HC Deb 13 May 1994 vol 243 cc526-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

3.5 pm

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Any hon. Member initiating a new debate this weekend will wish to join in the tributes to the late right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, following his sudden death yesterday, and I certainly make no apology for doing so. I came to know him in 1982 on a 10-day Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to India, and I grew to like respect and him immensely. He will be greatly missed.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, which must be done in the context of the current defence cost study.

Kneller Hall is one of the glories of our country. It trains British Army bands which are the envy of the entire world. They have a high standard of excellence. They lift the spirits of the nation. Who does not feel uplifted by the sight and sound of a British Army band on one of our royal or state occasions? The bands are without doubt one of our finest traditions. As part of the traditional British scene, they help to attract visitors whose spending generates employment and income and yields tax to the Government. The amount of that yield cannot be exactly measured, but it undoubtedly exists. Allowance should be made for it, and some such allowance should be offset against the cost of bands.

The immensely high standard of British Army bands is linked inextricably with the famous name of Kneller Hall, the Royal Military School of Music at Whitton, which is in the Twickenham constituency. It trains Army bandmasters and instrumentalists to a level of precision, strength, control and musicianship, which in military music has never been surpassed.

It is an efficient training. It is tried and proven, its quality and fame distilled from vast experience and woven into an effective system. Kneller Hall is also enormously popular—some 25,000 visitors pay to come annually to its celebrated outdoor summer concerts. The bandmasters and pupils benefit from the stimulus of an audience, 80 per cent. of whom are said to come from within 10 miles.

Within Twickenham and Whitton, Kneller Hall is a highly prized asset. Many of the audiences come from within my constituency, and many come from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), since Kneller Hall is right on his boundary. I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Many also come from the constituency of the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). He has always been most supportive of Kneller Hall. I remind the House that, in 1986, he seconded my early-day motion in response to the proposal from the then Secretary of State for Defence to close Kneller Hall. As it was a long motion, I shall read just part of it: That this House pays tribute to the high standards of excellence of the bands of the Army trained at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, the Royal Marines trained at Deal"— I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in his place— "the Royal Air Force trained at Uxbridge, all of which add splendour to Royal and State occasions…takes note of the…Report of the Public Accounts Committee which expresses grave disquiet that the Ministry of Defence should have decided on a joint Defence School of Music which would disrupt the training of service musicians and entail expenditure of £10 million before carrying out a full investment appraisal…and hopes that band training will long continue to flourish at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, at Deal and at Uxbridge respectively. That early-day motion was signed by 163 Conservative Members, of whom 95 are still here, including 14 Ministers and Whips in the present Government. They included not only my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes, who is now Minister of State for the Armed Forces and will reply to the debate—at that time, he had the freedom of the Back Benches—but his parliamentary secretary Viscount Cranborne and my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway), who is sitting on the Front Bench as the defence Whip, and for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), whom I am glad to see in his place as he is a distinguished wind musician as well as a former Defence Minister.

Outside the Government and these Benches, may I say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that two of your colleagues in the Chair, my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) and for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes), also signed the same early-day motion? At that time they, too, had the freedom of the Back Benches.

In the debate on the Army on 4 May, my hon. Friend the Minister said: Support areas make a vital contribution to the front line. Britain has one of the world's best armies. Its courage, skill, professionalism and self-control are legendary. That has been proven time and time again under fire, as in the Falklands, the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. My hon. Friend also said: The UK contribution to current UN operations in former Yugoslavia is second to none in terms of its professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness."—[Official Report, 4 May 1994; Vol. 242, c. 727–38.] I fully endorse those words.

As a naval man—I served for six years in the Royal Navy—I know of the superb military qualities of the British Army which are hugely respected at home and abroad. Those qualities flow from the motive of regimental loyalty. Regimental loyalty is a powerful motivator. Just as in the Royal Navy a man will not want to let his shipmates down, so in the army a man will not want to let down his mates in his regiment. Regimental loyalty is territorially based. It is intense. It is purposely fostered. Without doubt, it is the mainspring of what makes the British Army tick.

Loyalty to Crown and country is strongly buttressed by loyalty to colonel-in-chief, to badge and to band. If the bands are weakened, so are our defences. If that motivation is undermined, so are the high standards of professionalism, as shown in Bosnia. My hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to that in his speech on 4 May.

