§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD DENMAN rose to call attention to the constitution of the L.D.V.; and to 902 move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have brought forward this Motion this afternoon not because I want to criticise the Local Defence Volunteer Corps, for that is certainly not the case; indeed, I am glad to note the wonderful progress which the Corps has made in the last few weeks. Over one million men have now been enrolled, and I think your Lordships will agree that that is a noteworthy achievement. The Corps has been in existence only for a few weeks. I think that great credit is due to Mr. Eden for having started this movement within two days of taking over office as Secretary of State, and great credit is due also to the Joint Under-Secretaries, Sir Edward Grigg and my noble friend Lord Croft, for the work that they have done in this matter. I think my noble friend will admit, however, that much work remains to be done and some confusion cleared away before the Corps can be regarded as really efficient. I have initiated this discussion in the hope that it will give members of your Lordships' House who are serving in the L.D.V. at the present time an opportunity of expressing their views and of pointing out where, in their opinion, improvements might be made.
I will, if I may, make one or two suggestions of my own, although naturally they may not be so valuable as those that will be made by noble Lords who are serving in the Corps itself. The first point that I should like to emphasize concerns the authority which is given to section leaders and to platoon and company commanders under this scheme. I expect it is the case that units vary very much in different parts of the country, and that the provisions of the scheme as it exists at present are quite satisfactory in a great many places, while in other places they do not work so well. In some districts I think that platoon commanders rather feel that they have not sufficient control over their men. I have had a letter from a gentleman in a remote country district which illustrates this point rather well, and I will read it to your Lordships. He says:
Since the Corps was formed, various commanders have been appointed, but they appear to be commanders without power to act as such. Attendance at parades held for the purpose of drill and instruction is looked upon, and in fact is, purely a matter of individual choice. Posting notices in the village to the effect that there will be a
parade at 8 p.m. may result in the attendance of eight out of twenty. These will arrive at times between 8.10 and 8.30. The only method of ensuring their attendance is for the platoon commander to ask each man personally for the favour of his attendance, and the still greater favour of punctual attendance. The position of the said commander, therefore, may be compared with that of the secretary of a local flower show, out touting for entries and attendance.
This gentleman goes on to say that when members do attend they pay great attention to the instruction, and the progress is very satisfactory and the material is first-class.
§ This may, of course, be quite an isolated instance, but from correspondence which reaches me I do not think that it is; and I suggest that some further control should be given to section leaders and platoon leaders in this Corps. This is, of course, a Volunteer Corps, and discipline on the lines of a Regular regiment is quite out of the question; but I think that the defect in this particular case arises from the provision whereby a man can resign on giving a fortnight's notice. That may be all very well in peace-time, but I suggest that in the critical times in which we live, something more stringent is really necessary.
§ The writer of this letter goes on to mention that he has to man an outpost on a moor which can be reached only on foot over rough country, and it takes half-an-hour for a man to get there, with this rather bad going. He says that he has applied to the War Office for a field telephone, but has been told by the War Office that field telephones are not available for the L.D.V. I should have thought that field telephones ought to be available for this purpose, and if the War Office cannot supply them they should be obtained elsewhere. I also think that there are country districts—possibly rather remote country districts—where L.D.V. posts should be linked up with the posts of the Observer Corps. I do not think that that is the case at present.
§ There is another point which I wish to mention, and it is this. My noble friend Lord Croft, in the able and inspiring speech which he made in this House last week, said that the backbone of the Corps consisted of old soldiers who had fought at Ypres, on the Marne, on the Somme and elsewhere. No doubt that may be the case in a great many units, but there are others in which I 904 think that that does not obtain. What has happened? At the beginning of the war many keen old soldiers joined up in the A.R.P. and other civil services and at first, when the L.D.V. was started—it has come rather late on the scene—they were not allowed to transfer. I believe that since then in some districts it has been made possible for them to transfer, but in others I understand that the A.R.P. authorities, like Pharaoh of old, have hardened their hearts and will not let the people go. I think that they ought to be allowed to go; I think that these old soldiers, who have been trained to use a rifle or machine-gun, would be a most valuable asset, especially in country districts. It is of the country-districts that I am speaking, because in the towns it may very well be that the A.R.P. work is as important as that of the L.D.V. I would ask my noble friend if it would be possible for him to bring pressure on the Minister of Home Security to allow old soldiers to transfer from the A.R.P. and other civil services into the Local Defence Volunteers in country districts.
§ Another point that my noble friend Lord Croft made last week was that he wanted to see the Defence Volunteer units recruited to the full in coast towns and villages. I think we must all agree that that is most desirable; but I should like to point out that in these villages certainly, and in a good many of the coast towns, the population is small and the numbers of the L.D.V. are therefore not strong. It is also a fact that in some cases there are a few miles back in the country bigger towns or great centres of population, where the L.D.V. are numerically very strong. I would ask my noble friend if he would consider the possibility of strong contingents of the L.D.V. in these big towns being specially trained with a view to being sent by motor transport to reinforce units that are engaged in guarding the coast.
§ Another matter is that of allowances. When this force was first introduced I think no allowances were given at all, and officers had to pay for everything like office expenses and a good many other things out of their own pockets. A friend of mine, for instance, who lives in a country district where bombing has been rather frequent, paid for helmets for his men out of his own pocket, and of course 905 a great many other things like that have been paid for by officers of the Corps. I understand that now the local units of the L.D.V. are linked up with the local Territorial Force Association and that certain allowances will be given for office work, office staff and similar things. Possibly my noble friend may be able to give the House a little more detailed information on that point. But there are other expenses, and I rather doubt whether they will be provided for. For example, I am told that in London, where men are not well off, they go for musketry to Bisley and have to pay their railway fare and expenses. In other ways like that men have to pay for things out of their own pockets. I think some allowance should be made. I do not mind whether it comes from the Territorial Association or where it comes from to meet men's out-of-pocket expenses, because after all they are giving their leisure and their services for nothing, and they should not be mulcted in other ways when the do so.
§ There is just one other point, and that is the question of rifle ranges. From letters that have reached me I gather that some keen men are disappointed at not yet having had a musketry course. I dare say shortage of ranges would account for that. I suppose in towns and cities the L.D.V. must use the regular ranges in the neighbourhood, but I think in country districts short ranges could very easily be improvised. It was pointed out last week in this House that this war is being fought at close range, and if you could train men to fire at one hundred and two hundred yards that really is probably all that is needed, at any rate at the moment. It might easily be possible for a great many ranges, especially in hilly country, to be improvised, and I do not think any question of amenity or private property should stand in the way of their construction. I would only say, in conclusion, that for my part I want to see this Corps strong and efficient, strong to resist, strong to attack, and thoroughly imbued with the offensive spirit. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.6 p.m.
