HL Deb 17 March 1942 vol 122 cc270-300

THE EARL OF MANSFIELD had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the difficulties caused by the delay in bringing conscription for the Home Guard into operation; whether they will state whether it in their intention to proceed with conscription for the Home Guard and compulsory service for the Civil Defence; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, early in the month of December I put down a Motion in your Lordships' House more or less on the subject on which I now venture to address you. On that occasion, between the day on which the Notice appeared on the Paper and the day of the debate, a Government statement was made which, more or less, quite by chance, happened to answer, at any rate, part of my question. By a great coincidence the same thing has happened on this occasion, but I have no hesitation in proceeding with my line of inquiry, in view of the fact that the statement made up to the present time has been of much too inconclusive and unsatisfactory a nature to justify postponement of this question. My intention is after certain general observations to direct to the noble Lord, Lord Croft, who I presume will reply, a series of questions to which I hope he will be able to give categorical and complete answers.

I must ask the indulgence of those of your Lordships who were present on the last occasion because I may have to use certain repetition. It is quite obvious to anyone who knows the position of the Home Guard, particularly in the rural areas, that almost everywhere there is a lack of the numbers of men necessary to carry out the tasks already allotted or which very likely will be allotted. There has been and is a continual wastage from the Home Guards which is not being made up by recruitment. This wastage consists largely of the calling-up for service in the Armed Forces or members of the Home Guard, occasional deaths, and retirements due to increasing years or illness or other causes. Considerable, though not serious, accretion of these resignations was brought about by the unfortunate form in which the announcement of the forty-eight hours per month maximum compulsory service was made. It proved almost everywhere impossible to disabuse the minds of a certain number of Home Guards of the idea that they were going to be compelled to do at least forty-eight hours service. It may seem absurd, it doubtless was, but that was the case, and there were in almost every area a considerable number of resignations while there was yet time before February 15.

To make up for these losses the rate of recruiting is certainly not nearly sufficient. With very few exceptions all the new recruits for a considerable time past have been young lads who have attained the age of seventeen years. There we have been affected very considerably of late by competition from the equally valuable and somewhat more attractive Air Training Corps, which has undoubtedly deprived the Home Guard of the services of a considerable number of youths. Even those young men who did join us are liable, and in fact practically certain, to be taken away to the Armed Forces as soon as we have got them adequately trained. The result is that this continual wastage goes on.

While wastage continues the responsibilities of the Home Guard in most areas of the country continue to increase. Just as the amateur strategists do not realize that a Division of, say, 15,000 men does not mean that you have 15,000 front-line troops, so do many people fail to realize that mutatis mutandis the same is the case with a Home Guard Battalion. A battalion of 1,000 Home Guards does not, by any means, mean 1,000 men ready at once to fall upon parachutists or air-borne troops, the reason being of course that we have our battalion and company headquarters, our dispatch riders, our signallers and the various branches of the Home Guard who are not available for that purpose, added to the fact that a considerable number of the Home Guard, being middle aged or elderly men, are not suitable for swift dashes across the countryside. Fresh responsibilities are thrust on us, for example, by having to undertake the duty of acting as guides to Brigades or Divisions of troops who may, in the event of emergency, be hurried across parts of our area from their mustering places to wherever danger threatens. While it is true that such movements would not normally take place in an area in which hostilities were actually happening, who is to say that while the great majority of the Home Guard in a certain area were employed in acting as road guides and performing the other duties that they will have to do, parachutists might not descend in that area and that there would be no sufficient force of Home Guards ready to engage them promptly and decisively?

I think we may take it that there are three ways in which Home Guards will be able normally to deal with parachutists, or at least three stages of dealing with them. The first is where there is a sufficient force acting with sufficient promptness to ensure that the parachutists are all wiped out within a very short time after they have arrived, and before they have been able to dissipate themselves about the countryside—which is of course the ideal. The second is where the force available is not sufficient to destroy the enemy, but is sufficient to contain them more or less in the area in which they have landed until reinforcements either of Home Guards or Regular troops arrive to wipe them out. The third and least satisfactory situation is that in which there has not been time enough to collect a body of troops or Home Guards sufficiently strong to hold down the enemy in the area in which they have landed, and when all that can be done is to harass them from flank or rear and cause them the greatest possible delay and casualties. If the first of these methods is to be carried out, that is to say, if the parachutists or airborne troops are to be destroyed at the earliest possible moment, it is obvious that we must have sufficient mobile Home Guards to carry out their tasks, and there is no doubt that in many areas to-day that is not the case. If there are not enough men to attack a fairly strong body of the enemy, time would be lost in bringing men from moderately distant parts. That is why, generally speaking, it is absolutely imperative that there should be an increase, and a considerable increase, in the strength of the Home Guard, particularly in the rural areas.

With these preliminary remarks I would come to the series of questions which I should like to address to the noble Lord, Lord Croft. The first question is, why have we had this lamentable delay of over three months between the announcement that compulsion for the Home Guard would be introduced and the first signs of it being put into effect? The reason why this delay is particularly sad is that the months that have gone by are the most suitable months for training recruits. Work stops, at any rate in the country areas, at dusk; there is no opportunity of digging the garden, there is no opportunity for rustic enjoyments which later in the year are apt to compete with attendance at Home Guard drill. Over three months of valuable time has been lost during which potential recruits could have been given at least a thorough grounding in indoor work before they proceeded to actual manœuvres in the field. Secondly, why has the area of compulsion been confined to certain portions of the east and south of England? The need for the Home Guard is paramount everywhere. The answer might be given that these areas are the most important ones and those in which enemy-landings are to be considered most probable, but the mere fact that enemy landings are very likely there is a very good reason why the Germans, who are always ready to take advantage of preconceived ideas on the part of their adversaries, might land troops somewhere else where there would be nothing like the same obstructions awaiting them.

At the present time, can anyone say that any part of the British Isles—not only of Great Britain—is free from the danger of invasion? To take an extreme example —namely, the Outer Hebrides—many of the islands are excellent places for actually landing air-borne troops. The landing might not be of great military importance, but if there were no actual body of Home Guard available to deal with the invaders troops would have to be dispatched for that purpose. All over the country, even in the most unlikely areas, it is possible that we shall have descent of parachutists or air-borne troops simply in order to make a diversion and draw Regular troops away from other areas. That is a consideration which I think should be very carefully borne in mind.

