and necessary safeguard for our defence. The Bill, far from being a help towards our defence, is undermining our defence by going off at half-cock before the right time. That is the great danger of the present Bill.
Now is the time for preparatory measures, which we have already taken, which the late Government took, of earmarking key officers and battalion commanders, and appointing staff officers for the Home Guard in each command. That was the correct thing to do, to have this machinery all in readiness. The right hon. Gentleman has come to his office with the preconceived notion that a Home Guard is necessary at this moment, when it is not. He has pushed it through as a mere imitation of the Regulations for the Local Defence Volunteers. It is ill-conceived and unplanned, and it will not produce the results which the right hon. Gentleman wants.
He has told us that the greater part of the strength will be east of a line which he depicted to us. I quite agree with that. Some of my hon. Friends have wondered why such a line was selected. It is perfectly sound. We obviously require to have the Home Guard thickest where the danger of air landings is greatest. There can be no real dispute about that. To the west of that line he wants them spread more thinly.
The trouble about starting a volunteer Force when there is no immediate danger of war and no apprehension that "any day now" Russia will start an attack upon us, is that we shall not get the volunteers in the way we want them. We shall not necessarily have them according to the pattern in which the right hon. Gentleman has asked for them.
If he had only waited until such time—which I hope will never come—as an 633 emergency was clearly seen in everybody's mind to be present, he would have got all the volunteers he wanted. He would then be able to pick and choose, to select and adapt them and put them into formations in exactly the way required. In time of war he might even add compulsion to the voluntary system. That is the main case against having a Home Guard now.
There are one or two other questions which need to be asked. The right hon. Gentleman is very keen, and quite rightly so, upon stimulating recruiting for the Territorial Army. He should be very careful that he does not divert into the Home Guard people who would otherwise be inclined to join the Territorial Army. I hope that he will think about that.
Another thing which I found rather surprising was his sweeping aside with great contempt the notion that there should be any payment for people who do Home Guard service. I remember the right hon. Gentleman being a fiery exponent of the money incentive for national service in the Army, the Territorial Army, and all the rest of it. That is one of his preconceived notions that he might have carried with him into office.
It will be very difficult to keep people enthusiastic over a long period. We all hope that it will be a very long period before the Home Guard are wanted, if ever. Having killed the idea of a nucleus of the Home Guard by bringing in this Bill prematurely, the right hon. Gentleman must now find some way of keeping up enthusiasm which would have been there spontaneously, but which will now die if not otherwise stimulated.
The right hon. Gentleman will have to find it now by giving some monetary incentive, otherwise this Home Guard will fade away in the night. What is to be his method of keeping people in the Home Guard? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that they can resign at will, and that there is to be no check, hold or tie. They will fade away unless the right hon. Gentleman gets some incentive to keep them in their places.
I feel, as my hon. Friends feel, that it is most unfortunate that the Bill has been introduced. All that was required was a Bill to earmark key personnel, commanding officers of Home Guard battalions and 634 a few others, and so having a framework in readiness to be built upon should an emergency arise. The right hon. Gentleman is by this Bill diverting effort from where it is needed. He will divert into this half-baked, half-cocked arrangement the enthusiasm for a Home Guard which will be altogether lacking should we need a Home Guard later on. It is not too late even now for the right hon. Gentleman to postpone the introduction and the implementation of the Bill. If he does not do so, he will not strengthen our defences but undermine them.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Commander J. F. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
The Opposition case is really based on the question of timing, and it is something about which I wish to speak for a few minutes because I believe the Opposition are arguing from the wrong premises. It has always seemed to me that in building up a re-armament programme one must have both short-term and long-term policies. Surely in the forefront of the short-term policy must be the vital necessity of maintaining this country as a great base, not only for ourselves but for all those in the Western organisation who are our partners in the attempt to re-arm or, if one likes, to create a balance of power.
If that is true, and the defence of our base is of the greatest importance during the first period, it is also true that during that period the base will be in the greatest danger, because as one builds up one's re-armament programme so it becomes more possible to keep the enemy at arm's length and more difficult for the enemy to make sudden attacks on the country. The Home Guard ought to be available right at the beginning of any war that may come, and I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend has introduced this Bill at this time.
I, too, am worried about the standard of training that these volunteers will be able to achieve, and I want to ask my right hon. Friend if they will have to be available to man the high-angle guns. The subject was mentioned in another place during the last Parliament when the Home Guard was discussed. It is important that we should know if that is to be one of the functions of the volunteers. If it is, and in conjunction with their other duties, there is no doubt that it places a very serious test on their efficiency. We 635 have heard from the Opposition—quite rightly—that the volunteers will have to do jobs which need considerable skill. Anti-sabotage work has been mentioned. Just scampering around with a rifle will not do; one has to know more about it than that. It will also be quite useless and a sacrifice of life to throw half-trained men into an attempt to compete with a heavy airborne raid.
I want to make a suggestion which I believe might help. We ought to have a nucleus of trained men in the Home Guard. The late Government decided recently to extend the call-up process to the agricultural industry, and, as a result, a comparatively small number of men are being called up. That does not matter very much at the moment. If there was the disaster of a war tomorrow it is probable that those men could easily be spared, but as the years go on, if all those men in the agricultural industry were called up I believe that it would be impossible to release them because of the absolutely vital importance of food production.
I suggest that the Government face the problem and say in effect. "Let us take these men from the agricultural industry and give them specialised training as Home Guard men. Let them do the same time in the Reserve as the other National Service men, and let them form the nucleus of a trained Home Guard in the country districts" I believe that this would assist recruiting. I also believe that if these men were made instructors wherever possible it would assist the efficiency of the whole system. The Government should consider this very seriously. It might also be applied to other industries which would undoubtedly be reserved in war-time.
I never have thought that talking about war by serious people was in itself a wicked thing to do. War is a fact. All of us in the House have lived through two wars. It is no good pushing war on one side; if we face its realities we are more likely to realise its horrors and more likely to prevent it happening. I believe it would be wicked not to train our people to be able to defend themselves. There are people in this country who say that they will not fight, and we often hear the remark, "I am not going to fight next time," but, make no mistake 636 about it, people will fight next time. Just as the people of France, Belgium and Norway formed resistance movements and fought gallantly, so will our people, and they will probably fight better and more efficiently.
But if we do not give them a chance of being trained all their sacrifice may be in vain and they may be massacred. If we train them we give them a chance and they can form our trained nuclei in the countryside and teach others, so that if war comes they may not only live but also be successful.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
A remark which riled me more than anything else was made by an hon. and gallant brigadier on the other side of the House who, with a wave of his hand, referred to those who have no military experience except that which they acquired in the First World War. I should have thought that that would have been very good military experience.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I believe that the hon. Member is referring to me. I was not saying anything derogatory. All I was saying was that it was a very long time from the 1914 war to 1939, whereas now we are only six and a half or seven years away from the last war. All I meant to say was that the experience of those who were in the last war would now be so much fresher than that of those who had only taken part in the First World War.
§ Mr. Simmons
At any rate, it gives me a text on which to start as it enables me to say that I am in that position. I was never a brigadier or a major or even a captain I was never more than a private. The position in the House seems to be the reverse of the position in the Army. In the Army there are a great many more privates than officers, but in the House of Commons we seem to have a great many more officers than privates.
I want to raise one or two matters which have entered my thoughts as I listened to the debate. I was rather shocked when the right hon. Gentleman referred to a clothing allowance of £2 2s. 6d. a year.
§ Mr. Simmons
I was shocked when I heard this figure because when I was in the Ministry of Pensions our lowest clothing allowance for a disabled man was £5 a year and it could rise to a maximum of £8. It occurred to me that the Government were treating prospective entrants into the Home Guard rather shabbily.
I was rather concerned to learn that the officers were to be selected or earmarked. It is very important that we should know who is to officer the new Home Guard. Why are these people to be selected, on what basis are they to be selected, and why have they been earmarked? Do their political opinions have to be vetted before they are appointed? Has their social standing to be taken into consideration? Must they be able to hold their own with the county people before they are appointed as officers in the Home Guard?
§ Mr. Simmons
That does not alter my point of view, because the same "brass hats" in the War Office are there whatever Government is in power. The "brass hats" are the people who have the influence, and it takes a very strong Minister to stand up against them, for they have been entrenched in the War Office for generations and are carrying on the traditions of generations. We ought to have some guarantee that this will be a very democratic Force.
During the First World War we had navvies' battalions, and such people as Colonel John Ward were able to rise to.the top from the very bottom of the workingclass ladder. I do not know whether any of them became generals—perhaps that was a bit too much to expect—but they certainly became colonels in The labour and navvies' battalions. We have had experience of what the officer class has meant in the past. Those of us who have served as privates know something about it, and I want to make certain that the new Home Guard will be a democratic organisation.
There has been a lot of pooh-poohing on the subject of the use of the Home 638 Guard in connection with industrial disputes. But some of us have a long experience of the workingclass movement and have been members of trade unions for a great number of years, and we have long memories, and we know that troops have been used in industrial disputes. Not merely have they been used to see that the essential services of the nation are carried on but they have been sent armed with ball cartridges to shoot down miners.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Is my hon. Friend aware that within the last few days a quasi-judicial body for which the Home Office is largely responsible interfered in a trade dispute?
§ Mr. Simmons
I am concerned about the possibilities of the Home Guard. I have read the Bill, and I see that the Home Guard are to be members of the Armed Forces of the Crown and will be subject to military law. Clause 1 (4) safeguards the position of a Member of the House of Commons by saying that heshall not … be rendered incapable of being elected, or of sitting and voting as, a Member of the House of Commons.Why cannot we have a similar Clause protecting the trade unionist, saying that his membership of the Home Guard shall not do anything to prevent his carrying out his duties as an official or member of his appropriate trade union? If there is no fear of this force being used in industrial disputes, surely a provision of that kind should not be resisted by the Government.
I was rather sorry to hear the bitter tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). I presume that he was speaking as a Tory Member of Parliament and not as the President of the British Legion. He referred to the half-hearted excuses of the support given by the Front Bench because, he said, the Opposition were afraid that if they supported the Bill they would be unpopular.
That was an unworthy jibe. It was suggesting, I think, that Members on this side are prepared to sink their principles because they fear the consequences. That is entirely untrue, because in the history of the British Labour movement there have been more men and women who have suffered victimisation for their 639 principles than amongst the Members on the other side of the House or in the party they represent. That was a very uncalled-for and unkind jibe on the part of the hon. Member.
He said that the arguments against the Bill were "cock and bull" arguments. Although one may support the general idea of the Home Guard, if a Home Guard is necessary, we wonder sometimes whether it is necessary, because from what I can gather—I am not an expert—the duties of the Home Guard and those of Civil Defence approximate very much to each other; and if we are to have an organisation to carry out those duties and we have a choice between a military and a non-military organisation, I would choose the non-military organisation. If Civil Defence can do the job, surely this Home Guard Bill is unnecessary.
In any case, I regard the Bill as untimely. I believe it is part of the Government's policy of scare and panic, of creating an "atmosphere" in the country. I know what the party opposite want—they want a Coalition. They know that they cannot carry on very long themselves. They are beginning to crack already and they want a Coalition, and the only possible hope in their minds of a Coalition—but we on this side know there is no hope—is to create a feeling of scare and panic.
No one wants war, but some people have a queer way of showing their preference for peace. I never called anybody a warmonger during the General Election, but I noticed after the Election that the Prime Minister soon grabbed the post of Minister of Defence. We have this unnecessary Bill, with a military flavour, at a moment when the United Nations organisation is discussing disarmament. It would be a very good gesture to the United Nations organisation, and would give very good help to those who are fighting for the principles of disarmament, if the Government would graciously withdraw the Bill.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a word or two in support of the Bill, because I have been rather intrigued by some of the arguments which have been advanced against it. As I 640 understand it, the opposition which has been expressed to the Bill has been engendered by the feeling on the benches opposite that it is liable to create panic, alarm and disturbance in the country.
Apparently, it is quite all right to embark upon a programme of £4,700 million expenditure upon armaments without causing alarm and disturbance. It is quite all right in peace-time to conscript young men into the Armed Forces against their will—that does not cause alarm or disturbance. It is perfectly all right, according to hon. Members opposite, to create a Civil Defence Force, but if anyone dares to suggest calling up or recruiting a very limited number of Home Guard on a voluntary basis, with an expenditure which is reckoned at its maximum not to exceed £2½million, that is the end according to them.
