§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord TRANMIRE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have yet reached a decision on the claim of the Green Howards to compensation in respect of the loss of band instruments and equipment belonging to the regiment and destroyed in the IRA attack on Strensall Camp on 11th June 1974. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to give the background to the Unstarred Question which stands in my name. At three o'clock in the morning of the 11th June, 1974, the IRA, following their attack on the Parachute Officers' Mess in Aldershot and the attack on the Catterick bus on the M62 earlier in the year, destroyed three huts in Strensall Camp with explosives. In those huts were the equipment and instruments of the regimental band. The circumstances were that the battalion was on active service in Northern Ireland, the band were completing a programme of engagements in Yorkshire and the Ministry of Defence had provided temporary accommodation for the hand and their equipment in their huts. The total loss suffered by the regiment as a result of that IRA attack was £23,670. Of that sum of 227 regimental loss, not one penny has been paid in compensation by the Government.
§ This matter was raised on December 16th in this House when the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, assured the House that the matter was not yet closed. It was raised again on April 29th when the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, offered to bring the claim again to the attention of the Secretary of State. Meanwhile, on April 14th, the matter had been raised in the House of Commons by Sir Timothy Kitson, who was the Member representing the regimental headquarters. His argument was answered by Mr. Brown, the Under-Secretary of State.
Mr. Brown explained that this claim could not be met because there were only two ways of the Government paying compensation: one as a result of common law action, and the other under the regulations. Mr. Brown went on to explain this point on the regulations; and I quote from column 1433 of Hansard of April 14th:
I want now to deal with the issue of compensation payable under the regulations…Unfortunately the band's claim did not fulfil two of the basic requirements, which are that the loss must be due to the exigencies of the Service, as defined in the regulations,
and I ask noble Lords to note that—
and that compensation cannot be obtained under an insurance policy or elsewhere.
He went on:
We have already seen the band obtained some compensation from its insurers, and terrorist activity is not solely an exigency of the Service as defined in the regulation in question. Indeed, since the majority of terrorist attacks are against civilian targets, it would be difficult to argue that they are an exigency of military service.
My Lords, this was a surprising statement on the exigencies of military service. It is very hard to understand that; therefore, let us refer to the regulations from which he was quoting. Under paragraph 1527 of the regulations the exigencies of military service are defined under " (a), (b), (c), and (d) ". Under heading " (d) " it says:
Accidental fire in barracks, Service hutments, single quarters or camp.
Under " (e) " it says:
Loss and damage to property handed in to the unit store or otherwise entrusted to official custody during the absence of the owner on leave et cetera".
Is the noble Lord tonight going seriously to suggest that because this was not an accidental fire in the barracks, because the IRA intended what they did, the Government can run away from liability? But if he does, then surely the circumstances fall well within " (e)"; because this equipment was handed in to a unit store in the barracks of the King's Division by order of the Secretary of State for Defence. But it is not even limited to that; because paragraph 1528 of the regulations goes on to say:
If loss or damage should arise from exceptional causes not mentioned in paragraph 1527, special consideration may be given to cases where it can be shown that the risk was not insurable.
§ My Lords, I am confining this argument to the regulations because that was the point taken by Mr. Brown. I hope that other noble Lords who follow me will deal with the wider considerations of what may appear to many of us to be very shabby, mean, shortsighted treatment by the Government of a regiment that has had six tours of duty in Northern Ireland, where it has, I fear, lost a great many valuable officers and men.
§ Let us turn to the insurance point. These are the facts. The loss was £23,670. The regiment originally insured the band in 1967 for £4,220. In 1969 the insurance was put up to £9,176. From 1969, when it was on active service, the adjutant or the quartermaster did not raise the insurance until 1974. That has been assessed as a deficiency of £3,000. If the noble Lord doubts that he can go to the military insurers. I see that the noble Lord agrees that figure. At no time has the regiment asked or claimed compensation for that £3,000 deficiency. That is a debt that must be shouldered by the regiment; and it accepts it. From the figures I have given of the total loss, of the insurance compensation received and of the under-insurance borne by the regiment, your lordships will see that the deficiency is £11,000. It is that £11,000 that the regiment has claimed, and is claiming tonight the Government are under a legal liability under the regulations to pay.
