HC Deb 10 November 1953 vol 520 cc784-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

70. Mr. WYATT

—To ask the Secretary of State for War, whether he will now disband the Home Guard.

At the end of Questions.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to answer Question No. 70.

No, Sir. As I have repeatedly told the hon. Member, the Home Guard will continue. Since it was formed in October, 1951, very considerable progress has been made and the total number of enrolled and registered men now amounts to 58,500. As a result of the detailed allotment of tasks and planning, it has become clear that, in the event of war, the Home Guard will be able to carry out at short notice a large number of most important duties. These duties could not be undertaken by any other part of the Services without serious interference with their mobilisation. Moreover, if atomic war should come, Home Guard support to our Civil Defence services is likely to be of vital importance.

It is therefore Her Majesty's Government's considered view that this force constitutes an essential part of our preparedness and must continue. I think that the country owes much to the public spirit of the men who have already joined and especially to those who, despite many difficulties, started the new Home Guard. I should like to express my appreciation, and I believe that of the House as a whole, for their selfless voluntary service; and to convey to them the importance which Her Majesty's Government attaches to the Home Guard. I sincerely hope and believe that the great majority of the House will give help and encouragement to recruitment and service in the Home Guard.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. I very respectfully draw your attention to the fact that the first Order of the Day is a matter in which a great many Members are interested, and undoubtedly a lot of speeches will be excluded through lack of time. It is now 20 minutes after the time when, in the ordinary course, the House would have entered upon its business. May I ask what was the particular immediate urgency that required the last answer about the functions of the Home Guard in case of another world war to be answered 20 minutes after time and out of its place? Why could not the answer have been given in written form in the normal way or, if the hon. Member was not satisfied with that, why could not the Question have been transferred to another day?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter between the Member and the Minister. Again I would say that I had no idea that these answers would take so long.

Mr. Wyatt

It is not for me to answer for the Minister but I think that, in the ordinary way, if the Prime Minister had not taken so long over answering his Questions no one would have minded about this Question being answered now. Is the Secretary of State aware that the figure he has given is most misleading. He mentioned 58,000 enrolled and registered men when, in fact, he has only 30,000 enrolled out of a target for the whole force of 170,000, and only 12,000 east of a line from Flamborough Head to Selsey Bill where 100,000 are required? Will he not bring this farce of a Home Guard to an end, because already he is beginning to dismiss the paid officials of the Home Guard? Surely it is a waste of enthusiasm and energy to keep in being a force to which there has been no response?

Mr. Head

The figure was not false. I stated that the total of enrolled and registered men was some 58,000, of which over 32,000 are enrolled and about 26,000 are on the reserve roll. I endeavoured to explain in my answer the necessity for keeping the force in being. I am convinced, and so are the Government, that this force is an essential part of our preparedness.