I am not sure whether the word "poppycock" is a recognised Parliamentary expression, but if it were it might fairly be applied to some of the puerile arguments advanced so far in this connection. It seems to me to be perfectly clear that the objections of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the Bill are without any foundation whatever.
I welcome the Bill, because I believe that it will be of considerable assistance to some of the Measures which have been passed by the previous Government. With the unanimous support of those who have opposed the Bill this afternoon, there was introduced, or an attempt was made to build up, a Civil Defence organisation. Nobody will pretend that Civil Defence recruiting has been as successful as one would have hoped. The reason for its lack of success has been due, in my submission, to the fact that there are a very large number of people who have previously seen service in the Home Guard and who are anxious to know whether they are likely to be able to be so employed in the future; and if they cannot be so employed in the future, their services will be available to Civil Defence.
This Measure, in so far as it clarifies the position of those who are able to be recruited into the Home Guard, will be of considerable benefit in stimulating recruiting for Civil Defence also. If that is considered to be a desirable objective on the part of those who introduced it in the first place. I hope they will continue to give it their support.
641 I am interested also in the arguments advanced by the former Minister of Defence, who does not seem to enjoy the whole-hearted confidence of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons). The hon. Member seems to think it is rather disreputable to hold the position of Minister of Defence, and criticises the present Prime Minister for taking that office, which, he seems to suggest, is something of a warlike character.
I have never regarded the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) as being a particularly warlike individual. I am, however, interested in his observations that the Bill is wrong because it does not provide for adequate payment for services given of a voluntary nature. Indeed, he was supported in that view by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). They both seemed to think that payment must come before anybody does anything to help his country. That reminds me of a play I once saw, the title of which, I believe, was "Mercenary Manny" or perhaps it was "Mercenary Mary" It drew attention to the fact that there are individuals in the country who seem to think that payment must be made for any service which is provided.
Those of us who have had some experience of the days of the old Home Guard will remember at any rate that the finest days of the Home Guard were when no subsistence allowances whatever were paid and it was upon a 100 per cent. voluntary basis. Then it was that we got the best possible service, with men willing to work all the hours in the day, willing to sacrifice a great deal of their leisure time in order to perform a service which they were pleased to render to their country. I am quite satisfied that there is still a sufficiently large number of people willing to render that service, and I hope that the question of payment will not be further dragged into our discussions.
All those who have had experience of the Home Guard will be interested in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) in which he put forward a view which is, I think, generally accepted by those with experience of the Service. That is, that in the main it would be much better if we could have one service, some of whose members were detailed for Civil Defence duties while 642 others were allotted to other types of duties common to the Home Guard. I believe I am right in saying that one of the main objections to that—at least, so I was told on a previous occasion—is that if hostilities should break out and people were to become prisoners of the enemy, they would be subjected to rather different treatment as members of a military formation from the kind of treatment which they would be entitled to receive if they were members of a purely civilian organisation. I believe I am right in saying that that is the reason for the distinction between the two forms of service, the Civil Defence and the Home Guard.
Therefore, much as one might wish to find a unified service created, there is a good deal of common sense in the Measure which has been introduced. It seeks to build up, not a large and powerful military body to attack anybody; not a large and powerful military body which is likely to excite the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), lest it should commit an assault in some other part of the world, but an organisation of a defensive character, which will not come into being and certainly will not be mobilised—although the hon. Member for Aston seems to think otherwise—but will be recruited and will be provided with a limited period of training, during the course of which its members may be the better able to defend their country should it be attacked.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Brierley Hill in dealing with the question of how officers should be selected. In common with some of his colleagues, the hon. Member seems to have a rather poor view of those who occupy high office in the military forces of the country. Apparently, he does not consider them to be very capable of choosing the right type of officer and wants this to be done on a democratic basis. I do not know whether he is advocating soldiers' and sailors' councils—
§ Mr. McAdden
—as a good Soviet model for us to copy. In such councils, the soldiers and sailors would presumably meet on periodic occasions and elect those whom they wish to be the officers to preside over them. This idea, apparently, finds favour with the hon. Member, but I do not think it would find any favour with 643 those who have any experience of running an organisation of the character of the Home Guard.
I am fully Conscious that others wish to take part in the debate, and whilst there is much I should like to say, I confine myself to commending the Bill to the House. I believe that it represents a step that is necessary at this time, which will not create any alarm, panic or disturbance, but which will give to those who are anxious to be of service to their country the opportunity of rendering service in a way which they think is good and useful, and for which they are to be encouraged to volunteer. I hope we shall never find a shortage of people who are prepared to volunteer their services without pay or reward in order to be of service to their country and to defend its institutions of which they are proud and in which they believe.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) dismissed very vigorously the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) that the Home Guard organisation should be democratic. I should have thought, from our experience in the last war and from my hon. Friend's experience in 1914–18, that there was every reason for his plea. Even at this very moment, in one section of the Army social position counts very much for a commission. The Guards Regiments are an example. Certainly, we should pick the best men in any organisation, and the test should be whether they are good soldiers or good administrators.
Therefore, it is right and proper that my hon. Friends on this side of the House should emphasise the importance of the democratic nature of this organisation.
Again, the hon. Member for Southend, East, dismissed very vigorously the view and the criticism which we have put forward that the Bill is some form of a 644 panic Measure. But it is something new in our peace-time history for the Crown to ask for a certain number of men serving in an auxiliary organisation to be subject to military law.
§ Mr. McAdden
Is it not even more new in our peace-time organisation to conscript people for compulsory service with the Armed Forces of the Crown?
Certainly that was a new step forward when we introduced conscription, and it was right and proper that hon. Members on both sides of the House should offer searching criticism. I stress that this is something new. After all, we have a long tradition of constitutional liberty. We can go back to the Bill of Rights of 1689 and there it is stated,The raising or keeping of a standing Army within the Kingdom in time of peace unless it be with the consent of Parliament is against the lawWe all know that successive Army Acts have suspended that unrepealed provision of the Bill of Rights. The reason for that provision was not due to any objection on the part of the British people to military service, but that the Army might be dangerous to the liberty of the subject if it was in the hands of an unwise ruler. That is precisely the view we are putting forward to-day.
There are still dangers, particularly under a Tory Government, for in the last few days we have seen an increase in the power of the Executive and contempt for this House of Commons: key Ministers are in another place; and we are to, have a long Parliamentary Recess. It is because of these dangers that we put these questions as this new Force might be used in certain circumstances for other purposes.
It is all very well to give promises, but if we examine the Bill and the statements of Secretary of State for War we find that a person who is mustered, or a person who is in training is subject to military law. If such a person reported for training, he could be directed to do some task or job to which he strongly objected, but he would be subject to military law. Therefore, it is right and proper that in the interests of constitutional liberty we should probe the proposal made by the Secretary of State and insist that in no circumstances shall men be trained and used in industrial disputes. 645 I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War to reconsider making a final decision on the geographical division. This point of view has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. If this volunteer organisation is to protect key centres in time of emergency it should apply to the whole country. One may give an example of the interests of Liverpool in the west; they are just as important as the interests of some of the East Coast towns, which will have a larger defence organisation.
I have a feeling that the people advising the Minister are still thinking in terms of old warfare and the strategy to deal with a land invasion coming from Europe.
§ Mr. Head indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Peart
We should not be thinking purely in terms of past military strategy. I hope that the Colonel Blimp mentality which we still detect will evaporate when we discuss the matter in detail in Committee.
If it is necessary for the reasons mentioned by the Secretary of State for War to have this skeleton organisation prepared, it should apply to the whole of the country. Liverpool and other centres in the west have as much right to be considered as other areas in the east. There was also the point of view raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), on the question of London; as yet we have no details. I hope the Under-Secretary will give us more information in his reply.
I should like to know what real consultations there have been with the Territorial Association. The argument has been put forward by the Minister that the creation of this proposed organisation tactically and strategically will help in the use of Territorial Forces and other Forces. But is there not a danger that in peacetime, because of limited equipment and because of a limited number of trained instructors to give effective instruction of a military kind, we shall have two competing organisations? I hope there has been full consultation on training, and that it has been carefully discussed with organisations like the Territorial Association.
I should like to know what consultation there has been with trade unions and employers. After all, the Home Guard will ostensibly play a part in defending 646 factories, and I should like to know if this matter has been discussed. I recognise, as my right hon. Friend the ex-Minister of Defence said today, that we must have adequate defences. But we want reasons for a Measure which, to me, seems to be a panic Measure.
We want further information. It is not sufficient to present a Bill of this nature to the House of Commons when much of the information given by the Minister could have been included in some way or other in the Bill. I trust that we shall consider this Bill carefully in Committee. I am not a pacifist, as is my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I respect his point of view, but I believe in adequate defence, and if this organisation is to make its contribution, it has my wholehearted support, but for the moment I believe that this Bill is a panic Measure.
I support the Bill in principle, but I want more reasons for it, and I hope they will be forthcoming when we discuss the details. It is certainly important that we should have adequate defences, learn from the mistakes of the past and never again be caught napping. Above all, I hope that in the formation of an organisation like this, when we are departing from an important peace-time precedent, we shall bear in mind the importance of protection of constitutional liberty and the need to create a really democratic organisation.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has expressed anxiety, about snobbery in the Home Guard. I think that one of the very good things the Home Guard did was to bring town and country and every class of the community together. I am certain that in a very critical time in the history of our country it played an important part. I also believe I am right in saying that he and I had the honour of serving in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in different wars. He made some reference to guardsmen but I think he will agree that when we were in a tough place we were glad that the Guards were there—
§ Mr. Peart
I was not detracting from the high quality of the Guards Regiment, but I was quoting them as an example of the appointment of officers by social 647 considerations apart from military qualifications, which is the thing that matters. I hope that a practice of that kind will not be taken into consideration in the appointment of officers to the Home Guard.
§ Mr. Ashton
I am fully aware of the point made by the hon. Member and, while not necessarily accepting it, I wish to point out that the officers of the Guards have been very well chosen.
I wish to come to the speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I listened to it with some regret. He and I are old enough to remember the start of two world wars. We are near the end of the debate and I do not want to go over the ground minutely, but I think he will agree that had better preparations been made in 1914 and 1939 many of those who laid down their lives might have been spared. He and many others in this House before the Second World War found themselves unable to support what preparations were made.
I have been in this House only a relatively short time, but I have seen the right hon. Gentleman at this Despatch Box putting forward a programme for rearmament, the necessity for which we all regret; first £100 million, then £3,600 million and then £4,700 million. In the face of some rather bitter opposition from behind him he stood up to criticism and did what he felt was his duty to this country at a difficult time.
He did not happen to be in the Chamber when the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) made his speech. We often enjoy the interventions of the hon. Member. I know it has been said that he is, in fact, a pacifist. I admire a chap like that: it requires great moral courage to be a pacifist. But I think he also would agree with me that if we had all found ourselves in that frame of mind in two world wars then he and I would not be able to be standing here having what, I hope, is a friendly, objective discussion on this matter.
§ Mr. Ashton
The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, and I am entitled to mine.
648 The point was made perfectly legitimately that the right hon. Member for Easington seems to have changed his mind. When he was in office we gave him every support in these proposals. Now he has taunted us with this Measure, saying it has sinister designs, and that we were going to spend a lot more money. As regards the sinister motive I thought that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) seemed to put that in its proper perspective. The suggestion was made by the right hon. Gentleman that the Home Guard might be used for breaking strikes. The implication in his voice was that that was the intention—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I merely asked the question. It was quite a proper question to ask. I received an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, but I wanted more than an assurance. I cannot recall having said that this Bill was inspired by sinister motives.
§ Mr. Ashton
My recollection of the words used was that the right hon. Gentleman said that despite the assurance, he must have it put in the Bill, because he did not trust the word of the Tories.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If I say that I do not trust the word of the Tories that is not imputing sinister motives. It is merely stating a fact.
§ Mr. Ashton
I was very glad that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw put the thing in its right perspective. He said there was obviously no intention whatever in this Bill to do that, and furthermore, that it was quite impracticable.