Now I come to the next question, which has not yet been answered, and about which many rumours are in circulation. To what extent in those areas where compulsion is to be applied is the Home Guard to be strengthened? One rumour is that it is to be only by some 10 per cent., although it is not stated what is the actual datum line on which that 10 per cent, is to be drawn. For example, in the Scottish Command it has been rumoured that only some 10,000 additional recruits are to be enrolled, nearly all of whom will be in the so-called vulnerable areas, and one of the usually better informed morning papers states this morning that even in those areas where compulsion is to be applied it is only to be applied to men between the ages of eighteen and forty-one. I do not think that in any area of this country there are many men of between eighteen and forty-one years of age who are now available for service in the Home Guard. I suggest that, if that statement is accurate, liability should be increased at once at least up to the age of fifty.

Now all these points are, I think, of very vital importance because at the present time we are approaching the season when, if invasion is coming, it may come at any time. It was not likely up to the present time, but, with the gradual improvement in the weather, the invasion season may be said to be almost upon us. All through these last months practically nothing has been done; no progress has been made. Perhaps that is a little exaggeration. Something has happened which no doubt is of very great importance; that is to say the Home Guard have been issued with a substantial consignment of pikes. Well, the Home Guard are much interested in the arrival of these pikes, though their interest has perhaps not taken quite such a favourable line as those who provided the pikes had anticipated. I think that Home Guards throughout the country are waiting rather anxiously to ascertain whether they are going to be supplied with any other mediaeval knick-knacks of a similar sort, because, frankly, the Home Guard honestly regard these pikes as little less than an insult. If they have been supplied in the same proportion throughout the country as they have been to the battalion in which I serve, I estimate that already not less than 1,000 tons of valuable iron and steel have been wasted in this way, and that, at the present time, I think, is little short of deplorable.

When the noble Lord replies I hope that he will be able to give a categorical answer to these various questions that I have put to him. The Home Guards today are anxious. They want to know why nothing has been done, who is responsible for the delay, and why, when this announcement has been made, it has been of such a haphazard character. I can hardly imagine that it has been made as the result of the advice tendered by military Commanders in the various areas, who, as a rule, I think, share entirely the views of the Home Guard. I would suggest that those entitled to have their views heard with respect are the people who have to deal actually with the various problems that affect the Home Guard on the spot; that is to say, the Battalion and Company Commanders. They, and they alone, really know their own requirements. Officers of the Regular Army have, in many cases, made themselves very familiar with the situation. In other cases they are less so. But it is the Home Guard Commander, the Zone Commander, and to an even greater extent the Battalion and Company Commander who really know what is required. Unfortunately, we have seen the Government, in only too many directions, procrastinating and losing valuable time. It is to be hoped that an end will be made of this way of proceeding.

In conclusion I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that towards the end of my Motion I ask for compulsory service for Civil Defence. I would like to make it quite clear that this allusion to the Civil Defence is only inasmuch as it refers to matters connected with the Home Guard. All over the country the same thing is found: that the willing men in every area are undertaking more than they can properly carry out, while others of all ages are not doing their fair share. In my own area, for example, there was one man who for a considerable time was parish minister, Second in Command of the Home Guard, Battalion Engineer and Explosives Officer, Chief Warden and Local Food Controller. These positions, of course, represent a number of occupations which could not be satisfactorily carried out by any one man.

Not far from where I live there is a large village in which, report has it—and I believe with accuracy—that anything from eighty to one hundred men of ages up to fifty were doing practically nothing in the way of National Service. I would suggest that it would be most advantageous that as soon as possible opportunity should be given for the younger special constables and wardens throughout the country to have their posts filled by compulsory drafts from older men who are doing little, or doing nothing, towards the war effort. In towns many are doing no more than the compulsory share of fire watching, and in the rural areas they do not even have to do that. Vast masses of man-power of all ages throughout the country are doing practically nothing. Hundreds of thousands of men, perfectly fit and able, are special constables or wardens, and not only are they perfectly fit to do so but they wish to join the Home Guard. In the meantime, however, they are unable to do so because if they do their places would not be filled by volunteers. Therefore, I suggest that the time has come when compulsion should be applied for the Civil Defence Services also so as to free able and willing men for the Home Guard.

Throughout the country this is becoming a burning question everywhere. One sees most striking differences, perhaps in a distance of only a few hundred yards, in the way in which men are taking their responsibilities. I am speaking of actual cases. In one small area, perhaps four miles by two, in which there are a number of farms, in some cases you see a father and son working a farm. The father at one farm is serving in the Civil Defence and the son is in the Home Guard. In the same area there is another farm where conditions are exactly similar, and neither the father nor the son there is doing anything in the way of National Service. A mile away there is a farm where the farmer has three men under him, and he does his best to stop his men joining the Home Guard. I know that he joined it unwillingly himself and left it as soon as he was asked to do any work. That sort of thing is producing great ill feeling. It is particularly noticeable in the rural areas, not because farmers and farm-workers are any less keen in their devotion to duty than other members of the community, but because owing to the fact that among them there are far more fit and healthy men it is more noticeable than is the case in the towns. For all these reasons I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies, will be able to state that he will give favourable consideration to the points which I have brought forward, and that something will be done, and done in time, to ensure that the present state of affairs is changed for one of a more satisfactory character. The country, and particularly the Home Guard, is becoming impatient, and impatient with very good reason. I beg to move.


