HL Deb 04 June 1940 vol 116 cc467-96

4.47 p.m.

THE EARL OF BREADALBANE AND HOLLAND rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the efficiency and fire-power of the Local Defence Volunteer Force; and further whether all the necessary communication and transport arrangements are being satisfactorily co-ordinated; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I think it my duty to voice the anxiety and dissatisfaction which exist over a large part of the country as to our preparations for home defence. In raising this matter I am in circumstances of considerable difficulty, because it is obviously essential that nothing should be said during the course of this debate which can be of any assistance to the enemy. I shall try to confine myself to what is common knowledge—to what is mentioned in the public Press and must be obvious to any German Staff officer with a map of this country and who takes the trouble to study it. If by mistake I seem likely to go beyond that line, I would ask the noble Lord who proposes to reply on behalf of the Government to pull me up. It happened to be my fate after the last war to spend some months in Germany in the Army of Occupation. One thing that impressed me very much was that all the German officers with whom I discussed the matter maintained that the German Army had never been defeated by force of arms, and that it was only forced to sue for peace owing to the collapse of the home front. This is a lesson the Germans took very much to heart and from which they intend to profit. There have been too many people in this country who have said, "The Germans will not come here." They adopt what, in their opinion, is an attitude of quiet confidence, but it might also be described as an attitude of negligent, supine apathy. They say, "We shall win the war," but they are doing precious little to ensure it. With the examples of Poland, Norway, and Holland before our eyes, it is folly to suppose that this country, which Hitler looks on as the home of his most formidable opponent, as the most determined foe of Nazi plans of aggression, will come through unscathed.

The Government have had eight months of respite to prepare, and the country at large is gravely disturbed as to what has, or has not, been done. It welcomes this change of direction on the part of the military authorities, and is glad to see General Sir Edmund Ironside and General Paget, with his experience in Norway, taking the helm. We are asked frequently to leave matters entirely to the military authorities, but this is a civilian affair, and people are not altogether ready to do that. Strategists claim that the Forest of Ardennes was impassable to troops; it was through the Forest of Ardennes that Hitler struck. Strategists told us that without command of the sea Hitler would never capture Norway. Look at Norway now—two-thirds of the country under the Prussian heel. What has actually been done? I would like to have seen in Scotland bodies of men raised on the same lines as were followed in Napoleonic times. This is perhaps a Scottish aspect but I think it would have been an inspiring and indeed unusual sight to see Scotsmen ranged in serried ranks not preparing to fight the English, not even preparing to fight among themselves, but prepared to defend a cause so right that it would have obliterated the feuds and quarrels which have marred the pages of Scottish history in the past. I am sorry that, in attempting a plan from a purely military point of view, an opportunity which may well have been unique in the annals of Scottish history has been missed. Perhaps, under an English Secretary of State for Scotland, an English Keeper of Edinburgh Castle, an English Commander-in-Chief of a Scottish Command, and, I believe, an English Commander of Perth, it was possibly too much for Scotland to expect; but I think there is a feeling throughout the northern half of this country that a chance has been missed because of lack of vision.

Take the plan that was actually put into force. Only a matter of days ago a meeting was convened in great haste and confusion, and scant attention or consideration, I am told, was paid to the views of the Lords-Lieutenant and none to the territorial claims of those who spend the whole year in Scotland, who know the people and to whom the people in turn are inclined to look in times of emergency for leadership. The first thing that was done apparently at this meeting was to divide Scotland by art arbitrary line. I will not specify the direction or the locality, but within twenty-four hours it was realised that this was a civilian force and that this line only appeared on military maps, and therefore not one member of the civilian force would have a map to show it. Does that look as if adequate preparation, prevision and foresight were given to a matter which is all-important to this country? That first decision was hastily corrected, an amendment was sent out, and another line was drawn which cuts across watersheds, lines of communication and other matters of strategic importance. To turn to the putting of this plan into practice, it is to be carried out by the voluntary services of many gallant, elderly military gentlemen, to whose patriotism I should like to pay a tribute of respect, but I suggest that in many cases they are too old to meet the menace of the young parachute troops specially trained in Germany for this very purpose of invading a country. There again with no disrespect I say we are facing a 1940 menace with a 1914 mentality. If you asked some of them to say how long it would take to go from London to Paris they would answer: "A couple of hours by train, then steamer, and so much by the Golden Arrow." That would be their first reaction. That is not good enough in critical times like these. What we want is someone who thinks in terms of flying and not merely of the old out-of-date methods of locomotion.

Turning to the details to which I particularly want to draw your Lordships' attention, I tried to hold a practice the other day. In order to make the test something.like what would be actually required in case of an invasion, I suggested that the Germans might have seized some island on the west coast; it might be Mull, it might be Arran, or the Isle of Man, or it might be a larger island which it is not necessary for me to specify, but where I fancy there would be a large number of German sympathisers. Through the kindness of the military commander of the regular troops I arranged that he should join in. The night before, I decided to telephone to make sure that all was right for an attack at dawn the following morning. What was the result? The postmaster told me that owing to a thunderstorm the line was out of order. I asked him if there was not an alternative line, and he said there was no alternative line. I then asked him if he had any method of repairing the line and for getting over what were quite trifling difficulties which might easily be put right. He said that he had not. He added that he could easily repair the line if he had a length of cable, some pliers and a ladder, but, he went on, the official regulation which he must follow—and, my Lords, this is in the middle of a war—was to telephone his predicament to the nearest chief postal centre. I pointed out that he had already told me that he could not get in touch with that postal centre and that that method hardly seemed a quick one. I suggest that every village post office should be provided with some breakdown outfit of the sort required.