Sound arguments have been put forward that there might be some competition for personnel. In my own county of Essex, unfortunately, Civil Defence recruiting has not been very good, nor has it been all over the country. I think there has been only a 30 per cent. response. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) that there has been some hesitation as a result of the situation in which these people were left by the right hon. Gentleman saying—as I noticed he is raising his eyebrows I will quote what he did say, after making a statement on 15th November, 1950—in reply to a question:Anyone who wishes may transfer from Civil Defence to the Home Guard, provided 649 that there is a place in the establishment. I imagine that no difficulty will arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1950: Vol. 480, c. 1716.]It seems to some of us that if under those circumstances there was an emergency, and those in the Civil Defence were transferred to the Home Guard, there might be very considerable difficulties. That is a point which my right hon. Friend might look into. There will be competition for manpower, not only in regard to the Home Guard and Civil Defence, but in many other duties.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend in his admirable opening speech reiterated that this is an entirely voluntary effort. A voluntary effort is something which is encouraged by example. I am sorry that the age limit has prevented the right hon. Gentleman himself from coming forward again and serving in the House of Commons Home Guard as he did during the Second World War. But it is the case that ages are sometimes scaled down. People do come forward and put down their ages rather differently from what they really are.
There has been a lot of argument to the effect that this is the wrong time to prepare. But when are we to make any preparations for war? There are people in Civil Defence who have been there for 15 months and I think that some of them are just a little "browned off" These things are very difficult. Had it been suggested in 1939, even after the outbreak of war, that a Home Guard would be necessary, anyone making that suggestion would have been laughed to scorn. We have had two world wars. Surely if there is any doubt we ought to err on the side of making rather more preparations than less. There are difficult problems to be tackled in putting into operation the details of this Bill, but, having regard to our previous bitter experience, I believe that we are right in going ahead with this Measure.
Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that what has been done already in the world in the last 18 months has tended to prevent the outbreak of a third world war. We sincerely hope that none of these measures will be necessary, but I for one believe that what we are proposing to do in this Bill is the right and proper course to take, and I therefore support it.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
It is common ground that a Home Guard will be necessary in time of war. The issue raised by this Bill is whether it is desirable, in view of all the other things which have to be done for the national defence, to raise and start to train the Home Guard now. On that point I will press the Secretary of State for War on the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). I understood the right hon. Gentleman, in answering that question, to say that he considered that men enlisted into this Force would be capable of carrying out the duties required of them almost as soon as they entered the Force.
Am I right in thinking that was the substance of the reply made to my hon. Friend? If not, if we assume, as he does, that registration and recruitment for this Force begins in January of next year, how soon after that date does the right hon. Gentleman think the men who joined would be adequately trained to perform the duties required of them? How soon after that date would it be? If the right hon. Gentleman does not feel that he can—
§ Mr. Head
I am sorry. I thought the hon. Member was asking a question to which he expected the Under-Secretary to reply. I am quite willing to reply now if he would prefer it.
I think the situation is that these men who join the Force will start training and I think we can say there will be two different categories; one on the cadre basis where, of course, the period from when they are called on the cadre basis to when they are fully ready will be longer. But those in the Eastern areas will be on an effective basis and after the enlisting and training has been progressing for about two or three months we can take it that those men will be capable of fulfilling their function. Of course, they will get better as time goes on, but after two or three months I think they should be fairly capable.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is the period I should have expected. We are being asked, therefore, to start in January next year a task that will, in fact, take two or three months to get to the point of readiness. The question to which the House must address itself is whether it is wise to begin a task like that, which 651 can, admittedly, be completed in a relatively short period of time, in the face of many other demands on manpower and resources caused by the national defence effort, quite apart from calls on our national resources for other but equally necessary purposes.
I deprecate the approach of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who suggested that because we were not entirely in agreement with the Government that it was right to begin this particular Measure at the present time, therefore, there was some lack of good will on our part towards the problem of national defence as a whole. It is a peculiar doctrine that the Opposition are to be accused of a lack of good will towards national defence because they do not see eye to eye with the Government as to the efficiency, the necessity or the right timing of any particular Measure.
I would also ask whether there may not be here a diversion of resources from some necessary military directions, because the operation of the Bill is going to create problems in a number of different fields—equipment, clothing, manpower and accommodation. Regarding equipment. I believe that to be the least serious difficulty of the lot, and I think I understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly when he said that it would be possible to equip this Force up to 125,000, and quite possibly beyond that figure, if necessary, with rifles or Sten guns without doing any injury to either the Regular or Territorial Forces.
I am glad to have the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman on that point, and I hope he will make it quite clear to the Prime Minister, who is always charging the former Government with having mislaid, somehow or another, an enormous supply of rifles, because, as we now discover, that is not so.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will be at the War Office very much longer before discovering very 652 adequate reasons for that. We are very happy to have his assurance, despite the alarm created by his right hon. Friend in the last Parliament, that there will be adequate rifles and Sten guns for the purpose.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right not to attempt to provide this Force with uniforms at the present time, but I will say to him that he will have to resist pressure from certain quarters to provide it with uniforms at the expense of the Regular Forces. It has begun to appear already from the back benches this afternoon, with the suggestion that Questions will appear on the Order Paper asking for uniforms for this Force. He will have to be resolute and frank with the people who join up from the start in telling them that, desirable as it would be to provide them with uniforms if that could be done properly, it would be desperately dangerous to hurry it up if that meant taking supplies away from the requirements of the Regular and Territorial Forces.
Most serious of all will be the problem created in regard to manpower. Quite clearly, considerable sections of the population are not eligible to join the Home Guard at all. That follows from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman and in the very nature of things. Has he considered the two figures—the 130,000 or so which he plans to raise in the first instance, and the total number of the population who could be eligible for the Home Guard? What proportion does that 130,000 represent of the totals who may be eligible? I reckon, from the facts available to me and also to the right hon. Gentleman, that it might be one in 60 or one in 80 of all those who might conceivably be regarded as eligible to enrol in the Home Guard. I think he should consider very carefully whether, in making an appeal of that kind at a time when he is demanding voluntary services for a very large number of purposes, he will get the response that he desires.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there might be some rivalry between those engaged on Civil Defence by resolving the uncertainty about the Home Guard, and by saying to people that they were under a condition of uncertainty no longer, and he suggested that we might get more recruits for the 653 Home Guard and more for Civil Defence. I am in fairly close touch with those who are active in Civil Defence organisations in my own constituency, and I have no doubt that many other hon. Members will say the same.
Would any of them, from their own experience, say that the people who are keen on Civil Defence in their constituencies were now rejoicing that the Home Guard has been created again, because they feel that the uncertainty is resolved and that they are now likely, therefore, to get people who previously have been hanging back? I thought that argument from the right hon. Gentleman was in the highest degree tenuous and theoretical. Did the right hon. Gentleman have any consultation at all with the people responsible for Civil Defence organisations, and did he ask them what they considered would be the effect on their organisations of the introduction of this Bill?
We have to consider, on this question of manpower, the occupations of the people who may join the Home Guard. Not long ago, in the last Parliament, we had a debate on the progress of re-armament, in which great emphasis was laid on the need for shift working. I think the right hon. Gentleman and those who, under his authority, have to raise and train this Force will come up against that problem very seriously indeed, particularly in certain localities where the pressure of re-armament work is great. He must consider, and certainly his colleagues at the Ministry of Supply will have to consider, whether he can, at the same time, make demands for overtime work and shift working and demand from the population this additional voluntary service all at once.
Further, there is the question of organising a number of men in different occupations, some of whom are on shift work, while some others are not. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that there are certain occupations which, by the nature of things, must preclude the people who follow them from entering the Home Guard, and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), I wonder whether the War Office have had any consultations with the National Joint Advisory Council for Industry to try to solve this problem.
654 If they have, the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech introducing this Bill, was not particularly forthcoming. Indeed, the only information we have had so far on this question of occupation and membership of the Home Guard is that Members of Parliament may be members of the Home Guard. No doubt that is a very good beginning, but it still hardly solves the problem which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
Most serious of all, I think, will be the problem of accommodation, because, unless they are very careful, the Government are going to give rise to a great number of intolerable difficulties which will frustrate and discourage people who are trying, in a very short time, voluntarily and under considerable difficulties, to join in their country's service. What I think we are all concerned about is that we shall not make an appeal for voluntary effort, and, after six or 12 months, have a collection of frustrated and irritated people as a result. If that happens, it is more likely to be caused by a shortage of accommodation and premises than by anything else.
We are told that indoor training—I do not think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned outdoor training—will be done in hired halls. There are many parts of the country, and particularly the big towns, where it is extremely difficult to get accommodation of that kind regularly at all. Meanwhile, the equipment will, presumably, have to be stored in premises belonging to the Territorial Army. I expect the right hon. Gentleman knows—he probably has had already some complaints on the matter—that the Army Cadet Corps has been regarded as the poor relation of the Territorial Army, and have to take themselves into unwanted corners of Territorial Army premises. There is the danger that he will aggravate that problem.
Without taking up too much time, I want to draw a picture, not necessarily of what will happen—nor, I hope, of what is likely to happen—but of what might happen under the operation of the Bill unless rather more thought is given to this technical material problem than, judging from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, has so far been given. For example, we might have a group of men meeting together to do one, one and a 655 half or two hours' training one evening. They may meet at a hired hall.
Unfortunately, on this particular occasion, the hall is to be used for a bazaar on the following day and the men are particularly asked not to interfere with a large number of trestle tables and other equipment on pain that if they do the hall may not be available to them in future. When they have solved that difficulty, there is, of course, the fact that their equipment is at premises of the Territorial Association some distance away where, very prudently, it is kept under lock and key, the person having the key not being present on that particular evening.
Then there is the group of men themselves who are to do their training. It may be a piece of continuous training when it is desirable that the same men should be present week after week. Unfortunately, in this particular week some of the men who understand the matter best are absent, possibly because they are on shift work, and others may be hon. Members of this House who are unable to find a pair. I have there, of course, assumed that every possible difficulty happens to fall on one particular night and on one particular group, but will any hon. Member who has experience of any kind of voluntary organisation deny that that is quite likely the kind of thing that may happen unless considerable thought is devoted to petty little details of seeing that everything is ready on the spot? And all that arranging has got to be done by people working in their spare time.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was not to be centralised administration from the War Office. I do not know why, but it always falls to Secretaries of State for War to try to gain confidence by assuring whatever section of the community they are speaking to that their Department will have as little to do with the matter as it is possible to manage. But I hope that if his Department does not go in for over-centralised administration—and I trust it will not—he will, nevertheless, find some means of keeping a sharp eye on the operation of the Home Guard under this Bill when it comes into force so that the kind of fiasco I have been describing does not gradually become more and more the rule instead of the exception. I think that hon. Mem- 656 bers opposite will be bound to admit that we are pointing out a serious difficulty to which anybody concerned with defence must give his attention.
Inevitably, the Force will make some calls on the time of members either of the Territorial or the Regular Forces. It cannot be run without some assistance, if only in the form of periodic advice from those people. The right hon. Gentleman will have to satisfy himself—and in the later stages of the Bill the House—that that can be done without interfering with the efficiency of the Regular and Territorial Forces. We used repeatedly to be advised by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they occupied these benches that an essential part of the Army side of defence was that one must not tamper with the quality and efficiency of the Regular Army. I hope that side of it will be borne in mind when the problems of this Bill are being worked out.
I am perturbed at the speed with which the Government want, apparently, to rush through the House not only this Measure, but the necessary Regulations. We have been told that it is intended to start registration in January. What does that mean? It means getting all stages of this Bill through Parliament in the remaining two weeks before Christmas, and then, presumably, if Parliament is to have any chance of looking at the Regulations before they actually come into force, they also will have to be laid before the House before Christmas. Can that be done? I think it extremely unlikely. On the other hand, it will be most unfortunate if these Regulations are issued and a Force is raised under them before Parliament has had any opportunity of discussing them.
It is quite true that in some matters we have to give the Executive arm of the Government greater liberty in military and defence matters than in certain other fields, but as we all very well know—and it is an essential part of our Constitution—we insist on a double measure of Parliamentary control over the Executive in military matters. Not sufficient attention appears to have been paid to that when we look at the breakneck pace with which the Government have tried to push through this Measure.
It is quite unnecessary for them to do that, and they would probably do the job better if they paused to consider and tried 657 to deal with some of the problems which some of my hon. Friends and I have been raising before they tried to rush the Bill and Regulations through Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that a great deal of detail work needs to be done. While I believe it right to give this Bill a Second Reading tonight, I think it unfortunate that more of this detail work that needs to be done was not done before the Bill was originally presented to the House.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior - Palmer (Worthing)
We have just listened to the sort of thoughtful and constructive speech which one expects from an ex-Financial Secretary to the War Office, and I am certain we shall look forward to the very valuable advice of the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), on the Committee and remaining stages of this Bill. In answer to his criticism that we are rushing this matter too quickly, I would point out that the party to which I belong have often been criticised by hon. Members opposite for saying, "Not today, but tomorrow," and that when we do grasp the nettle and take action we are criticised for doing so.