My Lords, before the debate continues I should like to say that I am placed in an embarrassing position. A number of your Lordships were going to support a Motion of mine which raised the very question to which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has referred in his concluding remarks. The Government asked me to postpone it and to remove it from the Paper, and I accordingly did so, and put it with the Notices Pending. The question of how far all these different Services all over the country should take part in the fighting in the event of invasion is one which, I was told, it was not in the public interest to discuss. I therefore informed the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, and other noble Lords, that the Government did not wish the matter to be discussed, and I agreed to postpone it until the next series of sittings. I did not know that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, would be raising these points to-day. Personally, I do not propose to discuss the matter if the Government do not wish it discussed, and, although no doubt the matter is urgent, if the Government do not wish it to be debated at the next series of sittings, I shall again postpone my Motion.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships I should like to intervene in order to point out to the noble Lord that my Motion in no way deals with the action of Civil Defence personnel in the event of invasion. It is simply intended to elucidate the question of whether men who are already engaged in Civil Defence, and who would be suitable for the Home Guard, should not be drafted into the Home Guard, and I have been careful to keep to that narrow point in my speech.


My noble friend has eloquently raised the question of what is to happen to the personnel of the Civil Defence Services, and that was the point with which I wished to deal. However, I will let it go at that. I am prepared to do whatever the Government wish.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. He brought forward a Motion on the subject last December. Another Motion was introduced by the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, in February, and I myself ventured to submit a Motion to your Lordships last January. I think it was quite evident, from the tone of the remarks made by the noble Lords who took part in those three debates, that there was a grave feeling of disquiet and anxiety regarding Home Guard affairs among those who were taking an active part in the movement. I ventured on the last occasion to put three points before your Lordships. The first was that there should be closer collaboration between the Home Guard and the A.R.P. authorities. The second was that Civil Defence personnel and able-bodied factory workers should be trained to the use of arms. The third was that both Civil Defence personnel and factory workers should be attached to their local Home Guard unit, and that they should in fact be Home Guards seconded for Civil Defence or production work, but that in the event of their not being able to carry out their Civil Defence duties or to continue with the work of production, they should form the first reserve of their Home Guard unit, and join it to resist the invader with arms.

I made those suggestions with diffidence, because my opinion was based on a very short experience. As the result of my making those remarks, however, I have had scores of letters from all sorts and conditions of men, from Regional Commissioners down to individuals serving in some capacity in Civil Defence, and from Battalion Commanders in the Home Guard down to volunteers in the ranks. These letters came from all parts of the country. They supported the views which I put forward and indicated that there was a very strong sense of frustration among the writers, a damping down of enthusiasm, and a doubt whether the Government were really serious in dealing with the danger of invasion and whether they really wanted the Home Guard. I now speak with more assurance, because I know that I am voicing the opinions of a large number of individuals.

The first point which I should like to make with that assurance is that the men of this country are willing and ready to do very much more than they are called upon to do now, but that they do look to the Government to give them a strong lead. This feeling of frustration was particularly strong among the A.R.P. personnel, who include some of the best men whom we have in this country, men who joined up on the first call for volunteers for Civil Defence organizations, before the Local Defence Volunteers were even thought of. When the Home Guard first started, many of those men at once joined, but they were told to leave because they were members of a non-combatant civil force. After Poland, what fatuous nonsense that was! That, however, has sunk into the men's minds. A fortnight ago I asked a sub-inspector of the Reserve Constabulary what was the idea held by the men under him as to their duty in the event of invasion. He said: "We are neutral in the event of invasion; we have to keep order." I said: "Do you see yourself going up to a German soldier and telling him not to discharge firearms in the street, because that is against the laws of Britain?" He replied: "Of course not. I have a pistol which I had in the last war, and I shall take it with me." That is a man who is supposed to preserve a position of neutrality.

These men—wardens, policemen, firemen, members of demolition squads and so on—all realize that their duty will take them into positions of great difficulty and danger unarmed, and there they will be an easy prey for any enemy agents who come along, or for any small numbers of German soldiers who may come across them when they are at their work. I know that in France the gendarmes and others who tried to keep order among the refugees were shot like dogs by the Fifth Columnists among the refugees, just because the invader did not want order restored. Are we justified in exposing our men to these risks? I do not think that we are, and I am sure that they do not think so. I doubt whether their work can be carried on with full efficiency in the conditions in which they are asked to carry it on. Yet we read of the difficulty of finding some occupation for these men in their spare hours! I was taken the other day to an exhibition of what they did in their spare hours—pictures, toys and so on, all very jolly, but not to the point. Apart from eating and sleeping, no fit man of military age has any right to have spare time until he is ready to take an armed part in the resistance of invasion.

Now let me turn to the factories. The noble Earl discussed rural regions in particular. I dispute the fact that pikes are not useful weapons in any circumstances; they may not be suitable in rural districts, but they are quite useful weapons in factory areas. You do not always want to advertise your presence to the enemy by discharging a firearm. In the labyrinths round the factories, if you have one man with a Tommy gun and one man with a pike patrolling together, that is a very useful combination. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Croft, saw two days ago in the News Chronicle a picture of three Russian women marching in German prisoners, the women being armed with pitchforks. One of my correspondents wrote to me from a factory, and described the situation there. There were 1,200 men in that factory, and there was a detachment of the Home Guard, consisting of 100 men. The men worked in two shifts, so that at any given time there were 600 men there, of whom fifty might be in the Home Guard; the other 550 were quite untrained to arms and unorganized, and did not know what they were to do if the invasion came their way.

The noble Lord, Lord Croft, who replied for the Government on the previous occasion, told us that the orders for factory workers in the event of the enemy approaching their area were that they were to stay put, and that they would be sent home in small bodies to avoid traffic congestion. He did not explain how it was possible to stay put in a blazing factory. But taking it for granted that they did do so, it is obvious that under the conditions of invasion you would want very careful organization if you are to clear the area. It may interest your Lordships to know that within ten miles of Westminster there are two large factory areas in which no general scheme for the evacuation of the areas has been prepared. One or two of the factories have got paper schemes, but no rehearsal has ever taken place. The state of chaos which will exist there when the schemes have to be put into force can be imagined. Nor have the factories any idea where the orders are to come from. There is no obligation on their part, as there is in the case of the local defence men, to carry out A.R.P. work.