Then I tried to see if it was possible to get through to the same centre by railway telephone. I think it could have been done, but again I was up against a difficulty that there was no regulation entitling a defence commander to do anything with railway telephones, even to asking the stationmaster to accept an obligation to get through. There is too much red tape. It is too slow, too complicated. Later in the night the lines were put in order. The message was sent at 2.30 to the nearest Regular troops. It was nearly three hours before they arrived, although the distance was comparatively short. That is to say, the parachute invaders would have had two clear hours during which they could have blocked the railway lines and interfered with the telephone line and done practically what they wanted.

A message was sent to the Local Defence Force, which had been on guard throughout the night. They turned up. I thought to myself what a magnificent lot of men they were. Some of them drove tanks in the last war or manned machine guns, and would make a real, useful righting force. As to their armament, it was most inadequate. They came out as though they were going to a hare drive, not to meet trained professional soldiers who already had the advantage of the initiative. They sent back for their supports, who were completely unarmed. I would like to suggest that this question of defence should be regarded almost on fire brigade lines, and that every local area should have something in the shape of a requisitioned lorry, armoured against splinters and bullets, to give the men manning it some protection; that it should be armed with a couple of Bren guns, equipped with first-aid outfit, tools and so on, and that it should be kept ready to be rushed out with audacity and determination to wherever trouble arose. Then we had some imaginary casualties. They were to be dealt with by the A.R.P. service. I went back to see what actually happened. The A.R.P. party, consisting of ten of the best men in the village, very sportingly turned out to help. I went to the first-aid post. I found it did not exist. It had been filled up with desks and tables for evacuated children.

Is this Defence Force a serious Defence Force, equipped with all ancillary services, or is it not? There is no power to the commander of the Defence Force to ask the A.R.P. to put their house in order. They are independent. The special constables turned out. They also are independent. They are unarmed. Their duty is apparently to apprehend the enemy. How is a special constable with only his bare hands to apprehend a parachutist? I inquired who is responsible for the provision of medical supplies. I was told that that comes under the county medical officer. He again is entirely independent of the Defence Force. I urge that what is gravely required is some co-ordinating authority who can get all the services so necessary for efficiency to work together. They are all doing good work, but they are all doing it independently. There are three points, then, that I would like to stress—co-ordination of all the services, more fire power and more mobility. There is a magnificent spirit throughout the country. I have never seen a finer lot of men or men more determined that Nazi aggression shall not succeed. All they want is leadership and organisation. I need hardly point out that this country, after all, is the citadel of the British Empire. If this goes, all goes. The sands are running low. I beg that the Government will not, for lack of previous organisation, lose on the Home Front all that the superb heroism and the dauntless gallantry of the Fighting Forces have struggled so hard to preserve in France.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, may I be permitted to thank my noble friend the Earl of Breadalbane for bringing forward this Motion? It really ought to be debated in Secret Session. Certain discussions are going on which I hope will be successful. There will be a Secret Session in another place and I hope it will be found convenient to have one here. I do not think my noble friend the Earl of Breadalbane has quite realised how much has been done in the last three weeks. I have had some experience, particularly in the Midlands, and I know that a great deal has been accomplished. I think a tribute is due to my honourable friend Sir Edward Grigg and to my noble friend Lord Croft for what they have done. The burden has fallen on them. With regard to what the noble Earl said about Local Defence Volunteers and A.R.P. workers, I am absolutely certain that these two forces will have to work together, especially in the country districts. There is no Lord-Lieutenant in your Lordships' House who will not bear me out in that. You have the flower of the rural dwellers—many of them ex-Service men—already enrolled in the A.R.P. service. Every man of public spirit and leisure has done that and these Volunteers may be the same people doing much the same thing. But the time has come when any sort of departmental rivalry should be swept away. A.R.P. and L.D.V. must obviously be amalgamated.

I am going to put to my noble friend Lord Croft a very serious matter. This force has been put under a distinguished soldier, who cannot be expected to understand what I am now going to say, but perhaps it will be understood when I explain. It has been stated in the papers—you cannot keep these things secret in any case—that arrangements are being made to render unusable large open spaces where hostile aeroplanes might land. The same precautions are very necessary on large open stretches of water. The Broads, the lakes and the inlets and creeks along our coast are ideal places for Dormer flying boats to alight. They did so in the River Scheldt opposite Rotterdam with dire results, and the same thing will happen here unless we take precautions. The precautions are cheap and simple and local people can do the job. All that is necessary is to get some empty barrels and string them together with rope or get some baulks of timber and turn them into a temporary barrier or boom. That should be done at once and I hope that when this debate is over my noble friend will go to the War Office and get in touch with the Admiralty and issue instructions quickly—over the wireless, if necessary.

This matter is very serious. I agree with every word that has fallen from the noble Earl about the importance of this Local Defence Force. The more efficient we can make these Volunteers, the more troops we shall be able to send to France, and in the next few weeks we have to send every man and every gun that we can to France to stand on the Somme. I am astonished to find that there are tanks still in this country. There should not be a tank in England to-day. We do not need tanks. Very light tanks can be brought here by hostile aeroplanes but they can be dealt with in other ways. Tanks ought not to be in this country. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I speak with some heat, but I have reasons for feeling strongly about it. I have just come from the Midlands, where I have been engaged without any instructions from anyone, but with the good will of many people, in taking certain precautions. We have been turning our factories there—we have three of them all doing work of great importance—into fortresses ourselves. Some of our workpeople are ex-Service men and some have been brought back from the Army because they are skilled artisans. We bought our barbed wire, we made our steel bullet proof sheets for the windows, we bought rifles, and we have acquired a machine gun. I will not go into details of how we acquired that, but we got it. The factories are working twenty-four hours a day and we have a definite system ready for an attack at any time. If any enemy came to those factories to-morrow I would be very sorry for him. One of those factories has machinery which exists nowhere else in the country and which is very important to the Air Ministry. There is no question of official leadership. The leaders rise up on these occasions. One of the best men I have is an ex-Lewis gunner, a private from the last war. He is a skilled workman now. The only thing he wants now is a Lewis gun and he will be happy.

