HL Deb 03 July 1940 vol 116 cc754-73

4.26 p.m.

LORD MOTTISTONE had given notice that he would move to resolve. That His Majesty's Government do take action forthwith to increase the offensive power and equipment of the citizens of this country. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for raising this important issue, and I should like to say at once that any noble Lords who may have been concerned lest anything should be said in public Session which it would be undesirable to say may set their fears at rest. I have put all the points which I propose to raise to the Leader of the House and to the Under-Secretary for War, who is here, and they are glad that I should so state them and are ready to reply. The Motion which I put before your Lordships is of an importance which cannot be exaggerated, and I hope that I shall be, to some small degree, adequate to the occasion. I suggest that steps should be taken to increase the offensive power and equipment of our defensive Forces, and to put myself in order I shall also move for Papers.

With regard to the more material side of the great Forces which we now have in this country, and notably the new Forces, such as the Local Defence Volunteers, the Pioneer Corps and many others, I would only say that since I put down this Motion I have been informed by the county where I have the honour to represent His Majesty that the amount of equipment has now been so greatly increased that one may be well satisfied with the progress of these other Forces. I shall be content to quote in the course of my remarks, which must naturally be guarded, the words of the Prime Minister himself. In that respect I would say that he pointed out that we have in this country now, taking the Regular Forces alone, a far greater Force than we have ever had before; and then, of course, there are these other auxiliary Forces—not only the Territorial Army, but the Local Defence Volunteers, the Pioneer Corps and others to which I have already referred. We may therefore be satisfied that the Government have done, and I have no doubt will continue to do, what is needed for the equipment of these Forces.

I come now, however, to the power which they can exert and the method by which they can exert it. We come here to matters on which I think that it is proper that something should be said, where it is right that it should be urged that a new problem, such as this is, should be met by quite new methods, and that attempts should be made, as I believe they can be made with success, to free nearly the whole of our Regular Forces for aggressive action elsewhere by adopting throughout what I would term the aggressive instead of the defensive principle. In fact, what I propose here to-day is that we should approach this problem of the invasion of England, which is causing grave concern to many citizens and, I know, to many well-informed persons, not with the idea of hiding behind tank traps and barbed wire but in a spirit of gay, fighting adventure, determined to apply common-sense principles to the problem which presents itself.

I say "common-sense principles," and some of your Lordships may say—but I do not think the Under-Secretary of State or the Leader of the House will say—that it is quite unnecessary to suggest that we should go in a spirit of gay and fearless adventure to attack the enemy wherever he is, because that is already the rule. It is not at all, or was not. When I tell your Lordships that I myself saw an order some weeks ago suggesting that it would be wise to retire to a defensive line miles away from the coast, however small the German attack, your Lordships will realise that it requires a vigilant eye on the part of His Majesty' s Government to see that the Prime Minister' s dictum, that we must attack the enemy on the beaches and thereafter at every point, shall be carried out.

I never thought to find The Times newspaper, which I considered to be the embodiment of the aggressive spirit in the defence of this country, preaching what seems to me a very defeatist policy. Yet The Times yesterday wrote: Tactically the defence should be organised on the principle of absorption of shock followed by counter-shock rather than on that of rigid resistance to shock What does that mean? That not wholly mythical and charming person the Eton boy said the right thing to me about it. I said to him: "Do you know what this means—defence in depth?" He said, "Oh yes, don't you know? It is the swagger word for running away from the front line." So it is. A young officer, a company commander, wrote me a letter which I received this morning. I will send my noble friend a copy of it; I will send one to The Times too. He has been all through the fighting in France with great credit. This is what he writes: To-day's Times suggests that we should not offer rigid resistance to shock attack. I am sure you agree that would be a dreadful suggestion for beach fighting tactics. My Lords, it is so. And so, with these two instances I have given, one of an actual order—now reversed fortunately, and a totally different order given—and this suggestion only yesterday that the best form of defence is retirement, which is what it amounts to, I hope that this attitude will be finally stamped on as a result of to-day' s debate.

