HL Deb 24 June 1941 vol 119 cc491-510

VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether in view of our experience in Crete it will consider strengthening the Home Guard by making it compulsory for boys not engaged on National Service to join on reaching the age of seventeen, by giving Battalion Commanders the right to refuse resignations except for urgent reasons, with power at their discretion to insist on attendance for duty or instruction once weekly; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I fear that the subject-matter of this Motion in no way compares in interest with the statements and speeches to which your Lordships have just listened, but I hope none the less that its importance will be apparent. We have learnt in Crete that invasion by air is possible, and we know that Hitler proposes, if and when he is able to relubricate his machine, to direct it against this island with all the force and fury that he possesses. In such case we cannot deny the importance of the Home Guard and the part which it has to play. This importance actually increases if we consider our position in the Middle East. We know what is at stake there, but we do not know what demands on our man-power this theatre of war may make. It is obvious that it will be impossible to reinforce it if we weaken ourselves at home. If we just consider these facts, that invasion is possible, that it is being planned, that we must be strong here in order to be strong elsewhere, then one would suppose that every man and every boy who can be spared and is able to carry a rifle should be trained in its use.

What, in fact, do we find? We find—and I am saying here nothing that has not been stated in the Press—that our Army is being skimmed of its skilled men. I cannot, in Open Session, give any figures, but we know that the electrician, the lorry driver, the tyler, the builder, and the agricultural labourer are being drawn off the Army every day, and these are men on whom the Army has spent much time and pains, in many cases, in turning into specialists. In the Home Guard, owing to the extension of the upper and lower age limits you are calling up all your active and more effective men, these younger men who alone can stand up to active service conditions for any length of time. If we try and stop this drawing off in the way I suggest—namely, by compulsorily enrolling boys of seventeen—it is not the Home Guard alone that gains. I suggest that the boys themselves are very definite gainers. The instruction which they receive in the Home Guard materially lightens their task when they join any other branch of the Services. If I may be permitted, I should like to make the briefest reference to a letter which I have received on this subject. The writer, who is an officer in the Home Guard, says: I would like to say I had three men of nineteen years of age who had been with me a year. After a short while they came to see me. Two of them are sergeant instructors in the Royal Artillery and one a sergeant-major in the R.A.F. They informed me that it was purely owing to the Home Guard that they received their promotion.

The country gains also because, in so far as these men are partially trained, so are they in a greater degree ready to fight if invasion takes place.

It is not only the numerical strength of the Home Guard with which we are concerned. We have heard much of its numbers, but it is not the paper strength but its effective strength in which we who belong to it are chiefly interested. I would suggest that methods which were suitable to the Home Guard in its infancy are not suitable in its adolescence. Maturity has not yet been reached, but noble Lords will forgive me if I remind your Lordships' House that the Home Guard is no longer a band of observers with no leaders, no equipment, and no training. They are, in many cases, completely equipped. I should like to assure my noble friend who will reply that the unit with which I am familiar has no complaints on this score. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that we are completely and absolutely equipped, and we have a percentage of automatic weapons higher by far than even the most optimistic of your Lordships would expect.

We get this equipment and we give these men important tasks. Some of them, in the event of invasion, have tasks which might be called front-line defensive duties. Yet we allow them to resign at a fortnight's notice, which in fact means no notice at all. The position is best examined in those coastal areas with which I happen to be familiar, because there you have the possibility of compulsory evacuation. The men might say, not without reason: "If our wives and children are taken away, then we shall go too." This is not a very satisfactory position. I shall not press this point; it has often been discussed before, but seldom have I heard any voice raised in its favour.

