HC Deb 26 June 1957 vol 572 cc210-2
The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Hare)

With the permission of the House, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Home Guard.

The Government have decided, with the greatest reluctance, that at the present time we are no longer justified in maintaining the Home Guard and that its activities must cease on 31st July next.

I can assure the House that this decision was taken only after the most anxious consideration. Had a general war resulted at the time of the Korean emergency, when the Home Guard was reformed, that force would have formed an essential part of our defences and would. I am sure, have given an excellent account of itself. The advent of new weapons, however, and other developments have removed the necessity to maintain the Home Guard in being.

I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to thank all those who have so loyally given their services to this force. Their sacrifice of time and leisure has been in full accord with our long tradition of citizen soldiers. I can assure them that their efforts have been well worth while and that we all appreciate how much they have done.

This decision does not in any way affect the continued need for the development of the strength and efficiency of the Civil Defence Corps and I hope that any members of the Home Guard who wish to give voluntary service will transfer to that arm in the knowledge that there they will find full scope for their activities.

Mr. Strachey

It seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, cruel to say, "I told you so" too loudly on this occasion—

Mr. Osborne

Why say it?

Mr. Strachey

I said it would be cruel to say it too loudly. I think it necessary just to say it quietly, loudly enough for HANSARD.

We never did think that the establishment of the Home Guard in these circumstances was a wise move, and after great delay the Government have come round to our view on the subject. On the other hand, I join with the Secretary of State in paying our thanks, too, to the men and women who have been associated with the Home Guard and who have done their duty when asked, however mistakenly, by the Government.

Major Legge-Bourke

Can my right hon. Friend say what will be the saving both in the present year and in a full year?

Mr. Hare

The saving this year will be about £100,000, because the Home Guard has been on a cadre basis for some time, and in subsequent years about £50,000.

Mr. Shinwell

What has been the total expenditure since the inception of the Home Guard? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the rather heated debates about this matter, when Her Majesty's Government kept the Opposition up all through the night and when, as a result, some of us were criticised by our hon. Friends for keeping them up? Does he recall the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who insisted at the time that without the Home Guard this country would be in dire peril?

Mr. Hare

My right hon. Friend was correct. I am quite certain that at the time when the Home Guard was reformed, when our Army was all over the world, in 1951–52, there was a real need. If events had developed rather differently, the Home Guard would have given a full account of itself. I shall be glad to give the right hon. Gentleman the figures for the full expenditure since the Home Guard was re-formed. I do not have the figures with me at the moment.

I know that there is a difference of opinion in the House about this matter. We are quite certain that the decision to re-form the Home Guard was right. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) for the tribute and thanks which he has paid to those who have served since the Home Guard was re-formed.

Sir I. Fraser

May we not all rejoice that the hazards and dangers which this force was calculated to help us to avoid have not occurred? To jeer because the trouble did not come is to overlook the sacrifice and service which these men have made.

Mr. Wigg

Is the Minister aware that he is not strictly correct when he says that the Home Guard was re-formed to deal with the Korean crisis? Is he not aware that some of his right hon. Friends advocated the re-establishment of the Home Guard long before Korea, 25th June, 1950? Is he not aware that the Home Guard Bill was introduced in 1952 as the result of faulty military appreciation in just the same way as the three-year engagement was introduced? Having scrapped the one, the right hon. Gentleman has taken the logical step of scrapping the second. I congratulate him.

Mr. Hare

The hon. Member should realise that he does not disagree with me when I say that the Home Guard was re-formed in 1952. At that time, the Korean crisis was in full cry and in those conditions the Government of the day took the decision they did, and very right they were.