Let us see what the problem is. The War Office, with which I have been connected in almost every Department for so long, is a slow-moving machine. It has not apprehended the true nature of this problem of the attack on these shores by sea and by air by a powerful enemy, across a wide sea to a large extent controlled by our Fleet, and with an Air Force which has a great striking power. All that has happened in the various countries which Germany has overcome has proved—what of course anyone could have known by thinking it out—that the power of attack of these people, whether landed from boats, or seaplane carriers, or by parachute, increases in geometrical progression with every minute that passes from the moment they land. No doubt my noble friend has in the War Office the reports which I have seen of what took place in various places such as Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam, and of course at Trondheim and in Denmark. Small numbers of people, perfectly helpless against resolute men, managed to gather themselves together and become a formidable unit that even a whole brigade of troops could not overcome, all because they were not attacked at once.

Now I submit a definite rule, which I trust my noble friend will agree to and see that it is agreed to by the whole of the Forces of the Crown. In this matter our purpose must be to engage the enemy hand to hand to the best advantage at the first possible moment after he sets foot on our shore. Once that doctrine is accepted all sorts of consequences flow from it. Of course this has been a point-blank war. I do not know if your Lordships have observed this, but it has throughout been a point-blank war. It is point-blank shooting that has been effective. Long-range shooting, whether at things in the air, or from the air at things below, has all been comparatively useless compared to the point-blank shooting. Now I am going to make a practical suggestion to which I hope my noble friend will agree. All sorts of reasons will be urged by the War Office and by the General Staff against it, but I beg of him to adopt it or, if he does not get agreement, not to reject it without consulting the Prime Minister, for he, I know, takes this view about engaging at the first moment, because he has said so publicly, and I know that he understands it, because both he and I have been in No-Man's Land together more than once. Why should you not give this problem, which is a most interesting and novel one, of engaging the enemy wherever he lands to a Canadian Division to solve as best they can at some selected spot?

I say a Canadian Division not because it was my privilege to serve with them for three and a half years in the last war, and so know their value, but because among this Canadian Division—and of course it also applies to other Divisions from overseas, where there are wider spaces—there are people with more novel conceptions of warfare. We found it so in the last war, aid I am sure it is so now. Something of what I have been telling your Lordships I said to a Canadian officer, a man with such a distinguished record that what he replied to me had no trace of arrogance; it was just the simple truth, and I am sure it would be to most of the men with whom he served. I said: "So you see the idea is at the first possible moment to engage the enemy hand to hand to the best advantage in what is a point-blank war." His answer was so characteristic. He said: "That suits me." It does; it suits the ideas of the Canadians. Now let them have the plan and they might well have it to defend some selected point.

I read in to-day's Daily Express that there are several Divisions at various points along the coast, which they name, which are defending different areas. When I mention that fact I do so in order to show what extraordinary delusions obsess the military mind if it is not shaken up. I read—I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not think I am wrong—that, ready to go to the threatened point, are a large number of men already in full Army kit. What are they doing in full Army kit in this country, in a friendly country? Anybody who saw our soldiers going to the Front last time will remember that many of them were loaded with more than five stone of equipment. When the Canadians, with whom I served, were about to engage the enemy, do you suppose they were loaded with five stone of equipment? Indeed no. The obvious policy then is that you must be as lightly equipped as possible. Indeed, you would have thrown away your gas mask and then hat—you would get rid of all these things when you were going to engage the enemy. It may amuse your Lordships, but my own Canadians, as I venture to call them, refused to wear steel helmets when there was a chance of engaging the enemy at close quarters. When the Divisional Commander—alas, no more—said they had to obey, they came to me and said they had never disobeyed anything I had asked of them before, but on this occasion they told me they found it very difficult to obey. We came to a compromise by which they should wear their steel helmets on parade and take them off when they went fighting. That is the kind of force you must have—how shall I describe them?—lions waiting to spring, "leopards in leash" as has been suggested to me.