LORD RANKEILLOUR had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they can make any statement as to the suggestion that the L.D.V. in the London area had been
officially refused the use of arms. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the question I have on the Paper bears on this same-subject, and perhaps it might be convenient to noble Lords if I put it now. I want to draw the attention of the House to a statement which was made on July 3 by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who informs me that he cannot be here. It was to this effect that Sir Cecil Pereira, who is in command of the L.D.V. in London,
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.
I was quite certain that there must be some mistake or misconception on this matter, and I have discovered that that is the case. I shall be very glad if my noble and gallant friend Lord Croft is able to make a statement on the subject.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time I crave the customary indulgence of your Lordships to one in such a situation. The noble Lord who opened this discussion referred to the fact that there were over a million men who have responded to the call of the Local Defence Volunteers. That is a measure of the sense of danger which the nation feels, but it also indicates the nation's sense of opportunity which has arisen for service. I feel that this great body of men should have it brought home to them that they are not an entirely new force, created for the first time in the history of this land for similar duties. They are the direct heirs of the Volunteers of 150 years ago, and I wonder whether the name, Local Defence Volunteers, is that which is most apt, whether it might not recall to them the past and the services of men of an earlier generation, faced with like dangers, if it were remembered that in every town, in every village, in every parish in the days of Napoleon there were created 907 the Association of Loyal Volunteers, and whether this force, instead of being called Local Defence Volunteers, for the sake of association with the past might not be called Loyal Defence Volunteers.
Whatever the precise title of this body may be, they have important services to render, but it is clear that the nature of their service should be precisely understood and made precisely clear to them. Whilst, in a sense, they are a part of the Army, their functions are different from those of the Army. There are limiting factors in the way of the time they can give, as the noble Lord, Lord Denman, has indicated, in the nature and extent of their training, and in the amount of their equipment and armament. To my mind, the invaluable services which can be rendered by this body can be put under these headings, to some of which expression has been given before, but perhaps not to all. I would say their first function is to observe and to report; their second, to delay and to contain the enemy; their third, to assist the civil power in keeping the civilian population calm in the event of attack and seeing—to use the now familiar phrase—that the civilian population "stay put." Then there is the organisation of the factories, and in addition a matter to which too little attention may have been directed hitherto—namely, the provision of guides.
It is easy to say that members of the L.D.V. are to observe and report. Observation is a faculty acquired by practice and the result of opportunity. Reporting involves that there should be the physical possibilities of making the report, and I would ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he is quite certain that too much reliance is not being placed upon the use of the telephone in an emergency. We all know that the telephone is not always readily available for messages in peacetime. Many of us know that when we have had messages to send relating to matters affecting the war, either the giving or receipt of orders, it has not been very easy always to get quickly through on the telephone even between one great town and another. How much greater is the difficulty in the case of an isolated village with perhaps a single telephone line! It seems clear to me that, in the events that have to be contemplated, the single telephone line which often runs between a village and the 908 nearest military encampment would be so much required either for the purposes of the Regular Army or of the Civil Defence Services that it would be very difficult to obtain the use of it for the L.D.V.—if it had not already been cut. One must anticipate that not only will there be pressure on the telephone line, but that the telephone line will not be there at all. Therefore I would ask my noble friend whether, in the absence of field telephones, which I do not think are a practicable proposition for the L.D.V., for various reasons such as the requirements of other Forces, he is satisfied that a sufficient number of dispatch riders will be available. I know that he has had in mind this whole question of conveying information by dispatch rider.
I wish to ask him to bear in mind the necessity of co-ordinating this aspect of his work with that of the Ministry of Home Security. If motor cars, motor bicycles, and pedal bicycles are to be immobilised in accordance with certain orders that have been issued, there might be a difficulty at the crucial moment in obtaining motor cars, motor bicycles or pedal bicycles for the purposes of making a report. Do not let it be forgotten that reporting will be far more difficult, and take a far longer time than might be expected under normal conditions, even with the use of motor cars and the like Sign posts have been removed, many country lanes are narrow, nights may be moonless and starless, and there will be—or at least we hope there will be—road blocks at intervals, manned by alert members of the L.D.V. It will take far longer for messages to travel by road than it would under normal circumstances. Mere mileage is not a sufficiently careful test. I know of instances where journeys have to be taken of fifteen miles in the darkness for the purpose of giving messages to the military authorities for the L.D.V.
Having regard to the road blocks that intervene, it would be a reasonable calculation that, from the moment of seeing the enemy—parachutists, air-borne troops, or coming in the form of tanks up the road, whatever it may be—it would take three hours before our troops, even under the best conditions, could reach the spot at which they were required. By the time they reached the spot required at the moment when observation was made, the enemy would have reached a far different 909 place. Three hours is a long time in a war of movement such as we have to expect here, with tanks, motor cyclists, parachutists, air-borne troops, all alert, finding their way about the countryside. We do not want them to have the time to disperse. We want to contain them when they arrive. Therefore, I would ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State if he will look into this question of speed of communication.
If we require speed for the services of our own Forces, one of our objects must be to delay and contain the enemy- For that purpose a mere line of defence is, I submit, insufficient. In fact, it is, I believe, becoming generally and more fully recognised that defence in depth is the only defence upon which we may safely rely. Defence in depth involves also to some extent this, that your blockhouses and your road blocks should face both ways. I am not now contemplating, as some have done, simultaneous attacks from the east and the west. I speak in the presence of a Marshal of the Air Force, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, but it is a view which can be held that airborne troops might alight in the neighbourhood of the coast for the purpose of attempting to reinforce enemy troops already landed at the coast or—and it is and/or—air-borne troops who may alight in England with a view to marching from within the country towards the coast. I am not at all sure that there has not been rather too much of a tendency, as far as my observation goes up to the present, to construct the road blocks on the footing that the enemy would advance exclusively from the coast. I should like to see block-houses constructed in such a way that they are equally available for defence against an enemy advancing from within or against an enemy advancing from both the coast and within at the same time.