I went to the very charming, courteous retired officer, a major, who has been put in charge of the whole district. He was delighted, and he said: "I wish everyone else would do this on his own responsibility." Now I come to the serious part of the matter. This officer said: "I was appointed last Sunday"—this was on Sunday this week—"to organise the defences of this vitally important district. I have no staff, no money, and I do not know where I am, but I am doing my best." The question of which I have given notice to my noble friend Lord Croft is whether, in the case of officers called from retirement—some of them are excellent men—they are allowed staff and money. You cannot organise a big district without these things and you cannot expect these officers to put their hands in their own pockets beyond a certain limit. That is one question which I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Croft, and I hope the answer will be satisfactory.

The next question is this: these evacuations of children and so on from vulnerable areas, why are they not compulsory? How much longer are we going on playing with this question and leaving it to the desires and affections of the parents whether their children shall be evacuated or not? Of course when it is decided completely to evacuate a district, the evacuation should be compulsory, otherwise we only play with the problem. It may be necessary to evacuate certain districts compulsorily of all the non-combatants. Has that been worked out and are the Government going to be firm enough to do it?

In this connection I am very surprised indeed that no instructions have been given through the Press, by wireless and so on, to people what to do in the case of an attack. An attack may come tonight. You must tell the people not to panic on to the roads and become refugees—I mentioned this to your Lordships last week—to be machine-gunned by these criminals of the air who may come over. Tell them to barricade themselves in their homes or, if the worst comes to the worst, to take to the woods, but not to panic on the roads and so prevent the Defence Forces from moving and open themselves to slaughter, as happened in France and Belgium and is happening now. No instructions have been given to that effect. My honourable friend Mr. Hamilton Kerr, in another place on May 30, asked a question. Now we come to another Department, the Home Office; I have already touched upon the Ministry of Health, the War Office, and the Admiralty, and now we come to a fourth Department. My honourable friend asked the Home Secretary: Whether he will issue an instruction that, in the event of air raids on this country, the civil population should remain quietly at home, and not attempt to evacuate in mass unless a definite order is received from the local authorities? This is the reply of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson: Yes, Sir. Action is being taken in the sense indicated in the question. Action has not been taken. Why not? When are you going to tell the people what to do in case of a landing? I suppose the matter is still being discussed between the different sides of Whitehall and between the different Ministries concerned.

That brings me to my last suggestion. I am sorry if I stand between the House and my noble and gallant friend, who has much more knowledge of these matters than I have, but in this I am sure he will support me. The noble Earl opposite made this point: for home defence nowadays, under modern conditions and with modern weapons opposed to you, you must have one supreme authority. At present the police and A.R.P. are under the Home Office, the local authorities are under the Ministry of Health, the Army is under the Commander-in-Chief, the Local Defence Volunteers are under the Commander-in-Chief, and the coastguard is under the Board of Trade.


NO, it is now under the Admiralty.


I am glad to hear it: the whole coastal defence has now come back to the Admiralty. Then you have this vitally important service of air defence under the Air Ministry. The air command is not so well co-ordinated at present as regards its own different functions. I do not know whether this has come to the notice of my noble friend yet, but I beg him, for the sake of his country and mine, to make some inquiries about it. He will find that there is a lack of co-ordination between the different commands of the Air Force to-day. We pointed out long ago that this would happen, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone has pointed out in the past the need for a combined General Staff, and we are still pointing it out now. I can find no real co-ordination at all between all these different authorities—I have mentioned half a dozen. You must have one man for Home Defence with power to act, and he must be of War Cabinet rank, and he ought to be the deputy to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the Minister of Defence, and there ought to be a deputy Minister of Defence with the support of the Prime Minister behind him. Then he would be able to drive through this red tape and bureaucratic obstructionism which are strangling the magnificent effort that our people want to put forward. But I end as I began; a great deal has been done, thanks to the initiative and energy of the people themselves. They have not waited for instructions; they have just got on with the job. That is happening all over the country; men are working hard on it. I know many cases of men who go on watch on the hills at night and come back to their work in the morning without any instructions of any sort. That is the spirit that will defeat the Nazis; but do help it.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I cordially agree with the last words which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the general question of home defence. I am not here to grumble or complain—there is quite enough of that—with regard to the L.D.V. I think it has been very well done, and I would only make a few practical suggestions which, I hope, will be carried out. But since the issue has been raised as to lack of co-ordination, I must say, with a real desire to support the Government and with a real hatred of grumblers, that that is a gap in our armour which ought to be put right at once. I could give you many instances, and one of them—quite an important one—I was able to put straight myself owing to my position in a certain county. There is, however, a much bigger issue relating to home defence owing to the circumstance that for a hundred and twenty years we have never been menaced by invasion so nearly as we are now, there is a real lack of co-ordination. I think it could be put right. The suggestion of the noble Lord that the deputy to the Prime Minister should be the Minister of Home Defence and charged with this duty is a good one, and I hope that the noble Lord, whom I am glad to see and who I am sure will be welcomed in this House, will tell the Prime Minister that it was received—as I am sure it is—with interest and approval. Of the need of some reform I have no doubt whatever. Apart from that big issue relating to the Defence Forces which has been raised by the noble Earl, Lord Breadalbane, I do not share with him the gloomy view that things are all going wrong. As a Lord-Lieutenant I have been devoting all my time since this began, as has my noble friend Lord Crewe, to doing what we could to get the thing going. Of course, every kind of mistake has been made, but on the whole it is astonishing how well the thing has been done in its beginning.


I really cannot allow the noble Lord to misrepresent me. I did not at all suggest that everything is wrong; far from it. A great deal is going very right, and I prefer to correct that at once.