That raises a particular point that is of more importance than may at first sight appear. How are you going to defend your beaches? I shall come to parachute or air descent later. How are you going to defend your beaches? I have seen a place with a ridiculous sort of tank trap worth nothing really, and barbed wire entanglements preventing our people from going down to engage the enemy. What is the good of that? There are all sorts of ingenious things we can do, but in order to follow out the Prime Minister's dictum to engage the enemy on the beaches, we do want to have roads available quickly by which our soldiers can travel. It creates a most unfortunate impression in the public mind if they get the idea that you are going to let the enemy assemble on the beach below and wait for him to come up. I trust that idea will be abandoned, and that the noble Lord will tell us that the true principle, which already prevails in some areas, is established—namely, that we will seek the enemy the instant he lands.

It may be said, "But they will land from the air in large numbers in various places." I make this other concrete suggestion. Give to the Australian Division the duty of solving this very difficult problem. You want, without doubt, leopards in leash to fly at them the instant they land. It is easily organised if you know the plan, but it wants organising now. Why not do this? The War Office will no doubt say that this creates difficult precedents. There is no difficulty whatever. Let them try. The Australians will teach us all sorts of strange things. Give them all the facts known as to what has been done elsewhere and what may be expected, of which we have considerable knowledge, and let us ask: "What are the best methods?" Let us concentrate on this—always to engage the enemy at the first moment. What I said at the start was that I hope we may so organise our defences that, with the immense number of men now here, we should be able to free great numbers for attack elsewhere. We are all alone in this battle, but we have great power—terrible power—with a command of the sea which cannot be wrested from us and power of attack in many different places. Let us organise quickly so that these Forces can be freed for the attack.

The problem is so well stated that though, as your Lordships know, I do not like making quotations, I cannot help reading this passage: The whole weight of Europe is wielded against us by the sole will of one man of acknowledged abilities, possessing in himself great military knowledge, and supported by the first military nation in the world; and this at a moment when his whole Army has acquired the practice of war and is animated by repeated victory.… The safety of this…island ought not to be left subject to the caprice of winds and of waves, or to depend on the clearness of the atmosphere. Let us stand secure, by calling into action the strength of 3,600,000 men, capable of bearing arms. Surely on such a rock we may rely with perfect security: but it will require a proper arrangement of its strata to insure it from falling to pieces by its own unwieldy weight. Three millions six hundred thousand men! That was written 133 years ago by an eminent writer. If he could then say that Britain could call upon 3,600,000, how many can we call upon now? He goes on to deduct the people necessary for the making of munitions, not a large number, and for the Navy which, curiously enough, is an enormous number, approaching our own to-day. My purpose in reading this is to suggest to your Lordships that we are only making a beginning with the offensive—not defensive—power of the citizens of this country, that the L.D.Vs. as we see them can be greatly expanded, that by proper arrangement—and my suggestions for using the Canadian and Australian Divisions are all part of this scheme—we could make certain of being able to defeat the enemy at any landing he may achieve. This would free the others—the Navy for its purpose, the Air Force very largely for its purpose, and certainly the Regular Army for its purpose.

I would also say that we want to abandon altogether what I may call the faint-hearted policy, which I know both my noble friends opposite will condemn, wherever it is found. I begin with one little thing and end with one big thing. What folly is this to tell our people not to ring the carillons of their bells because we must keep the bell-ringing for some particular occasion? What folly is this? Who was the timid soul who suggested it? I hope the most reverend Primate will agree that the sound of the bells of Westminster Abbey heartens us all. It may be said, "But the War Office said that was the only way to do it." Believe me, that is not true. I have reason to believe that the Minister of Home Security himself says that the obvious thing to do, if the War Office want to use the bells, is to have the one single bell, not the tolling bell for the funeral, but the one which all people who go to church seem to remember, the last ting, ting, ting, which tells you that in two more minutes the parson will begin the sermon. I ask my noble friend to restore our carillons. Let England again hear bells, and listen to the Minister of Home Security, who says it is a much better solution than that which has been adopted. This is the place, in the Houses of Parliament, where these things can be settled.

