HL Deb 15 December 1942 vol 125 cc530-9

VISCOUNT ELIBANK had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they will cancel the instructions issued to the Deputy Directors of Medical Services of all Commands, by the War Office in their letter of the 13th October, to the effect that officers of the Home Guard are for all financial purposes, including medical attendance and hospital treatment, to be regarded as private soldiers, and that the admission of officers of the home Guard to officers' convalescent hospitals is, therefore, unauthorized and that in lieu thereof instructions will be given that all officers of the Home Guard, so long as the injury or illness treated arises out of their military duties, shall in future be entitled to medical and hospital treatment on the same basis as officers of the Regular Services; and further, that Home Guardsmen of all other ranks shall likewise be entitled to medical and hospital treatment according to their several ranks, when the injury or illness arises out of their military duties; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, two or three weeks ago I moved a Motion in your Lordships' House advocating the increase of the Home Guard, and received, as I said at the time, a satisfactory answer. But a few days before I moved that Motion there came into my hands a communication which had, in my opinion, a very important effect upon the position of officers of the Home Guard. I referred to that in my speech, but I did not press it borne because I did not wish it to cross the main theme of my Motion, which was the increase of the strength or "ceiling" of the Home Guard. But the short reply which I received from my noble friend Lord Croft to the short statement I made in regard to it led me to put down the Motion which I have on the Paper to-day, in which I refer specifically to the point. I waited for something like five weeks, hoping that this matter might have been settled, so to speak, out of court, but there has been no indication to me in any way that the question has been further considered, or that a satisfactory solution of it has been found.

My Motion to-day raises two main points—(1), that the Army Council have laid down the principle that Home Guard officers are to be regarded as private soldiers and to be treated as such for all financial purposes, including medical attention and hospital treatment; (2), that they are not to be admitted to officers' convalescent homes or to officers' wards in military hospitals. Then a third part of my Motion raises a further important point, and demands that Home Guardsmen of all ranks should be entitled to medical and hospital treatment according to their several ranks when the injury arises out of their military duties. I will deal with the first part of the Motion first, and I think it is only fair to your Lordships on this occasion to read out the communication which came into my hands and which led me to raise the issue. A letter—not a confidential letter, an open letter—was addressed to the Deputy Directors of Medical Services in all Commands. This was addressed to the Deputy Director of Medical Services of the London District, from the War Office on the 13th October, 1942, and it read as follows: Five officers of the Home Guard recently were transferred from a military hospital to an officers' convalescent hospital. Subject to the limitations laid down in Paragraph 27 of A.C.I. 872 of 1942, officers of the Home Guard for all financial purposes, including medical attendance and hospital treatment, are to be regarded as private soldiers. The admission of officers of the Home Guard to officers' convalescent hospitals is therefore unauthorized. Will you kindly bring this information to the notice of all concerned. It is unnecessary to give the signatory, as he signed on behalf of the War Office.

I must say that when I saw that letter I was absolutely staggered. I could not believe that such a communication would issue from the War Office in connexion with officers of the Home Guard, especially at this time, when they are giving up all their leisure arid doing everything they can to further the objects of the Home Guard and, incidentally, of the War Office. As I do not wish to detain the House too long on this matter, I shall turn at once to the Official Report of the reply which the noble Lord gave to me on November 17 and refer to the reasons he gave why officers of the Home Guard should be treated as privates. He said: The present Regulation regarding the treatment of Home Guard officers in convalescent hospitals follows the principle which has governed the Home Guard since the formation of the L.D.V.—namely, that all ranks should be treated alike. I can therefore give no assurance that this Regulation will be modified or withdrawn. Secondly, my noble friend said: … the question of Commissions for officers arose and was pressed with great vigour in some quarters. On this subject I think it should be known that the demand was by no means universal; in fact, a considerable number of Home Guard leaders feared that it might alter the character and spirit of the Force. I certainly did not share that view, and the War Office decided to grant Commissions because we considered it vital that in case of actual operations with Regular troops, officers of the Home Guard should have their status in operations clearly defined. That, I think, was convincing. When we made that decision to grant officers the King's Commission, we made it abundantly clear that it must in no way alter the basic principles on which the Force was formed, and that the Commission should carry no privilege not previously enjoyed by the officers of the Home Guard.