With this question of effective strength is linked the question of efficiency. We all know that the German war machine is extremely efficient. We know that the mechanism of modern warfare is complicated, that it is not easily learnt. The Home Guard, from its very nature, can never be completely trained, but that is surely all the more reason why we should take steps to see that we train it as completely as we can. The Army do what they can in this respect, but their task is not easy. To give instruction in a modern weapon it is necessary for the instructor to prepare a series of lectures in sequence. How can he achieve anything if, every time he holds a class, the number and composition of the people he is trying to teach, varies? The task is really almost impossible. I would, if your Lordships will permit me, like to digress very briefly to pay a tribute once more to the Army for what they have done for the Home Guard in my personal experience. We are now in contact with different units. The company which I am privileged to command spreads out over an area manned by three different battalions. I should like to say they have given us everything we could ask for. They have done more than we expected. Let me give just one illustration. The Army had been firing continually on the ranges for three weeks, Saturdays and Sundays included. The only day on which we could fire was Sunday, and to my surprise, although we did not need the assistance, they offered to give us two officers, N.C.O's., and a butts party to work from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon. They came and worked gladly to help us.

Having said that, I must be forgiven if I say it has been brought to my notice that in some respects the position is not quite so satisfactory. There are some units in the Army which feel that the task of trying to train the Home Guard is rather beyond them. I think they underestimate the co-operation which we in the Home Guard hope to be able to give. If they do feel this, I suggest that it is entirely due to the difficulties in training and the difficulties inherent in our present system. I often wonder whether we ourselves have fairly and squarely faced what we are trying to do. We do not deny to the Home Guard—I hope we do not—a real measure of importance, yet we reduce its numbers on the one hand and we take no steps to restore them on the other. We are at pains to give these men the best weapons we can, weapons which are brought here at the risk of other men's lives, yet we neglect to make certain that all volunteers are efficient in their use. We grant to the officers His Majesty's Commissions, yet we deny them the right to give an order. If I may borrow a phrase from the last great speech of the President of the United States, such things just "do not make sense." To my mind they show a degree of negligence at least equal to that of any of the countries now conquered by Hitler.

If that should be so, what are the objections to these proposals? It is argued that they are not popular with the senior officers in the Home Guard, chiefly on two grounds—firstly, that they will cause these officers extra work owing to the infliction of penalties, and, secondly, because they will destroy the voluntary spirit. I suggest that both these arguments are without any real substance. The Company Commanders to whom in effect these powers will be delegated, are in the main men of sense and understanding. To say the least, it is unlikely that these men, after being in close contact with the Home Guard, would use these powers in such a way as to provoke indiscipline or interfere with civilian life. I just do not believe they would do it. Arising from that, there is one small point which, if my noble friend will permit me, I would like to make: that it would be a real help to us if we were allowed to give an official character to the younger men when they leave. If we could give, as the Army gives, an official character on discharge, I think it would greatly help. It is a simple suggestion—but I hope a constructive one—which I know my noble friend will consider carefully.

To come back to the substance of my argument: it is also suggested that any form of compulsion destroys the voluntary spirit. Surely this cannot be so. It has not had that effect in the Army. In the Home Guard there are many keen men; there are not many who are idle. I can assure your Lordships that, far from being discouraged, the keen men would be greatly heartened. I have here letters from Zone Commanders, Battalion Commanders and Company Commanders, complaining that I did not go further, and asking: Why not make compulsion universal, why not take it right through all age groups in the Home Guard? That is the kind of letter I have had. I do not think it is necessary to quote from them.

There is also something I must add, with great respect. I know that my noble friend Lord Croft will understand that anything I say is not directed in any way against him. If he will allow me to say so, he has always shown his desire to help and his anxiety to listen to any suggestion. Nor is anything I say directed against the noble Viscount whose appointment as Director-General has caused such pleasure in the Home Guard and outside it. He has always been anxious to listen to any view which it has been desired to put forward. There is, in these letters, a suggestion that there is some paralysing influence at work, that senior officers are out of touch with the views of their subordinates. I feel there is something in this. It may be that officers are unwilling to pass on views that are disagreeable to their seniors, fearing that they may lose promotion. Your Lordships will recollect that when Socrates drank the hemlock a strange drowsiness stole over him. Even so I feel that the influence of Army routine causes a certain numbness or deadness to creep into the minds of those unable to resist it. There is just one remaining point. It has been suggested that any partial policy of compulsion in one age group must involve a general policy of conscription for that whole age group. I venture to suggest that that argument is fallacious. Do we not see, in the case of fire-watching, compulsion applied only locally and to certain sections of the community? No difficulty arises in such case. If compulsion is applied in the case of non-combatant services, why should the Home Guard, which is surely not less important, be left on a purely voluntary basis? Placed as we are with the safety of our country at heart, the question must be, not whether we dare accept proposals such as these, but whether we can risk rejecting them. I beg to move.