I am sorry if I put it too high; and of course it is quite right for the noble Earl to correct me, especially as he can see the way in which Scotland has been treated by these outrageous Englishmen, who must be put in their places. They have been criticised, and many of the criticisms have been fully justified. But I am here to ask what has been done and to ask for certain definite steps to be taken which I think will prevent the mistakes which the noble Earl rightly deplores and make the whole thing go much more smoothly. The first thing, and I believe it to be vital, is that in order to organise this force it must be on a county basis. The military mind tends, through no fault of its own, to want to draw straight lines across this country and say this is this military area and that is that. Now, in creating a force of this kind, in order to bring in all the other people, and notably those concerned with air-raid precautions and the police, it must be on a county basis, because there the whole organisation is ready-made. I have been much in touch with Sir Edward Grigg, to whom a tribute has been paid by Lord Strabolgi, and I should like to pay a tribute to him also, because he has worked very hard at this; and I believe that he is not unfriendly to this view.

If the Government would announce that they proposed to put the administration and equipment in the hands not only of the Lords-Lieutenant but of the county associations and their chairmen and representatives, on which associations all the civic authorities are represented, as well as the county authorities, and naturally, through them, the police, all kinds of mistakes which have been made would be avoided. In my county, the military and naval authorities have co-operated with me in getting the whole thing put on one central basis. My first point is therefore this: I beg the noble Lord, Lord Croft, to get General Sir Edmund Ironside, or whoever is the proper person, to make a broadcast as soon as possible, saying first of all that the administration and equipment of this new force are placed under the county associations. That would greatly facilitate the work. I am permitted by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, to say that that has practically been done in his case; and if he will support me when I sit down, I shall be most grateful.

Having got the organisation on a county basis, there then comes the difficulty of equipment. We all know that there is a shortage of rifles, and we all know the reasons for it. The shortage is not really very acute; there are quite enough rifles if the business is properly organised to shoot all the possible parachutists who could land, and in fact many to spare. I am informed that there is excellent ammunition available for 12-bore guns, and there are plenty of them. I hope that the broadcast will encourage everyone to bring his 12-bore gun, and to use it as required. For that purpose, it is obvious that a very elastic organisation is necessary. In the case of the works in a town to which the noble Lord has referred, clearly he has his men on the spot and he is able to put up an admirable defence without any question of mobility. On the other hand, in the case of our scattered country districts—sometimes, as in my own case, very lonely places, but not very far from vitally important centres—it is important to have all the arrangements possible for rapid movement. It is important to bring fire-power rapidly to bear on the parachutists or on the men who land from submarines or in some other way on our coasts. It is important to bring fire-power to bear at once on the parachutists, while they are in the semi-dazed condition in which they have always been found by the many people I have met who have encountered them. For that purpose it is necessary to have proper means of communication. In the case of a small forest which some of your Lordships know well, there is an admirable corps of people on ponies, and they can get from one place to another at maximum speed; but in most cases the motor is preferable.

Then I should like to make this second point, and this is a real grievance which everyone feels. Quite rightly, the Treasury and finance branches keep a check upon expenditure, and they always want to know beforehand for what purpose the money is really wanted. In this case, however, where there is real urgency, it is a little fantastic for orders to be sent that it is under consideration whether third-class fares shall be allowed to organisers. I can give my noble friend the name of a distinguished Field Marshal who promptly enlisted as a private in this new force, and who received a communication that it was under consideration whether he should or should not get his third-class railway fare. It would surely be better at once to relax the purse-strings and to say to a man organising a particular area: "Here is a lump sum for which you must account rigidly. If you want petrol, have it; if you want motor cars, hire them. Do not be extravagant, and report at the end of a week." I would beg the noble Lord, Lord Croft—I can assure him, having occupied his office as Under-Secretary of State and then having become Secretary of State, that he will not find it very easy; but it can be done—to insist that for the purposes of this new force little block grants shall be allocated through the Commands to all the subordinate people who are organising their areas. In my own case, and I have no doubt in others, they are all people of consequence in the county who can be trusted to do nothing wrong. That will enable us to get over this real grievance which is blocking the efforts of every county in England, Scotland and Wales—the difficulty of small finance.

I would go further and say this. This may sound slightly contrary to my view that we must have a county force, but I think it would be a wise thing to get these men into uniform when they go on duty, as soon as possible. That would be of help, and it is much better than a brassard. The men will feel more sense of responsibility when they are in uniform. The question of whether each man should have his own rifle to care for depends on the locality. When this force was first sprung upon us, it was suggested that arms should be kept in a local armoury. In many cases that would be ten miles away. The Swiss system, under which each man is responsible for his own rifle, is ideal for all our rural areas, and probably for most others. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that at a moment of great peril to Switzerland at the end of the last war, when there was danger of attack from without and of risings from within, the Swiss President was asked by some more timid members of his Government to pass a law for all the arms of the citizens of Switzerland to be placed in central armouries. He refused to do anything of the kind, and by decree he announced that any Swiss man of military age who had not got his rifle should be liable to a fine equivalent to £10, or go to prison for a month. The danger to Switzerland passed away as though by magic, because it was seen that every Swiss could be absolutely trusted to defend his country. I think that it would be wise to follow that example and to let us be an armed people, but so far as possible organised in full consultation with the county police and with the city police.

Yet a further advantage of the county system is that it gets rid of the breach that is formed between the A.R.P. organisation and the new force, to which attention has been drawn. The county system gets round that difficulty, because the county organiser may generally very well be the head of the A.R.P. organisation. We can look forward with confidence, I think, to the success of this new force provided certain things are done, a few of which I have ventured to bring before your Lordships. The sooner there is a broadcast to explain all these things the better, and then I am perfectly certain that if any Germans land after that on these shores they will get so warm a reception that such a landing will never be effected again.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mottistone has said that he has no great love for grumblers, but unfortunately I find myself unable to approach this matter from any point of view other than a highly critical one. I hope it will be appreciated that my criticisms are not directed towards those local organisers who are sparing neither their time nor their pockets and who, with no financial help from the Government, have done all that they can to make this scheme effective. It is not for me to emphasize the danger in which we find ourselves. A tragic example of what may happen from the air has been seen in Holland. Nor is it only from the air that the enemy may land. I cannot feel that the scheme as now proposed is in any way adequate to our needs. I am aware of course that in the first instance the defence of this country is entrusted, and rightly entrusted, to the Regular Army, but that is no reason why any auxiliary defensive body should have an unwieldy and imperfect organisation.