My noble friend will agree that I am quoting very fairly and at length what he said. I do not wish to burke any part of his arguments. My contention was that since that statement was made nearly two years ago the whole position of the Home Guard Defence Force had been altered and the Home Guard had taken on a much more important role. In this particular representation my noble friend agreed, because he said: We can now view the task of the Home Guard, however, in a somewhat different light. It is in fact contributing to the general offensive by undertaking in increasing measure the local defence of the home base, and so freeing more of our Regular Army to fight overseas. Let us hope that this will remain its task for the months to come. That is the real answer. That is why Home Guard officers have got the right, and may expect, to be treated exactly as officers in any of the other Services of His Majesty's Forces. Your Lordships must remember that this Force was raised in war-time and not in peace time. It is a War Force and two years have elapsed since its formation. Members of it are being trained every day more and more in this war in which we are engaged up to the neck against a savage, ruthless foe, and they are doing more and more to take the place of the Regular Army when and as it goes oversea. It is not neace-time soldiering. I submit with all earnestness that the Home Guard are entitled to be treated as a serious Fighting Force, and Home Guard officers should have the same privileges as the officers of other Fighting Forces in the country of whatever category.

I cannot see how the Army Council can differentiate between one class of officer and another. His Majesty's Commission is something to be proud of, and to be respected and held in dignity, and it should confer the sane degree of privilege on whomsoever holds it. Home Guard officers in spite of what my noble friend Lord Wedgwood said on the last occasion, expect to be treated as officers. They wish to be treated as officers and to receive those privileges; and not only they but the non-commissioned officers and men of the Home Guard feel that if their officers are not treated in the same way as officers of other Forces they are being degraded. I shall go further. I do not believe there is any member of the public who does not consider that that treatment should be accorded to them. Ask any of your friends who have not considered this question, whether they think it right that officers of the Home Guard should be treated otherwise, and I am sure you will get the answer I have given to-day.

Lieutenant Foster, of the Home Guard, received the George Cross for heroic action. Why should Lieutenant Foster be treated as a private? I cannot understand what is at the bottom of this. I wonder whether it is the Treasury that is at the back of it, whether this is a measure to save money. If so, it is quite unjustifiable and absolutely outrageous. Here we have a Force of 1,750,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and men giving their services free in practically all respects—a very economical Force indeed. We all know how difficult it is for the Treasury to discharge its task of keeping down expenditure, but if I am correct in thinking it is the Treasury which is responsible in this case, I submit it has no right to take advantage of the loyal service and patriotism which have been so splendidly displayed by the Home Guard. If the Treasury wants to cut down, let it cut down some of the thousands of petty officials who are choking the machinery of government to-day. I have no hesitation in saying that the discipline of the Force can only be maintained if the officers are treated properly. This is war-time, not peace-time. At any moment the enemy may be in this country, whether air-borne or otherwise, and the Home Guard will have to take their positions, like any other soldiers, in defending the country and their homes.

