HL Deb 04 August 1942 vol 124 cc171-81

LORD STRABOLGI had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government, what is the reason for the different treatment of officers of the Home Guard with respect to railway travelling from that of officers of other branches of His Majesty's Army; and also move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put this question to the Government at the suggestion of the Home Guard Committee of both Houses of Parliament, which as your Lordships probably know is composed of members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons who are interested only in the welfare and efficiency of the Home Guard. They have asked me to take this action because all our efforts by means of correspondence, interviews and, finally, a deputation which saw the Secretary of State for War, have brought no satisfaction. The grievance is this, that whereas officers of the ordinary Services, whether the Regular Army, the Territorial Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve or any other Service, male or female, when they travel on duty are given first-class warrants, the Home Guard officer is given only a third-class warrant.

Let me make it perfectly clear that where units of the Home Guard all travel together, going to a range or to camp, where a whole company or a platoon travels as a unit, there is no grievance. No objection exists on the part of officers or men to all travelling in the same class of carriage in those circumstances. It is when detached officers of the Home Guard have to travel on duty that the grievance arises. Nor would there be any grievance if all officers and all ranks had to travel third-class, or if the first-class compartments were done away with altogether. The objection is that there should be this discrimination against Home Guard officers, and no satisfactory reason for it has been given to us. Let me give two examples of the anomalous situations that arise. Every Home Guard Battalion in the country has an Adjutant who automatically becomes a member of the Regular Army, though he may only have joined the Home Guard a week or two before. Now let us say that the Colonel and the Adjutant have to go by train to some place in the course of their duty. They drive up to the station in the same motor car, but whereas the Adjutant has the privilege of travelling first-class the Colonel, his superior officer, who has appointed him, has to go third-class. Here is another case. A certain officer holds His Majesty's Commission in the Home Guard and is also an officer in the Air Training Corps. When he travels as a Home Guard officer he has to go third-class but when he travels in the course of his duties for the Air Training Corps he goes first-class. My Lords, the whole situation is nonsensical.

Now dark hints have been thrown out that the Labour Party would object to the concession which is suggested by my Motion. That is nonsense. My noble friends support me in making this protest. The deputation which waited on the Secretary of State for War included a colleague of mine, a member of the Labour Party and a member of the House of Commons, who is serving in the ranks of the Home Guard. I myself approach this matter in a purely detached manner for I serve in the ranks of the Home Guard. I can assure the Government that there is really nothing at all in this suggestion about the attitude of the Labour Party. Let us be realistic. Quite apart from the Home Guard officers, the rank and file of the Home Guard, I am sure, prefer that their officers should travel first-class. They do not really want their officers in the same carriages with them. That is no reflection on the officers, but the fact is that the other ranks would rather travel by themselves. I am not sure that they always want the sergeants with them, and I speak as one who serves as a non-commissioned officer.

The only other point I wish to make is that this concession would not cost the taxpayer or the Treasury anything whatever. Under present arrangements the railways have been taken over by the Government at a fixed rate, and how many people travel first-class and how many people travel third-class does not affect the revenue at all. The Home Guard is, I suppose, the cheapest voluntary Service the Government ever had, and it is not for me to speak of its value to the country or to draw attention to the sacrifices or the expense which so many officers of the Home Guard have had to bear and which they have willingly shouldered. I think that in the interest of the Home Guard—and I know I am speaking for all ranks—this matter should be seriously reconsidered. I hope it will be both seriously and favourably reconsidered by the Government.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the different treatment of officers of the Home Guard with respect to railway travelling from that of officers of other branches of His Majesty's Army.—[Lord Strabolgi.]