There is one other thing in regard to which I think we all agree with the Minister of Home Security. I am perfectly certain he is the last man who would wish us to become a gloomy nation. The way he spoke out against deep shelters and the idea that we should go and burrow deep under ground merits the applause of all those who want to sec a happy and determined nation. I am quite sure, as has been found elsewhere not very far across the Channel, the troglodites are doomed. The people who seek safety by digging deeper and deeper are doomed to extinction; at least their liberties are and all they care for. No, let us have a gay, light-hearted spirit. Let us engage the enemy wherever he is seen. Did your Lordships hear the broadcast of Mr. J. B. Priestley the other day? It was the best thing we have heard, telling us to be joyous and have bands again as previously. Why not be joyous and meet death with a smile if death must come?

Before I close, there is one point I would like to make on the question of defeating the faint-hearted and cheering up those people whom we want to meet these things with confidence. Everyone in this Empire was concerned, if not shocked, by the evacuation of the Channel Islands. It has been said: "Parliament was never told; the first thing anybody heard about it was in the Press." I know very well from my own service as Secretary of State that the Channel Islands stand in a peculiar position tactically and strategically, because they are practically a part of the French continent. We never in those days, nor have we in these days, envisaged the fortification of the Channel Islands as an outpost. They are right under the guns of part of France, which is nearer to us almost than they are themselves. This is no precedent, and we shall be glad if my noble friend could now tell us, as I gather from him he will welcome the opportunity of doing, that this is a totally isolated case of an indefensible and unfortunate character, and that there is no chance whatever that any great fortified place of this Empire shall ever be surrendered without full warning being given to the Privy Council and Parliament. I know that hardly requires stating, nevertheless we should be glad to hear it from my noble friend. I apologise to your Lordships for speaking at such length. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That His Majesty' s Government do take action forthwith to increase the offensive power and equipment of the citizens of this country.—(Lord Mottistone.)

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I will not stand long between my noble friend Lord Croft and the House, but I do want to congratulate my noble and gallant friend (Lord Mottistone) on this Motion, and I hope I am not impertinent when I say I wish he was in command of the striking forces inside the country at the present time. The only observation that I want to make, if I might add to what my noble friend has said, is this. (I am speaking here for colleagues of my Party in another place and no doubt here.) There is something missing, and that is one supreme authority for the defence of this country in case of invasion. I will have to speak quite plainly about this. At the present time you have the Army under the Commander-in-Chief. The Ministry of Health comes into it with regard to evacuations. The Ministry of Transport comes into it with regard to transport, and also the defence of the roads and railways against various forms of attack. Then there is the Air Force, a separate Command—in fact three separate Commands, the Coastal Command, the Bomber Command and the Fighter Command, all separate. There is not enough co-ordination. As to the Army cooperation machines, I do not know the position exactly, and perhaps we can have some enlightenment. But you have the Local Defence Volunteers under the Army, the A.R.P. doing somewhat similar work under the Home Office, the police under the Home Office, the Observer Corps under the Air Ministry, who are doing much the same work as the L.D.V., and there are some other functionaries and authorities that I do not know about.


And the Navy.


There is the naval coastal defence, but that is a difficult question. I am talking at present only of the land defence of these islands. What is needed obviously is one supreme authority. My noble friend Lord Marley says we want a military dictator. I do not care what sort of dictator he is—I agree with my noble friend there—as long as he has dictatorial powers. And I think he should have them now. Until that is done we are wasting time. As an illustration of the kind of thing that is happening, I am going to relate to your Lordships what is perhaps a trivial incident, but it is only a symptom of what is going on. Down in a certain county in England there are the L.D.V. under the command of a very fine civil engineer, a splendid man of exceptional attainments. He had instructions from the War Office to prepare road blocks. He got logs and trees, farm carts and farm implements, and everything else he could lay his hands upon suitable for the purpose. These were placed along the sides of specified roads ready for the purpose of being used as road blocks.