It would be wrong, addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, that I should endeavour to traverse the whole ground, or to delay your Lordships unduly. I would only ask that I may be allowed to add that if the L.D.V. are to be told what their functions are to be, they must be told with precision and they must be trained for those specific functions. I think perhaps there is rather too much of a tendency to rely upon the rifle to the exclusion of other weapons. I should like to see men trained in the 910 use of the rifle, other groups trained in the use of the bomb, other groups, again, trained for the purpose of sniping and also fortifying houses in villages and on the outskirts of villages. But I doubt whether any of the training can become really effective unless the unit, be it a company or a battalion—it is a minor matter which—is assisted by a Regular officer with recent war experience, in the same way as an Adjutant has been attached in peace-time to each unit of the Territorial Army, and perhaps a staff of permanent instructors. But in particular it does seem to me to be essential that block-houses and road blocks should be sited by soldiers with special qualifications for that particular task, and that sniping posts should be similarly sited. I do not think that the L.D.V. can perform their functions with sufficient adequacy and confidence unless they have some assistance from the Regular Army.
Lastly, I would ask the Under-Secretary of State if he could give some information as to the machinery of mobilisation, how exactly the L.D.V. at the moment of danger are to be informed that that moment has arisen, especially if they are distributed during the day at their own daily work. And after mobilisation, could the Under-Secretary state what are the arrangements for rationing the L.D.V., for their sleeping, and for the care of casualties? There has been a considerable demand for opportunities for women to serve with the L.D.V. The Auxiliary Territorial Service have been a great advantage and help to the Territorial Army. Would it be possible to form an Auxiliary L.D.V. for the women who might help the L.D.V.? I believe that there are for the L.D.V. functions of enormous importance to be performed for the national safety, and your Lordships' House may, I would submit, be well satisfied that in such a short period of time so large a body of patriotic men have come forward for the performance of those duties.
§ 5.26 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, before addressing a very few words on this subject to your Lordships, I would like to be permitted, with the greatest possible respect, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who has just sat down, on the very interesting 911 speech which we knew from his reputation we might expect to hear. I would like to ask my noble friend who will reply for the War Office if he cannot, either now or at some very early date, make on behalf of His Majesty's Government, a perfectly clear and precise statement as to what exactly the Local Defence Volunteers are expected to do, and what they are not expected to do. It is now, I think, nearly two months since the Force was started by the broadcast on the 15th May by the Secretary of State for War. We all remember then that he indicated that the purpose was to guard against possible landings by enemy parachute troops, and the Volunteers were immediately given the name of "parashots." I would suggest that, as time has run on since the Force was formed and developments have taken place, and so many hundreds of thousands of people have been devoting a great deal of time to developing the cause of the Volunteers, the feeling has arisen, at any rate in some quarters, recently, that under the operational control of the military command, under which the Volunteers come at the appropriate moment, they may possibly be used for purposes other than those which Mr. Eden laid down, and possibly, indeed, for purposes for which they are not fitted and for which they are most certainly not equipped. Reference has been made to the number of ex-Service men. Of course there are many districts where, in a particular section or unit, the number of ex-Service men is, for one reason or another, very small.
Now the only authoritative statement that every Volunteer has seen is the enrolment form. I do not know that he attached very much importance to it, because it is quite inconsistent. The signature admits him under military law, but at the same time he is committed to part-time service only. He is not required to live away from his home, and is empowered to resign. In addition he is, of course, unpaid. These conditions hardly seem to be quite consistent with being under military law. However, those are the conditions upon which he joins. It is, of course, absolutely right that the Volunteer should not be paid. He is not one who expects to be paid. He is naturally anxious to do what he can in his spare time to help in the crisis. I would only say in passing that I think I am right in 912 stating that the Observer Corps is paid and that the new Coastguard Volunteer is paid. I only mention that because if there are inconsistencies questions are asked, and it is well that when there are questions of that sort a clear answer should be given. These questions do lead some Volunteers to think and say that perhaps the scheme was not very clearly thought out from the beginning, and that as things developed a certain amount of improvisation took place which makes the duties that the Volunteer has to perform not always quite clear to him.
At the start, of course, everything went smoothly. The primary rule was laid down of observation and information, and what has been described as static defence. As we know, posts all over the country are manned, patrols are out during the necessary hours, communications have been set up with the police and military, and the guiding of troops is all arranged. I am sure that everyone agrees that on this basis the Volunteers are already performing a most valuable service to the country. But some do feel that more recent intentions have disclosed the possibility that the Volunteer may be called upon to do things which he did not realise when he joined and which many think he is not fitted to do. It may be a mistaken idea, but there is an idea that some of the Volunteers in certain circumstances, and all of them in other circumstances, may be called upon for full-time service and receive pay and allowances. I hope my noble friend will be able to clear that up because some men are employed on work of national importance.
§ LORD CROFT
Perhaps my noble friend will permit me to interrupt him, because I think it is desirable that I should correct that at once. I can assure my noble friend that there is no question whatsoever of any such change. I should not like it to go out to the country that that was so, although no doubt my noble friend has heard that in some areas there is this misconception.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
I am very much obliged to my noble friend. He has made the statement which I hoped he would make. It is important that wrong impressions and wrong ideas in a matter of this kind should not get about. In some localities, no doubt for very good reasons which we can all understand, 913 equipment is not issued in the same way and to the same extent as in some other localities. That we can very well understand, but it is a little unfortunate when men see photographs in the illustrated Press of most wonderfully equipped Volunteers parading with tin hats and so on when they have not got any of these things themselves. That again leads to questions, and when I say leads to questions I am putting it very mildly. I suggest that unless points of this kind are cleared up, as I am sure my noble friend will clear them up, the original enthusiasm with which men joined may be damped, especially if they do not know exactly what is required of them. I suggest that unless there is the fullest precision and clarification there is a possibility that different military commanders in different districts, may put a different interpretation upon what they are entitled to call upon Volunteers to do in their operational command. Experience, I am told, has shown in recent days that the men now joining are studying the enrolment form much more carefully before signing it than men did at the beginning, which is evidence that the men are not quite clear as to the limits of the obligations which they are undertaking. I hope my noble friend will be able to make a statement on the lines which I venture to suggest to him.
§ 5.37 p.m
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to say a few words about the duties and the wants of these Local Defence Volunteers, coming as I do from a place just outside Ipswich, in East Suffolk, which is within ten miles of the coast, where they feel—as I dare say other people feel now in other parts of England—that for certain reasons they are more in the front line than some of their fellow-countrymen and women. I have nothing critical to say about my noble friend Lord Croft or of the War Office, or of what they have done. They have treated us very well, perhaps because they thought we would be required sooner or would be more required than in other parts of the country. We have some 4,000 Local Defence Volunteers in Ipswich and the country districts around, and we have a promise that if not by to-night, at any rate by the end of the week, every single Volunteer will have uniform and rifle. That is good work, considering that six weeks ago the Force was not even started.