There is just one other point—the last part of my Motion—which refers to Home Guardsmen of all ranks. I am not sure whether this is so or not—if I am wrong, I ask my noble friend to correct me—but I do not believe it is the case that to-day all Home Guardsmen are entitled to hospital treatment and medical attention for any injury or illness arising in the course of their military duties. If that is the case then I have no more to say, but I might point my argument by reference to an occurrence of a few days ago about which I read in the papers. Three men were killed and eight injured in an explosion at Chelmsford during a lecture for Home Guard personnel. If my noble friend can tell me that these men all received medical attention or hospital treatment as Home Guardsmen in a military hospital, I am content to know that they are eligible for such treatment so long as they are performing military duties. That is the point I wish to make. I desire to urge that whenever they are engaged in military duties, on parade or anywhere else, and they suffer illness or injury, they should receive proper hospital and medical treatment. I have made the case I wish to make, and I ask the Government not only to withdraw these instructions but to substitute for them something which is fair and right to Home Guard officers and to the Force as a whole. I beg to move.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I would like to say just one thing. I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord who has moved this Motion is under some slight misapprehension as to the feeling generally throughout the Home Guard on the subject of officers and men. The Home Guard began without commissioned rank, with all of us on exactly the same level and very proud of that uniformity. It is true that in the course of the two-and-a-half years during which we have been an organized force, commissioned rank, so-called, has been brought in, and there is that distinction between officers and men; but so far as I have been able to judge, and I have been at it from the first day, the change of mind to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eli-bank, has drawn attention does not generally exist. We still feel exactly the same, that there is a uniformity throughout the whole of the Home Guard, and the less distinction that is made between officers and men the better. I am bound to say that when the noble Viscount raised the question a short while ago of the difference between a Regular Adjutant and a Home Guard Commanding Officer travelling on a train in different classes, I found in my conversations with members of the Home Guard that they regarded that as completely unimportant. All we desire is to carry on as far as distinctions of rank are concerned exactly the same as we do now.


I have not used that point this afternoon. It is not referred to in my Motion at all, nor have I referred to it in my speech.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon if I have misinterpreted him. I understood he was raising a distinction between the hospital treatment accorded to officers and that accorded to men. At any rate I have made the point I wish to make. The less we treat officers and men as two separate classes in the Home Guard the better. We all understand the difference between on parade and off parade, and we like to be treated generally as one.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I now rise to support the Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Elibank. It is not a question of whether you are treating officers in the Home Guard and privates of the Home Guard differently; it is a question of treating the officers of one Force differently from the officers of another Force. I have taken certain steps since the last debate to find out from certain battalions in which I am still interested their feelings in the matter, and I have ascertained that the officers have not the slightest objection to being treated the same as, and do not expect to be treated differently from, their own privates; but when it comes to a matter of officers of the three Services going into one ward and Home Guard officers being refused admission to it and being turned down, that is something against the whole body of feeling in the Home Guard. That is discriminating and saying: "You are a Home Guard officer; we do not treat you the same as other officers" It is not a matter of discriminating between officer and private of the Home Guard; it is something much wider than that.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has already referred to this matter, as he told us this afternoon, in his Motion on November 17, when so courteously, as he always does, he put his criticisms before your Lordships' House. When he raised it, as I told him at the time, the point was completely new to me, but I promised him that I would look into the whole question, and I have been able to do so since. As I told the House on that occasion, this matter of hospital treatment cannot be dealt with as a separate item, but must needs be related to the general policy for the Home Guard. I would also remind your Lordships that the policy which has always been understood, and has never been questioned until very recently, was that all ranks should be treated alike. If members of the Home Guard have to enter a civil hospital for treatment they will naturally be treated exactly the same as any other civilian patients. If of necessity they enter a military hospital or convalescent home—and I think the speech of the noble and gallant Earl who has just spoken confirms me in that opinion—I think it is desirable that members of the Home Guard should be treated in wards or rooms specially reserved for them. The Government propose, therefore, to give instructions for this procedure to be adopted in military hospitals whenever it is possible to reserve separate rooms for this purpose, and a letter will be written to this effect.

