HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc191-3
3. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will now discontinue the use of troops for the Bank of England picquet.

6. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for War what action he will now take to relieve the Guards and other regiments of duties such as the Bank of England picquet and sentry-go at Royal Palaces during periods when members of the Royal Family are not in residence.

Mr. Profumo

I am satisfied that the security requirement at the Bank of England can best be met by a military guard.

There has recently been a reappraisal of the duties of the picquet to ensure that they are in conformity with modern requirements. Whereas it used to be partially ceremonial, the guard is now a tactical one, both in dress and deployment.

The Governor of the Bank of England has agreed to make a payment to Army Votes for the provision of this guard.

It is the responsibility of the Major-General Commanding the Household Brigade to ensure that the size of guards on Royal Palaces is consistent with security and other requirements. These requirements vary with the presence or absence of members of the Royal Family.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Dealing with the Bank of England picquet only, can my right hon. Friend say, if this is the best method of defending the Bank of England, why it has not been extended to the Royal Mint, for example, where it would also, if this is, be the most effective way of defending such a building, which I very much doubt? Can he say how much is being subscribed by the Bank of England? Would he not agree that this is not the type of service for which the soldiers were either recruited or trained?

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport


Sir J. Langford-Holt

Finally, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the amount which this picquet costs represents almost exactly the amount which the Government felt unable to provide for kidney research?

Mr. Profumo

The Bank of England is in a somewhat different position from other organisations which my hon. Friend might have in mind. There has always been a military guard at the Bank of England. To take away the military guard at this stage would be wrong. I have had a considerable discussion both with the G.O.C., London District, and the Governor of the Bank of England, and I can answer my hon. Friend by saying that the payment which is now to be paid to my Vote will completely cover the cost of the guard.

Mr. Lipton

Is the right hon. Gentleman really being serious about this? It is difficult to believe. Does he realise that the Bank picquet involves 114,000 man-hours a year wasted on a meaningless bit of ceremonial? Does it really matter whether the Bank pays a subvention or not? Has not the time come to dispense with these meaningless duties and burdens which are imposed on highly trained manpower which is supposed to be part of our strategic reserve?

Mr. Profumo

As is frequently the case, the hon. Member is not entirely accurate. I do not accept his figures about the man-hours per year. Secondly, I have just told the House that there has been a reappraisal of the duties, and I am absolutely satisfied that the duties of the guard as a tactical guard are right and proper for a military organisation. London District soldiers have always combined their training as some of the best soldiers in the world with a lot of ceremonial and other public duties. The ceremonial side of this picquet has been cut out altogether. It is now a tactical guard and, as I say, I do not believe that it should be done by any other method.

Mr. Strachey

Arising from the Secretary of State's original Answer, in which he said that he was satisfied that this was the best security arrangement for the Bank of England, would he agree that this is well up to the Government's genera} standards of security arrangements?

Mr. Profumo

I certainly do. I should like to see the right hon. Gentleman try to break into the Bank of England and see what happens. I give him good warning that, although he has been a Secretary of State himself and at that time never suggested moving the Bank of England guard, he will get very short shrift if he tries to get in.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not obvious that the reason the right hon. Gentleman retains a military picquet is his concern for a nationalised concern?

Mr. Profumo

I agree that a private undertaking might be able to look after itself. However, I am convinced that this is the right thing to do and that it is in the national interest.