914 One thing which all the Volunteers, and particularly the best of them who are old soldiers, will appreciate enormously is a steel helmet. That is what they ask for whenever you visit them. It may be illusory or it may not, but a steel helmet gives a wonderful feeling of safety and confidence. Steel helmets are what the men most insist upon and steel helmets are procurable. We can get some of them even locally if the War Office could help us with the Home Office. The Ipswich Corporation could supply us with some steel helmets and I believe with 20,000 sandbags, but they want authority from the Home Office before parting with what is on charge to them for another purpose. The police also have plenty of excellent rifles, but we cannot get them for the Local Defence Volunteers. In our case they are issuing Ross rifles and Lee-Enfield rifles; many of the Lee-Enfields are new and excellent rifles. But I hope there will be no mixing in rural areas of the rifles issued to any one small section. That is most important. I know that in rural parts of the county if such a situation were to arise our agricultural labourers serving in the Local Defence Volunteers would very soon be what we call in Suffolk wholly "doizzled." There is a sign in some districts of the first enthusiasm wearing off.
These men are not to be paid—I do not suggest for a moment that they should be paid—but a very large number of them have only one civilian overcoat. They have done a lot of digging work and night work; they have been lying down on the ground in these coats; they have done all sorts of dirty work in them, and it would be a very great comfort to these men, with the colder weather coming on, if there could be an issue of a greatcoat. In the same way, many of the men have worn out their boots in their digging. The issue of a pair of boots and a greatcoat is a thing which perhaps might be contemplated, or at any rate perhaps we might have a favourable reply that the matter will be seriously considered. The other plea I want to put forward for these men is that they may be given steel helmets—"tin hats"—at the earliest possible moment. Even if there were not enough to go round, one per man, at least it would be a great thing to have a considerable quantity of them in the area.
915 There are some smaller points which I should like to mention in a cautionary way, but they are not of vital importance. The sandbag posts are being in some places replaced by concrete posts, and some of these—though not by any means all in our area—have only one loophole, presumably intended for a machine-gun. They do not appear to me, from my experience of the Great War, to be particularly suitable for several men firing rifles. In their nature and their shape they afford very little protection, and there would be a great probability of a direct or a ricochet bullet coming in and doing considerable execution. That is my opinion. These matters, of course, are to be regarded differently by different people, but it only makes it clear how important it is that the siting of all these works should be done with the assistance of competent professional advice. Lord Nathan mentioned that, with the object that the posts themselves should be done in the best way possible, but I mention it for an additional reason, that the men should not have to do the same work all over again. In our part of the country, in agricultural East Anglia, the harvest will be on us in about three weeks, and if there is an enormous amount of work to be done it must be taken in hand and carried through at once, because with shortening hours of daylight and the increase of civil work in harvest-time it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get more work out of these men.
One other point that I should like to put forward is this. I do not know how far it is practicable, but it would be to my mind a very great advantage if the air-raid precaution workers in the country, the Special Constables and the Local Defence Volunteers could all be brought under one authority. What has happened, of course, is this. At the beginning of the war we thought only in terms of bombing and not at all in terms of invasion, and at that time all the best ex-Service men and all the keenest of the other men set to work at once, with bombing in their minds, to go into airraid precaution services, fire services and such things for the protection of their homes, their wives and their families. Now they are not available for the Local Defence Volunteers. In the country district, to put it in homely language, it is 916 far more important that the active and patriotic man, and particularly the young man and also the experienced ex-Service man, should have a rifle in his hand to shoot parachutists rather than be employed, let us say, to prevent looting—a thing which is not likely to occur in country districts. I would add for that reason that in the country districts, if it is practicable, the air-raid precaution services, the Special Constables and the Local Defence Volunteers should be brought under one authority.
In conclusion may I say how much, at any rate in our part of the country, what has been done by headquarters for these services is appreciated? But we also appreciate how much has been done locally, by the local military authorities and the local military commanders, to help in every possible way. They have been extremely good: there has been no question at all of sneering at "these amateur soldiers," but they have been most helpful to them and most considerate and kind. But we should be greatly comforted if we could feel that a certain issue of steel helmets were on our way. There should also be a greater supply of small-arms ammunition, so that that sniping which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, advocated could be practised. It is all very well to advocate the training of men, but you must have plenty of ammunition actually in hand and plenty in reserve if you are to undertake that training. Finally, perhaps, a more homely touch, I would ask whether Lord Croft would consider recommending that there should be an issue, at any rate well before the winter, of a pair of boots and a greatcoat per man.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am sure it will be your Lordships' pleasure that I should immediately congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken. We have had the pleasure of listening to him twice this evening, and no doubt we regret that we shall not enjoy the opportunity of hearing him for a third time. In any event I am sure we all hope that he will take a prominent and active part in our debates, and that we shall have the advantage of his wide and long experience of another place. I feel that some apology is needed for addressing your Lordships on this matter when I have expressed my views on it so recently. 917 This constitution of the Local Defence Volunteers is, however, a question of such importance that perhaps no apology may be needed for referring to it. We are, indeed, deeply indebted to my noble friend who has introduced this Motion this afternoon. If once more I am compelled to take a critical attitude towards this movement, it is not because I am unconscious of the skill in organisation, of the efficiency in leadership, with which the affairs of some of the units are conducted. I am fully aware of the patient, self-sacrificing work that has been done. But this matter must not be judged, I suggest, in the light of conditions that may prevail in one district. The whole question of the Local Defence Volunteers must be judged as one matter, and it must be judged in the light of the duties which they are asked to perform, duties which now make them a vital and integral part of our system of national defence.
This being so, it seems hardly possible to defend a constitution which permits a Volunteer to resign at a fortnight's notice, this resignation making it impossible to enforce orders with any certainty. It is also, surely, unsound that he can refuse a transfer from one area to another, however grave the emergency may be. I suggest that the real urgency of this matter cannot be appreciated unless we examine somewhat the duties which these Volunteers are being called upon to perform. Originally these duties were defined as observation, obstruction and detaining the enemy. Now I suggest to your Lordships that the conception is out of date. Already, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, suggested, these Volunteers are being asked to perform duties far exceeding those which were originally contemplated, duties which can only be called front-line duties. If I may be permitted an example, the unit to which I am privileged to belong recently took part in a manœuvre. A trial alarm was sounded; there was, of course, no means of compelling attendance at a parade, and as a result only 50 per cent. of the strength were available. None the less, these men were asked to hold firing-pits which formed, in fact, the front line of our defences, and this in a coastal area. Again, I have had brought to my notice more than one instance in which these Volunteers have been asked to man important road blocks, sited on main 918 roads. They have been asked to do this with inadequate numbers, with no machine-guns, and in some cases they have had to refuse the task.