If we examine this Local Defence Volunteer organisation what do we find? To a large extent it is on a part-time basis. That very fact must prevent that adequate discipline and training which are essential for any military duty. The agreement provides that the Volunteer cannot be asked to serve outside his own district, and nothing could be more destructive of mobility, one of the essential features of any defensive organisation. In addition, at a fortnight's notice the Volunteer may terminate his contract or his agreement altogether. I can imagine a most unfortunate position arising where, owing to local friction or other difficulties, the Volunteers decide to withdraw en masse. Can it seriously be suggested, in the position in which we find ourselves, that measures such as this are adequate to our needs? Do we really think that Hitler would entrust any part of the defences of his country to an organisation of such a nature? Would he have achieved what he has achieved on a part-time basis? The further we examine this scheme the graver are its defects. If your Lordships will bear with me I will give one or two illustrations.

In the first place there exists considerable confusion as to what is the duty of these Volunteers—I nearly said these unfortunate Volunteers. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, shakes his head, but I propose to give definite illustrations which I will verify with him after the debate is over. One of my friends in his district has been told that if parachutists descend the Volunteers are to advance in extended order. Those who, like the noble Lord, have had experience of the German machine gunners are well able to judge what the fate of those unhappy Volunteers would be. My noble friend Lord Mottistone remarks that it is a splendid thing to die for one's country, which reminds me of what Horace said. We know the quotation, but I would suggest to him that though it is a splendid thing to die for your country, it is a better thing to die for it after you have killed some Germans first. In my own district, where I have joined, I am told the instructions vary so frequently that they do not know what they are on a given day. In another district I have been told that if a parachutist descends, the Volunteer is allowed to shoot, but if more than one descends he may not shoot, he must instantly summon help—no doubt a very admirable precaution, one which he may well be tempted to adopt. But one should remember that, if I am correctly informed, when the parachutist descends he is at a disadvantage; he is encumbered with his apparatus and has to disengage himself, and unless he is shot at once he will, on instructions previously given, seize some point of tactical advantage from which he cannot always be dislodged except with bombs or mortars.

With regard to co-ordination, one other illustration springs to my mind. Another friend of mine had been asked to defend a telephone exchange, and when his section got there they were denied entry because the post office had no knowledge of the instruction at all—a sad lack of co-operation between two different departments. Whatever the duties of these Volunteers may be, it is to my mind impossible that they can be performed without drill and discipline. And yet the very way in which they are organised makes discipline difficult, even where it is seriously attempted. On joining I was told that I should be given a rifle. It was a pattern with which I am not familiar. I asked if I might practise with it and was told, "Certainly not." I asked if I might have instruction in its use and was told that a sergeant instructor would attend in the evenings at 6.30. When I offered to attend on Saturday evenings I was told that on Saturdays and Sundays he would not attend. When such things happen, when you see the way in which these matters are approached, I personally lose all sense of reality. I find myself like a spectator at some rustic comedy instead of waiting to see the curtain rise on the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen.

I feel, after what I have said, that it would be right for me to offer constructive suggestions. I feel diffident in doing so as so many of your Lordships, from the positions they have held, have had opportunities and experience which have been denied to me. But it seems to me, placed as we are, in the peril in which we find ourselves, that nothing short of a permanently mobilised body incorporated in the Army, treated as part of the Army, is of any use at all. The material is ready to our hands. We have boys who have taken their school certificates, but are too young for active service. We have the British Legion, a vast reservoir of men upon which we can draw. In regard to mobilisation, I do not suggest that any such force should be put into huts or tents; they would be adequately mobilised, in my view, if the men were told that they should not leave their homes at certain hours. The sec- tion commander would be on the telephone and would immediately collect his section if an emergency arose. It should be remembered that the parachutist does not necessarily come at night—the only time in the district in which I am at which the patrols are asked to function. Then with regard to the question of mobility, I see no reason why cars should not be commandeered, and why each section leader should not be told where the cars are; then, the alarm being given, the men could be quickly collected and taken to the district where they are urgently required.

The hour is late, but it is still not too late to deal with this matter with the urgency and seriousness which it requires. It is a matter the importance of which I cannot too much stress, though I do not diminish in one degree the equal urgency of sending to France every trained soldier. But the more we strengthen our Volunteer Defence corps the more we shall be able to release our trained forces for service abroad. It is a matter in which no mistake can be permitted. If we err here it will not be the least of our blunders, but to my mind it would certainly be the last.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but after listening to what has been said, and as my noble friend who has just spoken has made so direct a reference to me, and has been so unfortunate in his experiences, I should like very briefly to present the opposite case. I have the honour to command a platoon in this very much maligned corps. I do not speak as being in any way responsible for an urban area. The problems of the towns, big and small, are no doubt very important, but they are quite different from those of the rural areas. I speak for a rural area adjacent to that of my noble friend Lord Mottistone, and I have been a little more fortunate than I was able to gather from him in the arrangements which it has been possible to make.

If it be argued, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, argued, that this force should be on a whole-time basis and not part-time, a completely different set of arguments comes in. Anybody who was to give his full time would obviously have to have means of subsistence provided for him. I can only say that, in a completely rural area, there is nobody who can possibly give his whole time services unless we are to take the men entirely from agriculture. If we are going to deal with a completely rural area, which is the only one of which I can speak in this connection with any experience, it is only possible to take those who are living on the spot, of whom perhaps 90 per cent. are engaged the whole day long in work on the farms. It is a very surprising fact, but it is true, that the other 10 per cent. are people who can contribute in their spare time an extraordinary fund of military experience. I speak on behalf of an area of about twenty square miles of downland, as deserted from the population point of view as any area in the whole of the south of England. Yet, in one small section under my command, I have a man who was for four years a musketry instructor in the Regular Army, two or three others Regular soldiers, and, in the adjacent village, a man who is a Bisley rifle shot, and so on.

