HL Deb 29 April 1976 vol 370 cc219-22

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to state their decision on the claim of the Green Howards to compensation in respect of the loss they suffered on 11th June 1974, when a terrorist bomb attack on Strensall Camp destroyed the regimental band instruments and equipment.


My Lords, the representations made by the noble Lord and others in this House on 16th December, and by a delegation which was received by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the same day, and the arguments advanced during a debate in another place on 14th April, have all been most carefully considered, but Her Majesty's Government regret that they are unable to pay any additional compensation from public funds over and above the sum of £2,500 already paid to individual bandsmen.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for the courtesy with which he has phrased a most unsatisfactory reply, can he answer these two questions: first, does he accept that the net loss of over £10,000 which this regiment has suffered originated from an IRA attack on a military target, Strensall Barracks? Secondly, does he agree that the greater part of that £10,000 loss was a risk that could not have been covered by insurance at that time because there was an immediate need to replace the whole of the band equipment and instruments in order to fulfil public engagements?


My Lords, the problem is that the size of the loss mentioned by the noble Lord is, in a sense, a hypothetical one, since it was based on the assumption that new instruments would have to be purchased. This was in fact not true. The whole basis of the argument and the compensation which the Ministry of Defence paid to individual bandsmen was on an assessment of the purchase of secondhand instruments, which are available. It is no doubt true that it was an IRA action that destroyed the instruments of the band. Nevertheless, the band's instruments are the responsibility of the regiment, not of the Government, and if they were under-insured that, I am afraid, is the regiment's responsibility and not that of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that as well as being infuriatingly slow the actions of the Government in this particular case seem to be mean and bureaucratic and silly?


My Lords, as I understand it, we are not talking only about a lot of instruments of a band. The whole question of insuring against terrorist activity is a far wider one, and is one that we have to take into consideration. We are all in sympathy with the problems of the regiment. The individual bandsmen have been compensated, and if the regiment feels sufficiently strongly—as it obviously does from the support it gets in your Lordships' House, and I am in sympathy with that support—the fact is that monies could be raised from the friends of the regiment to assist in re-equipping the band. After all, we cannot, unfortunately, insure against every circumstance where terrorism is observed.


My Lords, why should it have to depend on the friends of the regiment? The IRA are the enemies of this country and the regiment is one of the instruments by which we defend ourselves against the country's enemies. Why cannot the premium, if insurance has to be paid, be borne by the Government? If in fact it is not, why cannot the Government compensate the regiment?


My Lords, I am in sympathy with the noble and learned Lord. However, the facts are that regulations relating to bands and to compensation emphasise the particular importance of insuring band property, and indeed all the property of a regiment in its home quarters. The Green Howards' band property was nevertheless insured for only part of its value, and Her Majesty's Government decided that it would not be proper to expect the public to pay for the band's failure to insure its private property.


My Lords, in spite of the debate which took place in another place recently and the Government's refusal to meet the claim of the Green Howards because of the loss of their instruments, does not the matter require further consideration? Is my noble friend aware that the under-insuring of the instruments—and this is the fundamental issue—is not attributable to any defect on the part of the Green Howards regiment, but simply because it was impossible to insure at a higher rate? May I ask my noble friend to assume that Kneller Hall lost its instruments and various other equipment, and perhaps the whole building associated with music in the Army and the Forces, because of an explosion or through other cause. Are we to understand that no compensation would be provided?


My Lords, first of all, here compensation has been provided; secondly, because of the strong feeling in this House I will once again bring the matter to the notice of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that in Yorkshire there is a tremendous amount of public sympathy over this matter? Does he not think that the morale of the Army at this particular moment needs boosting?


No, my Lords, I think their capacity to absorb punishment is greater than the loss of the instruments of the Green Howards' band.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his offer to reconsider this matter. Will he bear in mind that this regiment is again on active service in Northern Ireland at the present time, and that when Members of Parliament lost some of their belongings in the explosion in Westminster Hall they were immediately compensated without any delay and without any argument?