Now these men of whom I speak are imperfectly trained and some would welcome further musketry practice. But I wish to make it clear to your Lordships that they do not resent being asked to perform tasks of this nature. They are not deterred by any danger, and they will not refuse any combatant service; but they do ask to be given the training and the equipment to qualify them for such tasks. Much could be said on the question of training, but I have no desire to detain your Lordships at so late an hour, and I will deal with this matter briefly. I would say, however, that it is not possible, in my view, to rely upon instructors whose knowledge relates back to the last war. If Regular instructors are not available in adequate numbers, surely it should be possible for the section commanders to have some short, intensive instruction. That would not require the services of as many N.C.O.'s as if the whole battalion were to be taught; and the section commanders, with their existing knowledge, would in a short space of time be able to act as efficient instructors of their men.
As regards equipment, I do not ask that these men should be equipped on a scale comparable with that of the Regular Army, but I do think that in addition to a rifle they should be provided with a uniform and, as my noble friend Lord Belstead has pointed out, with a steel helmet. It is not so much for its protective qualities that I emphasize the importance of the latter article, but rather because of the advantage that it gives from the point of view of concealment; by covering the face it undoubtedly makes the defensive position which is held far more difficult for enemy aircraft to detect. The shortage of these articles might be accepted—and no doubt would be—with good grace were it not that they are freely offered for sale in many districts. In the area where I serve, many men have been forced to buy their forage caps out of their own pockets, because none have been issued to them. These things are on sale in the shops, and the men naturally ask why the Government do not commandeer the stocks so as to provide this elementary equipment without delay. The subject of 919 equipment brings me to the question of storage, and here is a point which is non-contentious, and which I hope is not without substance. The organisation does not provide for acquiring any place for storing equipment, nor do I believe it to be easy, even if it were possible, to secure payment for any buildings rented for this purpose. It would be a great relief to those in charge of these units if some definite assurance on this point could be given.
I am aware, of course, that many of the difficulties which I have mentioned can be overcome by skilful and efficient leadership, but this brings me to another defect in the organisation of these Volunteers. It never is very easy to get rid of a superior officer, and it is certainly more than usually difficult in the case of these Volunteers to get rid of those who are not suited to their tasks. More than one case has been brought to my notice of senior and junior officers who are both idle and incompetent. In one case which I was asked to bring to your Lordships' notice, the whole unit threatened to resign unless a change in the command could be effected. There is also resentment that civilians with no military experience at all are appointed to higher commands, which I know has happened in some cases. That covers the bulk of the points that I wish to make, with perhaps two exceptions, to which I will refer as briefly as possible. One is the question of co-ordination. My noble friend Lord Denman mentioned the difficulty of getting telephone wire and of securing liaison between the Observer Corps and the Local Defence Volunteers. I should like to say that in my own area the liaison difficulty has now been overcome, although we are still unable to obtain field telephones for a front-line post. The other question to which I wish to refer is the possibility of redistributing the men. We have in the urban areas units which are not only up to strength, but which even have a waiting list; yet we have rural and coastal areas of great importance where it is impossible to obtain enough men to man the defences.
The suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Denman, put forward, that in urban areas near the coast men should be trained and moved at short notice to more vulnerable spots, appears to me, if I may say so, to be an admirable one. I have 920 it in mind, however, that it may be necessary to go somewhat further; it may be necessary to ask for Volunteers in the urban areas, men who are not too strictly bound by family or business ties and who would be willing to be billeted in the coastal or rural areas, provided that they were given free railway travel to and from their work. I do not know whether such a thing would be possible, but no doubt the noble Lord will give it his consideration.
I should like, if I may, to thank the noble Lord who will reply for having so patiently and courteously listened to me in voicing criticisms which I fear must, in the main, be unpalatable to him. Many of these points, it is true, were fully debated some five weeks ago. If I say that in those five weeks little seems to have happened, I am sure that it is not in any way the fault of the noble Lord who will reply. We still seem to think in terms of months when the limit of time which divides us from an attempt at invasion should be measured in days, possibly even in hours. There is still time, however, to redouble our efforts. We have the men, and we know the spirit of these men; surely it should be possible for us without delay so to organise and equip them that they may be fully able to play those parts which they are so ready and anxious to take up.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD BINGLEY
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not detain your Lordships long, but there is one main point which I desire to make. Only the consummate tact for which your Lordships' House is naturally famous has prevented this from being a most unfortunate and dangerous debate. I do not wish to suggest that the noble Lord who introduced it was in any way to blame for doing so, because his tact is notorious and he certainly did not raise any subject of difficulty; but it might well have been that a great many things might have been given away which we did not wish to have discussed in public. It is unfortunate that we were not able to have a Secret Session. I quite understand that there may be serious difficulties in the way of having too many Secret Sessions; it may not be possible whenever any noble Lord wishes to raise some difficult point that he should at once be able to call for a Secret Session. I do think, however, that we want 921 to make it quite clear—and I have no doubt that when the noble Lord, Lord Croft, replies, he will make it quite clear—to that splendid body of men who are enrolled as Local Defence Volunteers, that this has been only a superficial debate, and that it has not been possible to go into some of the matters which they would like to see altered. I am certainly not going to give anything away myself, but there are many things which they must know will have to be improved. I should like it to be made perfectly clear to them that we have been tied down by the condition of having to debate this matter in public, and that it does not mean that some of the things for which they are hoping have been overlooked, but that we really know quite well about these things and are intending to take more serious notice of them than we seem to have done today.
We have a magnificent body of men. We have been told to-day that a million men have been enlisted, and there are among them some of the very best types of ex-Service men. Those men will soon lose heart unless they are encouraged and unless they know they are being taken seriously. I think that is the main danger at this moment. I am not, I am sorry to say, a Local Defence Volunteer myself, having been rejected on the ground of age, but I come in touch with a good many of them, and I am afraid that there may be a tendency for them to lose some of the zeal with which they started, and with which they certainly intend to continue, unless they are convinced that everything is going to be done for them and that the high hopes that were raised as the result of the formation of this Corps will be justified. Our public men have no right to go on saying what a magnificent Force they are, and how valuable they are going to be to the country, unless you are going to give them the opportunity, which they certainly desire, of carrying out their duties and justifying all that has been said about them.