Then a functionary appeared in a motor car, who described himself as the county surveyor and said: "What are you doing on my roads?" The L.D.V. officer replied: "I have orders, as an L.D.V. officer, from the War Office to prepare blocks to put on the roads." The surveyor asked: "When are you going to put the blocks across the road?" The L.D.V. officer replied: "When I get orders from the War Office." "You are going to do nothing of the kind," said the county surveyor, "no obstructions are to be placed on any road in the county without my -written authority, which has to be counter-signed by the Chairman of the County Council." I dare say papers on this dispute have reached my noble friend at the War Office, and, in due course, a document will be started to circulate round and round, and no doubt in a month's time a ruling upon the matter will be obtained. Of course my friend the L.D.V. officer was right in putting the blocks where he did, on the side of the road, but it is only now that the difficulty he encountered from the county surveyor is being remedied by the matter being taken up by the Minister of Health, or whoever is concerned with this particular matter. I mention that only as a symptom of the disease.

What we really want is a supreme commander. I hope no one is going to say that the Prime Minister of England is to be in supreme command in case of invasion. I hope no one will say: "Make the Prime Minister supreme commander." If he is to be supreme commander, then he must resign as Prime Minister. As a matter of fact I am not sure whether to-day we are getting full value from the Prime Minister by his also assuming the office of Minister of Defence. I think he must be one or the other. The Prime Minister's duties are too important just now to allow of the Prime Minister being also Minister of Defence. If he is to be Minister of Defence then you must have someone else as Prime Minister. If he is also to take over, despite all his great talents and energy and intelligence, the supreme command of this country in case of invasion, then it cannot be done if he is also at the same time to remain Prime Minister. Everyone knows it cannot be done. I have said this before in your Lordships' House and I shall repeat it on every possible occasion, inside and outside. You need a man of War Cabinet rank to do this work and he must have full powers for home defence. I believe that is absolutely essential.

When I read my noble friend's Motion I thought he was going rather further in regard to the offensive. May I suggest what I had in mind? I am sure I shall carry him with me, anyhow. When Napoleon massed his Army off England on the North-East coast of France and when earlier the Duke of Alva massed his troops to be convoyed over by the Spanish Armada, we could not do anything about it except wait for them to put to sea, if ever they did, and then attack them. To-day if forces are massed on shore against us they can be identified first of all by our aircraft and then they can be attacked before they start. That is my idea of the offensive. I am not a soldier, and I may not be talking sound strategy, but when my noble friend speaks of common sense that seems to me to be the common sense of the situation.

Another comment I want to make on my noble friend's speech is with regard to his statement that we are all alone. I hope he will forgive me when I controvert that. We are not all alone. Today the Germans are not united. There is a very large potential Fifth Column in Germany. There are two million thugs who hold posts under the Nazi régime, who peculate and rob and exercise brute force, but against them there is a great mass of German people, including the finest North Germans, and there are those other peoples whom the Nazis are trying to hold down, one hundred million of them, including some of the toughest stock in the world, for example, the Dutch, the French themselves, most difficult people, and the Poles, who have survived many attempts to destroy their national spirit. We talk of the Fifth Column here. I do not know the strength of the potential Fifth Column in this country and doubt if it is large, but leaving out the Quislings and traitors in those countries which the Nazis have over-run there is a potential Fifth Column of ninety million people there. There are other countries, too, whose Governments are threatening to make trouble for us. They have discontented minorities also. All alone! We are not all alone. I have mentioned the people who an: groaning under the brutal system of Nazi government, but we have also with us most of the rest of the world. But if we allow it to be supposed that we are going to sit here indefinitely and wait to be attacked, we do not encourage these groaning multitudes who are looking to us to help them in their deliverance. I am already treading on delicate ground, but I want to tell my noble friend Lord Croft very seriously that the British people are talking as I am talking, the men in the public-houses, the men on the farms, the men in the factories. I am partly responsible for three thousand workmen at the present time in various factories. I know what these men are talking about. They are absolutely sound. They only want to be told what to do and to be given arms and they will use them.