My Lords, may I say one word? This is not going to be a protest against the Motion although I am associated with that particular rank in the Army from which protests come. I have not had long to think about my noble friend's arguments in support of this Motion, but I should say that so far as boys of seventeen in the Home-Guard are concerned the difficulty which might arise in the first instance would be this: At the present moment there is no disciplne in the Home Guard as it is understood in the ranks of the Army and the Navy, and I am sure your Lordships would appreciate that it would be perhaps the worst possible training to take a boy into any business, and certainly into any forces of the Crown, and allow him to discover that, after all, there was really no great necessity for him to obey orders. You may find that some boys who have spirit would jib at carrying out an order. In that event what would be the unfortunate position of one of the officers in the Home Guard? It is a very difficult thing in practice and may do more harm to the boy than good. Also, what is more serious to my mind, and more impossible, would be the fact that you have no power, that you could not make the boy do this or that. The position would be very difficult indeed.


There would be the power of dismissal, which would be an important one in a local area.


It would be a very vague one. Unless a boy had committed some appalling crime he could say: "I hope I shall not be dismissed." I think that is one of the difficulties, not only with regard to the boy, which confront the officers of the Home Guard. You must remember the officers of the Home Guard are a very devoted band. They have come forward, like many others all over the country, to help as far as they can in this great fight, and they work from morning till night. The privates do not do a quarter or a tenth part of the work of the officers, who are giving very devoted service to the country. Do not put them in a false position by asking them to take in boys of seventeen when they have really no power over them. That is the first objection. I have to my noble friend's proposal.

The second is this. My noble friend has said that the unit to which he has the honour to belong is fully equipped. I am very glad to hear it; but I do not think my noble friend would contend that that holds good all over the country, and, without going any further, I think it would be a great disappointment to a boy of seventeen to join a unit and then find that he was not given the equipment or the weapons which he expected. That disappointment has already been felt by others, and I think a boy would feel it all the more. Are you to arm the boy first or the man first? Who is to come first? I do not think I will say any more about that, for it would not be wise to do so.

Then we come to the second part of my noble friend's suggestion, the right to refuse resignations except for urgent reasons and the necessity of attendance. Both these questions are wrapped up together. May I remind you that the Home Guard is a purely voluntary force? Do not destroy or damage it by introducing some form of compulsion. You have got men serving in the Home Guard to-day who take the greatest trouble to come forward and carry out their work. I know men who travel at night to come on guard the next morning at eight o'clock. They stay there till say two o'clock in the afternoon and then go back on a journey of several hours into the country to carry on their business, which is just as vital and essential for the welfare of the country as anything else. If these men are to be told that they are going to be compelled to do this, or compelled to do something else, they will say: "I am sorry, but I cannot." Are you to lose the services of these men?

I think it would be the greatest mistake in the world, and I honestly fear that if you try to impose this sort of compulsory powers and say to them: "You have to come and do one drill a week, or you have to do this, or you have to do something else," they will say: "I am very sorry, but I cannot; I have to look after my own business." I know perfectly well that there are many of your Lordships who are members of the Home Guard and have a great deal of work to carry out throughout the country. You have meetings to go to, you have conferences to attend, you have to preside at one place, and then take the chair somewhere else. With the greatest will in the world you cannot give these things up. You have to carry out these duties not only for yourselves, but for the sake of the country, and you cannot be in two places at once. If you say to me: "You have to come on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, or any other day of the week and be on duty on that day; you must come," I reply that I cannot enter into such an obligation. "I am very sorry but I cannot give such an undertaking. I will willingly come if I can, and I will do all the work I can, do everything which is possible, but I cannot swear that I will be there on one particular day."