There has been no difficulty whatever in organising these people, in getting them to give of their limited leisure enough time to carry out the three duties with which, as I understand, this force is charged—namely, observation, communication, and obstruction. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, said it was quite uncertain what the duties of this force are. In that case, he is unfortunate in those who command him. In the area for which I speak, there is no doubt or dissension as to what our duties are. Every single person in that area who has enrolled knows perfectly well what his duties are and is prepared to carry them out. Though it is quite true that we cannot take the place of Regular forces, it is also quite true that we are not being asked to do so. It may be that what we are doing is not adequate, but what the Local Defence Volunteer corps is being asked to do in the rural areas it is adequately carrying out.

As regards the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the force should be under county auspices, I am not quite clear what is meant by the word "county"—whether he is using it in terms of the Territorial Force Association or under the aegis or authority of the Lord-Lieutenant.


It is the same thing.


As far as the area of which I speak is concerned, we are under what I consider a better authority, and that is the local authority. We are concerned with local defence. We know exactly the bounds of our responsibility, we know to whom we are responsible, and with whom we have to make liaison. I am not pretending for a moment that everything is for the best in the best possible world. There are many things to be desired—more equipment, more opportunities for musketry practice and so forth. The one real criticism that might justly be used is that this has been very hastily done. There would seem to be no reason, if foresight had been employed, why all this should not have been properly prepared months ago; but within the limited time set us it is quite remarkable the degree of preparation that has been made, and the efficiency of the protection that will be afforded in local areas, subject only to the statement that of course we cannot provide what trained, whole-time people could provide. Within the limits of part-time, and within the limits also of the area in which we are enrolled and are supposed to work, I do not think anything better could have been provided. Subject to these limitations, it is obviously for the Government to say how much more should be done, but it is only right that someone with actual local knowledge of what has been attempted in a rural area should try to dissipate some of the rather severe criticisms which have been made on this new force.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords; I am sure the War Office is grateful to the noble Earl who introduced this question to-day, and we have had a very interesting discussion as a result. I should like to disclaim any personal parentage of this movement, although I have been closely connected with it. It lies more within the immediate functions of my honourable friend Sir Edward Grigg, who keeps in contact with the Commander-in-Chief, although I am kept continuously informed. Before I answer the points which have been raised, I should like to make one or two very general observations which will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I should like to say at once that the Secretary of State and the Army Council regard the Local Defence Volunteers as a really vital part of our essential defences. It is no mere outlet of patriotic emotion which we are endeavouring to recruit, but a fighting force which may be at death grips with the enemy next week, or even to-morrow. That is the attitude of the War Office towards this force, and for that reason it has been placed under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, and a leader of the calibre of Sir Edmund Ironside has been appointed.

As was remarked by the noble Earl, we have been warned. Norway was enslaved because she was staggered into confusion by treachery from without and within. Her vital air ports, her docks, and her communications were in the enemy's hands before she knew war had started. Holland, bravely fighting on her frontiers against a murderous assault, was attacked by thousands of men from the air in aeroplanes, in seaplanes, as the noble Lord opposite remarked, and by parachutes, all concentrating on the vital points of her life, with great knowledge, and evidently prepared for a very considerable time before the attacks took place. It brought that country in a few days to complete disaster. Neither of these countries could have been overwhelmed, as your Lordships, so many of whom have great military experience, will agree, if they had been in any way organised and prepared to meet these enemies. Everyone is absolutely determined that this must not—shall not—happen in this country of ours. For that reason we are organising, preparing, and training throughout the land.

After all, this call went out only about a fortnight ago, and our people made that response which has never failed when face to face with a peril to their homeland. The response has, in fact, been absolutely magnificent. I doubt if it has ever been equalled in any country in the world. In one small county nearly 6,000 men have volunteered. To-day we can claim we have more than 400,000 men who have been enrolled in that very short time. At last that great reserve pool of trained leaders and trained soldiers of the last war, who had been waiting for the opportunity to fight, now have their chance and have rallied instantly to the call of danger. I must protest against the idea which is put forward that the officers who are to build up the administration of this force are too old. I think a very great deal of nonsense is talked in that direction, and, although I think it is generally accepted in military quarters that for a modern war of movement in the field to-day you must have very young and active men, and active young commanders, I believe also that on consideration it will be agreed that what we need in this particular matter is experience. From my own personal observation I can say that the men who are organising the counties and the groups and the smaller formations, although they may be very senior in military rank, are very active in mind and are getting on with the job extraordinarily well. I think we need make no mistake about this. We have got not only the quantity but the quality that is required. Now our task is to give them the best organisation and the best training possible for the particular job.

Before I answer the two or three questions which were put, may I just emphasize once more what the main functions of this force are? The main duty is to prevent small forces landing by parachute or from planes unobserved and assembling in formations and reaching their objectives, such as factories, public services, telephone communications, blowing up of bridges, and the seizing of aerodromes or anything to cause chaos or confusion before decisive forces can be brought to bear to wipe them out. These forces we are holding disposed in tactically favourable positions throughout the country. We are so disposing trained and well-armed mobile forces that they may deal with invaders wherever they may try to assemble—that is to say, very considerable numbers of soldiers in this country now comprising His Majesty's Army. But the Local Defence Volunteers can help the Regular Forces and help them to a very important degree in three vitally important ways. They are comparable, if I may put it so, to a line of outposts, except that it is a continuous and a circular line embracing almost every town and city of this country. They have to carry out duties somewhat comparable to the duties of outposts. Their three main objects have been referred to. If I may, I will put them in somewhat different words. They are to provide early and accurate news of any enemy landing and report instantly by definite means of communication. This work is organised by local commanders of proved military qualities, with men under their command who, like themselves, know the locality intimately. Secondly, to prevent the attackers from moving fast to points of assembly and reaching their objectives; and, thirdly, to prevent the mobility of the invaders by denying them use of speed either by motor cars or motor cycles, which they might attempt to commandeer and use, and blocking all possible lines of communication and covering the blocks with rifle fire.


