HL Deb 06 August 1940 vol 117 cc141-5

6 p.m.

LORD DENMAN asked His Majesty's Government whether members of the Home Guard are expected to pay their own railway fares when proceeding to and from rifle ranges? The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think I can explain in a very few minutes the reason why I have put this question on the Order Paper this afternoon. Your Lordships will remember that when the L.D.V. were first formed there were no funds available to meet necessary expenditure. In the London area—and it is the London area with which I am concerned in this question—members who were detailed for musketry had to pay their own fares to and from Bisley camp. In the debate which took place here some weeks ago I called attention to this point and the reply I received from my noble friend the Under-Secretary was that all reasonable expenses would be met by the local Territorial Force Associations. That statement seemed to be quite satisfactory. Last month the London Territorial Association arranged for motor transport to take members of the Home Guard down to Bisley, but at the beginning of last week the London units were informed that this transport would be no longer available and members of the Home Guard must pay their return fare to Bisley.

As your Lordships can imagine, Bisley ranges are very crowded in these days, especially at week-ends, and the only way that Home Guard units are able to obtain the use of targets is by notifying the Bisley authorities about a week beforehand. Early last week the musketry officers of the units concerned, thinking it unfair that their men should have to meet this charge and also not knowing how ma ay men would go down to the ranges in these circumstances, cancelled the targets allotted to them. That is why I put my question on the Paper. At the end of last week, however, the officers of the units were informed that this decision had been reviewed and that the London Territorial Association was prepared to meet the expenses of men going to Bisley. Whilst I regret the loss of one precious week-end for rifle practice for a considerable number of men, I regard that decision as quite satisfactory, and I do not wish to press my noble friend for any reply on that particular point.

What I would like to do, however, is to ask for a further concession. The main line station for Bisley Camp, as I dare say most of your Lordships know, is Brookwood, and that is about a mile and a half from the ranges. There is a line connecting Brookwood with the station at Bisley Camp. What I would ask is whether my noble friend can persuade the railway company concerned to run trains connecting with the main line trains so that men are able to proceed by train to the station at the range. It would be even better if the railway company would run special through trains to Bisley Camp at the week-end at the crowded times, which I believe are from one o'clock on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday morning. That would be for the convenience of a great many men. I believe that thousands of men go down for rifle practice at the week-end and it would certainly be very convenient for them if that could be done.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies to the question may I add some illustrations from the point of view of the county areas rather than the large centres of population, in order to show the difficulties in which members of the Home Guard are placed in comparison with those serving with the other Services? On Sunday afternoon last I had the opportunity of witnessing a tactical exercise intended to bring out co-operation between the military, the Home Guard, and the civil defence services. It combined a low flying air attack and a tank attack and the method of dealing with those two attacks. The first brunt of the attack had to be taken by the members of the Home Guard, who turned up to man the road blocks under their own steam—by which I mean they had to get there at their own expense, and probably by marching. They dealt with the low flying air attack, and the next part of the exercise was the arrival of the tank hunting platoon provided by the military. This platoon arrived by motor transport and dealt with the tank very efficiently when it arrived. They left it in flames. Duty was then taken over by the local fire service who again arrived in motor transport—not on their feet, and not at their own expense. The personnel of that service consisted of either fully-paid members of the fire fighting service or members of the auxiliary fire fighting service who receive compensation for loss of pay. After they had dealt with the fire the decontamination squad arrived, also in motor transport provided by the authorities, and dealt with the decontamination of the street. The point which I wish to bring out particularly is that all these services, except the members of the Home Guard, were provided with transport at the country's expense, both to get to their job and to take them home.

The next illustration I want to give is this. Members of the Home Guard may have to go from one village to a neighbouring village or town for combined exercises, or to ranges which may be some miles distant. In this particular illustration the detachment from the village of Aberdour, situated on the coast, had to report to their company headquarters at the village of Cross Gates and to the range further inland from that village. The distance is something like five miles by the direct route, but the only public service available is either by a route via the junction at Inverkeithing or by' bus which runs through Dunferm-line. Actually it would take this detachment an hour and a half to get from the one village to the other at a cost of 1s. 9d. a head, whereas going by the direct route would take something like fifteen minutes and the cost, if petrol is available, would be 9d. by motor car. An arrangement was made for petrol to be drawn for the civil defence services, but so far no arrangement has been made for the Home Guard except for the use of petrol coupons which are available for the Commanders. That does not meet the case of a detachment travelling from one village to company headquarters or to the ranges, and it does not meet the case of the dispatch rider who perhaps produces his own motor cycle but who has no petrol. I would like to press this point on His Majesty's Government and to ask them to see that the Home Guard are treated with the same liberality as the other defence services. I feel sure that if these inequalities were removed it would add a great deal to the efficiency of the Guard and would eventually be much cheaper.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I take it that my noble friend Lord Denman made special reference to the ranges near Brook wood and wished for facilities to be given to these men who are working for us to go to the rifle ranges. But is not the solution of the noble Lord's point much easier than he thinks? It so happens that I was Member of Parliament for Brookwood and woking for eighteen years, and I can say that it is much easier for us to send these men down to Woking. There is a through service running every few minutes to Woking, and from Woking there is a very good' bus service; and, what is more, not far from Woking are the Inkerman Barracks, where we can get Government lorries to carry the men. The whole problem could be solved with very little difficulty; and the point of the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, would also be met: there is petrol and there are Government lorries. They could come to Woking station and pick up our men, and there would be no need to ask the railway people for extra facilities or extra trains. It could all be done from Woking.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, in answer to the general question put by my noble friend Lord Denman, I should like to say first of all that when I replied to a previous debate it certainly was not in my mind that I was referring to fares to rifle ranges. I was attempting to answer what I thought was a specific question in regard to administration. I only want to make that clear because that was the point which I thought had been put to me at that time. But I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that it has been decided that members of the Home Guard travelling on duty journeys—which include journeys to and from a range—will do so at the public, expense, and instructions to give effect to this decision are in fact about to be issued in, I hope, not too many days.

In regard to the question, of Bisley, to which the noble Lord referred, this station is not served directly by the Southern Railway. It is on a private branch line, and the ordinary passenger service cannot, therefore, be stopped at Bisley, which I am sure my noble friend realises. However, very frequent electric trains run to Brookwood, and this has always been regarded in the past as the junction for Bisley. Arrangements can in fact be made for a service between Bisley and Brookwood by' bus, or indeed I am informed it might also be arranged by train if the numbers justified the proposal; and as a matter of fact this question is at present under consideration.

With regard to the point of the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, I must point out that it is hoped that the Home Guard will be recruited primarily as far as possible—speaking of the kind of districts to which he referred—from places very near to the blocks or posts. It was certainly never contemplated that as a rule the block defenders would have to be transported some distance by motor vehicle. On most of the occasions on which I have seen these tactical exercises it has generally been contemplated that when the alarm goes up it is the people living quite near the post or block who are to be on the spot. I think that noble Lords who have been busily engaged in organising the movement will agree that this is so. The firemen have always had their fire-bus to take them quickly from point to point in the towns, and the same is true, I think, of the decontamination and other A.R.P. services that I have seen. I think, however, that the noble Lord will be pleased to know what I said in reply to Lord Denman: that it is hoped that the transport expenses of soldiers who are proceeding on duty—which I think would cover the case to which he referred, those at the present moment under consideration—will be met. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will concur in what I said about Bisley station.