§ 6.1 p.m.
My Lords, speaking as an L.D.V. who has seen active service in the particular part of the country from which I come—for we have received visits from the enemy for a fortnight past—I should like to raise 922 one small point. The morale both of the civil population and of the L.D.V. is excellent, and the relationship with the A.R.P., the police, and the military could not be better; we work together like brothers, everyone helping the other, both in regard to information and the mobile column. But there is one suggestion I should like to make in regard to the fortnight's notice. I suggest that the fortnight's notice should remain for the men, but that officers should be required to take some form of oath to His Majesty that they will remain at their posts for the duration of the war. It would be too awkward in the case of the men to make any change in the fortnight's notice, but I think that the officers should take that oath.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate but as a platoon commander in the L.D.V. there is one point I want to mention. My noble friend Lord Denman referred to the difficulty that some of us have in getting men to attend parades. Your Lordships must not lose sight of the fact that these men are doing a great amount of work in other fields. Most of my men are working all the hours of daylight in agriculture and in other work which might be considered of national importance, and they are unable to give full time to the drills and training that would otherwise be desirable. At the same time, they are keen to do their duty one night a week, and to do as much as they can for the defence of their country. It is essential to remember that when thinking of the question of compulsion. With regard to the fourteen days' notice, a good many of these men said: "We do not see how we can carry on this work as well as our own, but we are ready to try it and do our best, and as we observe that we can give fourteen days' notice if we find we cannot do both, we will have a shot at it."
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ LORD CROFT
My Lords, when the Secretary of State and others of us connected with the War Office see that there is a debate taking place on a subject such as this we naturally feel some little trepidation lest anything should be said which might conceivably give any assistance to the enemy, and I desire in my opening remarks to say how grateful I 923 am to my noble friend Lord Denman for the very helpful manner in which he set the tone of the debate, and to all the noble Lords who have followed for their constructive suggestions. My noble friend Lord Denman in putting this question on the Paper asked me to explain the constitution of the Force. I have a few words to say on that subject, but I think in view of the very large number of questions which have been put to me it would be the desire of the House that I should first deal briefly with the points made in the debate, and, if I may, deal with my noble friend Lord Rankeillour's question at the end of my remarks. May I also take this opportunity of saying—although it is almost impertinent from such a newcomer as myself—that I should like sincerely to congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Belstead, upon the admirable contributions to the discussion which they have made in their maiden speeches this afternoon?
The noble Lord, Lord Denman, referred to the difficulty of getting well attended parades in the villages. I have made a very considerable study of this matter, and that difficulty has been before us all the time. We have to realise that in the villages, especially in the small villages, the whole of a platoon, or it may be a section, is drawn from the agricultural labourers, who have been working all day long, and if you expect them—as we do whenever there is a warning—to be on duty at their block, it is really more than we can ask of them that, in addition, they should turn up at numerous parades at eight o'clock or eight-thirty in the evening. I think that has specially to be borne in mind in regard to the rural areas; of course it does not apply in anything like the same degree in the case of the towns. I would also remind your Lordships in connection with that point that all the men in this Force are in fact volunteers and entirely unpaid, and if one takes into account the contribution they are making whilst carrying on the life of the nation in their own occupation, I think it will be found that in many cases they are doing not too little, in attending parades too rarely, but are suffering great physical fatigue owing to the extra duties they are taking up.
Some noble Lords mentioned the question of telephones. The point which is 924 made, that we must not rely on field telephones, is a very important one. That has been stressed from the very time of the setting up of this Force in view of the lessons that we have had from the fighting on the Continent, and I think I may say that every single platoon system throughout the country has its means of communication already set up as alternatives to the telephone—I am not going to explain too elaborately what they are. I do not think that communication between these formations in any one area will be so much delayed as was possibly suggested, because I think they all have their arrangements by which those who are engaged in communications are recognised and can pass very speedily through. Even if it were desirable to have field telephones for the whole of the L.D.V., I am afraid, with the enormous standing Army that we have at the present time, that the field telephones must go first to the Regular Army, and it would be dishonest on my part to suggest that they will go at an early date to the Local Defence Volunteers.
It was suggested both by Lord Nathan and Lord Belstead that the A.R.P. services should as far as possible be brought into closer contact with the L.D.V. It is a point which has been discussed before in your Lordships' House, and I think everyone who has anything to do with the rural areas realises the extreme difficulty, owing to the fact that so many of the ex-Service men were already in the A.R.P. and other services before the L.D.V. came into being. The more they are woven together in the rural areas the better it will be for the safety of the State. The matter is all the time being very carefully considered. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, also urged that Regular officers with recent experience should help, especially in the siting of road blocks and so on. I think my noble friend will find I am right in saying that in almost every case now road blocks have been sited with the assistance of Regular officers. Certainly that is true of the areas I have had the pleasure of visiting during the last three weekends. Every assistance is also being given, wherever possible—but it will be understood that there are limits to human endurance—to enable Regular officers and non-commissioned officers who have recently returned from France to convey their personal ideas to 925 the Local Defence Volunteers; but we do want these officers and men to go round the whole of the great Army in the country which is not included in the L.D.V.
I was asked what about mobilisation and what is the signal. That is, I am afraid, not a question I can answer in the House. I can only say it is a subject that is ever present in the minds of the Area Commanders, and has been completely worked out. As to what arrangements are to be made for feeding, I gather that question relates to the scene of operations when, perhaps, invasion has taken place. I can only tell my noble friend it has been decided that, wherever L.D.V. troops are involved in fighting, the War Office will immediately undertake the feeding of these men as if they were engaged in the Regular Army. My noble friend Lord Bessborough suggested that perhaps there were unfair comparisons between different grades of men, and he referred to the Observer Corps and the coastguards. I have not been able to check it, but I gather that the men engaged in both these forces are in full-time service. That is certainly my impression, and if that is so their position is in no way comparable with that of men who are carrying on their normal lives.
§ LORD CROFT
If that is so, I was unaware of it, but I think the coastguards are. If the observers are wholly voluntary, it is a remarkable piece of work that has been going on from the beginning of the war. I can only take off my hat to them, and apologise for the suggestion that they were in any other condition of service.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
May I say that the Observer Corps falls into two parts? One is whole-time service, the other is part-time service.