I suggest that there is only one satisfactory solution for this chaotic state of things, and that is for all fit men of military age to be conscribed into the factory Home Guard. They should all be trained to arms, and when once you have got them in the Home Guard they can be detailed for the various kinds of work, especially for police work, because they will have to keep order among a large mass of frightened people. The advantage of this is that you would have all men under military law at a certain stage in the proceedings as Home Guards. That I know, would be welcomed by several factory authorities, who would then know where they stood, and so would the men. It may be news to your Lordships that there are factories which pay their Home Guards. I observe that in the obituary notices of the noble Duke the Duke of Atholl he was said to be the only man who had a paid army. But there are factories which have paid armies. In others the men an; not paid. Some factories try to make their Home Guards do the fire watching, others pay them for doing it—a state of affairs which naturally breeds discontent. All that would be wiped out if you had conscription, and it would allow of comprehensive schemes being prepared.

I suggest that the present attitude of the Government psychologically is wrong. It is depressing to a degree to keen men to be told that there is "no objection to these units increasing their numbers." That does not seem to indicate any urgency! If the Government believe in invasion it is time they went all out to prepare against it. Infiltration seems to be very hard to cope with abroad, but there is no place where it could be more easily carried out than in a factory dis- trict, with its labyrinth of alleys, paths and byways, which lend themselves to just such penetration, and which would best be guarded by men familiar with the local layout. I was told when I last brought this matter forward that it had for some time been in the mind of the Government. That was in January: we are now in the middle of March. The period of incubation seems to be very long. The only tangible result of all this brooding has been a half-hearted measure of conscription, permission for part-time workers to join the Home Guard—which they could do before, and did—and the last emergency order by the Minister of Labour, which imposes obligation to do work (other than combatant duties) "to meet actual or immediately apprehended enemy action on land in the United Kingdom," which is the Civil Service way of speaking of a raid or invasion. And why not combatant duties? I should have mentioned that remuneration at the local rate of wages is laid down. That means, I suppose, that the men who dig the trenches are to be paid three times the rate paid to those who have to defend them with their lives.

I would like to ask the Government this because I feel sure the answer would be appreciated by the Home Guard: Are the Government quite sure that we are not going to be invaded, and that all this talk about the spring offensive in the East does not conceal a design for a desperate effort to deal with us in the West? The Sunday Dispatch on Sunday last did a patriotic duty by reminding its readers that the enemy at the nearest point is only twenty miles off. The nearest point from Crete to Greece is sixty miles. Why, if invasion is really believed in, do not the Government take the plunge and make everybody prepare to resist it and to take part in the fighting when the time comes? Under present arrangements, as is so often the case with us, the best and most patriotic section of the community are at a disadvantage as compared with those who are not prepared, or do not like, to come forward while their mates and neighbours stay at home and, may be, jeer at those who make sacrifices for the national cause.

We are told that this is the crisis of the war. If that is so, can it be said that we are going all out to meet such a momentous crisis in our history, which will define the future of this country for the coming generation? It would be a rallying cry to the whole nation if the Government were to declare that as the supreme struggle approaches there is only one principle to work on—namely, that every able-bodied man must prepare for the defence of the country in the last resort under arms. I suggest that the Government will take a tremendous responsibility upon themselves if they betray this desire among the men of the country to be trained and made ready to take their place in the defence of their homes. We must defeat invasion quickly and decisively. We have no Ural Mountains to retire behind; we shall have to fight it out on the spot: either we drive the invader into the sea, or we are beaten into subjection! We could go down with honour, as many a ship has done, if we had made every possible effort to defeat the enemy; but we cannot go down with honour but only with national disgrace if we have still half a million men available whom we have neglected to train to arms during two and a half years of war. Could it not be brought home to the public, and could they not be made to visualize what failure to resist invasion means, and to have a picture in their minds of the triumphant march of German troops through the cities they are familiar with? If I speak with feeling I hope your Lordships will excuse me. I do feel strongly that we are in great danger, and it is not being faced. What will the reaction of the people of this country be to the members of the Government if we should be defeated in that way? I need not cudgel my brains for the words to describe it, because it has already been done by Tennyson in these lines: The wild mob's million feet will kick you from your place, But then—Too late, too late!


My Lords, I have a little diffidence in addressing you to-day because I feel that no proper answer can be given by the Government to this question unless it is given with a full comprehension of the real facts. What is the job which each man and each woman is expected to do in this great emergency? Unless the answer to that can be given by the Government I do not feel we shall get a satisfactory reply to this debate. My noble friend Lord Mansfield, however, has raised this question, and I feel, as a Zone Commander in the Home Guard, and having taken the opportunity of discussing it in detail both with my Sub-Area Commanders and my Battalion Commanders, that I should be failing in my duty if I did not help to present their case to your Lordships in an endeavour to impress the Government with the gravity of the situation. It is almost a tragedy that at this time it should be necessary for one of your Lordships to put a Motion of this kind on the Order Paper. We have been at war for a very considerable period, and yet in spite of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Croft, has more than once said this is a matter to which the Government are giving attention, no positive lead has been given.

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, stressed the fact that day by day and week by week the Home Guard is being asked to undertake more and more duties. Day by day and week by week, for the various reasons which he explained, the strength of the Home Guard has diminished. May I give an illustration of that from figures in my possession? A certain battalion soon after the Force was formed, numbered rather more than 2,000 men. Its present strength is 1,254. This is what the Battalion Commander reports: At a Company Commanders' conference held at Battalion Headquarters the position regarding the present strength and the strength which the Company Commanders, after careful consideration of the ground and the needs in the area, lay down as their requirements, was detailed. All are emphatic in stressing the point that the men are available in this locality, which is wholly a mining community, and hundreds of young men are therefore reserved and should be compelled to give service either in the Home Guard or Civil Defence Service. The need for weapons does not appear to be of so great an urgency as the fact that the men cannot at present be trained to use the weapons. Then he gives, as I say, the present strength of his battalion by companies— adding up to a total strength of 1,254— and the strength which his Company Commanders consider necessary in order to carry out the duties which have been allotted to them is 3,400. The men are available. They are there, and it is merely the fact that they are in reserved occupations.