There is just one other thing I want to say. General Sir Cecil Pereira, a man with a very distinguished career who has long served the State, is in command of Greater London, which contains about eight million people. In Greater London you have some of the finest fighting material in the world. My noble friend spoke of Canadians and Australians, but he has also seen Cockney Divisions in action. I have had the honour of commanding Cockney ships' companies. They are magnificent fighters. Sir Cecil Pereira has laid it down that Local Defence Volunteers in London do not need weapons. I want to tell my noble friend Lord Croft here—I have already done so privately—that there is great indignation among patriotic Londoners who have joined the Local Defence Volunteers, and are prepared to give their lives and everything else they have got, at what they consider an insult. If he had meant that they could not have weapons to start with but would have them later when they were available he should have said so, but he said they did not need weapons in London. Unless that is satisfactorily explained I am going to ask your Lordships to support me later on in demanding that General Sir Cecil Pereira should be removed from the command of the Greater London district.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I think my noble friend who has just sat down will not expect me to answer the big point of policy with which he opened his remarks. That clearly is a question for the Cabinet. I can say, however, that I am sure his speech will have stimulated interest in the whole subject. I agree with him, and I am sure all your Lordships will agree, that we must ever be mindful of the fact that there are millions of people—my noble friend says one hundred million but I think he will find there are one hundred and thirty million people—at present living under the torture of Nazi rule, and we must always remember that we have there a wonderful volume of European opinion which will be responsive to any offensive action which we can hereafter carry out.

I cannot help thinking that my noble friend must have been a little mistaken with regard to what he heard as purporting to come from General Sir Cecil Pereira. I had the great honour of serving for ten months as a fellow Commanding Officer with Sir Cecil Pereira, and I am perfectly convinced from that experience and from what I have heard of him recently that he is just as anxious to-day to engage the enemy fully armed as he was in former days. Possibly what may have been said was what has been remarked on many occasions, that it we cannot get a complete issue of rifles at once men can start to drill with broomsticks. If men cannot be fully armed at once at least they get on with some training. It maybe also that Sir Cecil Pereira appreciated the fact that if all could not have weapons at once they should be given in the first place to those in the more vulnerable parts of the country. But I will certainly correspond with my gallant friend Sir Cecil Pereira so that if there has been any misunderstanding the matter may be cleared up.


May I be allowed to interrupt for a moment? I can assure my noble friend that Lord Strabolgi was right. Sir Cecil Pereira did for some reason or another make a statement in public, which was widely reported, that the Force was being quite misunderstood and that the men were not wanted to be armed. That was some time ago. He has now been informed, as I happen to know, that that is not the view of the Government, and that idea has been entirely scrapped now. Those who are engaged in the Force in London, as I know, are drilling with rifles in Eaton Square and elsewhere, and if anyone wants to see them they are at liberty to do so.


I am grateful to my noble and learned friend, but still I will see that the matter is completely cleared up.


Will my noble friend also communicate with General Sir Hubert Gough to get the facts?


I will consider that. With regard to the important questions raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I can assure him that the War Office welcome the spirit of his speech. That spirit, from what evidence we can get, does animate and actuate all the armed forces of the Crown. We have to be ready to meet any invasion; but it must be realised that that invasion may come by sea, by air, or by both simultaneously. The general idea is to get close to the enemy; but, while the offensive spirit is naturally encouraged in all ranks, because that is the tradition of the British Fighting Services, we intend to meet the attackers, from whatever quarter, in accordance with the soundest principles of war. He may attack us not once but frequently; he may attack us not at one but at many points; and our intention and hope are to defeat his invasion at sea even, as my noble friend mentioned, before he embarks on his ships; but if not there, then in the process of landing. Should he get so far, we intend to fight him on the beaches, in the phrase of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and to hurl him back into the sea.