§ Paragraph 1525 of the regulations lays down as a condition that the compensation for the loss or damage cannot be obtained under an insurance policy or from other sources. The undisputed facts are that in June 1974 the only insurance 229 cover available to the regiment was limited to the figure for the replacement of each instrument by a reconditioned instrument. That is the difference between the £23,000 and the £12,000 that we are asking for tonight. If there is any doubt on that I have a letter with me from the military insurers explaining that at that time you could not insure on a new for old basis for band instruments. That has been changed as a result of this IRA attack on Strensall Camp, and the regiment now are fully insured on the new-for-old basis and are paying premiums on that basis. If it had been available to them at the time they would have been so insured.
In the debate in the other House Mr. Brown made the point that under the regulations the Government could not give compensation on the replacement new-for-old. I should like to draw the attention of this House to Regulation 1544. I will read it out to the House so that the House can judge whether Mr. Brown is accurate in his account of the regulation:
The compensation admissible for each article lost is to be based on the vocabulary rate, if appropriate, or otherwise assessed on the reasonable cost of replacing the article by a new one, less an abatement where applicable in respect of wear and tear according to the condition of the article at the time of loss.
There was nothing to stop the Government under the regulations from paying this claim of new-for-old that could not have been covered by insurance at that time.
§ Perhaps the most extraordinary attitude from the Ministry in this very sad story is the way they treated another claim at the same time. The regiment was insured but the bandsmen's equipment—and, in some cases, their private instruments—were not insured; they were very largely uninsured. Their loss was £2,780. The Government paid £2,480; there were the same circumstances of loss, except the regiment insured. What is the difference? The regiment has no more resources than the individuals. The regiment is a collection of individuals. Yet, owing to the action or inaction of the Government, the regiment is faced with a loss equivalent to £25 per officer and man in the regiment. That is what we are talking about tonight, my Lords. For two years this claim has been resisted.230
§ Perhaps the most despicable aspect of this sorry story was when the regiment was on active service in Northern Ireland it was—perhaps not unreasonably—being pressed by the suppliers of the instruments to pay the bills which it had always thought the Government would honour. My Lords, I beg the noble Lord to give further consideration to this matter tonight. I believe not only the honour of the regiment—which has never been in question but the honour of the Government is at stake in this matter.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, the House will be familiar with the case of the band equipment of the Green Howards, I think I can say entirely through the untiring efforts of my noble friend Lord Tranmire. The House will be aware that he has asked more than one Question in your Lordships' House on previous occasions and, as he has already pointed out, there was an Adjournment Debate in another place shortly before Easter on this very subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, has outlined the facts of this case very lucidly this evening, and especially how a terrorist explosion one night in June 1974 virtually destroyed the entire band instrument stock, together with the uniforms of the bandsmen. Quite naturally, the regiment decided that the main priority was to see that in the shortest possible time the hand was in good order and able to fulfil its numerous engagements. I believe that this must have been the correct decision for a number of reasons. First, there was the question of morale. I do not want to say a lot on this subject as there are other speakers this evening who are going to express themselves far more eloquently and I believe more forcefully than I can. It is vastly important to the serving soldiers to know that a terrorist attack such as this should not be seen to cause more than a minimum of inconvenience or indeed expense to the regiment.
Secondly, we have to think of recruiting for this famous and gallant regiment. happen to believe that a top class regimental band is very good for recruiting. The local areas of population whence young men are drawn who will serve in the regiment can see evidence that there is still pride, vigour and life in their local identifiable army unit. Apart from this 231 simple form of recruiting, such events as hand concerts and appearances at shows, major sporting matches, et cetera, make the public aware of the existence of and the necessity for our defence forces. Whatever the views of the Army itself—and I do not believe that such views are so different from those of the public at large—this particular element of glamour and of tradition would he much missed if it were merely to wither away into insignificance.