Last time round in 1983, it took me nine meetings with different Ministers; it took me raising the subject 17 times in the House; it took the early-day motion signed by 163 hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House; it took a petition signed by 16,000 people; and it took asking the Public Accounts Committee to report on the finances of the proposal to close Kneller Hall made by the then Secretary of State for Defence in his 1983 White Paper.

In its first conclusion the Select Committee on Public Accounts said: We are gravely disquieted that the Ministry of Defence should have decided to close Kneller Hall before carrying out a full investment appraisal. We were therefore glad to receive the Ministry of Defence's undertaking that, in future, such appraisals would be carried out wherever a financial investment was contemplated and the results would be reported to Ministers before a decision was made. In the end we got the Government to reverse their decision to close Kneller Hall. That decision was taken in March 1987. I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that while I am not asking to go through all that palaver again, I am absolutely ready to do so if needs must—and to double it. He can save himself and the Secretary of State a very great deal of trouble by doing the right thing and announcing in July that they will keep Kneller Hall open.

Incidentally I remind the Secretary of State, who has promised to read the report of this debate, that his appointment as a member of the Cabinet of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was approved by Her Majesty the Queen while she was at Kneller Hall in November 1990. The list of names was submitted to the Queen by telephone. She had decided not to stay in Buckingham Palace that afternoon but to carry on with her visit to mark the completion of the restoration of Kneller Hall following the Government's decision in 1987 to reprieve the Royal Military School of Music from closure. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to remind me of the cost of that restoration which was carried out in 1987–90.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government would never countenance any suggestion, as has sometimes been put about, that army bandsmen should be trained at civilian music colleges such as the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. A moment's thought would show that that would never work.

As a form of higher education those fine colleges train gifted young people, mainly those who are 18–plus and have reached grade 9 or above as singers or composers, or for solo work, for chamber music or for orchestras. I am second to none in my admiration of our symphony orchestras, but those colleges cannot train military musicians. They cannot train people to march as they play and to stay exactly in line as they march with military precision out of doors and in all weathers. We would still need a place to train military bands.

Can the Minister imagine the Halle orchestra performing at the trooping of the colour, at which I have no doubt he will be present next month on Horse Guards parade? Can the academic colleges of music train music bandmasters, army band conductors, and army band leaders? Can they handle security measures and the ring fencing of their colleges that the training of army personnel would have to entail? Have those colleges, which are already oversubscribed, been asked whether they could accept such conditions?

Without doubt we need to retain a military school of music whether on its own or merged with the training of Royal Marine bands which would, of course, be warmly welcomed at Twickenham if, unfortunately, they were not able to stay at Deal.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Does my hon. Friend accept that if there were to be combined school of music his bandsmen would also be welcome at Deal?

Mr. Jessel

I am sure that they would be welcome, but they would not be welcome to leave Twickenham, and I shall give my hon. Friend, the House and the Minister eight reasons why the training of the bandsmen should stay at Twickenham.

First, Kneller Hall is a world-famous institution. Secondly, a large sum has been spent on it as recently as 1987–90, following the decision in March 1987 to reprieve Kneller Hall. Thirdly, it remains easily the largest of the three, so that any other solution would be the tail wagging the dog. Fourthly, as it is only half an hour from central London, the specialist music tuition can be given by top instrumentalists from London orchestras, who would not be so ready to make journeys of two, three or four hours to the coast, whether in Devon, Hampshire or Kent. Fifthly, it has a good bandstand. Sixthly, it draws large audiences. That is part of the training. They also bring in some money. Seventhly, due to past reductions in bands, it has the capacity to take in the training of the Royal Marines, Royal Air Force bands, or both, without much additional expenditure on modernisation. Eighthly, it could not be sold for much. My hon. Friend the Minister should regard any figures that he has given on that not merely with caution but with the deepest scepticism.

As we are now halfway through the debate, as I am hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as I want to leave plenty of time for my hon. Friend the Minister, I shall not enlarge on that eighth point now, but will write to my hon. Friend.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will able to declare today that in no way will he ever put at risk the superb standards of that internationally famous institution which is Kneller Hall.

3.20 pm
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

I am extremely grateful that I have the opportunity to speak in the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). I commend his speech to the House.