Another illustration I would give on the same subject. Shortly after the declaration of the Government to bring in conscription for the Home Guard, an Area Commander summoned a conference of all his Battalion and Zone Commanders, and asked each one to give his opinion whether conscription should be introduced. The opinion given by these Commanders, after careful consideration of the situation, was unanimously in favour of the introduction of compulsion. We were unanimous because we felt that without some form of compulsion it was impossible to carry out the duties which were entrusted to us. It was in an endeavour to meet these responsibilities that certain men were being asked to undertake more and more responsibilities, as evidenced by Lord Mansfield, whereas others were simply standing by idle as onlookers, perhaps even jeering at those who undertake this national service. During the past few weeks, undertakers, as they are called, of national services such as electricity and other public services, have been engaged in classifying their men into Class 1 and Class 2, Class 2 being only available to come up and answer the call at action stations after 48 hours. One of the last men classified as Class 2 is in the occupation of gravedigger! It is a tragedy chat such a thing should be going on. Forty-eight hours may be too late. If we are to classify, as we must classify, those who are available at a moment's notice and those who will come as soon as they can, the line should be put very high, to "come absolutely at a moment's notice or as soon as yon can."

This kind of action on the part of the Government gives the country as a whole, and the Home Guard in particular, an impression that the Government are not really in earnest. We have been discussing to-day the public obligation of men and women not only in the Home Guard but in the Civil Defence Services, and I cannot help quoting the opinion of a responsible officer who has written to me as follows: Anyone can sec in Russia that it is the guerrillas and the partisans who come next in importance after the Army, not the A.R.P.; yet here 250,000 whole-time paid workers are allowed for A.R.P. and only 1,000 or 2,000 for the Home Guard. Do the authorities here rate the A.R.P. 200 times as important as the Home Guard? I do not vouch for the strict accuracy of these figures, but it is, practically speaking, the case that there are some 250,000 paid full-time workers in the Civil Defence Services, and the number given for full-time paid men in the Home Guard represents those Adjutants or other Regular officers who are serving with it. If that kind of comparison is brought, how can one hold up one's head and say that the Government are really taking the matter seriously? After all, as I indicated in the quotation I gave from the first Battalion Commander, it is not a question so much of arms but of training the men and women in the use of arms and in discipline. That is the essential point, and it is most unfortunate, as Lord Mansfield stressed, that these months have gone by during the winter when so much could have been done in the way of preliminary training, and nothing has been done.

Discipline and practice are more important than the number of rifles. We could have done a good deal during the winter months in lectures and illustrations, both actual and perhaps on the films. The great point is that the people of the country should be trusted and should be instructed in the job they have to do. Again may I quote, this time from a Sub-Area Commander? In some Government establishments training in A.R.P. is insisted upon, but Home Guard training is not allowed. Why is this? There is a large establishment of which I am aware in which it is actually the case that no time off is given for training in Home Guard duties. No opportunity is given for the Home Guard personnel of that establishment to get to their war stations. Why is this? Again—and I think this was raised by the noble and gallant Earl behind me with regard to the police—this is what is put to me on the eternal question of arms and ammunition:

"The police are given arms and are not expected to fight; we are expected to fight but are not given arms; why can't we at least have the police arms?" That is the kind of question which is in the minds of the Home Guard at the present moment.

They feel that the Government are not dealing seriously enough with that question. They feel that they are not giving them a "fair do." They feel particularly strongly at the present moment about this. A date was fixed on which they were given the opportunity of resigning, and 95 per cent. of them took the new obligation. They preferred to go on undertaking the responsibility of acting for their country and doing their best, and not take the opportunity to resign. They feel very keen and bitter resentment because with the non-introduction of compulsion they are now subjected to fines and imprisonment if they do not turn up for a parade, whereas those who resigned and those who have not joined up at all are still allowed to remain as onlookers. I should like to urge the Government as strongly as possible to reconsider this question of saying that one district only in the United Kingdom should have compulsion and that no other district should have it. Let us have equal service for everybody, equal opportunity for everybody to serve. That is really the way I should like to put it; not equal compulsion, but equal opportunity for everyone to serve.

Let us strike here and now a positive note, one of leadership, one that will lead us on, not from the point of view of protection or defence of our country or our home, but for attack against evil, one that will give to every man and woman an opportunity to take his or her part and share in that attack as a crusade. May I finally draw your Lordships' attention to the conclusion of a most remarkable contribution to The Times this morning by Sir William Beveridge? He says: A crusade cannot be conducted on a cash basis; it cannot be led to victory through timid counsels or by men of divided loyalty. Let us now wage total war not defensively for possessions but offensively against evil, not just to preserve our island home but for the ideals of tolerance, fair play, freedom of thought- and speech, kindliness and the value of the individual soul.… My Lords, that is the note which I should like the Government to sound with strong persistence, and, if necessary, with compulsion.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I put one point to him and draw his attention to a certain matter which he himself, I believe, could put right very quickly? He has only to represent it when he is next sitting in the Army Council and the matter could be put right almost at once. In the last few days I was in a very important and vulnerable area of the country, a large town near one of our great seaports. In time of invasion or a heavy raid a military officer takes over. He has never been seen, his name is not known, he arrives a complete stranger; in fact the Mayor told me he would demand his identification papers before he allowed him to enter the town hall. I suggest to my noble friend that there is something wrong there. I understand this is not a unique case. These unknown military dictators, who will take over these areas in case of invasion, must be known beforehand; they must know the important people of the district; and, above all, those people should know them. Furthermore, there should not be continual changes. Once a military gentleman is appointed to take over an area he should remain, if possible, permanently there; but above all he must go to his district and see the people there and get to know them. That is one point I wish to put to my noble friend. He could put that matter right. There is laxity somewhere.

May I also ask him this question arising out of the most interesting discussion we have had this afternoon? Your Lordships must have noticed what I may call an increasing militarization of the Civil Defence Services, the firemen and the A.R.P. wardens and so on. They are marching splendidly, they are saluting smartly and their uniforms are smart. I am sorry my noble friend Lord Faringdon is not present this afternoon to show how smart and martial are the uniforms of these services. I suggested over a year ago that they and the Home Guard should be amalgamated, but that was not proceeded with. We have had the same suggestion from the noble Earl who introduced this most valuable Motion this afternoon. The question I want to ask is this? These people are not to fight, nor are the Police.