§ LORD CROFT
That was my impression. Their part-time service is similar to that of the L.D.V. and the man does not give up his career. He is still able to earn his living at his ordinary avocation. Then I was asked as to changes in conditions since the first enrolment went out. My noble friend wisely urged us to take great care that no one feels he is asked to undertake any work that 926 was not in the original constitution of the Force. I answered him at the time, as I thought it desirable at the earliest moment it should be stated that, as far as I was aware, there is no change in the conditions. I must qualify that, of course, by saying that if the L.D.V. ever find themselves in Hertfordshire, Dorset, Sussex, or Kent, actually fighting the enemy, there can be no nonsense about that. We are all fighting for our lives, and then, of course, they will have to be treated as soldiers. That is the only condition, as I understand, where that would be contemplated.
I may also mention that in areas where people have been evacuated, owing to the fact that they have been brought into danger areas, as in some cases in the eastern and southern counties, the men of the L.D.V. have stayed behind while their wives and children have gone away. I pay every tribute to them on that account. It was immediately decided in these circumstances that we must give some subsistence allowance to these men who, by their own voluntary decision, are fulfilling the functions of soldiers. That is not a change of conditions. It merely means that the War Office decided that they must have some recompense. My noble friend Lord Belstead insisted that we must consider the question of greatcoats. Not only would I have been inclined to yield to his threatening tone, but I can inform him that the matter is being considered very seriously. All those experienced in the Forces will realise that we could not go through the winter without providing these men with greatcoats or substantial waterproof coats, whichever is more desirable. That matter, as I say, is at this moment under consideration.
My noble friend Lord Buckmaster asked the specific question whether anything was being done in regard to idle and inefficient commanders. I want to give him this assurance, that, now that this whole organisation has passed, as I will explain in a moment, under complete military supervision, if it is found there are any commanders either idle or inefficient—though, I, for one, must confess I have come across few cases other than those meriting the highest praise—the War Office will be ruthless in insisting that they shall be replaced by men more fitted to command. Lord Tredegar mentioned the question of the fortnight's notice. There are difficulties, as he stated, and 927 as was pointed out in another speech, regarding the fortnight's notice. If a man engaged on those terms, and there was a good reason given, there might be a grievance if that arrangement were violently or suddenly altered. My noble friend pointed out that it is desirable that officers should take an oath and be under control for the duration of the war. I can only say I regard this Force so seriously that I shall most certainly convey his idea to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who, I am asked to say, also regards this Force as a vital element in the main defence of the nation. I am greatly obliged to my noble friend for the suggestion, which I shall certainly pass on.
As regards the constitution of the Force, I want my noble friend to realise that the creation of the L.D.V. was decided upon under emergency conditions owing to the totally unexpected collapse of the Army of our great French Ally. There was no machinery whatever for the formation of such a force except the Lords-Lieutenant and the Territorial Army Associations, which were more or less in suspension owing to the fact that the Territorial Army had passed into the Regular Army. The Lords-Lieutenant were immediately approached by the Secretary of State, and under their guidance zone commanders and company commanders were at once selected from all those officers who had volunteered and who, from their previous war service and other military experience, were considered to be the most suitable. There may be some square pegs in round holes, but, anyhow, the most suitable people were selected amongst those who responded. The response, as a whole, was really remarkable, because within a month after the first appeal 500,000 had been enrolled; a fortnight ago the figure was 700,000, and to-day, as has already been mentioned, it is well over 1,000,000.
The Local Defence Volunteers are organised and administered by the War Office, and are under the operational control of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces, Sir Edmund Ironside. In each military area the L.D.V. is organised and commanded by the Area Commander under the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief of the Commands in which those areas exist. The Force is organised in zones which 928 usually correspond with the police zones. They are as a matter of fact—my noble friend Lord Mottistone pressed the point the other day—really what we might call county organisations, and the zone or county area is divided into battalions, companies, platoons and sections. The administration is under the Director-General of the Territorial Associations, Sir John Brown, at the War Office, and is carried out locally through Territorial Associations in their own areas. I want your Lordships to realise that all these L.D.V. appointments are acting and unpaid. My noble friend Lord Denman asked if there was any assistance for meeting administration expenses. I want to assure him that all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses are now met, and that the Territorial Association is allowed a paid official up to £300, I think, a year. That is not a big amount, but, at any rate, he will not be largely out of pocket, and clerical assistance is also paid wherever it is regarded as essential by the Territorial Associations and other units.
As your Lordships will have realised, since we last debated this question, an Inspector-General, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall, who was recently honoured for his great services by His Majesty as the Chief of Staff of Lord Gort in the British Expeditionary Force in France, has been appointed, than whom perhaps no finer choice could be made, for dealing with the problems of this Force, and he is assisted by liaison officers for each military command. They are six or seven in number, and I can assure your Lordships that if I mentioned their names they would at once win the confidence of this House. A great improvement has resulted in the organisation in dealing with the special difficulties which have been mentioned here to-day that have arisen from time to time and which, in a matter of this kind, are bound to arise in the future. The astonishing growth of the whole Force might indeed be regarded as a fairy story at any other time and in any other land, but it is no fairy story; it is the expression of British spirit which has called forth a response of such magnitude. In addition to a great professional Army, which we now possess, a great Navy and a great Air Force, we have over a million men, most of them, I think we can say, with a knowledge of 929 war, who are offering their services without pay or hope of reward in defence of their hearth and home. I think it will probably be found that it is the most extraordinary spontaneous offer of service which has ever been given by a free people in answer to the threat of a tyrant, and it really ought: to shame any defeatist if there remain any such in our midst in this country to-day.
I should like, if I may, just to say one word to the L.D.V.s themselves through your Lordships, who take such a great interest in their work, and who will be grateful for the words of Lord Bingley who paid a tribute to the spirit which exists and which we recognise in the Force. I would say to them, do not be discouraged if in a week or so the latest recruits are not all fully equipped. I remember some years ago, and some of your Lordships also will remember, a Secretary of State for War in the House of Commons who certainly was not granted adequate finances in order to maintain anything like an effective Army and who rather plaintively said: "I am not a conjurer and I cannot produce a rabbit out of a hat." All I can say is that when we have a million Volunteers suddenly offering their services owing to the total change in the strategical situation of the war, we cannot produce a million rifles, helmets and uniforms with equal speed out of the hat either, although I can assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State is tireless in his efforts to produce these articles as quickly as possible. The men in the Force, I venture to suggest, realise that discipline and training are all-important, that much remains to be done in building the defence works which have been referred to this evening, and that the Volunteer, even if he cannot at first get musketry practice or even get practice on a miniature rifle range, may, nevertheless, be a great support to the civil power.