If the noble Lord will forgive me interrupting him a moment, what he has said as to the duties of these men is rather at variance with what we have been told. The first duty of the Volunteer surely is to go bald-headed for the German and shoot him. If the Volunteer's weapon is not adequate, then he goes with what weapon he can get. Surely his first duty is to go for the enemy. The other things come after.


I think that is not at the moment military opinion. The three principles that I have mentioned have been laid down as a general line on which these forces are being organised and trained. The noble Lord was a very gallant cavalry officer, and he may on occasion have gone a little bit ahead of instruction, but he will realise, I am sure, that until your defence is organised very completely and the training is complete, you might have a very serious mix-up when your mobile force is brought out immediately from the army formation in order to round up the invaders if your defence force was not carrying out its functions of blockading and preventing the assembling of enemies. If the noble Lord's idea were followed you might have a rather difficult position.


I cannot leave the matter there. Surely the first duty of every Englishman when he sees a German is the same duty as that of any Englishman who sees a man about to commit a felony. His duty is to shoot him. If people come down in parachutes, these men should be authorised to shoot them at once. All the rest is a matter of tactics. I hope it will be made plain that that is so.


The noble Lord will agree that it is not for me to attempt to vary the practical handling of these troops on lines which have already been laid down. I would only say, when one of the principal functions of this force is to block the possibility of attack at vital points, that it would perhaps be a pity to create any confusion at this moment by suggesting that these men should leave their blocking line and outposts in order to go upon a fox-hunting expedition against individuals, although I quite agree that if the invader was within range you would certainly shoot him. I do not think, however, you should leave the defensive position which has been allotted to you. The third principle is to guard tactical points and places of industrial importance. By these means, with training proceeding rapidly, and with local defence work nearing completion, we can, I think, already say that we have the machinery for preventing the mobility of the invader and defeating any large-scale assembly of enemy parties by local defence measures. We are thus giving time for mobile columns of Regular troops to bring overwhelming forces into action before any objective is reached by any considerable assembly of troops arriving by air carriers, such as were used with disastrous effect in Holland. Within a few days all units will have full plans for these defence tactics. I know the noble Lord will be interested to hear that the Commander-in-Chief is meeting group commanders almost at once. I think within two days a large number of them will be met, but I am not sure that it is possible for commanders from all over the country to be met then. They will be given the considered instructions which the Commander-in-Chief and his staff have been able to devise for dealing with this matter in the very short time that has elapsed since he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces.

If I may I will now deal briefly with the actual questions that were asked. The noble Earl, Lord Breadalbane, referred to the difficulties of this organisation in his part of the country. I have made inquiries, and I am informed that the opinion is held in the Highland areas that the control is under very experienced officers, with a very experienced general officer at the head, assisted in every case by officers with fine war records. I think he will agree with me that, although we have had a very interesting discussion, it is not right for us here to give any information to the enemy or to any possible Fifth Columnist in this country—I trust there are not many of them—which would disclose our arrangements for communications or transport. I can, however, tell him that in Perthshire there has been an admirable response and that the opinion is held that in that part of the country the attention which is now being paid to this question will result in arrangements in very difficult country being as good as may be. Telegraphic and telephonic communications have been referred to, but we must go much further than that. Those methods of communication might be completely cut, and in our organisation we must take that into account. That is being done and there would be speedy methods of communication which are not unknown in war.

The noble Earl spoke very strongly about the need for greater co-ordination. He suggested that we were slow on the uptake and that such a force as this should have been in existence before. I would ask your Lordships to remember, however, that from the outbreak of the war we have been continually calling upon the people of this country, and that, apart from the normal flow of conscription, we have recruited over 300,000 volunteers. Mostly they have been of higher ages than those coming under the National Service Act. We have recruited a very considerable National Defence Corps for the very purpose of relieving Regular soldiers of the duty of protecting aerodromes and docks and other places. Then, too, we have raised a very large force of Pioneers, who although they may be old gentlemen like myself, put up an extraordinarily fine fight when what was thought to be a safe rear suddenly became a vital flank in Flanders. The fact is that there has been a remarkable response. I have not been able to check the figures this afternoon, but my recollection is that there are something like a million people in the various A.R.P. services. Some of the very best volunteered first of all, but with regard to co-ordination, men in country districts who are now needed for this Volunteer Force are in many cases engaged in A.R.P. I am not myself convinced that in the villages, at least, it might not be possible for men to carry on the dual function, and I will certainly convey to my right honourable friend that that view is held by some of your Lord- ships. Of course that may not be possible in big cities where there is liability to great bombing. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned the need for a very careful watch on rivers and lakes.


Not a watch, but providing temporary booms.


I am sorry if I mis-described what the noble Lord said, but he referred to the defence of the waterways. I had this question brought to my notice some days ago, and with regard to certain waterways I know the matter is receiving immediate consideration. I rather gathered that my noble friend wants me to get into contact with the naval authorities and suggest that there should be greater co-operation.


Would my noble friend permit me to explain? All he has to do is to issue instructions over the wireless at 9 o'clock to-night at the end of the news and the local people will do it. All they have to do is to go to the nearest publican, get all his empty barrels, string them together and put them across the water. It is not a matter for the naval authorities. They are far too busy with other things.


My noble friend will forgive me if I imagined for a moment that this was a matter affecting seaways in charge of the Navy, but I will look into the matter at once.


Some are salt waters.