Who says so?


They are not armed, they are not trained to fight.


Who says they are not to fight?


I think that is the Government view. They are not combatants.


Oh, no.


Well, we must have the matter cleared up. I understand they are non-combatants. They are not engaged on a military basis. They are for passive defence. I want the noble Lord, Lord Croft, if he will, to tell me this: How are you going to inform the enemy of this fact? How is the invader to be informed that these stalwart, able-bodied, smart men marching in military uniform, saluting like soldiers with fine looking uniforms, are non-combatants and are not to be touched? What steps are to be taken to ask the invader kindly to observe the rules of The Hague Convention and leave these men to carry on with passive defence?


My Lords, forgive me if I intervene. My lips are sealed, as the late Prime Minister would say, with regard to the controversial aspect of this matter, but it would be deplorable if it were to go out from this debate, which has been held in public, that there is such a thing as a non-combatant in the event of invasion of this country. It is common knowledge of every Lord Chancellor, every Lord Chief Justice, every Law Officer of the Crown that from the time of Richard I till now there is no such thing as a non-combatant in the event of an invasion. It is a very difficult thing for the Government to define, to say how you should limit the right and duty of the citizen. It is the subject of consideration, but I understand we are not to discuss it. I should not, however, for a moment like it to go forth from this House that in the event of invasion there should be such a person existing as a non-combatant. Such a notion is absolutely devoid of truth. For a thousand years it has been the duty of every citizen to defend this country, just in the same way as he would defend himself against an armed burglar. Is it to be thought for a moment that because a man says to you "I am Hitler," you take off your hat to him, whereas if he says "I am an Englishman" you can beat him over the head, as you are bound to do by law? I ask your Lordships to forgive me for intervening, but we could not allow the impression given by the noble Lord to go forth from this House. It must be made abundantly clear that there is no such thing as a non-combatant if the enemy invades these shores.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies for the Government, I would like to say one very brief word in support of the very efficient and able speech of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I do not think there is any point that any Home Guard Officer would want to raise that he did not include in his remarks. He covered everything, and I should like to support very heartily what he did say. It seems to me that the whole question hinges on the co-operation of the general public in invasion. Although we are discussing today purely Home Guard conscription, the problem does hinge on the general question of what the able-bodied people of this country can do, and should be called on by the Government to do, in the event of invasion. I understand that this particular question has been put down for discussion on the first sitting day next week as I think was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone; therefore I am not going to say anything on that subject until next week when our questions come up on the same day. I understand the Government are now considering it, and that by that time they will have definitely come to a decision on the point.

There is one other point which has not been mentioned about the Home Guard itself, and that is that there is a distinct sense of injustice amongst the older men in the Home Guard who have served from the very beginning, in regard to those others who have never come into the Force, although they are of the same age or even younger, and who from the very start have shirked Home Guard service. There is a very strong feeling that these should be brought in, and that it is an injustice that they should be allowed to escape because conscription does not apply to their area. That feeling should be fully realized by His Majesty's Government before they decide not to adopt conscription throughout the country. Conscription should apply in fairness throughout the country and not only in areas here and there. It should not be introduced in one village because there is a bridge or some other important point there, while in the next village, where there is no important point, there is no conscription. That leads to feelings of rancour and jealousy. There must be conscription over the whole area. You cannot have conscription in one village and not in the next village. That leads to ill feeling and I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when making a decision.


My Lords, this debate has ranged over a somewhat wider field than I contemplated when I read the Notice on the Order Paper, and I think it will be to the convenience of your Lordships if, before I try to reply briefly to some of the points raised in the debate which seem a little outside the scope of the question on the Paper, I give an answer to my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield. I ought to say at once that I feel it would be improper for me to enter the arena mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, which raised a protest from my noble friend Lord Mottistone, because that matter can be dealt with on the Motion which is to come before your Lordships at a later sitting. It would be better for me now to confine my remarks within the scope of the Notice on the Paper.

The noble Lord will be aware that the late Secretary of State for War in announcing the introduction of compulsory enrolment into the Home Guard, in another place on the 18th December last, stated that he intended to apply the powers of compulsory enrolment only in those areas where it was necessary. He went on: I do not believe that it will ever be necessary to apply these powers universally, but I cannot disregard the fact that there is a shortage of personnel in some of the operationally more important areas, and in those areas particularly, I shall make use of the powers conferred upon me. He added that he did not intend to apply compulsion except where there was a sufficiency of weapons. Steps have been taken to determine those areas in which it is operationally necessary to introduce compulsory enrolment for the Home Guard and, as many of your Lordships will be aware, my honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office announced in another place on March II last that it had been decided to introduce compulsory enrolment in Civil Defence Regions Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 12, which correspond approximately to the Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Commands where steps are actively going forward. Compulsory enrolment will be introduced into further areas as and when it becomes necessary, having regard to the weapons available.

Arrangements were completed last month under which part-time members of the Local Authority Civil Defence General Services, other than the casualty services, will be permitted where they can be spared to join the Home Guard, List II, which is the second category of the Home Guard, under conditions enabling them to continue in Civil Defence service but to receive Home Guard training on the understanding that, if the Home Guard musters on a threat of invasion, they will be called upon for military duty only if fighting is imminent in the neighbourhood or if, in the opinion of the Civil Defence authority, they can be spared from their Civil Defence duties. Men who want to volunteer are welcome and Commands have been instructed to make use of their services wherever they can, though regard must be had to the essential need to enrol as many men as possible who will be immediately available on mustering. In general, I find that the plans by which Civil Defence workers can become members of the Home Guard have been warmly welcomed in the country and, I think, by your Lordships' House.


If the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt for a moment, may I ask who is the authority to decide whether they can go into the Home Guard? Who is to decide if they can be spared?