My noble friend proposes that we should be forced to do this, that we should be compelled to come forward. I hope my noble friend will consider these points, because I think they are vital to the Home Guard. The Home Guard has been introduced, as it were over-night, by the genius of the English race. We have the Salvation Army and we have the Boy Scouts, which were introduced here, and both these movements have been a blessing to mankind. We do not know whether the Home Guard may not turn out after the war to be a blessing to this country. A great association like this, containing one and a quarter or one and a half million men, cannot be disbanded quickly; its old associations may be continued and it may be used after the war. Do not damage it to-day. It is cutting its teeth; it is in its infancy. Be careful of it. It is like a very complicated piece of machinery. Any man can come along and damage that machinery in a month, or destroy it. For heaven's sake be careful of it. I and my friends in the Home Guard are not at present compelled to serve in it; we can leave it to-night or to-morrow morning if we like; and if it gets about in the country that this is coming to an end, that you are to make it compulsory to serve on a certain day of the week or any day of the week, or make it compulsory to do this, that or the other, men will say: "I had better get out now." I am sorry not to have been able to support my noble friend, but I have felt compelled to state what I believe to be the truth, and what I feel upon this matter. Be careful. This is a wonderful thing that has been invented, as I said, by the genius of the English race. Be careful of it; keep it; you never know-when you may want it, not only during the war but afterwards.


My Lords, I was going to ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War to answer a particular point, but I think it is necessary that some correction should be made to the noble Earl by my noble friend opposite in regard to his statement that there was no discipline in the Home Guard. I do not think he meant it. I know that there is discipline of the very highest kind in the unit that I know, and that is a result of the leadership of the officer in command of it.


May I interrupt for one moment? I did not mean that. I thought I had said discipline as it is understood in the Forces of the Crown, the Army, Navy and Air Force.


I hope my noble friend will forgive me when I say that what he said is open to misinterpretation. I think his words were a little unfortunate. They do not apply to the units of the Home Guard that I know, and I know a number in the country, including one connected with a factory of my own in the Midlands. The discipline is an ideal kind of discipline, and it depends on the leadership of the officers whom the men trust as leaders. If it is suggested that we should have a barrack-room discipline applied, what the soldier calls "spit and polish," you may destroy something which is very valuable. From what I know of the country units the very fact that they are rather an irregular crowd and know the country thoroughly and are put on their own initiative, is a strength not a weakness.

However, the point I rose to ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State was this. Why has recruiting, except for the purpose of filling vacancies, been damped down in the Home Guard? This is a question of policy that obviously is one for the War Office, and I am sure my noble friend the Under-Secretary can answer it. Lord Buckmaster referred to the lessons of Crete. Surely the lesson of Crete and a great many other countries is that every fit man available should be in the Home Guard if he is not in the Forces. I cannot understand the policy of discouraging or damping down recruiting which is being adopted at present. In a great many units men are only accepted to fill vacancies. I knew cases of men most qualified to be Home Guards who cannot obtain admission, and have asked me, indeed, to help them to get into the Home Guard. That seems to me to be very wrong. I hope my noble friend will answer that question and set some doubts at rest. May I also add to what Lord Buckmaster said about the great gratification your Lordships feel that one of the members of your Lordships' House has been made Director-General, that we promise him all our support and that he has all our good wishes?


My Lords, I should like to be allowed to make a few comments on the question put by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster. In the first place I wish to say how grateful I am personally to him for having put these questions and for his speech on the subject. I suppose it would be true to say that in the Home Guard the country has the finest bargain which it has obtained since the days when Disraeli bought the Suez Canal shares. I do not know exactly how much the Home Guard is costing the country, but it must be considerably under that which we are spending daily on the cost of the war generally. I feel that when we have this immensely enthusiastic body of men we must do everything we can to explore difficulties of the men themselves and the difficulties of their officers and of the higher command, in order to give them the very best return we can.