The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do the real reason for this. He knows perfectly well—and so does the ex-Minister of Defence, although he did not show it in his speech—that the Territorial Army will be embodied and formed at the earliest possible moment in the unfortunate event of war and will then go immediately overseas. That is the object of the Territorial Army; it is the first line of reinforcements for our Army overseas, and that is why it is so vitally important that this Force should be raised. Knowing how long it takes to get a volunteer Force on to an effective basis, I for one do not believe that we are starting a minute too soon. I implored hon. Members opposite when they sat on this side of the House to get on with it and to form it on a cadre basis, which they eventually did, and now, I believe, is the time to go one step further than that.
The difficulties which the hon. Gentleman raised are the very things that make people upset and "sour them up," to use a colloquial expression. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will do as was suggested in the "Manchester Guardian" today, and see that there is a 658 Home Guard for the people to join. It is vitally important that all the untidy ends shall be tied up before men are asked to give their service, and that we do not have, as has been evident so often in the past in voluntary organisations, people arriving and finding nothing ready for them, nothing organised, and very little in the way of equipment.
I should like to say a few words on a subject not yet mentioned in this debate and that is the whole question of part-time man-power, of which the Holm, Guard is one of the integral parts. I believe the Government have now to grasp another nettle. They have to decide how we are to deal with the whole subject of the economic use of part-time man-power in this country. The Home Guard, Civil Defence, the Special Constabulary, the hospital Reserve, the Auxiliary Fire Service and fire-watching are all on a voluntary basis, and all being competed for and recruited—under separate Defence Regulations—and administered by separate Departments.
If we are not to make exactly the same mistake as we made in the last war, and if there is not to be this appalling competition between Departments for part-time man-power, and the private armies to which it gives rise, then it is about time one statutory authority was made responsible for co-ordinating the competing claims of the various Departments for part-time man-power. In my view the Minister of Labour should be responsible. If this arrangement is not made we shall have the chaos in this matter that we had during the last war.
The whole question of Civil Defence vis-a-vis the Home Guard is very complicated. There are two chains of administration and command, one civil and one military. It is clear to me that one can never merge the two, otherwise the chains of command and administration will become inextricably muddled. I believe there is a solution on the basis of integration in certain areas.
It needs stressing strongly with regard to the Home Guard that areas differ widely in their requirements. In one area we may need more Civil Defence than Home Guard and vice versa. In other areas the needs may be equal. It is possible, as happened in at least one case during the war, that a company of Home Guard is trained in Civil Defence and 659 if it comes about that Civil Defence is paramount they are able to take over those duties. I believe that something of that nature will have to be operated in the unfortunate event of future hostilities.
Now we have a situation quite different from the previous one. There is no question for the moment of a seaborne invasion but a very real possibility—I do not say a probability—of an airborne invasion. Why have the Russians seven airborne divisions if they are not going to use them? Let us not forget that this country is the key to the whole Western defence, and there are many reasons why airborne landings on this country, either on a large or small, penny-packet scale, could have a devastating effect on the war effort.
The only way to make certain that that does not happen is to make quite certain that it would fail. We know the Russian mentality in these matters. We have known frequently in the past how the Russians would not take anything on unless there was a five to one chance of success. Let us make the chance less than that. Let us make it an even money chance, if not less, that they would fail.
That is why a new conception of the Home Guard must be inculcated into everybody. The Home Guard must not go back to its old basis of marching with rifles and being prepared to defend the beaches and so on. We have an entirely different and more difficult job to do—the job of anti-sabotage and of rounding up parachutists in the event of a landing. The Commando type of training and the Commando type of weapon and type of fellow are required. The men must have the Commando instinct in them.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite often talk about the democratisation of the Army or the Home Guard, and I should like to say a word about that. I was one of those who long before the war urged that promotion should be from the ranks, as every other reasonable commanding officer did.
Hon. Members opposite should know that the test applied to any young man now before he obtains a commission is one I, at any rate, would not like to go through at my age. It is a very rigorous test of intelligence, leadership and physical fitness. But the prime and only real test is leadership. A man must 660 have leadership born in him and candidates for commissions are subjected to the very greatest possible test in that regard.
As far as the democratisation of the Home Guard is concerned I wish hon. Members opposite had seen, as I saw, a noble Lord, whom I will not name, crawling down a very wet ditch as a private soldier in the Home Guard with a corporal, his own under-keeper, behind him shouting at him to go faster. Hon. Members opposite should realise that the Home Guard was completely democratic. I know many people who have held high rank in the Army who would be perfectly happy to be private soldiers in the Home Guard and hand the command over to somebody else.
We must also face the problem of creating in the Home Guard mobile military columns. I am quite certain the Regular Army or the Territorial Army will not be able to continue to fulfil that rôle. It would be a most glaring example of counting one's chickens twice to calculate on their doing it. It is a possible task for the Home Guard on a local basis. I do not think the Bristol Home Guard should be brought to Liverpool or vice versa. There are on almost every farm today four-wheeled drive ex-Army lorries and jeeps, and with their aid I believe that the new Home Guard could fulfil that commitment. But to do that they must have proper communications. They cannot rely on telephones but must use wireless communications on the lines of the communications used in the last war.
All this has to be done and it is all very difficult. I hope and pray it will be buttoned up and tidied up before the men are asked to come forward. I agree with hon. Members opposite on that point. We must get these things going so that when the men come forward there are facilities for them to train, and a proper organisation.
My right hon. Friend did not mention anti-aircraft defence. Are the Territorial Army to be responsible for the whole of it or are the Home Guard to take it over in whole or in part? I am sure the House would like an answer.
Finally, I ask the Government to tell the people the reason for taking these steps. We all know the kind of terms on which this debate started from the benches 661 opposite, and I am sure we all deplore it. The debate is now on a reasonable and constructive basis again, but do not let us forget that there are honourable Members opposite who are saying that this is only a strike-breaking organisation; and if they are saying it in this House they will say it on the public platform.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Let us tell the people with a strong voice on the radio or through the newspapers the reason for this Bill. Then I am sure that my right hon. Friend will secure all the recruits he requires.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I do not think the Government have really made out a case for introducing the Bill in its present form at the present time. In fact the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and the speeches of many of his hon. Friends have confirmed many of the criticisms from this side of the House of the introduction of this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member has referred to the fact that at present there is a great conflict for voluntary manpower between the various Services; and there has been nothing like sorting out all the problems which would allow the Bill to be presented in a reasonable form.
I want particularly to address myself to these problems of personnel which have been referred to so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), the former Under-Secretary of State for War. One has to remember the atmosphere in which the Home Guard was originally created and which, I believe, is the only sort of atmosphere in which a body of this sort can be brought into being and maintained. All of us who served in the Home Guard remember very well the call made by the Foreign Secretary at that time and the enormous response, almost overnight, to that appeal. We remember how the original Local Defence Volunteers started, as a sort of body of armed citizenry without training, with few weapons and without uniforms. I remember myself being slightly surprised to find myself wandering round a factory of which I was manager, wearing a tin hat, 662 an arm band and a rifle slung over my shoulder.
At that time all sorts of spontaneous and unorthodox methods for dealing with a possible invasion sprung into being. There were very strange home-made explosives. I well remember attending a training camp where the former Member for Dulwich, with the rank of private, though everybody called him "major", demonstrated some very extraordinary weapons which we could make for ourselves, and the use of shot guns using single ball ammunition. However, as the immediate danger receded and military supplies became more available, the Home Guard became a much more orthodox military body, and finally it became a conscript one.
Thereafter, as the long years of the war proceeded, the problem was one of maintaining the interest and morale of its members. This became increasingly difficult, especially as a large proportion of the members of the Home Guard were industrial workers, very often working long hours, on shift work and under abnormal conditions. Now, as the rearmament programme gets going, the hours of work will probably increase and, no doubt, conditions will become more difficult.
The other problem that most of us found in the Home Guard was that its rôle became rather uncertain. It did a good many guard duties which did not seem to be very necessary, and it was not clear what it was actually supposed to be doing. When hon. Members opposite speak of it acting as a defence against a serious airborne invasion, I think they are exaggerating the rôle which the Home Guard would really perform. I myself never thought that we could do more than hinder the airborne troops for a few short moments while most of us got slaughtered. I doubt if this job could be undertaken by a force based on a small body in permanent being and suddenly enlarged in time of war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) dealt very well with the practical problems involved. It would seem almost impossible that the enemy whom we have in mind would launch an airborne invasion before, at any rate a large part of Europe had been overrun. This. I think, raises rather difficult and also 663 political problems. One of the problems to which a good deal of reference has been made, and which existed all the time during the existence of the Home Guard, was that of training, finding suitable instructors and officering. I admit that was during the war when training instructors and officers were difficult to obtain, but, after all, I imagine that would be the case at the present time as the Armed Forces are called up.
I think the complaint at the present time is that it is difficult to find sufficient training N.C.O.s and officers for the National Service men who are coming into the Forces and the Territorial Army which is growing as the National Service men come out. I should have thought that to divert to this job officers and N.C.O.s would interfere with the training of National Service men and Territorials. As my hon. Friend said, I think with some justification, there is the serious danger that the officering of the Force will be by local big-wigs and local factory officials. It is a danger of which those of us who have served in the Force in the past are aware.
I doubt also whether in these days, when people are fairly well informed about the modern weapons of war, we could really maintain interest in such a Force if it were equipped only with rifles and Sten guns. I should have thought that if the Force was to feel it had any serious function it would soon demand much more important weapons. I support the views which were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. I should have thought that the first priority in home defence would be defence not against invasion but against air attacks.
I cannot accept the view that the establishment of this Force would increase recruiting to the Civil Defence Service. I should have thought that the conflict of demands between the various Services, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing referred, would lead to a lack of recruitment to Civil Defence which is already very much under-staffed.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I want to get the matter clear. He must remember that the Home Guard at the moment 664 is to be recruited on a skeleton basis. I know the hon. Gentleman is not trying to misrepresent me, but what I was trying to say is this: Soon—if, indeed, the time has not already come—we must have a co-ordinator for the whole-time voluntary Services in the country, and that should be the Minister of Labour. I do not think that the fact that at this moment there is not a co-ordinator will make a lot of difference to the recruitment of one or the other, but the existence of such a co-ordinator would at least clear the air.
§ Mr. Albu
I agree. It would be a good idea to have a co-ordinator to work out the available manpower.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) asked the Secretary of State for War whether he had, in fact, made an examination of the pool of voluntary labour available, but this does not appear to have been done. I agree it would have been better if this had been done and if there had been some plan of co-ordination of the Services before the Bill had been introduced.
I would say to my hon. Friends who fear that this Force might be used against industrial workers that I doubt if this is the case today. Such a Force cannot be organised unless the industrial workers are part of it. Such a Force would consist very largely of industrial workers guarding factories and strong-points. Neither do I believe that the party opposite would want to return to the industrial climate of the first quarter of the century, and I do not believe that anyone with such a dramatic historical sense as the Prime Minister would wish to turn back the pages of history that far.
The danger, as I see it, is that by creating this Force at this time and keeping it in being over what may be a long and indefinite period will mean that it will be subject to increasing demoralisation and that it will become an increasing and wasteful charge on the public expenditure.
I hope I shall not be considered in any way as expressing any lack of appreciation of the work that the Home Guard did or might have to do again, if I quote in my own defence what was said about 665 a previous Home Guard by the poet Dryden:The country rings around with loud Alarms,And raw in Fields the rude Militia swarms;Mouths without hands; maintained at vast expence,In peace a charge, in War a weak Defence;Stout once a Month they march, a blust'ring Band,And ever, but in times of Need, at hand;This was the Morn when issuing on the Guard,Drawn up in Rank and File they stood prepar'dOf seeming Arms to make a short essay,Then hasten to be Drunk, the Business of the Day.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I do not understand the criticism and the opposition to this Bill from hon. Members opposite. It seems to me to be a natural sequence of the policy adopted by the late Government—namely, conscription and re-armament—and it marches with our policy on this side of the House of negotiating by strength. Although I am not in the confidence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, I should imagine that the real purpose of this "new old Force" is to have somebody here in this country should all the other Forces be taken away under the organisation of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
I want to add a tribute to the new Secretary of State for War. This was a difficult Bill to introduce, because so much depends on what will be done under it, as has often been said by hon. Members opposite. Nevertheless, he introduced it with much modesty, competence and persuasiveness—and I am sorry he is not here to hear me say so.