That is purely a matter for the head of the local Civil Defence authority in that particular area. The Civil Defence Services (including the National Fire Service) and the Police Auxiliaries are staffed for the most part by persons who enrolled voluntarily either for whole-time or part-time service. All have been placed under obligation, by Orders made under Defence Regulation 29B, or, in the case of the National Fire Service by Regulations, to continue in the Civil Defence employment until their services are dispensed with by the competent Civil Defence authority. Compulsion for part-time service in fire prevention duties was applied under the Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order, 1941, and the Civil Defence Duties (Compulsory Enrolment) Order, 1941, which were made in January, 1941. The National Service Act, 1941, which was passed into law in April of that year, provided that those then liable for military service might, instead, be enrolled compulsorily for Civil Defence in a whole-time capacity in an organization which had been declared by the Minister of Home Security to be a Civil Defence force for the purposes of the Act. The Civil Defence Forces are the Police War Reserve, the National Fire Service, the Civil Defence Reserve and certain mobile reserves controlled by county councils.

The National Service (No. 2) Act, 1941, which became law in December, 1941, raised the age of liability for military service for men to 51, and made women up to the same age liable for service in the Women's Auxiliary Services or in Civil Defence. Women can be enrolled compulsorily under this Act for whole-time service in a Civil Defence force. A new Defence Regulation—29BA—was made in January, 1942, which enables the Minister of Labour and National Service to direct men or women to enter whole-time (paid) service in specified Civil Defence Services, not being Civil Defence forces for the purposes of the National Service Acts, or part-time (unpaid) service either in one of the specified Civil Defence Services or in a Civil Defence force. Some thousands of men for the National Fire Service and the Police War Reserve have been recruited under the National Service Acts. Powers under the Acts will be used as necessary to recruit women for civil defence. Regulation 29BA will be used initially, as regards civil defence, for the purpose of directing men and women to enter part-time service in those areas where the need arises.

Turning to other specific points which were raised in the course of the debate, perhaps I may be permitted briefly to reply, although I did not receive any notice of some of them which, as I have mentioned, were not quite within the scope of the Notice on the paper. My noble friend who moved the Motion referred to the rural areas in particular, and he spoke of the number of men who had left the Home Guard when the announcement was made with regard to the 48 hours monthly service. I think he suggested that a considerable number had left for that reason. I can assure him that the number was not large. It is true, as, of course, we always realized, that there was a large number of younger men in the Home Guard who, about now, would become eligible for the Fighting Services. Others, as the noble Lord mentioned, have passed the age for active work in the Home Guard. But, on the whole, I am glad to be able to assure my noble friend, and he on his part, I am sure, will be glad to hear, that there has not been any serious drop in the figures relating to the Home Guard, and we have every hope of making up very shortly any drop that there has been.

With regard to the suggestion of delay concerning the exact details of the new measures for compulsion, I would point out to my noble friend that this was not a question which could be dealt with in a hurry. General Headquarters had to make a case, as it was not considered, at that time, desirable to introduce a change except where it was regarded as being operationally necessary. This meant considerable investigation which could not be completed until after the 16th February. It was then for the Ministry of Labour machinery to be brought into force, and the Commands were only then able to tell the Ministry of Labour representatives what numbers were wanted in each village and town. Now the noble Lord referred to the fact that counties in the vicinity of the Eastern and Southern portions of our coastline only were being mentioned in this original decision, but I want to assure him that Scotland, while it is not included in these areas scheduled for compulsory enrolment, will be one of those cases which will be considered if compulsion is to be extended. Scottish opinion has been expressed, and we are fully aware of the views which are held in Scotland. Full weight has been given to this opinion, and discussions on that very subject are in process at the present time.

The noble Lord asked to what extent the Home Guard will be increased under compulsion? That must depend upon operational necessities and the character of the places where compulsion is introduced. It is no good—and the noble Lord will be the first to bear me out in this—in one particular area suddenly to have a flood of men to an extent which you know is greater than the number that you can reasonably be expected to arm. You cannot have it both ways. We have had criticisms in the past to the effect that there were not sufficient weapons for the whole of the Home Guard, and another time it was said: "Why don't you throw the recruiting centres wide open?" I think all noble Lords connected with the Home Guard will agree with me that it is not desirable that we should have a flood of recruits greater than the number we can train and arm. The noble Lord did not mention that he was going to discuss other questions concerning weapons. I should only like to say that I should think most members of the Home Guard would agree that where you have not got a full complement of any particular type of weapon, any weapon is better than none.

I think I can bear out what the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, stated with regard to Russia. We have coming in continuously official information from Russian sources, and one reads also, of course, documents concerning what is going on in Russia which have been published to the world. From these one learns that guerrillas are highly trained to attack the enemy continually behind the lines. Our Home Guard ought to be in every respect as effective as our Russian Allies in that way. I venture to think that if you have a bayonet it is a useful weapon, and if that bayonet is lengthened by a staff or stave it is a still more useful weapon. It is a mistake to allow the idea to go forward that you cannot resist the enemy under conditions of night fighting and street fighting without the most modern weapons. I most cordially agree with those members of your Lordships' House who have said so strongly that in these circumstances their view is: "Give me bombs; give me any weapon if I have not got the most up-to-date modern submachine gun."

The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, stated that since he last raised the question of Civil Defence workers and the Home Guard a great deal had happened, and he must be glad that a great step has been taken in this direction. Now it is possible for volunteers to come from these Services and to be welcomed into the Home Guard. He mentioned two or three factory areas where the organization was very incomplete, and realizing as I do, in view of the possibility of invasion, the importance of this subject, I hope that my noble friend will at any time pass to me information of that kind. I will certainly see it goes to the proper quarter for immediate consideration. Once or twice before he has helped us by sending suggestions along, and we are always very glad to receive information from such a quarter seeing what know- ledge the noble Earl possesses concerning Home Guard service and Civil Defence work.

It was suggested by the noble Lord, that units should be increased in their strength all over the country. I need hardly say that I share his view. We would like to have the Home Guard very much larger; we would like to see great masses of our population armed, if possible. But he himself has an important duty in the Home Guard, and he will probably agree that it is wiser, in the long run, not to try to welcome any very large number of men into that force unless you can properly train, equip and arm them. It would lead, I think, to the discouragement of the Home Guard if their weapons were taken away from them for any long period of time to train masses of people outside their ranks, and I do not think that it would be helpful to the general defence of the country.

The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, spoke of the decline in numbers in a certain unit. I know that he will accept my assurance that that is certainly not typical of the Force as a whole. The strength of the Force as a whole has been maintained at such a satisfactory pitch that I am convinced that, when these new measures come into operation, the total numbers will be as great as ever, and probably greater. On a previous occasion the noble Earl urged very eloquently that we should introduce compulsion for the Home Guard. I think he will realize that at any rate the principle has been accepted, although he would like to see it more widely applied than has so far been the case. In his speech he referred to the fact that there would be men in the Civil Defence Services who would not immediately be able to take their part in the work of the Home Guard, because they would be in the second category. I think there should be no shadow of doubt about this: men in this category who join the Home Guard will be released to take their part if invasion comes anywhere near their district. I think that that is obviously likely to be what will be done. There can be no doubt whatever that they are expected to fight; otherwise they would not be welcome in the Home Guard. On the other hand, if invasion takes place in the north of England and not in the south, obviously the Civil Defence Services in the south will carry on; they may be under air attack and have to carry out the various duties for which they were originally recruited.

The noble Earl made a comparison between the number of paid men in the Home Guard and in the Civil Defence Services, but I venture to think that he did not mean that as much more than a debating point, because, after all, the Home Guard is a part-time organization. Nearly all the members of the Home Guard are able—no doubt under great strain, and most patriotically—to carry on their normal avocations, whereas men who are permanently called up for the Civil Defence Services are in a position resembling that of soldiers in the Regular Army; they have to be available at all times throughout the year.


My Lords, the point which I was trying to make was the need for training. We cannot train the Home Guard efficiently unless we have a sufficient number of men who can give their whole time to that work. As a rule the only available staff for a battalion is an adjutant, and probably a permanent staff instructor. There is an urgent need for more men of experience who can give their full time to the training of Home Guard battalions.


I did not understand that that was the argument behind the figures which the noble Earl put forward, but I entirely share his view, and I can give him the assurance that in fact more instructors are being provided, and that it will be our constant endeavour to provide fully qualified instructors for the kind of work to which the noble Earl refers.

I should like to say in conclusion that I for one take no exception whatever to the temper of this debate, to the high resolve which has been evident in so many speeches, and to the ruthless character of our defence policy which your Lordships would like to see. I think it all shows that we do appreciate the urgency of the times. To the noble Earl who quoted a very eloquent passage about Ministers of the Crown, I should like to say that, when I heard that poem, I thought that if this country was not prepared and did suffer grievous blows, would it much matter who disappeared? This is a matter of life and death, and it is imperative that we should impress upon every man and woman in this country the fact that this land is now threatened with greater perils than ever before in our history. Although noble Lords may have been disappointed at times at the slowness of production, due to the years of pacifism and of laxity in the matter of national defence, the Fighting Services felt that just as strongly. Those supplies are now coming forward, and the Regular Army is undoubtedly now very well equipped to meet any enemy anywhere. I am sure that noble Lords who are interested in the Home Guard will agree with me that we have made every possible effort to see that weapons come forward, and we have every hope that the position will improve from day to day.


My Lords, it would be idle for me to pretend that I am other than completely dissatisfied with the courteous reply of the noble Lord. That feeling, I am confident, will be shared by every member of your Lordships' House, and by all those outside it who are connected with the administration of the Home Guard. The noble Lord has, alas, only too quickly acquired the Front Bench facility of giving a pleasant answer but not replying to the question raised. I can assure your Lordships that the answers given by the noble Lord, Lord Croft, would not very long ago have been torn to shreds by the honourable and gallant Member for Bournemouth, Sir Henry Page-Croft, in another place. The poacher has indeed turned gamekeeper, but I prefer him as a poacher!

Let me give an example of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply. The noble Lord attempted to explain why three months elapsed before anything was done about putting the promised compulsion for the Home Guard into operation, and he said that this Command and that Command had to be consulted, and that all these things had to be measured and weighed. I can only say that in matters of very much less importance answers are demanded of and received from the Home Guard in a very much shorter space of time. If I may take a personal instance as an example, some months ago I was delighted to receive, one Monday morning, a slip of paper telling me to report at latest on Thursday how many of each of four different kinds of bayonet and three different kinds of bayonet scabbard were held by my Company. The information was duly obtained—heaven knows why it was wanted, but that does not matter. All that had to be done on the question of compulsion was for each Battalion Commander to be asked to reply within a week how many men he thought he needed to carry out the operational duties which he was required to perform. In a week the whole of those answers could have been at Command, and in ten days they could have been at the War Office, so that, if the War Office and the Government are worthy of their salt, the decision could have been given in a fortnight. I am afraid that His Majesty's Government, or some members of it, have still to acquire the mental agility required to cope with total warfare. I must say that a suggestion that, if we cannot get the most up-to-date weapons, we should be satisfied with those which were not novelties at the time of the Siege of Troy, leave me very unenthusiastic indeed.

I do not wish to take up more of your Lordships' time, but I do ask the Government to consider once more, and very seriously, the undoubted fact that in every operational area in this country the Home Guard is in need of more men. Not only the Battalion Commanders in the Fife zone, but also those in Angus and Perth, have all asked for conscription, and yet they have not been given it. As I have said already, and as I think will be admitted by everybody, it is the Battalion Commanders who know better than anyone else what is required of them. I cannot regard the reply given to-day by His Majesty's Government as other than entirely unsatisfactory, nor can the reference to Russian guerrillas be taken seriously. Russia is an enormous country, with a great extent of territory which can never be other than lightly held by the Germans, and where behind the lines guerrillas can and do work with great success. Conditions like that do not prevail in this country, and no comparison is possible. This not being a hostile Motion, nor one intended to embarrass His Majesty's Government, I do not propose of course to proceed to a Division, but once more I would urge the Government to re-examine this problem, being confident that the anxiety that I and the other noble Lords who have been kind enough to support me have expressed to-day is felt not only throughout the whole of the Home Guard, but also throughout the country as well. This matter has been trifled with too long: the position is serious, and will become more so. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.