My Lords, I am extremely grateful and indebted to the noble Lord who has just spoken for bringing forward this matter. As he has stated, it has been before the Parliamentary Home Guard Committee which sent a deputation to the Secretary of State for War, and I happened to be a member of that deputation. But it was far more appropriate that my noble friend Lord Strabolgi should present this matter. He has not only dealt emphatically and fluently, as he customarily does, with this subject but he has also been able to dispose of the bogey that the Labour Party were in favour of matters being allowed to remain as they at present stand. The position is that no satisfactory explanation has been given. The deputation which met the Secretary of State put forward every possible argument, and he listened, but he gave no satisfactory explanation for arriving at a contrary conclusion to that which was unanimously supported by the Committee and by the deputation which waited upon him.

My noble friend Lord Strabolgi has already referred to the anomalous position which arises. There was, I believe, a sort of understanding on the formation of the Force that everyone should be treated on a footing of equality. I remember very well that the noble Lord, Lord Croft, who answers for the War Office in this House, took great credit to the War Office on one occasion some months ago for the production of this efficient and very cheap Force; but, while taking credit for that and acknowledging it, I do not think that the War Office have acknowledged what is due to the officers and men of the Home Guard who have made that Force, and who have enabled it to be so cheap and so efficient. They have not yet acknowledged all that has been put into the training of the Home Guard in the way of voluntary service, the voluntary lending of cars, the voluntary use of petrol, when it was available, and so on. It is these little anomalies and disabilities which are so terribly felt in consequence.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned a case of the Colonel of a battalion and the Adjutant arriving at a railway station, and the Adjutant going first-class, because he was a temporary officer in the Regular Army, while the Colonel went third-class, because he was a Home Guard commanding officer. That is an anomaly, but it happens every day, and it is that kind of thing which is creating ill feeling among those who are doing their best in the country's service. I should like to quote from a letter sent to me by a Battalion Commander recently, in which he refers to the journey of a Lieutenant of his from Scotland to London and then on to Salisbury. The Lieutenant had to travel third-class, and this Battalion Commander says: It is very difficult for other ranks to realize that Home Guard officers have any standing or command if they are treated in every respect like privates. If they are, however, to be treated publicly as ordinary privates, it is going to be extremely hard to expect troops to regard their rank as having any standing whatever; but in actual operations they do hold their rank with Regular troops, and in many cases they have to command those troops. That is in fact the situation. In actual operations, a Home Guard officer ranks just junior to the similar rank in the Regular Army, but when travelling by train the one is given a first-class warrant and the other a third-class warrant. That does not seem to me to be treating people equally.

I do urge, therefore, that this matter should again receive the serious attention of His Majesty's Government, in order that this anomaly may be removed. The cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said, is trifling, and there would be a gain not only in discipline but in comradeship, because a difficulty arises on long journeys owing to the fact that there is not the same freedom if commissioned ranks and other ranks are mixed, and it is not possible to secure the respect to the commissioned ranks on which command is built up. I have therefore very great pleasure in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and I hope that your Lordships will agree with his Motion.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I should like, as one who spent many years in the War Office, to beg him to cut this Gordian knot, and, it he is not able to do so at once, at any rate to promise us that in the near future he will endeavour to get rid of this fantastic anomaly. As the noble Lord knows, I have been responsible for recruiting many tens of thousands of Home Guardsmen. Let us take an actual case. Take the case of Jones and Smith. Jones is appointed to be the Commander of an important Home Guard battalion, and Smith is one of his subordinate officers. Jones says to Smith: "I am going to recommend your appointment as Adjutant." The War Office accept the recommendation, and Smith becomes the Adjutant. When they go to the railway station, after the Gazette is out, what I have called this fantastic anomaly happens, that this junior officer, Smith, who has been recommended by Jones, is forced to go into a first-class carriage, and sees his commanding officer get into a third-class carriage. There may be something to be said for all ranks travelling in one class, but it is senseless to have this inverted folly, and surely the noble Lord must see that it must be put right.