In the places I was thinking of defence is carried on by the Admiralty and there is incessant control, but perhaps I should not go further into that matter. "Barrels" will be written on my heart when I leave this House, and I will take as my motto on the way home "Roll out the barrel." The noble Lord raised another question with regard to officers in charge of this force, and pointed out that although administrative work was involved there was no payment of staff. Up to now the whole idea of this movement has been that it should be absolutely voluntary, and the most remarkable part of the thing is that we have had this astonishing response when everybody knew that there was no reward other than service. It may be necessary at a later date, if the work increases in volume, to see whether some assistance should be given in the way of meeting expenses, but I think we must acknowledge that up to now there has been no demand from the officers running these districts for any sort of payment.

I would point out further—this brings me to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone—that this work is under the administration of the Territorial Associations, which of course have some staff. Some staffs were disbanded, but for the most part the associations have a skilled secretary and probably a clerk or two who could assist in the organisation of the works. Generally speaking, I think it is the desire that if this movement can continue its wonderful voluntary spirit it should so continue. I would like to say in this connection that I did not quite understand the point raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone about a Field Marshal who was a private and wanted third-class fare. It seems to me that if he is a private he ought to be training in his area and not wandering about the railway. There are, I know, Field Marshals in this House who are taking humble positions and are helping to organise their countrymen. Before I leave the speech of the noble Lord, I must say that we will take great notice about what he said about possible panic evacuation. The history of what has been happening in Belgium is the most ghastly story in the world. There is no doubt we could have inflicted far greater damage on the enemy but for the terrible, uncontrolled panic of refugees going first east, then west and north and south, countermarching in their despair and misery. I hope that we shall see nothing of that kind in this country, and I will convey to my honourable friend what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, particularly urged that the whole question should be put upon a county basis. At present, as I understand it, the organization is, first, the Command, under which are zones and then groups. I think I am right in saying that practically throughout the country the zones correspond to the Chief Constable's areas, and are roughly, therefore, I think, in every case the county boundary.


It would be much better to say so: it would be a help.


What the noble Lord has said will, of course, always receive attention; but I think that, broadly, it is so at the present time, and what is so important is that it corresponds with the police area, where you get such great co-operation in this matter. He was also very anxious to see greater co-ordination of defence, and entrusted me with the duty of bearding the War Cabinet and the Prime Minister in order to set up some new system by which a Defence Minister should be brought into the Cabinet as Deputy Minister. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will receive that suggestion with interest. We all know that for many years the noble Lord has been pressing that point, and some of us now say that it might have been desirable that there should be greater co-ordination of defence before the war took place. He was very anxious indeed that there should be an early broadcast. On reflection he would probably agree that it would be better not to have any more broadcasts until the Commander-in-Chief had met group commanders and they had had time to think out a definite scheme with the evidence which has come to hand. We do not want to tell the enemy any-thing which might give him an indication of the kind of way in which we are meeting the difficulty. At the same time, I agree that it is always good that the country at large should understand the greater principles on which this force is being built up. Actually on Thursday, as I think I mentioned, he is meeting a very large number of group commanders.

Finally, Lord Buckmaster advanced a principle which I think we must resist. He said that—I hope I am not misquoting him—surely the most important function of this force should be its mobility to go from area to area. That is exactly what the force is not intended to do. Except perhaps for mobility in communications within the group—the small area—the mobility must be left to the large fighting formations where there is any large concentration of German troops. The function of this force is to stand and fight—to die if necessary, but I do not think that will be necessary if their barricades are good; to block the roads, and, if the parachutists come within range when they are standing guard over factories and industries, to do as the noble Lord would encourage them to do: to open fire and see that the parachutists are rendered harmless.

The noble Lord asked would Hitler use the German Army or would he rely on this kind of defence for his country? No, I think not; I think he would rely on that on which our main reliance must always be placed: that is the crushing effect of our organised mechanised forces which are brought to bear at the earliest possible moment against any serious concentration of troops. With great confidence, from what I have already seen in the country, I can assure your Lordships that on every hand we see a very remarkable growth of spirit and patriotism. The machinery is going forward, and I think we can say that it is going to be so good that we may be able to abandon some of the defensive complex which has been so noticeable in Parliamentary circles, and may give even greater freedom to our striking Army to take part in offensive warfare elsewhere.

6.15 p.m.


Before the noble Lord leaves the subject, we know that many county associations and Lords-Lieutenant would be very grateful if he could say that it is finally settled that the administration and equipment of this new force should be under the county associations. Having been a member of a county association himself, he knows how well they have worked. I think it is the unanimous opinion that it would be a good plan. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who has had to leave, begged me to say to your Lordships that he was quite sure that it was the best plan; it is actually happening in the County of London, but in many counties they do not know. If it could be made plain that you want to use that organisation, it would greatly add to the efficiency of the force.


My Lords, I would ask the leave of the House to put one further question. The noble Lord spoke about the possibility of meeting the expenses of this movement. It is, of course, quite true that everyone has done it purely voluntarily. Would he undertake to place in the proper quarter the consideration of the cost of telephonic communication in scattered areas? It comes very heavily on section leaders and platoon commanders.


I can only say that I will certainly convey the suggestion to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that it should be definitely understood that the organisation is on a county basis. Lord Gorell's suggestion that the necessary expenses should be borne by the authorities I will also undertake to convey.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord who has replied for the Government for the very long and helpful explanation of the various points which he has been good enough to give us. It is not a very easy job to appear to criticise a force which has done so splendidly in the short time during which it has existed. One criticism to which I should like to refer very briefly is that the noble Lord has told us that the force is to be a static one. I must say I understood, with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that if the force saw Germans they were to go for them. It certainly makes a great difference to any criticism of age if they are merely to remain a static force guarding strong points. Before I leave the whole matter, may I make it clear that the very last thing I wish to do is to criticise a force which has done a unique thing in the history of this country? All I criticise is that it was not done earlier, and all I want to do is to try to remove the red tape which is strangling the efforts of the force and to get it efficient quickly, now. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.