I could not add more to enlighten the House on how important Kneller Hall is to the people of London and the nation. I merely want to say that Kneller Hall it is a very important attribute to the welfare and cultural aspects of my constituents. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Brentford, Isleworth and Hounslow are exposed to the rigours of environmental pollution, motorway traffic and Heathrow airport. The people of Brentford and Isleworth, and particularly the people of Hounslow, do not have outdoor facilities near their homes, other than Kneller Hall. In the summer, some 5,000 people go there to enjoy the excellent music provided by the Royal Military School.

Kneller Hall has been a national installation. It has provided the people of Brentford and Isleworth with the only available easily accessible source of music, including military music, in the past several decades. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham why it has been a national institution. It provides the people of west London with a national asset of very high quality. Some 25,000 people a year go there to be entertained and, in the summer particularly, the people of the somewhat deprived parts of my constituency have only that place to go to follow some cultural activity.

Many elderly people in my constituency make Kneller Hall their summer home. When they go there, they enjoy walking in the gardens. They like listening to the music, and they know people who have been associated with Kneller Hall and the Royal Military School, the Royal Marines and so on. To those people, it is not only a sentimental attachment but a great service to their social well-being. It is for that reason that I stand before you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to consider carefully all the various options that he must consider. It is quite right that he should consider those options carefully before he reaches a decision.

3.23 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) on his tenacity in securing the Adjournment debate on a subject that I know is close to his heart. I referred to him earlier in the week as my hon. and musical Friend. I should make it clear that that was meant very much as a compliment to the staunch way in which he has championed the cause of Kneller Hall for many years and kept the merits of that wonderful institution in the parliamentary and public eye, as well as in recognition, of course, of his own extraordinary musical talent and, if I may say so, that of his wife.

I recognise also the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), and I am grateful for his excellent brief contribution. I acknowledge his dedication to this cause, the presence and intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert)—a former Defence Minister.

I am only too pleased to place on record my own high regard for the musical skill of our Army bands and bandsmen and women, as well as those equally professional members of the Royal Marines and Royal Air Force bands. My hon. Friend spoke passionately about the high regard in which our Army bands are held throughout the world—I could not but agree.

There could have been no better example of just why they are held in such high esteem, and no better demonstration of the skill, dedication and imagination of our Army bandsmen than that incredibly uplifting sight of the band of the Coldstream Guards marching on to the football stadium in Sarajevo on Sunday 20 March playing, appropriately, "Peacemakers".

When historians come to chronicle the 20th century, the images of that event will be hard to ignore. I certainly suspect that only a British Army band could have put on such a display—and I, for one, was most proud of it.

Kneller Hall is still the Army's centre of musical teaching It gives more than 120 Army bandsmen each year a foundation course in music theory and instrumental skill, while training a select number of experienced musicians on a full three-year bandmaster course. That qualifies them academically and practically to become bandmasters and possibly commissioned directors of music. On average, about 30 such students are resident at any one time.

The school also welcomes students from overseas—mainly from Commonwealth armies and police forces, teaching on average some 20 students each year on both bandsman and bandmaster courses. That is extremely helpful in building further links with friendly nations and other forces to which I referred.

In addition to the teaching functions carried out at the school, Kneller Hall houses the headquarters of Army music, in which the commandant has responsibilities as inspector of bands for the military and musical standards of 30 bands and more than 1,100 musicians.

My hon. Friend referred to the affection with which Kneller Hall is regarded in the local community, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. If I include myself, there is a holy triumvirate of hon. Members present whose constituencies are close to Kneller Hall, and I know that many of the 25,000 people whom my hon. Friend said attended the last season of open-air concerts are my constituents—who would rightly expect me take this opportunity to place on record their own warm feelings about Kneller Hall, which I share entirely.

Only last year, I marvelled at the musicians' musical skill, laughed till I cried at their good humour, felt the hairs on my neck rise with the emotions they engendered, and cursed the aircraft noise at Heathrow that affected the concert so badly.

All that is confirmation of the reputation for excellence in military music that the Royal Military School of Music has throughout the world. Its motto—"Nulli secundus" —is most appropriate. and I assure my hon. Friends that the Government's respect and admiration for the important role that the school has played over the years continues undiminished.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham made a number of points, with his customary vigour and volume, about the future of Army bands and Kneller Hall in particular. He was kind enough to give me notice of many of them, for which I thank him.