I have referred to it as folly, but there is a serious side to it. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Croft, remembers this, but in a recent debate the spokesman for the Government said, in effect, "We need not bother about this, because people do not think that an invasion is very imminent just now, and they are not taking invasion so seriously." That is perfectly true, and that is the danger which I have ventured to point out. The attitude taken up is: "The Home Guard? We need not bother about them. Think of the vast masses of troops that we have here now—the Canadians, the Americans in Northern Ireland, with pictures of them in all the papers, and so on. What do we want with the Home Guard?" That is the only possible excuse for this absurd anomaly—the idea that the Home Guard really does not count. I plead with you, my Lords, to join with me in asking the spokesman of the War Office to say that we want the Home Guard more than ever now, so as to free all the troops to go to whatever part of the world they are needed in, and so that we may be entirely self-supporting in martial forces. We should take the Home Guard more seriously than ever now, and, if we do, we must treat the officers of the Home Guard like the officers of all other Services—no better and no worse. I beg the noble Lord to give us some satisfaction on this point.


My Lords, I am well aware of the fact that there has been a considerable amount of feeling expressed on this matter which is embodied in the Motion of the noble Lord, and also, as many of your Lordships know, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War has recently discussed the matter with representatives of the Home Guard both in your Lordships' House and in another place. The question has always been one of difficulty, since it involves a conflict of two principles. On the one hind, it seems reasonable on the face of it that officers holding the King's Commission should be treated alike, particularly in the eyes of the public; on the other hand, it has been a fundamental principle, from the very beginning of the Local Defence Volunteers, there there should be no financial discrimination between the several ranks of the Home Guard.

It is not so very long ago that the Local Defence Volunteers were formed, and men of every class and age enrolled at once, without question of rank, to meet the national emergency. Their leaders were, and have always been, the best men available locally and there has never been a question of an officer class in the Home Guard. It is true that, in the early days, King's Commissions were not given to the Home Guard, but at the end of 1940 it was found that unless officers of the Home Guard were given the King's Commission—although there was not unanimity on that subject—there would be serious difficulty in bringing the Home Guard under the operational control of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, and thus co-ordinating the operational role of the Home Guard with that of the Regular Army, and making for the greater efficiency of the Home Guard and its leaders. Before Home Guard Commissions were granted, the decision to do so was announced in another place by my honourable and gallant friend Sir Edward Grigg who was then Joint Under-Secretary of State for War. He made it clear then that the grant of Commissions would involve no differential treatment in the way of financial privileges between officers and other ranks of the Home Guard. It was on this understanding that Commissions were granted to members of the Home Guard, and this understanding is completely in line with every other financial arrangement which has been made for the Home Guard since its inception.

In the vast majority of cases the principle of equal financial treatment has worked well, and, I think I may say, with the approval of the Home Guard as a whole. To depart from it now in the face of assurances to the contrary given in Parliament would constitute a breach of faith with those who joined as volunteers in the early days and introduce those artificial distinctions of privilege and comfort which they agreed to leave behind them when they joined the Home Guard. These are the solid advantages which would be abandoned if a change were to be made now. The change, if it were to be made, would affect comparatively few officers, since the Home Guard is so largely a local force. It is the exception for a Home Guard officer to have to travel by train in the course of his duties, while as your Lordships know, there have been for months past only third-class carriages available on certain lines shared by officers and men alike, with no weakening of discipline. It is not therefore as if a large body of Home Guards was affected, and I think that when your Lordships weigh up the arguments for and against the change you will agree that on balance a clear advantage lies in maintaining in its entirety the principle of equal financial treatment for the Home Guard which, all things considered, has worked so well in the past two years.

I would only like to add in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone—though I do not think it is necessary for me to say so—that His Majesty's Government, like all your Lordships, realize more and more how dependent we are on the Home Guard, and I cannot believe that this comparatively small point can have any effect in persuading the public that we are not treating seriously this great Force—perhaps the most remarkable Force that has arisen in any country in the world.