There are one or two points I must make about his speech, and the first concerns the one hour a week to be allotted for the training of the new Home Guard. Knowing what was necessary in the old days, that seems to me a very little time to give, but possibly the right hon. Gentleman has in view the fact that most of the Home Guard of the future will have had recent war experience and no doubt will not need the very long training which we had to endure in the years from 1940 to 1945.
Secondly, there is the question of the Is, a week allowance for depreciation of civilian clothes. When I remember the exercises we used to have amongst the rubble in the centre of London, I cannot 666 believe that Is, a week will compensate for the damage done—and in those days it was done to very hard-wearing uniforms. The time will come, I feel, when either the depreciation allowance will have to be substantially increased or, as was said by hon. Members opposite, a uniform of some sort will have to be provided. It might be denim overalls. After all, we had denim overalls for about two years and we got along fairly well with them.
The reason why I have sat so long in the House today without shifting my gaze from your Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that I had a little experience in the last Home Guard and I thought it might be useful to those upon whom the responsibility will devolve for organising the new Home Guard—although, possibly, I am one of those whom my friend Low would term a Blimp and whose attitude to these matters should not be regarded except as a joke.
I do not want to make a point of this, but I raised and trained and commanded a Home Guard battalion in the fast war. Furthermore, as hon. Members may recall, we had a Home Guard Joint Parliamentary Committee, and I believe that Committee probably did more good than any other organisation of its kind throughout the years of its existence. I had the honour to be its Chairman, but I mention this only because I want to explain why I think what I say may be helpful, All these things are based on experience. The wheel goes round and fresh circumstances present themselves, but inevitably we come back to some experience of similar times in days before.
I welcome the Bill for one reason in particular—because I think it will probably redress some of the disadvantages from which the previous Home Guard suffered. On the last occasion, the Civil Defence Force was early in the field—in 1938. The Home Guard was formed, inevitably, much later, so that a host of the patriotic volunteers were skimmed first by the Civil Defence Service. Because of that, much of our material was either too young or too old for its essential purpose.
Civil Defence has been first in the field again, although, as far as I can gather, the result has so far not been very satisfactory—it seems like a skeleton which has not yet received any clothing. Never- 667 theless, Civil Defence was first in the field, and although this Bill has not been long delayed since we came into office, I fear the result may be similar to what happened on the last occasion. I hope that the Prime Minister will come to the microphone again to issue one of his familiar challenges to the spirit of our people—and probably hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me.
§ Sir T. Moore
During the five years when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister of this country his many broadcasts did nothing but inspire and energise and unite this country, and I imagine that the same thing would happen again.
As has been said many times today, the first problem is the constitution and character of this new Force. Like the old Home Guard, it will have no sanctions, no powers of discipline except when mustered and on duty. It will have to rely on the character and personality of the officers, therefore, and, of course, on the loyalty of the men, which was given so fully in the last war. Hon. Members opposite will probably agree that, whether we take the case of a factory or of a ship or of a battalion in the Army, if it is a good factory, or a good ship, or a good battalion the cause probably comes from the top, just as if it is a bad factory or a bad ship or a bad battalion it indicates that there is a bad managing director, or a bad captain or a bad colonel. That makes it essential that the officers chosen, however they are chosen, should be chosen because of their integrity, their character and their leadership.
In the last war, as everyone knows, most of us in the Home Guard bad long left the Army and were ignorant of the modern methods of battle training—and certainly ignorant of modern weapons. That was one of the reasons why it was necessary to establish the expensive training schools and the other forms of instruction. That brings me to a suggestion which has already been made, that the officers of the new Home Guard should have had practical experience and knowledge of the late war, which will make it unnecessary for us again to establish these expensive training institutions. If officers come more or less fresh from the methods 668 of the last war, they will be able to teach their own men without the necessity for the men to be trained by denuding the Regular Army of instructors.
Hon. Members have already mentioned the difficulty of recruiting men who are working on re-armament or on shift duty, even for only one hour a week training. Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend to consider whether it might be advisable to use some of the refugees in this country?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is making a very impressive speech, but there are only four Conservative Members in the Chamber.
§ Sir T. Moore
As a humorist, the hon. Member has no competitor in the House, but I am not debating his humour tonight. I was dealing with the problem of filling the ranks of the new Home Guard. Some years ago we had 187,000 trained Poles in this country. They were men who wanted only one thing—to free their country from Russian occupation. We have a number of such friends—some thousands. We have a great number of refugees of various kinds who would only too gladly, I am sure, if allowed, join this Home Guard and protect the country that has given them sanctuary. I should be glad if the Under-Secretary of State would consider that point.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not suggesting that we should bring any displaced persons into the Home Guard in this country?
§ Sir T. Moore
Why not? What is wrong with it? That question is typical of hon. Members opposite. They put forward a proposition and can find no answer to it or any argument to support it.
It is very unfortunate that we seem to be divided in this House tonight, not on the principle but certainly on the timing, of this Bill. That is a great pity, because I think that the Home Guard, like foreign policy, should be taken out of party controversy. The Home Guard will consist of Socialists, Liberals and Conservatives throughout the country.
§ Sir T. Moore
I do not know. However, it does not seem to be right that there should be this controversy in this House. In the Committee to which I made reference we had Tories, Liberals and Socialists. I admit that those were Coalition days and that that made it very much easier, but the question of the defence of the country should not be a matter of party dispute, and if we combine, as we combined before and can combine again, I believe we shall remove all the obstacles in the House against the Bill, and that will remove any sort of party complex from the whole organisation itself throughout the country. That would be a very great achievement if we could succeed in it.
There was a point raised about the integration, if such it could be called, of the Home Guard and the Civil Defence. I wonder, must they be separated, and why? There is obviously very good reason for it. No doubt my hon. Friend will give us the reason when he replies to the Debate. However, in my own experience of the Home Guard we did a lot of Civil Defence work in the war. Of course, in the villages it was inevitable —and it will be inevitable again—that there was complete integration between the Home Guard and Civil Defence if only because the manpower situation there alone demanded it.
If there is no feasibility of complete integration, I suggest that the Home Guard should be fully acquainted with the duties and responsibilities of Civil Defence. I do not put it in reverse, because that may be difficult, but I think that that would be an admirable form of training, and the Home Guard could carry out the job, at any rate in the smaller places, which the Civil Defence organisation at present does.
I trust, and I suppose everyone of us here prays, that this Home Guard may never be called upon to carry out its purpose; but it has a purpose, and its purpose is to defend this country from either dictation or destruction, and it is our job here in this House to try to make it an organisation adequate for and worthy of that great task.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall)
When so many more eloquent voices than mine have tried and failed it is scarcely likely 670 that I shall be able to succeed in impressing upon the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) why it is that on this side of the House we are not giving more active support to this Bill. For my part I very much regret, having, if I may say so with respect, conceived a great admiration for the Secretary of State for War during the six years we have both been Members of this House, not being able to give wholehearted approval to the first Measure, of any importance at least, he brings before the House.
We all agree that in the event of war the Home Guard will form an important part of the pattern of the defence of this country. Therefore, we regard it as important that when the Home Guard is formed it shall be a success, and we do not believe that the present time and the present circumstances are those in which this organisation can be brought into being, or brought into being once again with a sufficient amount of success to justify it.
There is, of course, the other ground of criticism of some of the roles for which the Home Guard is cast and some of the ideas underlying the present framework of its organisation. I shall not go over the ground so many hon. Members have been over tonight about the geographical division of the country, but it certainly does seem to me a little odd to advertise to the world in advance, when the Home Guard is being formed to deal, as the Secretary of State said, with incidents; that incidents are likely to be dealt with less efficiently in Glasgow and Birmingham than in Leeds or Newcastle; and that, in effect, is what the geographical division means.
I hope I am not misquoting the right hon. Gentleman, but I do regard with the utmost apprehension the use of the Home Guard for—to use his own words, I think—"dealing with sabotage." I do not know what "dealing with sabotage" means exactly, but if it means any kind of work to prevent sabotage, other than merely guarding certain points, then I can conceive of no organisation less fitted to deal with sabotage than the Home Guard.
§ Mr. Head
Would the hon. Gentleman mind? May I put his mind at rest? I apologise if I did not make that clear, 671 but the intention is purely that of guarding vulnerable points—not of a kind of secret organisation existing in factories to prevent anybody dropping a pebble into some vital piece of machinery, but purely a protective rôle of guarding vulnerable points.
§ Mr. Wells
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that piece of information. I do not dissent for one moment from what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said about the dangers of trying to provide uniform for the Home Guard at the present time. I think that this offer of £2 12s. a year compensation for damage to clothing will rapidly be found to be wholly inadequate, and I think that the fact of there not being clothing provided by the State for this purpose will cause a lot of domestic irritation. I fully agree with my hon. Friend that it would be most dangerous at the present time to attempt to provide the Home Guard with uniforms, and I think it is clear that pressure of that kind will be applied, and applied quite soon; but in my view there are reasons for this pressure being applied that the right hon. Gentleman may find it very hard to resist.
I do not want to obtrude upon what is a kind of defence debate unnecessary considerations of law because I happen to be a lawyer, but the fact was that at the time of the formation of the Home Guard in 1940—and I was very much concerned with this because at the time I was serving in the War Office in the branch responsible for the organisation and administration of the Home Guard—at the time of the formation of the Force under the name of the Local Defence Volunteers in 1940 there was great apprehension expressed, which was enhanced at that time by articles in the German Press, that Forces not provided with uniform would be liable to be treated as franc-tireurs and, under the rules of war, shot out of hand and not treated as prisoners.
§ Mr. Head
This raises a point which may well cause anxiety among volunteers for this Force, and I should perhaps have included a reference to it in my speech. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have, since the end of the last war, signed a convention with all the 672 powers concerned, including any possible foe, that an individual that is equipped with a steel helmet, a rifle and an armband is taken as a responsible member of the armed forces of the country to which he is accredited, and under that international law, cannot be shot as a franc-tireur by any of those who signed that treaty.
§ Mr. Wells
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that it is probable that under international law, even before the Convention, troops provided with an armband would, purely from the legal standpoint, have been regarded as having sufficient means of identification not to have been in danger. But what happens when one is discussing this not as a nice academic point in this House, or elsewhere, as to what is a suitable means of identification, and what happens in the heat of the moment are rather different. However. I would not wish to labour this point from one point of view, because I think that it is quite doubtful, in the event of hostilities of the kind contemplated breaking out, whether the Forces opposed to us will pay much attention to the rules of war in that respect.
I do, however, submit to the right hon. Gentleman that this is one of those points which have a very considerable effect on the morale of the Force. If we are to form a Force and bring it into being, but not to give it any immediate task and not to provide it with a proper uniform, and we are to raise, all these difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) pointed out so forcibly, we are then running into the danger of destroying the spirit of the Force a long time before the Force is called upon to form any public task of importance.
Right hon. and hon. Members, when in Opposition, frequently criticised the Government that I was endeavouring to support on the ground that it was trying to do too much at once; and this is the ground on which, in my submission, the right hon. Gentleman is open to criticism tonight. There is no difference between the two sides of the House on the need for a Home Guard in certain eventualities; there is no difference as to its importance; but we do believe that this is the wrong time for bringing into being 673 a Force whose rôle is so important, at a moment when we are unable to guarantee what ought to be guaranteed to make sure of its success.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has left the Chamber. It is rather the habit of some hon. Gentlemen opposite to disappear as soon as they have made their speeches.
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Durham, North-West)
I think that it is fair to say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been in the House most of the day.
§ Mr. Ross
That applies to a good many of us. He did, however, make some statement which I think demands some explanation from himself, or perhaps from the Secretary of State for War, as to what exactly is to be the rôle of the Home Guard.
The hon. and gallant Member said, "They are to be there when all other Forces are taken away." He evidently visualises that this Bill will create the one force by which Britain is to be defended in the event of war. Then we had the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) telling us what is the task of the Home Guard. He said that it was to deal with airborne invasion, and that what we wanted was not people between the ages of 18 and 65 who were not otherwise occupied with warlike pursuits, but Commando types.
I wonder if he listened to the Secretary of State for War when he told us exactly who would be there and how they would be armed. I have heard nothing at all about any other equipment than rifles and possibly Sten guns. Even he has a very vague conception as to what the task of the Home Guard is to be, otherwise there would not be all this misunderstanding on this side of the House on the question of dealing with saboteurs, and on the question of the Home Guard with rifles and Sten guns protecting aerodromes. I think it is time that the Secretary of State for War came down from the clouds.