In this way I think we shall meet a legitimate desire which the noble Viscount tells us is felt in the Home Guard, but I could not go further and accept the suggestion put forward in the Motion without infringing the principle of equality of treatment for all ranks. This same principle must govern each case, whether it be hospital treatment, or allowances, or accommodation, or anything else of the kind—in other words, members of the Home Guard are treated alike in sickness as in health. In fact, under conditions of battle or serious air-raid casualties, it would often he quite impossible to segregate men according to rank except to the detriment of the medical attention they ought to receive. As to the general point, I feel that there is little more that I can add to what said on the last occasion. While there has certainly been some demand in the Home Guard for preferential treatment for certain ranks, it has been far from a universal demand, as I think has been made clear in the debates in this House. Against it must be set the original tradition of equality on which the Home Guard has grown up and which so many of its members, and I think particularly the older members, prize very highly.

My noble friend asked me one or two specific questions. One was with regard to an unfortunate accident which occurred at Chelmsford. The men concerned, I understand, were not members of the Home Guard, and to that extent the Press report was clearly based on a misunderstanding, but if they had been members of the Home Guard they would have been given free medical treatment. Of that there is not any doubt. My noble friend seemed to suggest that the Treasury has taken some part in this matter. I think your Lordships should know—here I answer his other question on medical treatment—that all members of the Home Guard are entitled to medical treatment and hospital treatment, and that I always understood was regarded in the Home Guard, as very fair and generous. It has been in practice some time. There is no doubt about that, and the noble Viscount can rest assured that there is no difficulty on that subject. Provision is made that every Home Guard who is injured does get medical treatment.


Injured when he is on military duties?


Yes. The noble Viscount Viscount further submitted to your Lordships that some great change has recently come over the Force. He said—I think these are his words, if not he will correct me—that the whole basis of the Force has been changed by recent events and by the movement of the war. I can assure him that that is not so. It may be that in certain operational matters their object may have been slightly changed—he mentioned himself that as more of the Regular Army go abroad greater responsibility is placed on the Home Guard—but I can assure him there has been no change in the basis of the Home Guard. I do not think that is suggested by Home Guard officers, and the answer on that point must be that there is no change in the basis.

My noble friend finally said—again I hope that I am reporting him correctly—that officers of the Home Guard should have the same privileges and rights as the officers of all other Fighting Services. That has never been claimed by them. I must remind my noble friend once more that the Home Guard is a part-time Force, the vast majority of the members of which are pursuing their normal avocations as civilians. I do not think it has ever been claimed even by the keenest champions of the Home Guard that they should be treated in all respects like the officers of other Services. I agree most cordially with what my noble friend said about the wonderful services of the Home Guard. I have spent the last thirteen' week-ends with detachments of the Home Guard all over the country, and I have endeavoured to obtain their opinions. I have found that, although there are certain differences and must be certain differences of opinion, there is a feeling among them that they joined the old Local Defence Volunteers with their comrades, that they asked for no privileges at that time, and that they were content to feel that they were all members of this great and remarkable demonstration of the national will for victory. I thank my noble friend for the courtesy with which he has put his case forward, and I honestly believe that the statement I have made, that the Home Guard shall have these facilities wherever possible in hospitals and convalescent homes, will meet with their approval. I hope that it will also meet with the approval of my noble friend.


My Lords, I am afraid that, notwithstanding the very conciliatory and courteous manner in which the noble Lord has replied to me, and the concessions which he has made, I cannot feel that it is a very satisfactory solution. Like my noble friend the Earl of Cork, whom I wish to thank for supporting this Motion, I have a feeling that when you give Commissions in His Majesty's Forces you ought to give the same privileges—I am talking about hospital and medical treatment to-day, and not about first- and third-class railway carriages, although I feel strongly about that—to those officers as you give to any other officers fighting alongside them and risking their lives alongside them. My noble friend has gone so far as to grant admission to those places under the same conditions, but I would urge him to go a little further. I believe a committee which is sitting to-day with the Secretary of State is quite likely to ask the Secretary of State to go further. I know that my own territorial association and another territorial association in Scotland, where perhaps we feel more strongly about this than people do in England, are urging the Secretary of State to go further. Therefore, while I do not propose to press my Motion, and while I thank my noble friend for his reply and for going as far as he can, I do not think for a moment that the matter will rest there. I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.