My Lords, seldom in the period in Which I have had the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House, have I heard an argument put up from the Government Bench so totally inadequate as a reply to the question proposed. The noble Lord is lavishing encomiums upon the Home Guard, but at the same time he—or, it is to be hoped, his advisers in the War Office—seems totally unable to understand on the one hand what a burning question this has become and, on the other, how really unfair it is to the officers of the Home Guard. There was a difference of opinion, it is true, among the ranks of the Home Guard as to whether the granting of Commissions was or was not a good thing. Personally, it seemed to me that it was a good thing, although I admit that others took a different view. But how it can possibly be defended that once His Majesty's Commission has been granted to a certain section of the armed Forces of the Crown, those who have the honour to have that Commission should be treated in an entirely different way from the other branches of the Services, passes my comprehension.

My noble friend Lord Elgin modestly forbore to mention that he is himself a Zone Commander, the highest rank which I think a Home Guard Officer can hold. If Lord Elgin wishes to go to No. 1 Home Guard School in the South of England, he must travel third-class, unless he pays the difference himself. If, on the other hand, an officer of the Air Training Corps goes off on a course, no matter how junior his rank, he travels first-class. There is no doubt that there is in the Home Guard a feeling and a realization that the officers of that Force are being treated differently from Regular Army officers, and that their Commissions are, therefore, not equivalent to Commissions in any other branch of His Majesty's Service. The result is, quite undoubtedly, not good for discipline. In my own experience whilst walking along the street in a small town in my own county, which I often have to visit in uniform in the course of my duty, I have frequently seen Regular soldiers approach, perceive what they deem to be an officer in front of them, prepare to come to the salute, see the Home Guard flash, and promptly resume their normal method of procedure without paying any further attention. And the general demeanour of the rank and file of the Army towards an officer in the Home Guard is that towards a colleague whom they regard as a possibly rather superior kind of corporal. I have even seen junior officers in the Regular Army refrain from saluting Home Guard officers of field rank, and it is certainly not good for discipline, particularly, as has already been said, when it is appreciated that

Home Guard officers, in the event of hostilities occurring in this country, will have possibly quite considerable forces of Regular troops under their command.

It is very much to be hoped that the War Office and the Treasury—if it has anything to do with the Treasury, which I doubt—will reconsider their attitude. It is not going to affect the taxpayer one iota, and to assume that either a majority of the Home Guard or, I believe, a majority of the people of this country will concur in the continuance of this anomalous, ridiculous and painful situation is a very grave mistake. I do not know what attitude the noble Lord who introduced this Motion will take, but if he is inclined to press it to a Division I think he will find very considerable support.


My Lords, the reply of the noble Lord completely missed the point, and he must be conscious of the fact that it is the weakest reply ever made on the Government's behalf in your Lordships' House. Only a few officers, he said, are concerned; it is not the case, except in rural areas, especially in Scotland and Wales, that Home Guard officers have to travel very considerable distances; it is the financial difference between officers and other ranks. In the Home Guard really the boot is on the other foot. To-day, Home Guard officers are told, "If you have to go a long distance on duty, you will be given a third-class warrant, and if you want to go first-class you pay the difference yourselves." There is no financial question involved apart from that. So unsatisfactory was the reply that I have consulted my noble friends who are particularly interested, and I feel we must press for Papers.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 13.

Sutherland, D. Maugham, V. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.) [Teller.]
Mersey, V.
Crewe, M. Plumer, V. Hampton, L.
Marley, L.
Abingdon, E. Ailwyn, L. Milne, L.
Huntingdon, E. Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) Mottistone, L.
Mansfield, E. Barnby, L. O'Hagan, L.
Bingley, L. Stanmore, L.
Camrose, V. Borwick, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Cowdray, V. Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Teviot, L.
Esher, V.
Simon, V. (Lord Chancellor.) Margesson, V. Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.) [Teller.]
Lucan, E. Croft, L. Sherwood, L.
Selborne, E. Faringdon, L. Snell, L.
Hare, L. (E. Listowel.) Templemore, L. [Teller.]
FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Latham, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.