I think there has been considerable misunderstanding of the attitude of the Opposition to this Bill. Our attitude to the Bill is dictated not by motives of political popularity. Anyone who suggests that we are not opposing it because it would 674 be unpopular to do so does not know the British nation or the mood of the nation today.
If the Under-Secretary, who is here, I think, with a majority of 600 for the Scotstoun division of Glasgow, told people in Glasgow that one of his first tasks at the House of Commons would be to participate in the organisation of the Home Guard, I doubt very much whether his popularity would be increased; in fact, I doubt very much whether his majority of 600 would be in existence today. We are actuated by the same considerations as moved the Government to introduce the Bill, namely, what is best for the defence of this country in the present circumstances.
We have a different idea of the rôle and timing of the Home Guard. We do not laugh at the Home Guard or at the spirit of the Home Guard. Many of us were proud of the part that we played in the Home Guard during the war. I never was a member of it, but I remember in the Shetlands, when I was attached to H.L.I. as an officer, having to go to various unknown parts to give some training in infantry work to the farmers and the fishermen, who, with a spirit of comradeship and with a desire to get something done in the hour of the country's need, had volunteered for service in the Home Guard.
We want that spirit today, and we shall only get it when it is needed most, namely, in a time of emergency. The Secretary of State for War cannot create a spirit of emergency. To my mind all that this Bill is going to do is to irritate and annoy a section of our people, and in the more timorous it will create a certain amount of panic. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr was quite right when he said that the Prime Minister should go on the air and make a full disclosure as to why it is necessary to re-form the Home Guard.
The Secretary of State looks back to the spirit that was in the Home Guard during the war, but he forgets that the Force only comes into operation in time of war. We cannot prepare for some unforeseen circumstances which are going to arise, nor can we envisage the way in which the war is going to be conducted. The right hon. Gentleman gave no adequate justification for the introduction of the Bill. He mentioned something about 675 it stopping competition in manpower for Civil Defence, that people were waiting before entering Civil Defence to see whether there was going to be a Home Guard or not. That is not true, nor do I think it logical. My recollection of Questions from this side of the House in the last Parliament was that they suggested that the reason why people were not entering Civil Defence was because the classification of reserved occupations had not been declared, and that is more necessary than anything else.
To my mind Civil Defence is priority No. 1 after the build-up of the Regular Forces. It is the building up and the attainment of the targets in Civil Defence, to which the Secretary of State should be applying his mind in concert with his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The training in Civil Defence is much longer and much more varied. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the training required for the tasks of the Home Guard in peace-time is very slight, and more particularly they will be able to draw upon a reserve of experienced men, all of whom are going to be available on this occasion unlike the last occasion.
Everyone knows that there has been a spurt throughout the country in recruitment for the Civil Defence forces, but we are far from the attainment of a target that is even reasonably satisfactory. I think that in introducing the Home Guard at this particular time, the right hon. Gentleman is going to undermine recruitment for that much more vital service. The Civil Defence tasks will start right at the beginning of the war. The next war is not going to be a war of land forces as far as we can judge, and even from our experience of the last war we can say that it is going to be a war of bombing. The first people to go into operation may not even be our own land Forces but our Civil Defence Forces.
In my view there has been far too lighthearted an approach to this problem. The Secretary of State for War should have deferred to the Home Secretary and agreed to a build-up of the Civil Defence Forces. That is why we criticise this Bill today. Civil Defence must come first, and this introduction of the Home Guard is going to create a competition between the two Forces.
676 What is in the Bill is surprisingly bare. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr said that it was a skeleton that needed clothing. It may be my Celtic imagination, but I imagined the skeleton to be clothed and saw it finish up as a scarecrow. When the hon. and gallant Member said there was no competition with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in the matter of humour in this House, he forgot his own unconscious effort.
We are only told two things by the Secretary of State in this Bill—that there is to be no whole-time service and no service away from home—apart from the fact that it is to be voluntary. He has told us remarkably little. Everything else is to be dealt with by Regulation or Order of the Army Council. It ill becomes a party that has for so long talked about the democratic rights of Parliament to deal with legislation on the Floor of the House when it affects the lives and conditions of the people that it should be handing away this right to criticise, to probe and to discuss. What is going to happen to the people in the War Office if we take this matter away from the ordinary Member of the House of Commons?
The question has been raised more than once about the officers, and how this Home Guard will be built up. We all want a democratic Home Guard but, from my recollection of the things that were said in the country during the last war, not every part of the country had a democratic Home Guard. We have heard an hon. and gallant brigadier below the Gangway saying that it is not just people with military experience that we want as officers of the Home Guard but people who are important in the area. From my point of view I say that is not the kind of officer we want. We want people who are most fit for the job, irrespective of where they come from or the rank and station they have in life.
What guarantee have we that we shall get it? The House of Commons will have no right to ask Questions about it or to deal with any Regulation or Order. It is time we had. The Financial Secretary had better apply his mind to the matter. He will find that in the Scotstoun area of Glasgow people are very much concerned about democracy, even in the Home Guard. There is the question of pensions, allowances and grants, which 677 all have to be dealt with by Order and Regulation. We are handing away far too many important matters.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
And about "Britain strong and free"—strong by means of the Home Guard and free by means of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Ross
I am very obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. I hope we shall get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman telling us why he has changed his mind as well as his side in this matter.
I want to know about these geographical divisions of the country. The right hon. Gentleman did not try to justify them. Why is there to be this build-up of the Home Guard in one particular part of Britain? Let the right hon. Gentleman look to his left, where he will be told that Scotstoun is just as important as Skegness.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think we are allowed to mention Prestwick unless the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr is here. It is almost out of order. How many Home Guard are to be organised in Scotland under this skeleton-without-clothing scheme? There are 25,000 for England and Wales, outside this small section or square, or geographical octagonal, that the right hon. Gentleman has brought before us today. Are we to have any at all in Scotland? I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman made no reference to this, and I sincerely hope that the Under-Secretary will. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that, although there may be a danger of inva- 678 sion, there is no danger of the invasion of Scotland, or does he trust more to the loyalty and military spirit of the Scottish people to enable them to carry on and deal with the matter without any organisation? After all, we are getting no uniforms, and I doubt very much whether we shall get anything else under the Bill.
If we are to have a Home Guard in Scotland, do not insult us by offering us £2 12s. a year. I disagree with some of my hon. Friends and some hon. Gentlemen opposite. If people are going voluntarily into the Home Guard, they are not looking for £2 12s. if we cannot give them a uniform. Even if we offered them a glass of whiskey they would not swallow that insult.
We have here not some emergency measure but what the Conservative Party see as the normal pattern of defence for this country in peace-time. The manner in which this organisation has been begun, and the way in which it has been sprung on the people at a time when the Foreign Secretaries are discussing peace, will not add to our defence but will create panic and be a blow even against peace. I sincerely hope that when we come to discuss the Bill during the Committee stage the Secretary of State will be prepared to listen to the constructive Amendments which we shall put forward.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I should like to begin with those things upon which the House is very broadly agreed. It is not universally agreed perhaps, but there is a very large measure of agreement, that a Home Guard in the event of war is a right and democratic thing. Even if war were declared to be imminent in the opinion of the Government, it would also be a right thing to raise a Home Guard. The Opposition certainly take that view.
However, I should like the House to recollect—it is within the recollection of the House—that the Secretary of State made it very clear—I was very glad that he did—that in his view, and in the view of the Government, war was not imminent today, so that that situation did not arise. It is because we are not opposed to a Home Guard of the right kind and the right form at the right time that we are not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill; but it is because we do not think 679 that this form is right and, more important, that this time is right that we cannot support the Bill as drafted, and shall have very important Amendments to propose.
I now turn to what we feel are the objections to the Bill as it is, and I take what is perhaps the smallest of them first. First of all, this is a very extreme example of delegated legislation. I personally do not share the more extreme opposition to delegated legislation which we heard so often in the last Parliament. I think that in the present day world, some measure of delegated legislation is an absolute necessity. We cannot, however, forbear to point out the rather remarkable fact that this extreme example of it comes from right hon. and hon. Members opposite who spoke in such horror—I do not think I use too strong a term—of delegated legislation in the last Parliament.
Nor can we really accept the argument that delegated legislation, pushed to this point, at any rate, is quite all right as long as it is on a military subject. In some ways, almost the contrary is the case. In some ways, in military questions the House has always wished to take and to retain a specially close watch on the powers which it gives to the Executive.
Passing to a more important difficulty which we feel, I should like an explanation from the Under-Secretary, when he replies, of the geographical spread which the Bill makes in the proposed enrolment of the Home Guard. I do not say that there is not an explanation, but we have not yet heard it. I am not at all clear why it is thought much more urgent to enrol the Home Guard in the Eastern counties—in East Anglia—rather than in the rest of the country. I can only presume it is because the Government considers that those areas are geographically the more exposed part of the country.
The Secretary of State spoke about seaborne invasion. I should have thought that by far the greater danger today, as has been mentioned repeatedly on both sides of the House during the Debate, is airborne invasion, and that that is one in regard to which it is more realistic to look for some assistance at all events from the Home Guard.
The Secretary of State rather twitted us for thinking in terms of the last war, but surely this provision of the Home Guard in the east of the country, and not
680 in the west, seems to be harking back almost to a time previous to the air age. [Interruption.] There may be an explanation—if so, I shall be very interested to have it; but I should have thought that in the air age the degree of risk throughout the country was almost the same. It takes only a few minutes longer for any attacking aircraft to reach the west of the country instead of the east, and it is very difficult at first sight, although there may be a perfectly good explanation, to see why this sharp geographical differentiation is made.
Where does London come into this? This aspect was pointed out by a London Member on the other side of the House. We can hardly suppose that London is unimportant or that it is difficult to reach by air attack from the Continent of Europe—we have a good deal of experience of that. Therefore, it is strange that we have not yet been told where London comes into this scheme.
Now, I come to the main difficulty which we feel about the Bill, the main objection that we have to it: that is, undoubtedly, the question not of the form of the Bill so much as its timing. The Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that the intention behind the Bill, although, of course, it cannot be read from its text, is that enrolment and the raising of the Force should start as early as possible, and he spoke of as early as next January. There are very serious objections to that; many of them have been mentioned by hon. and right hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House.
I wish to deal first with the main argument which the Secretary of State put before us in favour of this immediate raising of the Home Guard. He called attention to what in the War Office has come to be called "the Reserve Army," of which the Territorial Army is the main, but by no means the exclusive part. He emphasised—I think he was right in doing so—that the formation, equipment and filling out with manpower of our Reserve Army was perhaps the centrepiece of all our preparations of our land forces today.
Undoubtedly great efforts are being made to get the maximum number of divisions available from the Reserve Army and to bring them to a state of readiness in the shortest possible time. 681 That, of course, has been the object of the Z scheme, the calling up of Z reservists which was carried through during the past year and was perhaps the principal effort which the War Department made during 1951 in this respect.
It is for that purpose that National Service men, as my right hon. Friend the ex-Minister of Defence pointed out, who are coming out of all the Forces at the rate of 8,000 or 9,000 a month, are passing into the Reserve Army. Therefore, we are building up in this country for the first time in its history large trained Reserve Forces of a kind this country has never known before, and behind them there stand several million Z reservists, men trained in the last war, who each year are being brought back by the hundred thousand into contact with units.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, on the one hand this gives us a very different military situation than the country ever knew in the pre-1914 or the pre-1939 periods, but it also places a very great strain on our resources. It is our big main effort. To make available equipment, uniforms and the like places a great strain on those resources, and a great strain is also placed on resources which are on the whole even more scarce and even more precious—the organisational resources of the War Office, to which there is a real limit.
I do not think the Secretary of State doubts all this, in fact he emphasised it, and, as I understood him, it was his argument that the formation in the immediate future of the Home Guard would help to bring divisions of the Reserve Army to readiness quicker in the early weeks of war. He spoke of a period of the first three or four weeks, and I quite agree with him that in the event of war that would be a highly critical period.
He put forward the argument—I think it was very much the best and strongest argument put forward for immediate enrolment of the Home Guard put forward during the whole day—that if in those early three weeks after embodiment and mobilisation there were a Home Guard in existence it could relieve the Reserve Army, which was being hurriedly brought up to readiness for battle, of distractions which otherwise it would have to undergo in having to guard particularly vulner- 682 able points and having to be at readiness in case of air invasion and the like.