Also in this particular case the regiment decided to re-equip the band as speedily as possible to meet its existing obligations and engagements. There are valid reasons, as indeed there were two years ago, for so doing and mainly these concern the competition for such engagements. Had the Green Howards band been unable to meet its obligations in 1974, there could have been the danger that it would be forgotten or at least out of the limelight for a lengthy period. When the noble Lord, Lord Winter bottom, comes to reply, can he give some indication as to whether the regiment did wrong in deciding that the band should be re-equipped as quickly and as cheaply as possible? Do the Government disapprove of what the regiment did, and was it in the regiment's interest, or indeed that of the Army, that the band should be out of circulation for a while—even for a period of months—while stocks of instruments and uniforms could be accumulated?
Then, my Lords, we have to discuss the vexed problem of insurance. It is this which gives rise, I believe, to the Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend Lord Tranmire this evening. Throughout the lengthy negotiations between the Ministry of Defence and the regiment, the question of the adequacy of insurance has been argued, disputed and challenged. So far as 1 am aware, the view of the Government up to now has been that the loss, which is in financial terms around £13,000, suffered by the regiment has been due to under-insurance. Neither the Secretary of State for Defence, nor Lord Winterbottom's right honourable friend in another place have stated that the entire £13,000 could be attributed to under-insurance. But in all the replies that have been given, both to my noble friend Lord Tranmire and to my honourable friend the Member 232 for Richmond in another place in his Adjournment Debate, the Government have consistently stated that the loss was due to under-insurance. Now the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, may be surprised to learn the regiment admits that the equipment was under-insured at the date of the explosion. According to the information available to the regiment and to the insurers, the amount of under-insurance was in the region of 25 per cent., or approximately £3,000: indeed, that figure has been quoted this evening by my noble friend. This under-insured figure of £3,000 was on the agreed and paid value of the lost equipment, being some £9,170. The regiment does not seek aid from the Government or compensation for this element of under-insurance.
In June 1974 it was not possible to insure against the type of incident that resulted in the loss of the band's equipment. In order to replace the equipment totally and completely an insurance policy of the new-for-old type is necessary. This would allow the regiment to obtain instruments, uniforms and music immediately, all the time at the cheapest price. Such a policy would have met almost all the expenses incurred by the regiment in re-equipping the band. However, such a policy was not available to the regiment in June 1974, and I have the confirmation of this from their insurance brokers. Had the regiment kept its existing insurance policy up to date in 1974, the proceeds would have covered the replacement of each item of equipment on a piece-by-piece basis. This could, and 1 hope would, be satisfactory where one or two items are destroyed and some uniforms scorched: but where everything is ruined even this type of insurance is insufficient.
Furthermore, it is absolutely clear that in all previous Government replies this type of insurance policy is under discussion when the question arises of under-insurance. In a letter to the honourable Member for Richmond, the Secretary of State for Defence states that this question of new-for-old insurance is, in his view, academic. He also admits that this type of insurance " might not have been available " at the time of the explosion. My Lords, we know it was not. The Secretary of State goes on to 233 say that any compensation payable from public funds is limited to the actual value of the items lost. Nowhere in his letter, nor anywhere else, can I find any indication of what might be the actual value.
When any compensation is paid, does it merely top-up the contribution from the insurance company to compensate the regiment on a piece-by-piece basis? Or, since the Secretary of State now indicates in his letter that new-for-old insurance is now available and recommended for all regiments of the British Army to cover disasters such as we are discussing this evening, does the actual value in this context mean a new-for-old basis? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to tell us quite simply about this when he comes to reply, and we look forward very much to hearing what he has to say.