My hon. Friend's overriding concern is, as one would expect, the future prospects for Kneller Hall itself. He alluded to the defence costs study "Front Line First", which has been in train since last December. It is well known that the study was charged with examining all aspects of support to the front line. As my hon. Friend recognises, that has, quite properly, in spite of the recent review of Army music, included a scrutiny of military music in all three services.

A special study team—one of 33 such teams—was established to examine the subject. My hon. Friend may agree that in such a comprehensive review of the support services of our armed forces, no sacred cows should be safe from consideration.

Perhaps it would be helpful to my hon. Friend if I say a little about how the team approached its task. Its remit was to examine every aspect of military music, identify the requirement for music in the services and establish how it can most cost effectively be met.

The study examined in detail the needs of each services, operating and administrative costs, the balance between Regular and Reserve personnel, accommodation and training of bands men and women—including at Kneller Hall, and the operational roles performed by band personnel.

It is perhaps the last item on the list, the operational roles performed by band personnel, that is most often overlooked. I know that it is not overlooked by my hon. Friends, but perhaps I could dwell on it for a moment. As my hon. Friends know, bandsmen and women are not merely professional musicians in uniform; they also have an important operational role as medical orderlies. During Operation Granby, more than 800 personnel from 35 bands were deployed to the Gulf in that role.

Of the 34 bands remaining in the United Kingdom, all but two had teams of personnel deployed to airheads in the United Kingdom, in anticipation of the possible requirement to receive casualties from the Gulf. Also, members of the Duke of Wellington's regimental band are currently deployed to Bosnia in the medical role. I am sure that my hon. Friends would wish to join me in paying tribute to the important role played by bandsmen on both of those occasions.

Let me assure the House that the defence costs study fully recognises the significance of the role which military music plays in military life, for all of the reasons that my hon. Friend gave. I know that he will appreciate that I am not in a position to discuss the proposals that have emerged from that study, or indeed from any of the other defence costs studies. The proposals number well into the hundreds and are at present under detailed consideration by officials. I can say, however, that formal recommendations are to be put to Ministers very shortly, but it will take some time before decisions are reached.

We have already told the House of our intention to make an announcement on the broad outcome of "Front Line First" in July. Although I cannot predict what the final outcome will be, I can assure my hon. Friends that we will take full account of the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham has so persuasively set out in reaching any decisions affecting military music in general and Kneller Hall in particular.

Mr. David Shaw

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hanley

May I just say that I fully take into account what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover said, and I invite him to apply for an Adjournment debate at an appropriate time?

The final proposals emerging from the defence costs study will be subject to full consultation in the normal way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham also referred to the early-day motion of 1986—No. 397—that I, among others, signed. I make no apology for signing it, and I still stand by a great many of the sentiments it contained. In particular, I see no inconsistency in the statement made at the time that the requirement for a defence school of music, as well as its possible location, should be looked at afresh in the light of the latest facts. The defence costs study has been considering alternative proposals in the light of the latest facts in many areas—including music.

Mr. David Shaw

Will my hon. Friend accept from one accountant to another that one of the major concerns of our constituents will be the credibility of the financial assumptions in the decision-making proposals put to Ministers? Will he ensure that as many of those financial assumptions as possible are published, as high security is not at risk in this instance?

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The decisions reached by Ministers, following the recommendations of the various teams that have been undertaking the tasks in the defence costs studies, must be credible and must be available for inspection. When we announce the decisions, they will be supported by sufficient information for a proper consultation process to be undertaken. I cannot give an exact assurance to my hon. Friend that every financial detail will be published, but I assure him that I will try to carry out the preparation of the work and the announcement of our decisions with the skill in which my hon. Friend is well versed and which I still hope that I possess.

I should like to assure my hon. Friends that I set great store by the quality of our military bands and believe that they will continue to be the envy of the rest of the world for many years to come. But what is being considered is how we sustain that quality by assessing how our musicians are trained, where they are trained and at what cost. Not even my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham would seek to justify needless cost which puts in jeopardy the effectiveness of our front-line fighting capacity.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham for his important contribution.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Four o'clock.