There is force, and we should all admit it, in that argument. But is it really quite as strong as it seems at first sight? We are now talking, as he very carefully pointed out, of a three or four weeks' period, and the whole Reserve Army and the divisions which we are forming, mainly from the nucleus of the Territorial Army, cannot all be brought up to battle readiness in that early period. There must be a series of contingents of the Reserve Army, three or four divisions, which are the first wave of the Reserve Army to be brought to readiness.
While that is going on other divisions of the Reserve Army will have been called up and be undergoing training. Those second and third waves of the Reserve Army will surely be available and will not be subject to the distraction of being located near particularly vulnerable points in those three or four weeks. I should have thought the fact that they might undertake those duties would not have been a very serious distraction from their preparation for readiness, which could not, in any case, be done in three or four weeks. That could not be done even by the very first division of the Reserve.
In other words, the Reserve Army must come up division by division, one after the other. Therefore, it seems to me a rather over-simplified picture to think that the existence of the nucleus of a Home Guard would in that three or four weeks be very much of an advantage, at any rate in preventing distraction from what I entirely agree would be the exceedingly important task of bringing the maximum number of divisions of the Reserve Army to battle readiness in the minimum possible time.
I do not want to put it higher than that it is possible to over-state a good deal of the advantage which the early formation of a Home Guard will give in that respect. I think the Government should weigh most carefully what seem to us to be the serious disadvantages of the early enrolment—the beginning of next year for example—of a Home Guard Force. It is this question of whether or not we want an early enrolment that the House is discussing, and about which there is a difference of opinion.
683 The Secretary of State told us rightly that rifles and Sten guns are available, and there is no difficulty about that. On the other hand there is the gravest difficulty about uniforms; in fact it amounts to an impossibility to provide them. I agree with the doubts and difficulties expressed by my hon. Friends as to the effect on the morale of the man who is called up in January and asked to continue for months, and we hope and believe years, in the Home Guard without having a uniform at all for a long time. I think that will create great psychological difficulties, and difficulties for the officers who have to keep these units together.
If hon. Members think that uniforms can be quickly and easily provided for the Home Guard, in addition to those already urgently needed for other Armed Forces, they should look into the matter more carefully. That is not the case, nor have the Government claimed it to be the case. Further, there is the difficulty of wear and tear on civilian clothing during training and the attempts of the Government to provide compensation.
Great difficulties do arise there, and in these material elements like uniform and premises which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) emphasised, and of which there is a great shortage. One cannot deny that. If we come to an early enrolment of the Home Guard these important material aspects will compete with the needs of the Territorial Army, the Supplementary Reserve and the Reserve Army as a whole.
The priority question, therefore, inevitably arises, but it is not so much in these material priorities and shortages that the main difficulties arise. It is in the training and organisational effort, which is inevitably limited, and which, for instance, was strained to its very limits by the Z Reserve scheme last year.
I would claim, not for the late Government, but for the War Office and the Army, and the Territorial Army above all, that that Z Reserve scheme was carried through with great success by the most devoted labours of the Territorial officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the volunteer Territorial Army and also by the excellent spirit of the Z Reservists. From first-hand observa- 684 tion of it, however, it was a very great strain on all concerned and on the War Office itself.
Is it, therefore, really wise, unless we are to get some enormous gain, which I cannot possibly believe we shall, to superimpose on all the other tasks of the War Office this further and very difficult task —if it is to be well done and if it is not well done it had better not be done at all —of raising the Home Guard at this early date? We see an inevitable competition of priorities, and we cannot believe that a case has really been made out for the early enrolment of the Home Guard at the beginning of next year.
We feel that, on balance—and I agree that it is a balance of considerations—it is more likely to hamper the preparations of the Reserve Army than to help them. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that the overriding consideration is the preparation of the Reserve Army. The most important consideration of all is that of our defences in the sphere of land Forces.
Now I turn from the adverse effect which we fear the early enrolment of the Home Guard will have on the rest of our land Forces, and the Reserve Army in particular, to the question of the effect which it will have on the Home Guard itself. As we have been assured by the Secretary of State and all other speakers from that side of the House, this is to be a purely voluntary effort. In purely voluntary efforts of this sort, and certainly in peace-time, psychological considerations are of great importance and the timing of the effort is a delicate question. I am not sure, but it may be that, in January, there will be an enthusiastic response.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is not a remark which is at all called for. However, let it go.
I make it perfectly clear that I do not think it is wise, for reasons for which I have given and for more reasons which I shall give, to have this early enrolment, but even if a favourable response is received in January, that will not be the decisive thing. As we know, the Home Guard will have to be maintained in existence for a long period of months and 685 years, and it may well be that, in order to have the best Home Guard at the point, if ever, when it would be needed, we can start too early. There is quite as much danger of starting too early as there is of starting too late.
§ Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, during his period of office, he gave instructions to Territorial Army Associations to lay the foundations for the enrolment of the Home Guard, and, if he did so, what were the precise instructions which he gave to them?
§ Mr. Strachey
Certainly, I can easily do that. I can very easily repeat the statements which I made from the other side in the last Parliament and which, I think, cover those points very clearly. We did, of course, as the hon. Member suggests, instruct Territorial Army Associations, and the Regular Commands for that matter, to make preparations and to lay the foundations of a Home Guard right up to the point of enrolment. I repeat what I said a few minutes ago—and I think the hon. Gentleman was present—that what we are arguing about is precisely this question of whether here and now we should go beyond that to the point of enrolment.
We are all agreed that we should lay these foundations, and I am glad the hon. Gentleman reminds us that they were in fact laid by the previous Government. That is perfectly true, but should we now go beyond that and have early enrolment? There is something to be said for doing so, I do not deny for one moment, but I think that, on balance, it is a mistake to do so for the reasons I am endeavouring to put before the House. The last reason I gave was the fear—and it is a very real fear, I think—that the enthusiasm of the potential volunteer to the Home Guard cannot be sustained for what we believe and hope will be the very long period for which it will have to be sustained if he is enrolled as early as next January.
But then there is another side to the matter, and one which has been referred to by several hon. Members on these benches. The nation is being asked to make a sustained effort in every field today, in defence, in enrolment into the Regular Armed Forces and, of course, in 686 the productive field in a very large rearmament programme, and in the economic field as a whole, which is just as important an objective, in order to achieve and maintain the solvency of the country, to sustain our standard of life and to reach a level of exports which sustains our balance of payments.
All this taken together, as has been emphasised from all sides, will require an enormous and sustained effort. Again, is it wise to put one more very considerable effort on the back of the willing horse by asking for the early enrolment of the Home Guard in January? This effort will fall on the workers in productive industry, as has been pointed out, and on managements in industry, who are very hard pressed and very hard worked today. We doubt very seriously indeed whether from the point of view of the national effort as a whole it is wise. We concluded, when in office—and it is still our view—that on balance it was not wise to go beyond the point of basic preparation to this further stage of early enrolment.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Having stated his objections to this Bill and the doubts which he has about its practicability, would the right hon. Gentleman now say whether in the event of this Measure being passed through this House and finally receiving the Royal Assent it is his intention and that of his right hon. and hon. Friends to do everything possible to make the object of the Bill a success?
§ Mr. Strachey
Certainly. What we shall do is to put our view on what is the best way in which the country's defences can be organised. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like 1934."] These are exactly the same views that we held during the whole of the last Parliament on this and other matters. We shall continue constructive criticism of the defence measures which have been put forward. I do not think any right hon. or hon. Members opposite could say the criticisms we are putting forward today, even if they do not agree with them, are not constructive criticisms. Quite obviously they are.
To sum up the argument I have put to the House, we do not believe this is a good Bill or a good way of achieving this purpose because it does not fit the real 687 international situation as we see it and as the Secretary of State for War himself has envisaged it when he spoke. We think the character of the struggle in which we are engaged—and we are engaged in the struggle both nationally and internationally—is obviously not one of immediate crisis. It is not a sprint, it is a very long contest in which we are engaged. It is one in which we have to sustain the effort for a very long time and in which we should think very carefully about imposing any extra degree of strain at any particular time.
Therefore, this Bill, which envisages the raising and enrolment of the Home Guard at as early a date, as January is not, we think, a suitable Measure really to increase the degree of defence and security that the country can have.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Having said that, would the right hon. Gentleman, with his great experience in office, give an indication of what date he would consider would be a suitable date to bring forward this Bill?
§ Mr. Strachey
I should have thought that I had endeavoured to make that clear. So long as it is the case, as he himself said very clearly in introducing this Bill, that the Secretary of State for War does not consider war imminent, we do not think it wise to pass to the enrolment of the Home Guard. Therefore, while we shall not divide the House on this Bill on Second Reading because we do not oppose the principle—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I was about to explain that we shall not divide the House on Second Reading because, as I said in my opening remarks, we do not consider a Home Guard of the right kind at the right time to be wrong. On the contrary, we support that very strongly as a useful contribution to our defences and a thoroughly democratic thing.
But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), the,ormer Minister of Defence made it perfectly clear, we shall introduce very drastic Amendments on the Committee stage which will seek to postpone the main operation of this Bill—the enrolling of the Home Guard—until such time as the House takes a further decision by Affirmative Resolution.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War outlined in his opening speech the scope of this Bill and explained in no inconsiderable detail the Regulations which will follow in due course. In all our plans we have fortunately much experience behind us. We are in no way breaking entirely new ground and it is important the House should understand—because I think a number of Members indicated they did not understand—the various phases of these steps towards the reconstitution of the Home Guard.
The passing of the Bill—and I am delighted to hear the House, is not going to divide against it at this stage, at any rate—is the first phase. The second one will be the registration—not the enrolment—of those who are concerned and interested in becoming members of the Home Guard. There is a distinction there, because that means that early in January something like a business reply card will be used by those who wish to join the Home Guard asking for more information. The next phase will be the drafting and the presentation of the Regulations which have been discussed so acutely this evening, and to which I am coming later. The penultimate phase will be the actual enrolment from among those who have registered into the Home Guard.
The last phase, which we all devoutly hope will not be necessary, would be the expansion of the Home Guard beyond the present limits if an emergency should arise. The House will have noticed that our intentions are much more modest than the guesses of the Press have led the public to expect. There they have ranged from a million Home Guard to a mobile hard-hitting force of 200,000. Nobody, so far as I am aware, "bought" the low field. If so, they would have won.
Hon. Members must not complain if we have interjected a note of urgency into this legislation. There were one or two complaints indicated at the speed with which it had been presented. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), said in the Debate on the Address:We are not surprised at the lack of legislative intentions in the Gracious Speech.689 The right hon. Gentleman the former Prime Minister said in the same debate:The first part"—that is of the Amendment the Opposition had tabled—challenges the absence of any clearly-defined, thought-out policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 837 and 932.]Really, they cannot say that and then criticise us when we do present some policy to the House. We have, in fact, imparted some of the ginger for which the "Manchester Guardian" asked in its leading article of this morning.
§ Mr. Hutchison
No, but the hon. Member is very often pretty full of it.
The chief criticism to which this Bill has been subjected is that of timing. Timing has never in military matters been a strong suit of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The neglect to support Governments between the wars cost us dear, and if it had not been for the exertions and leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister it would probably have cost us a great deal more.
We must really throw out of our minds the type of thought which was voiced by the right hon. Gentleman the former Prime Minister in 1934 when he said that at the back of Ministers' minds is always the belief in the anarchic principle of self-defence. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was then pleading for collective security. But this is collective security. What have we got in the world just now which is a stronger indication of collective security than the action of the United Nations in Korea and the building up of a Western European Defence Force of which the Home Guard is, in fact, a humble part?
Immediately after Hitler had marched into Austria there was the statement of Sir Stafford Cripps that "the workers must make it clear beyond all doubt that they will not support the Government or its armaments in its mad policy which it is now pursuing." It seemed to me that I detected that same school of thought which I fondly hoped had been exorcised by the misfortunes of the last war.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman is quoting, with dislike, the words of political leaders in this country who are 690 followed by a very large number of people and who are regarded with respect by a very large number of people in this country. Does he want support for the Home Guard from those who feel politically with people like ourselves, or is this merely a party device?
§ Mr. Hutchison
I am merely dealing with the criticism that the timing is wrong. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you want a united country?"] Of course we want a united country. I had to answer the criticism on timing, because we believe we are better judges of timing than hon. Members opposite.