I would like to suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, that he was a little unfair in what he said about the discipline of the seventeen-year-old youths. I think he said, in effect, that a number of these young men in the Home Guard might get a false impression of discipline as compared with that in the Regular Army. My experience in my own company, in which I am a Platoon Commander, is that these young men are about the best disciplined of the lot. They have a real enthusiasm for discipline which the older and more hard-boiled Home Guard has not got. We find that besides being well-disciplined they are more regular in turning out and much keener in learning their jobs.

There is this also to be said about the seventeen or eighteen-year-old, that he is active. He has probably just come from school where he has taken part in all the school activities, including, no doubt, the O.T.C. or the Cadet Corps. He can pull a heavy machine-gun about more easily than the older man with perhaps somewhat stiffened limbs. That is what the Home Guard will have to do on active service. They will have to move at amazing speed and pull heavy weapons about as quickly as possible, because they will be up against the pick of the German Army, up against air-borne troops trained to the utmost physical perfection, extremely well led, and probably in many cases with hard-fought battles behind them, knowing all the horrors and terrors of war. We want the fittest men for a job of that kind.

One difficulty which always faces the Home Guard officer is that of the men who will not turn up. My experience is that we have to use a great deal of discretion in that matter. There are, unfortunately, a certain number of men in the Home Guard who might turn up but who do not. I think they like to feel that they can wear the Home Guard uniform occasionally and they like to have a rifle—which is sometimes badly wanted by somebody else—with the feeling that they are doing something for their country. There are very few of those men, but there are some. Then there are men whose jobs may take them to other parts of the country, perhaps for as long as a month or six weeks at a time, and we lose sight of them during that time. There are other men doing night-shifts very often who cannot turn up on account of that. Every so often I think a platoon officer ought to have a purge—not on the lines of the purges we used to hear about from Germany, but a mild purge to decide, in consultation with the section leader, which men are slackers and which men are triers, in order to get the genuine slacker's rifle and equipment for a man who would give the service which the slacker apparently is not willing to give.

A point which I would like to put forward, for the consideration of His Majesty's Government, is with regard to what I may call the key men in the Home Guard. I think that: every Home Guard officer will agree that there are certain key-men. There may be, for instance, a machine-gunner who was a young man in the last war, who is very keen about machine guns and has kept himself right up-to-date and become perhaps the company machine-gun officer or sergeant. He may be just at the age when he is called upon to register. I would like to ask the Government to consider whether the commanding officer of a Home Guard battalion—I will not put any lower rank than that—could be allowed to make strong recommendations in regard to certain men of that kind. I suggest that in such a case the commanding officer of a battalion might be allowed to ask that such a man's registration should be left over at least for the period of great national emergency, which may be up to the end of September—we do not know. Undoubtedly this is a period of great emergency, particularly with regard to the Home Guard, and I feel that it would relieve battalion commanders of great anxiety if, on their special recommendation in special cases, key men could be released from the necessity of registration or if their calling-up could be postponed until the country was perhaps in a more tranquil state.

There is another point I would like to make. It is perhaps not quite relevant to the question on the Paper but I am trying to be as helpful as I can. That point is with regard to transport. I know that is a very thorny question, and perhaps I can best deal with it by giving an instance which affects my own company. One of our duties is to hold a certain post which is five miles away from where my men live. At that point we have to hold a very important cross-road. The only way to defend that point is by building certain works. The difficulty is that I have no transport to get men there. The only time they can work on the defences is from about eight o'clock in the evening until daylight goes. We cannot even get petrol for the one very ancient vehicle which we have, and no Army transport is provided. Men can get there by a roundabout bus-and-train journey, but that leaves very little time for doing any work. I should like to make an appeal for a more generous allowance for transport for the Home Guard.