The enemy will be utterly regardless of loss, and we must expect him, when he attacks, to press his attack home. Let us make no mistake: he seeks, not a demonstration, but the destruction of our people. Should he succeed in gaining a foothold anywhere, then it is our intention to strike him with the full weight of our forces. But, broadly speaking, if he invades by sea we hope that the Royal Navy may intercept his invading Armada and cause great destruction to his ships and transport. We hope and believe that our Air Force may also engage him long before he reaches our shores, bringing further great loss to the invader. There is, however, a very wide stretch of ocean and there are very numerous ports from which the enemy can sally, in that great coast-line from the north of Norway to the South Atlantic ports of France. We hope to get early information of his intentions; but of course this is an uncertain world, and under cover of dark nights, sea mists and fog we must be ready for any eventuality, should he succeed in evading for a moment our reconnaissance.

For this reason it is essential that every possible landing-place should be covered by fire-power; not only of artillery, but also of rifle and machine-gun fire. Nothing must be left to chance; and it is therefore of the greatest importance—I share the opinion of my noble and gallant friend on this subject—that the L.D.V. should recruit to the full in all coast towns and villages of the island, and that they should be so organised and trained as to be able to proceed at speed to their allotted posts. A fortnight ago we had already some 500,000 L.D.V.—Local Defence Volunteers—but in order that there may be constant reliefs in patrol and guard duties for these men, who are carrying on their normal lives under very great strain, I for one should like to see a far larger figure recruited, and I think that is the intention of all those concerned.

The backbone of this Force is the veteran Army of the last war—nearly all, we can say, trained in the use of rifles and bombs, and a very large number trained in the use of machine-guns. Than these no finer material could be found for this form of defence and immediate counter-offence when attacked. They will, we may be perfectly sure, be subjected to bombardment from sea and air and to other forms of surprise attack. We have to face that. But, with the memories which my noble friend calls to mind of Ypres 1914, of Loos and the Somme and Vimy, and of the glorious Hundred Days of June, July and August, 1918, when, let us remember, these same men who are going to help to defend our shores defeated decisively these same Germans, I for one am convinced that they will not fail or be found wanting in this task which they are now so gladly accepting. They will undoubtedly inflict great casualties on any force which attempts to disembark, and will hold the enemy to the sea, if not actually amidst the surf, as suggested by my noble friend. It is for these reasons that I could not share my noble and gallant friend's view that any considerable proportion of our coast-line defence should not be as perfectly fortified as possible, although I am not going into the ideas which I know are behind his mind: obviously there must be fluid arrangements. But if an enemy were to succeed anywhere in crossing our wire of our immediate front trenches, then I surely believe that, in the spirit of gay, offensive adventure demanded by the noble Lord, our counter-attacks will undoubtedly be brought to bear at once and will give full expression to the British spirit, to which he referred, of getting close to the enemy.

I cannot disclose the tactical methods of resisting a landing, nor would the noble Lord ask me to do so. We surely could not give any undertaking to scrap our anti-tank defences. On the contrary, I for one should like to see a funeral pyre of enemy tanks in this; country if ever they succeeded in landing. And I am absolutely convinced, from the evidence that I have received at first hand from those men who have been engaging tanks in the recent campaign in the Low Lands and in France, that British men can well dominate and master the machine. Such mastery, of course, demands courage and new ideas, such as my noble friend referred to; but that virtue I think we possess in high measure. Any ideas that we can get in consultation with the High Commanders of the Canadians and Australians I can assure my noble friend we shall be very glad to receive. In fact, we are encouraging ideas, any new idea to meet any new and unexpected form of warfare which we may have to encounter.

With regard to my noble friend's desire—I think the words he used were: "Let us hear the bells ringing throughout the country"—the present system is to call the alarm in any village or town by the ringing of the church bells: that is, if an observer has observed the advent of a parachute, or a landing from the air is observed in the particular district. I think on reflection my noble friend will clearly agree that it would not be advisable, supposing there were a landing of a few parachutists or even a small landing from the air, say, in Hampshire, that the bells should ring right over the adjoining Counties of Dorset, Wilts, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. I am sure that that is not in his mind. There must, of course, be some limit, as otherwise there will be the danger of the cessation of all kinds of work and the spreading of alarm over a far wider district than is desirable, a danger such as arises with the present air-raid alarm signal.