Although some of these men may at present be unarmed, they are yet being trained and disciplined and will be a great support to the civil power. In some of the large cities a force of disciplined men organised in companies, platoons and sections would in case of serious raids be of first-rate service to the State. They would be able to deal with any panic amongst the population, or any panic in perhaps some quarters of great cities where we have alien populations congregated to 930 gether. They would help to control the movements of any population that for the moment might panic, although I do not suggest it would be for more than a moment. They would keep the streets clear in the case of serious fires, and arrest at once anyone showing any indication of sabotage or of what has wrongly perhaps been called fifth column activities. They could do this valuable work whilst a far larger number of their comrades, fully armed, are guarding all the vital points in the cities, such as power stations, telephone exchanges, public buildings, water supplies, munition factories, etc. When the hour strikes every man is wanted. That is why we want fit men in the organised ranks of the L.D.V. for the test will be such that without discipline the citizen, however willing, might be indeed an incumbrance, whilst if trained and in an allotted formation, he will be of the utmost service to the State.
When I spoke a week ago the Force appeared then to be about 700,000 strong, and I said that very shortly every man would be armed with some effective weapon. While that was true when I spoke, and it actually is in the process of being completed, perhaps this week or next week, the astonishing increase in the Force in the last fortnight I confess makes the arming of everyone less easy, but even so, I can say that now the essential blocks and vulnerable points throughout the whole country will be manned by armed men. We have now got a second half million and for those men we may not be able to supply uniforms so promptly. It is far wiser for me to say this now, because, frankly, we did not expect the second half million so soon, and indeed if we had expected it we could not have provided uniforms immediately. It is essential that our attention should be given first to the Regular Army which we are now expanding at the rate of 7,000 men per day. When your Lordships realise that I think you will realise that we cannot make any promises of immediate issues of steel helmets to the Local Defence Volunteers. The matter, however, is very close to us, and we will certainly do everything we can to concentrate upon the production of steel helmets in large quantities. In the event of immediate invasion, however, these articles of equipment, whilst highly desirable, are not so absolutely vital for resistance to the enemy.
931 We have to concentrate on first things first. A little time ago the call went forth that every citizen should be trained. I think the phrase found its way into the newspapers that if they could not be fully equipped they should be armed with broomsticks. We can do far better than that. We can declare that every citizen enrolled in the Local Defence Volunteers can have his training and his allotted task in the formation with a reasonable hope that, in the not too distant future, he will have effective weapons to defend his post, to stop and, if necessary, destroy, as I honestly believe he can, any vehicles which may try to rush the posts, even the heavier type of vehicle.
I must say a word of regret that a considerable number of men who have registered have not been enrolled. That is due primarily to the fact that in certain crowded areas the number of Volunteers who have registered was for the moment in excess of local requirements. For instance, in one town 4,000 men were enrolled, and that town has a population of only 40,000. That is a simply astonishing result and it must be clear that in some cases like that it is difficult to take in all the Volunteers at once. In other cases commanding officers did not wish to enrol more men at the moment than they could at once arm and equip. I think perhaps they were wrong about that, because I agree that it is a good thing to get on with the training of men even if they cannot all be armed or equipped at once. It was obvious to us, however, that where there was exceptional recruitment in one district, we could not take men from that district and put them into another area where the Force was weaker, unless we were going to upset the whole idea of the movement and take men away from the localities in which they lived. We realise the disappointment that has resulted to some men and I can only express the hope and belief that as the organisation settles down, and as men who are unsuitable for physical or other reasons are discovered and weeded out, other men will be required.
In conclusion I would like to say, before I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, that all the evidence we get shows that the Force is in very good heart and apart from fulfilling its static role it is freeing the 932 Regular Army for full training and for preparation to strike at any threatened point with full offensive fight. The question which the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, has raised refers no doubt to a statement which appeared in the Press some little time ago. Arising out of the inquiry from my noble friend Lord Strabolgi in debate last week I corresponded, as promised, with Major General Sir Cecil Pereira. Lord Strabolgi stated that Sir Cecil Pereira had "laid it down that Local Defence Volunteers in London do not need weapons," and that "there is great indignation among patriotic Londoners…at what they consider an insult." Sir Cecil Pereira replies as follows:All rifles at first were allotted by the General Officer Commanding, London Area, to the outer zones of London. At first for the inner zones, the only thing possible for the L.D.V. was therefore to provide parties in aid of the police, which might be, and still will be, urgently wanted. My words were cruelly distorted by some newspaper correspondent. I never said the words imputed to me—namely, that I had 'laid it down that Local Defence Volunteers in London do not need weapons.' We had at the time that I was alleged to have made the statement nearly sixty defended localities all fully armed.It will thus be seen from Sir Cecil Pereira's reply to my inquiry that not only did he not make the statement, but that it was inconceivable that he could have done so when under Sir Cecil's administration substantial guards were being formed from the men under his control in sixty different localities to whom arms had been issued under his instruction.
With regard to the command of the London District Area Command, also referred to by Lord Strabolgi, this is vested in Sir Bertram Sergison-Brooke, the G.O.C. London District, with Brigadier Whitehead acting under him as Commander, whilst Sir Cecil Pereira, as Chairman of the London Territorial Association, is responsible for administration. I should like to say to your Lordships that I think London is under a very great debt of gratitude to Sir Cecil Pereira, who has been Chairman of the London Territorial Association not only prior to but also during the period of the doubling of the Territorial Army. He has devoted himself as few unpaid servants of the Crown have done to this work. I hope in these circumstances my noble friend will withdraw some of the 933 words he used—no doubt inadvertently—in the debate last week. I say that because I recognise the chivalry of my noble friend, which I so often witnessed in another place.
§ 6.39 p.m.
My Lords, of course I do that at once. I had no intention of making any special attack on Sir Cecil Pereira, but as other noble Lords in the House have sometimes done I believed too much of what I saw in the newspapers. The statement was, however, published and I dare say there was some misunderstanding. The whole matter has been put right now and I am glad that there is no imputation on the reliability or pugnacity of the Cockney. Certainly there is no sort of imputation against a most distinguished soldier.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for the interesting speech he has made in reply to my question, and I also thank him for the very full answer he has given to the specific questions put to him by succeeding speakers. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.