The last point I want to make is with regard to command in the face of the enemy. I understand that a Battalion Commander will have to take orders from a Regular officer, no matter what his rank may be. If I am wrong in that I am open to correction. That may lead to a very awkward situation. No doubt the two would get together and try to fall in with each other's wishes as far as possible, but in the heat of battle the situation might be extremely awkward and even disastrous. I hope that the Government will consider that point and see whether some alteration can be made.


My Lords, we naturally welcome criticism on this important subject of the Home Guard, if it is constructive criticism as it has been to-day, and more especially when we realise that that criticism comes from those who are taking a very active part in the Force at the present time. This Force has now become part of the defence machinery of this island. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that no stone must be left unturned in order to secure the highest possible discipline in this Force, which was built on such unusual foundations and has to be treated in a special manner. I should like to join the two noble Lords who have already referred to the fact that we are fortunate in that my noble friend Viscount Bridge-man, who has taken an interest in this Force from the start and has such very recent experience in modern war, is now taking such a great part in its guidance. I am sure your Lordships will all desire to congratulate him on his recent promotion.

There were, at the inception of the Home Guard, two schools of thought, one of which urged that this Force should be the loosest possible form of a people's army; that no attempt should be made to turn them into soldiers, but that they should be encouraged all the time in individual tactics as irregular troops operating in their villages and towns. The second school, which rapidly emerged from the Home Guard itself, urged that whilst maintaining its defensive rôle the highest possible training for a force of this character was essential if it was successfully to meet the very highly-trained invaders whom we have to contemplate as coming from Germany. Ex-Service men, with full knowledge of recent as well as past wars, were insistent that without a modicum of discipline under recognised leaders in modern war conditions their formations would be exposed, possibly, to disaster. In that view we shared, and I am glad to be able to report a very great improvement in the science of arms and in the training of the Home Guard in the last six months.

With the lessons of Crete before our eyes, when some of the finest of our Imperial troops had to meet the air-borne enemy and fight for their lives, we realise that under attack of that description, and dive bombing in particular, courage even of the highest order is not enough. To meet this kind of attack, even under static conditions, we must aim at very high morale and the highest discipline and training possible under the exceptional conditions in which the Home Guard serves. It is also clear, that in a Company area in order to preserve the defensive positions which they are ordered to hold, the Company Commander may be required to move reinforcements short distances to reinforce such posts as are attacked within his Company area, and these latter must therefore be able to move skilfully and unobserved by night as well as by day in order to reach neighbouring posts, and take up defensive positions in support of their comrades. Furthermore active training in reconnaissance and patrolling are essential in any sound defence scheme.

The Home Guard rôle still remains that of observation and of denying passage or movement to the enemy through any part of each Zone until mobile and, if necessary, armoured forces of the Regular Army can deal with any invasion in the particular Home Guard territory. This brings me to the individual conduct of the Home Guard volunteer. Taking the story right through the country there is no doubt that the spirit of the Force is excellent and the efforts to attain military knowledge amongst the great majority are most marked. There remains, however, a small minority of men who are not pulling their weight, and whose consequent lack of training is a menace, not only to themselves but to their comrades and to their homes which they profess to defend. The 1941 war is different from any war of the past and everyone in the Home Guard, veterans of the last war as well as the youngest-joined recruits, must learn the lessons which Flanders and which Crete have to teach us. Time may be very short now before this country may be saved by the exertions of the Home Guard, fighting alongside the Regular Army. To all who have not turned up regularly on parade or taken their full share when they could, I would say that the time has gone by when any member of the Home Guard can regard his duty and his obligations lightly. We expect them during these months, weeks, or perhaps it may be only days, which remain to us, at whatever sacrifice, to attain to the efficiency of the most efficient.

We are reluctant, however, to suggest any form of punishment or disciplinary measures which run counter to the spirit which has actuated the Force since its inception. We rely on the honour, the patriotism and knowledge of the situation of all ranks to be unsparing in their zeal and to be worthy of the ideals which inspire men to offer their lives in the Home Guard in defence of their country. Home Guard Commanders have power under Army Council Instruction 924 of 1940 to give fourteen days' notice to those who make no real attempt to become efficient or take their fair share of duty. The local Commander who knows his men can alone be a judge of a matter of this kind, and, if need be can say how many parades a man should attend. A Home Guard whose services are dispensed with becomes, of course, available for other duties, such as those performed by the Civil Defence Services.