The raising of the Home Guard nucleus is all part of the policy of negotiation from strength. Hon. Members opposite say it is not necessary just now, but since it will not interfere with the advancement of recruitment or the equipment of the Regular and Territorial Forces—and my right hon. Friend has made that quite clear—then there can scarcely be any objection on that score. Since, also, it will not interfere with production, because the whole plan has been devised so that it shall not interfere with production, there seems to be no objection on that score.
Since the cost is negligible, there can be no objection on that score—a mere £2½ million, of which the right hon. Gentleman made great play, which astonishes me when it comes from one of the leaders of a Government which introduced a £4,700 million programme. For him to get excited over £2½ million for the Home Guard seemed to suggest that he had lost all sense of proportion.
We are left with the objection that the Home Guard is not necessary, but if it is one part of the general defence policy, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite argue that it is not necessary, do they intend also to argue that part of the remainder of the defence policy is not necessary?
§ Mr. Wyatt
The hon. Gentleman said that we objected principally to this Bill on the question of timing. Some very serious arguments were advanced on this score and, amongst other things, we explained that we objected on the question of timing because we did not want to get enthusiasts into the Home Guard now, before it was necessary, and then to see them lose their enthusiasm later The Secretary of State explained that he did 691 not think it would take a matter of more than a few days to obtain an enrolled Home Guard to perform the tasks necessary. Instead of answering our criticism that this is not the time to do it but that we should wait until an emergency, the Under-Secretary of State has gone into an historical survey of no great value. Will he now answer them?
§ Mr. Hutchison
I will come to that later, but it seems to me that the most important criticism was the question of timing and I have spent this part of my speech in answering that criticism. If hon. Members opposite say that this part of the general defence programme is not necessary, are they going to argue that recruiting for the Regular Services is not necessary? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Why should they single out one part of the general picture of national defence in order to say that that part is not necessary but that 100 per cent. of the other parts is necessary?
§ Mr. Hutchison
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who has had the advantage of making a speech, will allow me to make mine and to come to the points at issue.
Although the Home Guard is the little brother of these other Forces, in some ways it is more impressive because it is evidence of the ordinary citizen in this country, voluntarily and unpaid, giving up his spare time to strengthen his country's defences. Equally important in this consideration—perhaps more important—is our view and belief that in taking this step of raising the nucleus of the Home Guard we are taking an important step in the avoidance of war, which is the great and enduring purpose of all hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I am supported in that point of view by no less an authority than Lord Pakenham, who said in another place in January this year that he strongly supported that point of view, and ended by saying:The Civil Defence forces and the Home Guard did great work last time.Well, hon. Members, if they cheer that, must support his point of view and mine that this is an important step being taken towards the avoidance of war, and if hon. 692 Gentlemen read his speech they will see those words. Nor, indeed, can any foreign tongue accuse us, by this step we are taking, of any aggressive intentions. It would be hard indeed to conceive a more peaceful army than the Home Guard.
The Bill has also been criticised because it is a mere skeleton in its present form, upon which the flesh will be hung by means of Orders and Regulations which will follow later. But those Orders and Regulations will be laid before Parliament; they will be amenable to Questions and to Adjournment debates. Indeed, this Bill gives more Parliamentary control than at present obtains under the Territorial Army Acts and much of King's Regulations. It follows closely the pattern of the Defence Regulations of 1940 under which the L.D.V. was raised; and similar provisions were contained in the Army Reserve Act brought in by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1950. So there are plenty of precedents for it.
There is, however, one other Parliamentary safeguard that has not yet been noticed tonight, and that is that the Army Act is subject to annual review by this House, and so any Regulations or series of Regulations can be challenged and discussed annually. Great play has been made about the part we on these benches played—and I played a part in that, too—when we sat on those benches opposite, in criticising delegated legislation without provision for positive affirmative or negative procedure. However, when we were protesting, as on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, and the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act we were protesting against Measures which imposed something upon the citizens whether they liked it or not.
This Bill imposes nothing on anyone. It is completely voluntary. If people do not like it they have only to give one month's clear notice to clear out. We believe that there is all the difference in the world between subjecting Measures of that kind and a Measure of this kind to the treatment such as that to which Acts like the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act might have been subjected. Indeed, the flow of the Regulations, with frequent changes taking place, particularly in emergency, 693 would make it extremely difficult to administer the Force if one had to follow that system. This Bill imposes nothing, and, as "The Times," in a leader this morning said,Although this is delegated legislation it is not objectionable delegated legislation.Now I want to come to some of the actual questions which were put to me, so far as I have been able to note them down, by hon. Members opposite in their speeches. I think that the first alarum and excursion raised about the raising of this Force for strike breaking was answered from their own benches by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). Of course there is no intention at all in normal times of peace of using a unit of the Home Guard in any way to load lorries or break strikes or unload ships. There is no such intention. I have no doubt that we shall thresh this matter out, and, perhaps, devise something touching it on Committee stage.
The next thing which was raised—I think by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and also by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross)—was that of competition with the Civil Defence services. The Civil Defence services have had since November, 1949, to enlist their people, and I think it is fairly reasonable to assume that if they have not enlisted between then and now they are not going to enlist in them at all. [Interruption.] Well, they have had very nearly two years to do it. What is the reason holding them back? [An HON. MEMBER: "No urgency."] If there is no urgency they may care to come into the Home Guard instead.
In any case there will be no competition between the Civil Defence and the Home Guard in many areas of the country. Civil Defence, in fact, is not required in the rural areas and, in the main, the Home Guard will not have their primary rôle in the built-up areas. In the wide and open country areas there is not the same rôle for Civil Defence to play as in the cities. That is my interpretation of it.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) who spoke about mobilising troops and Forces 694 at the time of an invasion, and who said that they were already available to repel invasion by air or in any other way. But that is just what we want to avoid. We want to avoid having a Regular striking Force in the country tied down and immobilised by having to guard vulnerable points, which the Home Guard could take over, and thus release them from that particular rôle.
Then there was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), in which he said that we were stronger now than in 1939. That may be so, but today we are relatively not stronger when compared with a potential enemy. He, on his own figures, refuted his own argument when he told us of the strength of Russia in divisions, tanks and first-line aircraft.
Hon. Members in other parts of the House, notably the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner), the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), and the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), all stressed the importance of the quality of the battalion commander. I quite agree, and I have no doubt that when Commands get their instructions and the order to start the thing going they will pay great attention to that matter. I quite agree with those hon. Members who say that experience in the last World War will be of the greatest value to these Home Guard battalions.
Questions were asked about the position in London in the matter of Home Guard strength and battalions. The intention is that in London the battalions should only be of cadre type, 50 strong. We do not think that there is a big rôle in a built-up area of that kind for the Home Guard. Then, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) asked that a census should be made of vehicles, to provide a limited amount of mobility. I had no doubt that commanders will be thinking about that. We do not see the Home Guard in a highly-mobile rôle, but no doubt there will be some organisation of limited mobility for the Home Guard.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and other hon. Members asked about a single organisation, composing both Home Guard and Civil Defence services. This question was gone into extremely carefully by a work- 695 ing party set up by our predecessors in office, and they came to the conclusion that Civil Defence forces are essentially passive in character and under the control of local authorities. The Home Guard, on the other hand, is a fighting organisation under military command. This fundamental difference in character makes it impossible to fit a single comprehensive Force into the existing civilian and military structure of command. With that I agree.
Hon. Members also asked what was the significance of the line from Flam-borough Head to Selsey Bill. It is because, as my right hon. Friend said, this is an exposed area, but particularly because it is in that area that aerodromes and their ancillary organisations are to be found, and consequently it is in that area that we anticipate hitting back. That would probably be the first target of the enemy. I think that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), and others, when they were criticising some of the duties of the Home Guard, were thinking that they would be sitting on vulnerable points as a sort of interior guard. We do not defend vulnerable points as a rule by sitting upon them. Generally, there is dispersal outwards and formation in depth.
I should tell the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), that there is no question in the first six months of the Home Guard playing any anti-aircraft rôle and manning antiaircraft guns. That, as in the last war may come later, but not at this stage.
There are a good many other questions which we were asked which I did not have time to note down, but I should like to say that our criterion for officers in the Home Guard or, indeed, in any service, is purely efficiency. A question was asked about the T.U.C., and I should like to say that we have been in touch with them and with the British Employers' Federation.
§ Mr. Hutchison
Two or three days ago, and we said that the details of these Regulations will be discussed through the National Joint Advisory Council at a later stage. I understand from my right hon. Friend that the acknowledgment to that letter came within the last day or two.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I inquired only two days ago from Sir Vincent Tewson, the Secretary of the T.U.C., as to whether the T.U.C. had been consulted. He said "No." Neither, I understand, has the National Joint Advisory Council been consulted.
§ Mr. Head
If I may be permitted to intervene, we were in touch with the T.U.C. As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the general outline of these Regulations was considered as a matter of some urgency, and while we were considering them I wrote a letter to Sir Vincent Tewson giving him a broad outline of the scheme. I said that we could discuss the details later with the T.U.C. through the National Joint Advisory Council. I had an answer from him yesterday saying that the T.U.C. would make use of the machinery of the National Joint Advisory Council.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I shall do nothing of the sort. I repeat that only two days ago I spoke to Sir Vincent Tewson on the telephone at his own request, as I had made previous inquiries. He informed me that the T.U.C. had not been consulted and so far as he knew neither had the National Joint Advisory Council. I shall not withdraw.
§ Mr. Hutchison
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now allow me to intervene in this debate. Since he will not withdraw, perhaps he will make the necessary inquiries tomorrow, when he will find that my right hon. Friend is correct.
The framework and nucleus which is planned in this Bill is to enable us more quickly to raise a citizen Army such as we had in the last war. We shall have snatched some precious days and weeks, as my right hon. Friend indicated, out of the time-table of an emergency. The Bill has been subject to criticism naturally enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not answer them?"] I have spent the last quarter of an hour doing nothing else but picking out questions put by hon. Members opposite, and I have done my best to answer them.
Some of the criticisms have been helpful and some less so. The views which have been expressed on all sides of the House will be given due consideration and 697 weight when we are considering the final form which the Regulations are to take. I hope the whole House will give this Bill its blessing. I believe it will, not only because of the way it has been treated this evening, but because of the remarks which were made in the debate on the Army Estimates in March this year, where it was clearly shown by hon. Members on the other side of the House that they all recognised the need for preparation of a Home Guard.
It was, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) who used these words:It is fully agreed that we must begin some preparations for the possible formation in case of war of a Home Guard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 855.]I think that we are going a little further than he had in mind.
§ Mr. Strachey indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hutchison
These proposals were supported by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), and who should know better the necessity for making preparations against air raids than he, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw. The only question is at what point they stop. That was quite a time ago. I submit that we have advanced to a further stage in which the modest proposals we now put can, with satisfaction and with greater efficiency to the Forces of this country, be put on the Statute Book.
I appeal to all hon. Members to give the Bill a Second Reading in so conclusive a form as to leave no doubt in the minds of those who are watching us abroad of the determination of this country to defend its shores. I ask all employers to put no bar or barrier in the way. I ask all those who are between the ages of 18 and 65 and who have no prior commitments to offer themselves. Many of them will find comrades of the last war there and a camaradie which-endures to this day. Nothing binds men in such close friendship as common hardships shared and common risks run.
A good response is important to this Home Guard. Any man who joins will know that he is playing his part, however 698 small, in the defence of his country. To be a Home Guard will become a hallmark of a patriot, a democrat and a man of public spirit. To command a Home Guard unit will be the hall-mark of a diplomat and a leader.
In Committee we shall, of course, welcome constructive criticisms, but I say to hon. Members opposite: play the party game if you must in lesser matters, but leave the defence of this country out of it.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
That is quite unwarrantable. We have a well argued case on military grounds as to what should have precedence, and the hon. Member has done extremely badly in bringing the matter before the House and trying to raise the utmost party differences.
§ Mr. Peart
Before the hon. Gentleman finishes his speech, would he clear up the point about consultation with the T.U.C., for consultation must be a two-way traffic? The impression has been given that the Government have merely notified the T.U.C. Could we have the reply of the T.U.C. to the letter of the Secretary of State for War?
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that I am not trying to conceal anything in any way, and I am not making any imputation that the statement that he made was not perfectly correct. I never indicated in my statement that my letter had reached Sir Vincent Tewson before he said he had not seen or heard of it. I would say on the Regulations and the working out of their general details, that we kept Sir Vincent Tewson and all others informed. We have guaranteed that when the detailed Regulations have been worked out they will be consulted through the National Joint Advisory Council.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Drewe.]