If I may clear up the point for my noble friend, it is not in the least that which he assumes, and it is my fault for not making the matter clear. The proposal has been made by the Ministry of Home Security to allow the carillon—that is, the jolly sound of church bells—to continue to call people to Morning Service and so on as before, and that one bell, repeatedly rung, should be the alarm signal. If he would get the War Office to agree to that, everyone would be satisfied and all the difficulties which he foresees would vanish.


I beg my noble friend's pardon; he will understand how the mistake arose. I thought that he was referring to the ringing of bells generally. The point which he mentions is clearly one for the Ministry of Home Security.


They want it.


I will see that that suggestion is conveyed, that at any rate when people are married we should call attention to the fact, even though the funeral may not be emphasized! My noble friend may rest assured, in answer to the broad case that he put before us, that the Army is anxious to get at the enemy and that all the Forces of the Crown are on their toes. We believe that no German will pass any defensive work or block except over the dead bodies of the garrison. We believe that it is the one ambition of all ranks to prevent the soil of Great Britain being fouled by any enemy footprint; and if, by sheer weight of numbers, the enemy manages to disembark on the beach, they will immediately attack him with a knowledge that a crushing stream of Regular Troops is speeding to the assault in aid. We are absorbing a record number of men into the Army at the present time, but anyone between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five who is not liable to early call up under the National Service Act is eligible for the Local Defence Volunteers. Every unreserved fit man can come into that Force to-day, and I am glad to be able to say—and this I think also answers the point with regard to London—that very soon every man in that Force will have some effective form of weapon with which to resist and, if necessary, to slay any German who seeks to enslave him or his wife and family or to destroy the freedom of this fair land. I hope that I have made that absolutely clear. That is the spirit that runs right through all the Forces; and if anyone desires to be in a position to defend his country, there is nothing to prevent him doing so now, in order that he may share in the glory of that defence, come it to-morrow or next week or next month. Let all come into the Forces who will, and train now and dig now, and with the Army be ready to fight now.


Could the noble Lord answer the question which my noble friend put to him in regard to the many men who now seem to be overweighted when they attend their military duties? It does seem to me, as one who was for a long time in France in the last war, that the heavy equipment which he has to carry does impede the soldier who wants to do actual fighting. I do not know whether it is possible to answer that question; I do not press it if the noble Lord thinks it is inadvisable to reply.


With the leave of your Lordships, I would point out that the present equipment is lighter than that used in the last war. I do not know the exact weight. I think it is generally admitted, however, that in the kind of engagement referred to by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, it is quite competent for any General Officer to equip his men for that day, or for two or three days, in "fighting order," as we describe it, although I would not encourage the idea that any man should discard his helmet or his gas mask in modern war.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I have never been so fully satisfied before by a reply in this House or in another place. I trust that the words that the noble Lord has said will ramify right through the War Office to places where, believe me, they have not yet reached. With regard to fighting on the beaches, my noble friend Lord Marley was the chief umpire at the last very large practice exercise of invasion, and he will bear me out when I say that it was agreed that the landing of many thousands of men was entirely successful; but it was common ground among all the senior and junior officers present that had the defending officer had the nous to get down on to the beach amongst the boulders and the bushes and there engage the enemy, the whole landing of many thousands of men would have been a hopeless failure. I have asked a question with regard to the abandonment of fortified places in the Empire, and I think it desirable to press for an answer unless the noble Lord regards it as undesirable.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord has raised the point I should not like there to be any misapprehension about it at all. The noble Lord suggested that I should give him a qualified assurance, a qualified assurance that there will be no abandonment of a fortified position in His Majesty's dominions without Parliament being informed. I would prefer to give an unqualified assurance, and to say that His Majesty's Government have no intention of abandoning any fortified position in any part of His Majesty's dominions.


I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.