The noble Viscount who moved this Motion particularly stressed once more the question of the fortnight's notice. Well, I beg him to remember that if we were to introduce a change such as he suggests it would involve, as a matter of fact, disregard of the whole basis on which this very large number of men—a number which has frequently been mentioned in the Press as being over 1,500,000—joined the Force. Our experience is that very few men are taking advantage of this fortnight's notice. Where they are doing so it is very largely due to change of occupation or duties of some kind, and does not really arise from what one might call malice on the part of the men. It has simply happened that their way of life has become so difficult that they find they must give notice. We believe that that is so in the great majority of these cases. What I want to point out is that if we were to adopt this particular proposal we should, for the sake of dealing with what I feel to be a negligible minority, be disregarding the basis upon which the Force as a whole joined, and the whole question of re-attestation would have to be considered. My noble friend also asked whether a certificate could not be given on discharge to men of the Home Guard. That is the first time I have ever heard this suggestion, but although I have not been able to look into the matter and give it consideration, I will do so. That applies also to my noble friend's other suggestions which, as always, are based on knowledge and enthusiasm. I will convey them to those responsible for the Force.

My noble friend Lord Hampton asked whether key men could not be kept in the Home Guard during a particular moment of danger. Probably the answer of the War Office would have to be that we could not allow exemption from the Fighting Services simply because a man was in the Home Guard, but it is possible that in certain circumstances the calling up of such a man could be delayed until another key man had been put in his place. I think that that is a reasonable proposition, and, without giving any promise, I shall certainly see that that suggestion is considered. The noble Lord also referred to the difficulties of transport. I expect that he knows as well as the rest of your Lordships what the position is with regard to petrol, and how we are daily doing everything in our power to cut down the supplies to the Regular Army. The particular point which he mentioned, however, is certainly one which we shall bear in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked why recruiting had been damped down so far as the Home Guard is concerned. I want to remind him of the situation. The numbers of those joining the Home Guard were so immense that they completely outstripped the equipment and armament possibilities of the time, but it was made perfectly clear that Home Guard units could recruit to fill vacancies. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured by the fact that wherever there are vacancies they will be filled.


My Lords, may that be' made a little clearer? Are we to understand that in the near future recruitinging will begin again? My noble friend is aware that there are literally thousands of suitable men who cannot get into the Home Guard, which seems a pity, because they could at any rate receive some training.


My Lords, my noble friend is right in saying that there have been considerable numbers of men who were ready to join. In certain areas it was regarded as desirable to continue recruiting, where there were points of special danger in connection with the defence of the country, but I am sure that we were right not to encourage the recruitment of very large numbers of men in districts where we could not allot them weapons and equip them; it would merely have led to dissatisfaction. In any event, however it is possible to fill all vacancies.

I now come to the noble Viscount's proposal to conscript all men of seventeen years of age into the Home Guard. This is a matter of high policy which would involve a fundamental change in the Home Guard, introducing compulsory enlistment into a purely volunteer force. I must therefore point out that any such revolutionary change would be contrary to the spirit and character of the Home Guard, whose greatest pride it is to be composed of volunteers who of their own free will dedicate themselves to the service of their country. Any such change, I think your Lordships will agree, would be justified only if there were a serious falling off in the numbers of the Home Guard, which I am happy to say is not the case. I can, however, say with enthusiasm that every fit lad of seventeen should seriously ask himself whether he should not at once join the Home Guard wherever there is a vacancy, and there are many vacancies, especially in the country districts. It is active young men of seventeen that we specially need, and it is certainly the duty of any youth, whose vocation makes it possible, to join up, and thereby spread the burden of defence over all available manhood. In many units which I have seen I have been immensely impressed by the keenness by the men of seventeen and eighteen, who are rather more mobile on their feet than the veterans of the Great War, and of whom all officers desire to see more in their midst.