As my noble friend Lord Tranmire has already mentioned, there was an Adjournment Debate in another place shortly before the Easter Recess, when the matter was raised again. In his reply on behalf of the Government, at column 1435 of the Official Report, the Minister admitted that new-for-old insurance was not available at the time of the explosion but that such a matter was something of a red herring as the main loss arose from the band's under-insurance. This does not seem to he strictly accurate. as failure to update the insurance could he said to have contributed about £3,000 to the overall loss of £13,000—it might he more than £3,000, but certainly not much more. Thus, the Minister's conclusion that the taxpayer could not he expected to make up the regiment's failure to take out adequate insurance once again appears to be inaccurate since, on the admission of the Secretary of State, of the Minister and of the regiment's insurers, such new-for-old insurance—which in this instance would have been adequate—simply was not available in June 1974.
I do not think the debate this evening should become too legal, but we should be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, if he could explain to us why, under paragraphs 1525,1527 and 1528 of the Allowance Regulations, compensation is payable in cases of an accidental fire in barracks, so long as this can he considered as one of the exigencies of the 234 Service. Further, paragraph 1528 goes on to mention loss or damage where the risk is not insurable. I would consider that all such conditions have been fulfilled in this case.
This is an exceptional case, where a famous and very gallant regiment has lost its entire band equipment and uniforms. The regiment had not taken full account of the effects of inflation so far as insurance was concerned. But there was no question of adequate insurance being available to cover the whole loss and I think everyone who is concerned with the case admits that to be so. But in all the replies we have had so far from the Government, this problem of new-for-old insurance has been excluded. It has been claimed as admirable, and indeed all regiments are now advised to take this as the basis of insuring their equipment. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, knows that in June 1974 such insurance was not available. In reply to my noble friend Lord Tranmire. the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, told us of his belief that at the end of the day the regiment would not be out of pocket. Many of us hope that the end of the day is not yet with us, for the regiment is still out of pocket, through no fault of its own, to the extent of £10,000.
In conclusion, could the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, tell us the answers to one or two fairly simple questions: First, should the regiment have defaulted over its band engagements in the period immediately following the explosion?— for such would surely have been the case had not the band been re-equipped swiftly. Secondly, how could the regiment have been expected to insure itself against such a disaster, given that adequate insurance was not available? Thirdly, is it not incredible that such a case occurring in Northern Ireland, or even as the result of an accidental fire in barracks, would not receive full compensation, particularly in the light of the first question? To these, and to all the other points that I have raised and those that will be raised by other speakers this evening, we await with considerable eagerness the replies of the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lady KINLOSS
My Lords; I was rudely awakened at three in the morning 235 of 11th June 1974, by the explosion to which the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, has referred. My house is only four and a half miles from Strensall Camp. We are all used to nocturnal noises because of military exercises. We all accept these happily because they are necessary for the defence of the country; so we do not pay too much attention when there is a bang in the night. However, when the news came out we were very distressed to hear about it. There was a great deal of local feeling on this subject of the loss of the band instruments and uniforms of the Green Howards, who were serving in Northern Ireland at the time. It was described to me in our village as being " a dirty little stab in the back ".
It seems to me this is not a political question, but simply one of equity. It seems hard on the regiment that it should suffer as a result of very complex legal circumstances, concerning which I have seen some of the papers. Not only had they pressing engagements to keep, and so needed to replace the instruments and uniforms quickly, but they have served several times in Northern Ireland; so that the loss of their band would hardly help their morale. Could the noble Lord who is to reply say whether the Minister could consider making an ex gratia payment of the balance outstanding, on the express condition that it is not to be considered as a precedent? If the noble Lord could say the Government would consider it, he and the Government would earn the praise and gratitude of everyone, I think, in the area in which I live, and not least of the regiment of the Green Howards.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, about 34 years ago, plus a couple of months, a young, newly appointed adjutant of a unit of 50 Div. had occasion to report on behalf of his commanding officer to an equally young grade II staff officer in 50 Div., and if my memory serves me correctly I was that young adjutant and the noble Lord was the grade II staff officer. I believe that in 50 Div. there were four battalions of the Green Howards, and for the next 18 months I fought side by side with them in the desert campaign. After I was winged and put in the bag, I had many members of 236 that regiment along with me, so I hope your Lordships will understand that I have a sentimental approach to this matter. