HL Deb 17 November 1942 vol 125 cc45-70

VISCOUNT ELIBANK rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the immediate necessity for increasing the total strength of the Home Guard and to other matters connected with that force; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the first part of the Motion which stands in my name raises a very clear and simple issue. That is the immediate necessity for increasing the total strength of the Home Guard. When first formed the Home Guard were recruited according to population and not in accordance with the local tactical necessities, which were then barely known. This was to some extent rectified when compulsory enrolment was introduced, but, even so, the advantage of compulsion in some districts was curtailed owing to recruitment being limited by the ceiling. That ceiling in the districts was not governed so much by tactical considerations but by the total number of Home Guard authorized, a number which, we were told by the Prime Minister some fortnight or three weeks ago in another place, reached a figure of from 1,500,000 to 1,750,000.

In some of the large cities, it may be die case that the numbers of the Home Guard already enrolled and trained may suffice. I do not know, but I do know that in certain country districts, especially in Scotland, the numbers of Home Guard available for defence are insufficient for the tactical roles laid down for them, and these require immediate increase. As the Home Guard have developed, the importance of their role has so increased that each unit is expected to be self-supporting as regards auxiliary services, non- combatant services; consequently more non-combatants, such as signallers, dispatch-riders and runners, intelligence personnel, first-aid workers, etc., are now required, and this proportion in the scattered country districts rises as high as 10 per cent., or over, of the total local ceiling. All these non-combatants have to be found within the ceiling permitted by the total number of the Home Guard. If the total ceiling, therefore, of the Home Guard is to-day say, 1,500,000 to 1,750,000, then from 150,000 to 175,000 of these men are employed on so-called non-combatant duties, and they are not, generally speaking, available for active fighting, though probably each one has been trained in the use of a rifle or shotgun or, possibly, in throwing a grenade. As I see the position, members of the Home Guard fill varying military roles. Obviously, they are not called upon to perform exactly the same military role in the big cities as in the country districts, or in the smaller towns and villages which merge into the country districts. At the time the Home Guard were formed, and up till quite recently, local units, in many instances, were meant in the event of invasion to take the first shock of the enemy's attack, and subsequently to supplement Regular units where these exist. A very different situation, however, has now arisen. As soon as the so-called Second Front in Europe was decided upon, and a larger number of troops sent to the Middle East and elsewhere, obviously, with the denudation, and the probable early further denudation, of the Forces held in this country, the Home Guard had assumed an even more important role than they held when first formed, so far as home defence is concerned.

For that reason, and for the reasons which I have previously given, I strongly urge the Government to raise the total strength or the total ceiling of the Home Guard, so as to enable the local ceilings to be raised to the extent necessary to carry out the tactical roles laid down for the Home Guard in country and other districts. I further recommend that the necessary men should be enrolled on a compulsory basis, and that they should be trained, armed and equipped as soon as possible. It may be suggested that these men are not available; that they have already been swallowed up either in the Home Guard or in local Civil Defence units. I have no hesitation in differing from that view. In the first place, there are numbers of men of Home Guard age who have still not been enrolled either in the Home Guard or in Civil Defence units. Secondly, there is a certain proportion of men in the Civil Defence units who might well be enrolled in the Home Guard, but who are retained at present wholly in Civil Defence units. I know of districts where this is the case, and where it is not unusual for there to be three or four times as many men in the Civil Defence units—fire guards, wardens, and so on—as in the local Home Guard.

I admit that it is difficult to lay down the exact proportions of men who should be in the Home Guard and the Civil Defence units in any district, but I believe that that question ought to be settled as quickly as possible, and I would submit a recommendation to the Government by which I believe that it could be settled. I suggest that in each area a military representative should meet with a representative of the Regional Commissioner to consider this question in each district of the area, and to try to come to some conclusion upon it. Where there is any difference of opinion between the two, the question should be remitted to higher arbiters in the shape of the Regional Commissioner himself and the higher military representative in the area, for consideration and decision. I believe that in many districts there would be very little difficulty in arriving at a just distribution, and, where difficulty did exist, we might hope that with a very small amount of goodwill an adjustment could be made.

In this connexion, I also wish to emphasize my view that, except in special cases in districts where conditions lend themselves to the practice, the duties and training of the Home Guard should not be mixed up with the duties and training of the Civil Defence Services. I know that this matter was discussed in the House not long ago, and I do not intend to devote a long time to it, nor do I wish to make it in any way a controversial question; but, when dealing with the question of the Home Guard as a whole, I think it is impossible not to say something on this point. If the Home Guard are to be properly trained for their role of military defence, then, with the limited time necessarily available to them, and having regard to the prescribed number of hours of drills and attendances, they must, in my opinion and judging by what I have seen, devote the whole of their time to their training as Home Guardsmen. Their duties are becoming more onerous and more important every day, and it is essential that they should be thoroughly trained in them to the utmost possible extent. The same applies very largely to the Civil Defence Services also.

I do not rule out the desirability of the Home Guard having a knowledge of fire-fighting, so far as dealing with incendiary bombs and the simpler forms of dealing with fires generally are concerned, and in fact those things come into their ordinary training. I do not rule out the advantage of the male members of the Civil Defence units being made acquainted with the rudiments of the handling of a rifle and the throwing of Mills grenades and Molotov bombs. I hope that my noble friend Lord Mottistone will feel, therefore, that I am not entirely out of sympathy with all that he has urged in this House during the last two or three months. For ail practical purposes, however, I believe it is essential and better for the country that each branch of defence should be fully trained in its own duties rather than partially in its own and partially in those of another branch. I should also like to emphasize that the large majority of the members of the Home Guard, and many of those engaged in the Civil Defence Services, are already fully employed in civil occupations and cannot afford to devote more time to becoming proficient both as Home Guardsmen and as fire guards, wardens, or members of one of the other Civil Defence Services.

Having urged the need for an increase in the total number of Home Guard, and having given my reasons for that as briefly as I could, let me now pass to the second part of my Motion, which deals with other matters connected with the Home Guard. The first point that I wish to raise is the provision of arms and ammunition for the Home Guard. I do not wish to say anything on this point which may help the enemy, and I do not wish to belittle what has already been accomplished in this respect having regard to the very large calls which have been made upon armaments, munitions and equipment for our Fighting Services here and overseas and for supply to Russia. Never- theless, I do wish to urge that the Home Guard should be more heavily armed and munitioned as and when circumstances permit. I have attended several invasion exercises in the last two or three months, and I have been particularly struck in these exercises by the superiority which the Regular Forces possess in armaments, and especially in heavy armaments, in comparison with the Home Guard. However well sited their defences may be, in these circumstances the Home Guard cannot prove as effective in defence as they should be, and I should like—certainly in the country districts where military forces are not so available—to see these Home Guard units provided with heavier armaments and equipment than they have to-day.

There is another point to which I wish to refer, and that is the question of the provision of adequate numbers of live grenades for practising purposes. This is very important. If accidents are to be avoided, and if Home Guardsmen are to be useful in actual warfare, every Home Guard ought to have thrown at least two or three live grenades, besides practising with ordinary dummies. We all know that much greater care has to be taken in handling and throwing live grenades than is the case with dummies. A grenade is a very useful weapon of offence which is valuable for any defensive purpose, especially in the hands of such forces as the Home Guard.

I wish also to raise the question of the present procedure in cases of prosecution of members of the Home Guard for absence from parade. The procedure is so very complicated, cumbersome, and involved that I cannot believe that, as a general rule, Home Guard officers will have the inclination or the time to devote to bringing prosecutions under it. So much is this the case that, should the Regulations be retained in their present form they are likely, so far as I can see—and I have looked into them—to become a dead letter, and men will continue to absent themselves from parade with impunity. This, of course, causes much discontent among those, whether volunteers or men who joined compulsorily, who attend and carry out their duties regularly. What is really wanted is a simple procedure under which, when the Company Commander has warned the Home Guardsman when and where the drills are to take place and the number of hours he is expected to attend per month, the man can be prosecuted if he fails to do a reasonable number of drills. Both the men and the officers would understand that procedure, which is fair and quite simple. I am not asking my noble friend to answer this to-day, unless perhaps he is able to do so, but I hope he will look into it, and endeavour to have the procedure simplified, because it is really useless for its purpose as it is drafted to-day.

Another point in the same connexion that I wish to bring to my noble friend's attention concerns the grounds upon which a Home Guardsman may be discharged from the Home Guard. At the present time there are two grounds, as I understand: one is ill health, and the other is change of occupation which involves longer hours of work. Those two grounds are all right; but I submit that there ought to be two further grounds—namely, unsatisfactory conduct and general unfitness to remain a member of the Home Guard. I make that suggestion because a useless member of a fighting force is perhaps more dangerous to his friends than he is to his enemies. There is also a further point which I had informed my noble friend that I proposed to raise. First of all, there is the question of pay and allowances when a Home Guardsman is mobilized in any part of the country in the event of invasion. I communicated with my noble friend about this. He tells me that I have used the wrong word, and that the word is "mustering." Well, it comes to the same thing. But I should like to hear from him that full provision has been made for pay and allowances going on in the event of conflict with the enemy. I should like to know exactly what the position of officers of the Home Guard is in this respect.

I come to another point—rather a controversial one, I believe. I do not wish it to be controversial, but it has become controversial. It is the question of the treatment of officers of the Home Guard generally. First of all, there is the question of travelling third-class instead of first-class. That point has been raised in your Lordships' House before, and I think that submissions were made to His Majesty's Government at that time—I rather think the question was raised from the Labour Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—that no differentiation should be made between officers of the Home Guard and officers of the Regular Army in this respect. Many arguments have been put forward, but I think the most important one is that, whereas an Adjutant of a Home Guard battalion who is a Regular officer is entitled to travel first-class—indeed, I suppose he must, if there is room for him in a carriage—the Colonel of the battalion from whom he must take his orders does not travel first-class but third-class unless he himself pays the difference between the two fares. That seems to me a most curious and inverted way of looking at these things. Therefore I again urge the War Office to look into this matter and see whether an anomaly like that cannot be adjusted.

That brings me to the question of the treatment of officers in military hospitals. When the Home Guard is mobilized, and something happens to an officer when he is serving on his ordinary duty—it may be during an invasion exercise or anything of that sort—he has to be sent to a military hospital or civil hospital, but if to a military hospital he is then put into an ordinary private ward. I happened to possess incontestable proof of this. I do not propose to read my proof to your Lordships' House, but you can take it from me that what I have said is perfectly true. That is all wrong. I feel that most of your Lordships as well as the mass of the people of this country would be of the opinion, quite apart from members of the Home Guard themselves, that if the officers of the Home Guard are wounded on duty, and have to receive hospital treatment, they should be received in the military hospitals of this country upon exactly the same terms as officers of the Regular Forces.

This is not a question of class differentiation. All classes are contained in His Majesty's Army to-day—in all the Fighting Services, in fact, as well as in the Home Guard. You have men who might be regarded as those who might hold His Majesty's Commission serving in the ranks, and many very admirable, worthy, and excellent men are serving with officers' Commissions who in the days of the small Army might not have received those Commissions. Therefore, this is not a question of class at all. It is a question of the ordinary procedure of the Fighting Forces, that when officers and men are wounded, and they go to a military hospital, they go to the particular wards set apart for their particular ranks. I am not going to say anything more about this to-day. I am going to ask my noble friend (Lord Croft), if he cannot answer me to-day—and I doubt if he will be able to answer me fully—to place this matter, with all the ability and eloquence which he commands, before the Army Council and see whether it is not possible to put this question on a proper footing, the footing which the Home Guard desire and which I am sure the people of this country would consider right.

That is my final point. But I should like to say this in conclusion. Many stones have been hurled at those in the War Office and in the country who have been responsible for building up and administering the Home Guard since its inception. I have made critical suggestions myself from time to time, but in no hostile sense, and I should like to take the opportunity to-day to pay a real tribute to those who have been concerned in this great work—a work which has been accomplished in spite of very many difficulties and in a very short period, and a work which has given this country, very largely on a voluntary system, an organization consisting of nearly 1,750,000 men who to-day form a solid bulwark of defence and a menace to any form of invasion which might be staged against us by the enemy. This has admittedly been a splendid feat, but it could not have been accomplished had it not been for the intense patriotism and self-sacrifice displayed by all those who are serving in the Home Guard. When the war is over the Home Guard will be eminently justified in looking back with pride on the important and patriotic part they will have taken in the great struggle for world liberty. In the meantime all possible should be done to help to increase and improve their fighting efficiency, and it is in this spirit and with that object that I ask the Government to consider my representations to-day. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, this is one of those sad occasions on which the best of friends must part company. I hate to find myself in the opposite camp not only to the noble Viscount who has just sat down, but also to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. I am not so much interested in the question of the numbers or the equipment of the Home Guard. On those points I am largely in accord with the speech that has just been delivered. I must say that I think the difficulties which have occurred due to the compulsory nature of service in the Home Guard now, have been in accordance with ray expectations when I opposed that compulsion. What I want to protest against at this moment is the introduction of class distinction into that admirable force, the Home Guard. I should like to know, first of all, from the noble Lord, whether there is any appreciable demand from the Home Guard for first-class fares for officers travelling by train. I do not believe there is. The Home Guard is essentially a brotherhood. My chauffeur is an officer in the Home Guard, and I was till recently a private—a gentleman guardsman—in the Home Guard. We are one in the defence of our land. What are these first-class fares to be used for? In ordinary life the officer in the Home Guard does not wear uniform. In fact he is not allowed to wear uniform. The only occasions on which he can travel in uniform are those on which, on certain days, he is going out for manœuvres or other exercises in the neighbourhood in which he lives. Then perhaps he may have a short journey to make. It does not matter in London in any case, because everybody travels third-class within 50 miles of London. But there may be certain cases where Home Guard officers have to travel with their men. Do you want to have a Home Guard officer watching his men piling into the third-class compartments while he gets into the first-class?

The work done by the War Office in recent months in trying to break down class distinctions in the Army, and to bring this spirit of brotherhood of the Home Guard into the different companies and regiments of the Army, has been admirable. We do not want to break that down in the Home Guard. With all our dear old-fashioned ideas of a thousand years ago, when Lord Elibank and I were young, this sort of class distinction might have been all right. Those ideas are now out of date end obsolete, and the sooner they are removed not merely from the Home Guard but from the Army itself, the better. I rather hope that, before this war is over, we shall see the abolition of first-class altogether. As it is the only people who travel first-class in this country to-day are the people whose fares are being paid for them by somebody else. Lord Elibank pointed with something like horror to the terrible picture of an Adjutant in the Regular Army attached to a Home Guard bat-talian having to go up with the Commanding Officer of the battalion to see some functionary at the War Office, the Colonel travelling third-class and the Adjutant first-class. I do not know what the Colonel would say to that; but it reminded me very much of what used to happen in the House of Commons when we had our first-class fares paid to our constituency and our wives had to pay and travel third. Such a thing inevitably resulted in our travelling third-class with the superior officer. The difficulties that arise directly you start making these out-of-date class distinctions are innumerable. I hope, therefore, that the War Office will stand firm and preserve for the Home Guard the idea with which it started, that of a common brotherhood. The night watch of the Home Guard, that splendid brotherhood of the stars, I regard as one of the finest results of this war. I hope the War Office will do nothing to imperil it—on the contrary, that they will do everything to see that the spirit which permeates the Home Guard is to be found also in the other Armed Forces.


My Lords, I rise only to correct a misapprehension under which my noble friend who has just spoken seems to be suffering. I was the originator of this Motion in the House, as Lord Elibank has reminded your Lordships, and I did it as a member of the rank and file of the Home Guard. If all officers of all the Services preferred to travel third-class or if, as my noble friend suggests, all first-class carriages were abolished, we should have no complaint at all to make. What we object to is the discrimination that is made. Officers of the Fire Brigade, of the A.T.S., of the W.R.N.S. and the W.A.A.F., all the officers of the Fighting Services, and all the newest subalterns in the Army travel first-class, and we object very much to the distinction that is made between them and officers of the Home Guard. When the Home Guard units are travelling out to the ranges to train we all travel together, and there is no complaint whatsoever about that. It is when officers have to make long journeys on their official duties and find this distinction made against them that I think there is justifiable resentment. If my noble friend travelled as much about the country as I do by railway trains he would know that his ideal of a one-class travel is coming about unofficially and irregularly by the crowding of people holding third-class tickets into first-class carriages. That need not worry him, as it does not worry me, but I think this separating of the officers of the Home Guard from all other officers is objectionable. It is a hang-over or survival from the original suspicion with which, I am afraid, the Home Guard was regarded in certain quarters.


My Lords, I think it has been extremely interesting to your Lordships to hear arguments on the Labour Benches as to who should travel first-class and who should travel third, but I do not propose to enter into the discussion on that aspect of the subject because we have heard a good deal about it, and perhaps enough. I would like to say a few words with reference to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Elibank dealing largely with the strength of the Home Guard. I am not going to argue about the points which my noble friend raised with reference to that particular matter, but I would like to say that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood—if I might do so without raising controversy which one does not want to do to-day—who said that the introduction of compulsory service into the Home Guard had ruined the Home Guard. I was always of the opinion, and I have stated it in your Lordships' House from time to time, that that would be the case, but your Lordships thought better of it, and introduced it and there it is. It is no use crying over spilt milk now. But the strength of the Home Guard to-day would, I believe, have been greater if it had not been for the introduction of compulsory service.

However, let that pass; it does not matter to-day. What I feel is that when we are thinking of the strength of the Home Guard there is a matter which might well be considered by His Majesty's Government, and that is introducing and forming a reserve of the Home Guard. There are many of us who have served in the Home Guard since its beginning. As time goes on we are getting older and becoming less active, and we cannot do the work which younger men can do. Still we are, in our own estimation, capable of doing a good deal of useful work for the country, and if a reserve were formed of those of us who are considered to be, and are, over the statutory age for the Home Guard, there are many duties which we could usefully perform for the country in a state of emergency. Do not let us forget that when the Home Guard was formed it was done to meet an emergency. What was the emergency? Invasion. Every man who was capable of using a rifle and who had had any military experience was asked to come forward and give his services in the defence of his country. Crowds of us did come forward, and we formed a great force, now called the Home Guard. Now many of us are being discharged because we have arrived at a certain age, but we are still, I believe, capable of doing something. We may not be able to swim the Channel or climb Mont Blanc, but there are many other things we could do in an emergency.

Supposing an emergency arises then we of the reserve, composed of older people, could be used for guarding convoys, guarding many posts all over the country, controlling the civilian population in case of hasty evacuation, and performing many other duties such as could be well performed by older men who have had long experience in the Army, who understand discipline and who can act themselves and carry out orders in an intelligent and practical way. The forming of such a reserve should, I think, be considered by His Majesty's Government. It would cost nothing at all. We should receive no pay, no emoluments, no anything. We should be allowed to retain our uniform for what it is worth, and after two years service in the Home Guard, as many of your Lordships understand, the uniform which was first served out is not worth very much to-day. But we are prepared, and we would be proud to form a reserve. I do not wish to say anything more about that.

There were many points which my noble friend Viscount Elibank raised, which I am quite sure my noble friend Lord Croft will answer. Therefore I will not go into all these various questions. I am quite sure they can be answered, and I believe I could answer them if I took up your Lordships' time, but naturally I do not want to do that in view of the fact that my noble friend Lord Croft will reply to the debate. I would, however, like to say a word about one fresh point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Elibank. He spoke about officers being admitted into wards of hospitals not reserved for officers. It has been my fate in the course of many long years in the Army to be admitted into hospitals, and in recollections going back, anyhow, to the Boer War, I can remember very well being admitted into what were called hospitals with men in the ranks. I was very proud to be with my men. We were all in the same room.


I think my noble friend is unwittingly misrepresenting me. I was not talking about officers being admitted into hospitals and perhaps having to go into the men's wards because the hospitals were overflowing. What I did say was that the fiat had gone forth that no Home Guard officers should be admitted into officers' wards. That is quite a different thing. Of course, officers may have to go into ordinary wards if other wards are full, but Home Guard officers are not to be permitted to go into officers' wards at all.


I naturally will not say that my noble friend is wrong, but the spirit of the whole thing is wrong. I am a private in the Home Guard, but I have been an officer all my life. What does it matter to me whether I am in a ward with men or not? It is a small matter. It is inevitable, when you introduce a new force like the Home Guard, that you should find difficulties and misunderstandings and mistakes being made by those who organize the force and by the rank and file. You cannot help it when you form a new force like this in a hasty manner; but those of us who have joined the Home Guard as privates should do what we can to minimize all these difficulties and not increase them. It is our duty to do what we can to help things and not to make more difficulties. It is the opinion of Some people to-day that the danger of invasion has receded. Although that opinion may be held, yet in view of the attack in the Western Mediterranean I think we should not relax our efforts in any way. On the contrary, we should do all we can to close our ranks and sink any differences which we have in the Home Guard in view of the possible dangers to come. I think we have a great chance, especially those of us who sit in your Lordships' House and have been proud to serve as privates in the Home Guard. We have an opportunity to-day of converting the words Noblesse oblige into action. Let us do all we can to get the Home Guard respected not only in this country, but, if the time comes, by the enemy.


My Lords, may I first be permitted to say in connexion with the speech to which we have just listened, that I do indeed appreciate the words of my noble friend the Earl of Clanwilliam, and if it is not impertinent I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for the devoted patriotism which he has displayed ever since the Local Defence Volunteers were first formed. I am sure all your Lordships will recognize that it has been an inspiring example to all who have seen the noble Earl going out night after night and day after day, bearing the burden of sentry duty in all weathers. Although I did not realize that he was going to raise rather different issues from those in the Motion on the Paper, I can assure him that any words coming from a man with his service will certainly receive every consideration, and I will see that his remarks are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War.

At the outset, in reply to the Motion of my noble friend Viscount Elibank, I may say that I fully appreciate the spirit in which he offered them, and especially I should like to thank him for the defence of the War Office in his concluding sentence. I hope that events are now proving that the War Office is not far behind any other Service in organization for great events the world over. I am in full agreement with the views that my noble friend expressed in the first part of his speech in so far as the increase in ceiling is concerned. But it may be for your Lordships' convenience if I explain what the Home Guard ceiling actually is about which there has been a good deal of discussion and misunderstanding. The ceiling is, in fact, the establishment of the Home Guard: the figure at which it is considered desirable and possible to maintain its strength, and as conditions change so the ceiling has been altered from time to time.

Some people have asked why it is necessary to have a ceiling at all. I will give your Lordships the reasons. First, the equipment, clothing and armament of the Home Guard must be planned many months ahead. Nobody can expect the War Office or the Ministry of Supply to be able to handle increases which may involve hundreds of thousands of men unless they have laid down a target figure and planned the provision of material in advance. Even then, accidents happen and deliveries are not made up to time. I am sure that nobody would want a repetition of the difficult days of 1940, when men flocked in such very great numbers to join the Home Guard that it was impossible at the time to provide for the equipment of their needs. It took many months, as your Lordships remember, to overtake arrears. Secondly, now that compulsory enrolment is in force, the evidence indicates that direction into the Home Guard is going very well. The pleasing feature is that old volunteers have welcomed directed men and the directed men have assimilated the spirit of the Home Guard, so that there really is no kind of difference. The whole force is working very happily together, so I am informed, whenever I spend my Sunday, as I frequently do, with the Home Guard. The Ministry of Labour comes into the picture with regard to compulsory enrolment, and it requires to know the numbers in each locality which it is expected to find. Those numbers must bear some relation, of course, to the man-power available.

Thirdly, and to my mind, the most important reason, is the operational one. The employment of the Home Guard under the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, is governed by local defence needs and requirements, which have to be prepared for each town and each village according to the number of men who are available. These schemes must be based on a certain number of men, a definite number of men. If the numbers are liable to fluctuate there can be no finality in the defence schemes, and Home Guard Commanders will be placed in the position, which we all desire to avoid, where their operational role is constantly being revised and altered. The same considerations apply to the Anti-Aircraft Home Guard. Batteries of the Anti-Aircraft Home Guard cannot be properly manned unless the numbers required are fixed and their strength is maintained.

I think your Lordships will all agree that the numbers required in the Home Guard must be fixed. We must know where we stand, whether you describe the process of fixation by the word "ceiling" or by any other name, and to increase the ceiling means, therefore, to raise the strength of the Home Guard. The ceiling has already been raised, and as I stated in the House recently in reply to Lord Mottistone—on the 29th September, I think it was—the strength of the Home Guard is now very much higher than it has ever been. I think the actual words which I used were: "It has been increased by many tens of thousands." We do not want to be more accurate than that. There is no reason to help the enemy by giving him exact numbers. Even since I spoke, only just a little more than a month ago, it has increased—the strength of the Home Guard has increased by over 40,000 men, the equivalent in numbers of two very strong divisions. And this, my Lords, in spite of the fact that such numbers of young Home Guard men have passed on into the Regular Army and other Fighting Services when their call-up has come along.

I am only able to tell your Lordships to-day that a further review of Home Guard requirements has just been completed. The whole problem of increasing Home Guard numbers is very closely connected with the new strategical situation which has developed in the last few days, and I am sorry that I cannot make any announcement on the subject to-day, although it is at this moment exercising all our minds. Bound up with these larger matters are the immediate arguments for increasing the ceiling, such as the possible need for increased protection of vulnerable points, including airfields, and also the need for increased numbers in certain cases for general operational duties. Full provision has already been made for the increased numbers of the Home Guard required for anti-aircraft duties, and I can tell your Lordships that recruiting has been going very well for these arms. For some time that has been true, and requirements are well on the way to be met.

But having said that, I should be wrong if I did not draw the attention of the House to a number of limiting factors. First of all, as your Lordships realize, the distribution of the numbers who can be accepted into the Home Guard must be decided by operational conditions. In other words, they must be strongest in those places where the military authorities think they are most likely to go into action. Clearly, the result of this is that we seek to enrol a very high proportion of Home Guards to population in certain vulnerable areas, many of which are sparsely populated, while in other areas there are, as I fully realize, numbers of men who would like to join the Home Guard but who often have to wait before they can do so. That is the first difficulty. The second difficulty is that there must be a certain definite ratio—so far as the numbers are concerned—of weapons to men. If the number of men enrolled exceeds the number of weapons available by more than a certain figure, you will have men enrolled who in fact cannot be employed in useful military duty. I do not want your Lordships to think that we are not training enough people in advance so that when the weapons come they can be properly used. On the contrary, the forward programme of weapons and equipment deliveries is well known to those who are concerned with the ceiling of the Home Guard, and there is no danger that when the weapons and equipment arrive the corresponding increase in ceiling will not have been made in so far as man-power considerations allow. I hope, therefore, that I have been able to reassure the noble Viscount who moved the Motion with regard to that subject, even though I cannot promise him that everyone who wants to go into the Home Guard can go in at once irrespective of our power to arm and equip him.

Likewise I sympathize very much with those Home Guard Commanders who feel that their task of local defence is beyond their power with the small numbers of men available. I know that the military authorities have this matter very much in mind at the present time. But the troops at home, just like the troops in the various Forces overseas, have got to cut their coat according to their cloth, as our Commanders have had to do in many campaigns in this war, and it is our greatest concern to increase the supply of that cloth by every means in our power. Where the role of the Home Guard in existing defence schemes is too ambitious for the numbers available that role should, clearly, be reduced in scope, and this, I feel, will satisfy many Home Guard Commanders who are genuinely afraid that they may not be able to carry out their orders.

Lastly, in connexion with this matter there is the question of man-power to be considered. Man-power for part-time duty in this country is not inexhaustible, and the Home Guard are not the only competitors in the market. I think you will agree that we must look on the civil and military defence of this country as one problem and not two problems. It is certainly one problem if looked at from the point of view of the attackers who will use the high explosive and incendiary bomb, the parachute, the glider and the assault craft as part of one long-term plan. Civil Defence measures and the maintenance of proper fire-guard services have their own operational importance and must secure their own quota of part-time man-power if each branch of the National Defence is to be efficient and ready for battle in its own sphere. Here I would like to tell my noble friend that the closest consultation is continually being carried on by the Regional Commissioners and the Commanders-in-Chief or Corps Commanders in the areas. This liaison and co-operation is becoming ever closer as the days pass. If there were no man-power problem, the simplest course would be to recruit separate people for each type of duty; but in many places there are, as will be realized, not enough people to go round. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the time is rapidly approaching when every person who can properly be directed into some form of part-time national service will have been called on, and in fact I think it will be found that the shirker and the lazy man—the man who skulks—is already very rare in most parts of the country.

My noble friend asked a question with regard to pay on muster. I do not think we need quarrel very much about the use of the word "muster" or the word "mobilization." I think that the Home Guard could be described as mobilized only if they were woven in with the Regular Forces after operations had begun to take place. I shall not quarrel with my noble friend, however, on a question of words. After mustering, the Home Guard will receive compensation for loss of earn ings which is, I think, generally regarded as satisfactory. It amounts to the average wage of the man concerned up to a maximum of, I think, £3 14s., and I believe that that is regarded as a fairly satisfactory arrangement.

In some places there have been criticisms of the methods which have been used for compulsory enrolment into the Home Guard. We have had detailed investigations made into many cases where we have heard that there are complaints, and I am glad to say that most of the criticisms made in this connexion have turned out to be unjustified. Some necessary tightening up has already taken place, while in other places problems have been solved by increased co-operation between the officials of the employment exchanges and the Home Guard Commanders. I find that there is a great improvement in the cooperation which exists in many places, and therefore we shall rely more than ever on reciprocal arrangements between the Military and Civil Defence for mutual assistance as circumstances dictate. It is the policy of the War Office and of the Military Commanders in this country to give the fullest possible assistance from the Home Guard to the Civil Defence Services, and to make this more effective by planning and training beforehand. The arrangements for this mutual assistance were dealt with very fully by my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire in this House on October 13 last, and I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to cover the ground again.

I have indicated what the present position is, and I hope I have said enough to show that since we last debated the subject a good deal of action has taken place, which proves that these questions of Home Guard strength and organization are never regarded by the Government as being in a static or in a final state; they are under constant and, I think, fruitful study. Not merely has the strength of the Home Guard grown, but its efficiency is growing too. The quality of the training is steadily increasing, and for this I can call to witness those of your Lordships who are members of the Home Guard. The output of the Home Guard schools alone amounts to 12,000 Home Guard leaders who have so far attended courses, while the local courses and the Home Guard travelling instructional wings have reached many tens of thousands of all ranks. There is no need for me to remind you of the recent improvement in the matter of ammunition. As regards grenades, to which my noble friend referred, I am glad to give him the assurance—and I think that this is true of most of the country—that there are very few Home Guardsmen who have not thrown one or two live bombs, in addition to the very necessary previous practice with dummy bombs. The supply of bombs, like the supply of other things, is sometimes a difficulty, but I think I am right in saying that bombs are now coming along in substantial numbers, and that where there has been any shortage for purposes of instruction there is good hope that that will be speedily put right.

Home Guard anti-aircraft units are now on operational duty in many parts of the country, and it is only because of the recent lightness of enemy air attack that more of them have not been in action. The Army Cadet Force—and I am grateful to my noble friend for the pressure he has exerted on me regarding this subject—is in full swing. Recruits are already coining into the Home Guard all the time from the Cadet Force, and are very much welcomed by Home Guard officers. All these developments have been attained despite the difficulties of equipment and of conflicting claims of production and of agriculture. By and large, I think that we can say that the people in this country are working a great deal harder now than they were at the time when the L.D.V. were first formed. The more this is so, the more the Home Guard can be relied on for the local defence of this country; and, viewed in the light of the immense recent developments of the war, the purpose of the Home Guard and its vital importance can be clearly seen, changed since 1940 yet essentially the same. In those days we thought of the Home Guard solely as part of the defence of this country against invasion. It still performs that role, for, although large-scale invasion may be improbable in the immediate future, raids of a serious type, air-borne or sea-borne, are by no means impossible; for, whatever may be the state of affairs in North Africa, for example, the enemy still faces us in force across the narrow seas of the Channel. 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.

If I may now refer to the points of criticism made by my noble friend, I have nothing very much to add to what I said on the subject of first-class fares when the matter was debated during the last Session, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering all these problems and, as some of your Lordships know, he is discussing this, amongst other matters, to-day at a meeting which I believe some of your Lordships are attending. I cannot anticipate the outcome of this discussion. 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. I may say, however, that I received an intimation from my noble friend that he was going to raise this question only on Thursday night. I had not previously seen the letter to which he referred, and want to assure him that consideration will be given to the question of whether any special arrangements can be made by which Home Guards may be placed in separate wards from those occupied by the Regular Army, if we find in fact that this is really desired.

I should like to say a word with regard to prosecutions, a subject to which my noble friend referred. I quite realize that there are difficulties in dealing with prosecutions for absence from Home Guard parades. Some of these difficulties are caused by the need to prove beyond all doubt that a man was properly warned for a particular parade from which he was absent. I fully realize the difficulties, but I suggest to your Lordships that it is much better to take great care over such prosecutions and to secure a high proportion of convictions rather than to adopt less strict methods which would lead to a number of acquittals, so largely defeating the purpose of the prosecution in the minds of the public. The result is that about 202 prosecutions have been authorized by the Military Commanders and have taken place, and 89 per cent. have resulted in a conviction. In 5 per cent. of the cases the Police have decided not to prosecute, in 1½ per cent. of the cases the Home Guards received admonition, and only in 3½ per cent. was the accused acquitted. I think that report justifies the care we have taken in arranging these prosecutions, and it now remains to be seen how, once a sound practice has been set up, the machinery can be made to work more easily. We do realize the point which my noble friend has made. We have already delegated the authority to authorize prosecutions from Army Commanders to District Commanders, and we have in mind certain steps to simplify the evidence required, but this will require legislative action which, if it proves desirable, will be put forward without delay.

Although not directly responsible to the Army Council for the Home Guard, I have, as some of your Lordships are aware, taken an intense interest in its development from the start, and I give way to no man in my desire to meet any legitimate grievances, and to effect improvements in this truly remarkable and unique Force. I would, however, remind the House of the indisputable fact that when the Force was formed it was a spontaneous response of citizens to the call to defend their native land as citizen soldiers. It was a force of the people somewhat similar in its inception to the Trained Bands, Fencibles and, at a later date, the Volunteers, which were formed on similar occasions of peril. All ranks in this case joined without any idea of privilege, and officers flocked in offering their services everywhere without any conditions whatever. No man demanded rights, all demanded simply the right to serve. It was an army of good will, in which retired General Officers, Colonels, Majors and Captains in large numbers actively joined the ranks as privates, as also did several members of your Lordships' House. Personally, if they had taken me back into His Majesty's Forces I should have been very proud to lie with my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam in hospital. However, that is neither here nor there. But the fact remains that a good many members of your Lordships' House joined this Force.


There is one Field-Marshal.


I apologize for not mentioning that. After the Force had grown at such a stupendous rate it became clear to us that such was the strain on senior officers in zones and battalions, that we decided to post first assistants and, latterly, professional soldiers as Adjutants and officers for administrative duties. In taking these steps we responded on our own volition to what had become a real need. From a very close acquaintance with the Home Guard I personally was most anxious that this important decision should be taken, and I think it gave immense relief to the Force and meant a great deal to its efficiency. It was generally welcomed, but I confess I never thought, when I was pushing the matter forward, that because Adjutants were supplied, thereafter the demand should be made in debate that any conditions applicable to Home Guard Regular Adjutants should ipso facto become applicable to all Home Guard officers. On the question of Adjutants which my noble friend raised I know that he again quoted the peculiar case of the Regular Adjutant who travels first-class while the Colonel only gets a free third-class warrant. This point has already been made four times in our debates, but I think it is very rare that Colonels and Adjutants go on a long journey together away from their unit; in fact it is unusual, if not indeed undesirable. I have no doubt that there are many who very sincerely advocate this reform as desirable, and I yield to no man in my belief that discipline in the Home Guard must be maintained. But I hope that, pending further discussions, we may now concentrate on the big things of the war, and that your Lordships may not be deflected by what are comparatively minor anomalies.

Then 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 active 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. I do not want to detain the House, but I could read Sir Edward Grigg's most explicit statement in another place, a statement which was never challenged then, and I think until very recently has never been challenged anywhere. It will be recalled that the mere fact that we had granted Commissions was made an argument in debate for the introduction of new measures as to the status of officers and men in such matters as travel, and to-day the noble Viscount wishes to make still more basic alterations governing the Force in connexion with hospital treatment, etc.

I regret having detained your Lordships so long, but so many subjects have been covered in the speech of my noble friend. I think a moment's reflection will convince your Lordships that if these reforms were to be entered into piecemeal it would be a change of policy and principle, and would have to be considered as such, since the basis on which the Force was formed would be completely altered by changes of this nature. We welcome any champion of the Home Guard who raises matters in their interests, as I know my noble friend has done to-day, but I would utter a caveat. The Home Guard, taking it all round, are a very happy Force, and the relations of officers and men on the whole are most friendly. I would beg my noble friend to stress more the great and potent factor that the Home Guard are in the defence of our country, rather than to criticize on matters of lesser importance in battle—because that is really the point—or to create the idea that these patriotic officers are labouring under grievances, when in fact they are cheerfully pulling their weight as few men have ever done in any land. I want to assure my noble friend that I have noted most carefully all that has been said, and I will most certainly see that these matters are given full consideration. I will call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to what has been said in this debate to-day. In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that the Home Guard have grown very rapidly in the last few months, and have progressed in training to a very marked degree, and that, in spite of this growth, they are now better armed and equipped than any of your Lordships could have hoped eighteen months ago. This great Force carries with it the good will and the gratitude, I believe, of the whole nation, and especially is this true of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I have listened to the speech or my noble friend with a great deal of satisfaction. After all, the main part of my Motion referred to an increase of the total ceiling of the Home Guard, and he has told us that there has been progress during the last few weeks, that the Government intend to go on with that progress, and intend to increase the strength as far as possible in conformity with arms and equipment. I do not think we could expect to hear anything more than that from the noble Lord to-day, and in any case we should have been more than surprised if he had given us any figures. With regard to the other points, I must protest against the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam that I raised any of these points under a sense of grievance or that I was trying to bring forward points which would create grievances and upset in the Home Guard. The noble Earl could not have understood some of the points, possibly because I did not make them clearly enough. I would assure aim that that was the last thing I had in mind, and it is proved by the reply my noble friend Lord Croft has made.

The only points upon which there is any disagreement between us are in regard to third-class and first-class travel, and to the arrangements for treating officers of the Home Guard in hospital. As I said in my speech, I can only urge upon my noble friend to make the representations which have been made in this House to-day to the Secretary of State for War—representations not only by myself but by the noble Lord on the Labour Benches (Lord Strabolgi), who is, I understand, a sergeant in the Home Guard. The point which I made is therefore not without substance, although the noble Lord may feel it is going beyond the original foundations on which the Force was formed. I do not propose to say anything else to-day, because I am the last to wish to add exacerbation to any matters connected with the Home Guard. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said about the Force. I said practically the same thing in my concluding sentences and my only desire has been to add to the fighting proficiency of the Force. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.