It is hoped before long to have an extension of the Cadet Corps, and we have made arrangements for them to be affiliated to the Home Guard, learning their duties and giving supplementary aid to the Home Guard. If this can be achieved, the relationship between the cadets and the Home Guard will become so close that on reaching the age of seventeen cadets will naturally flow in a steady stream into the Home Guard, and meet the shortage of young men to which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, referred. I feel very strongly on this matter, and, if I may be forgiven for a personal recollection, I would say that in the First Battle of Ypres, in 1914, when the unit in which I had the honour to serve was in holes—there were no continuous trenches—some forty to sixty yards from the Prussian Guard, I had to spend five days and nights in one tour of duty with two young lads whose conduct was really magnificent under very difficult conditions. When we came out of that battle, I asked these two young men what their ages were, and they both confessed that they had joined the Territorial Army some three months before when they were only just sixteen years of age. Most reluctantly, in accordance with orders, I had to send them home, and we had also to send home forty other "gay deceivers" who were in the same unit and who throughout the First Battle of Ypres had stood up under shell-fire like veterans against the flower of the Germany Army.

I mention that because I feel so strongly that it is wrong that, if the youth of our country can do that sort of thing on a distant adventure, as that was, they should not have the opportunity to defend their own country and obtain preliminary training which will assist them to take part in their country's defence. There is no getting away from the fact that large numbers of lads in this country at present have all the excitement of the war and yet feel that they are not able to take any real part in it, or to learn the job of defence. They are out of the picture, with the result that many of them are engaging in mischief. Owing to the conditions of the war, they come under undesirable influences. I believe that it would be a godsend to these youths to have some outlet for their energies and to be able to join the Home Guard or the Cadet Corps, where they could obtain some preliminary training. We therefore make a call to all lads of seventeen to join the Home Guand, and we hope soon to be able to give some preliminary cadet training also to those approaching that age who have the urge, as nearly all of them have, to defend their hearth and home at this hour, when the whole manpower of our country must be mobilised in order that we may triumph in total war.


My Lords, I want to put to my noble friend a situation which arises in the district in which I live. A large amount of timber-cutting is going on there, and there are large numbers of young men who would otherwise have been called up for the Army, but who have been exempted and are now engaged in this cutting of timber. I am very keen on maintaining the voluntary feeling so far as the Home Guard is concerned, but, in view of the fact that these young men have been exempted from military service for special work, should not it be impressed on them that they should regard it as obligatory on their part to join the Home Guard? The local Battalion Commander tells me that no appeal from high authority has been made to them, and they have merely accepted the fact of their exemption and gone straight into this work. I feel that a great many of them, if an appeal were made to them by somebody of importance, would say that they were willing to do their bit in the Home Guard. I hope that my noble friend will bear that in mind.


I shall certainly make immediate inquiries to see whether anything can be done if my noble friend will let me know the locality and the people concerned.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to my noble friend, although I must say his speech caused me considerable disappointment. With regard to the question of discipline, I would be inclined to agree with my noble friend that the power of dismissal which now lies with the Battalion Commander is adequate to its purpose. Men do not like seeing a notice put up at the drill hall saying that "So-and-so has been dismissed and his services are no longer required." That power is all we need, and that answers my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam; but we cannot exercise that power because of our numbers. We cannot get rid of our slackers because we cannot fill the gaps. The two things are inter-related. Although I was heartened to hear the praise my noble friend has given to boys of seventeen, he has not shown how they are to be got within our ranks, nor do I know anyone who can answer that point. There was one point made by my noble friend Lord Hampton with regard to petrol. In view of what happened last week, it is disappointing to see how much is available for civilian purposes and how little for other purposes. That covers all I have to say now, but I cannot promise never to raise this matter again. My noble friend has been more than patient and more than courteous, but I am afraid I am still left with a keen sense of disappointment. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have been complied with:

London County Council (Money).

The same was ordered to lie on the Table.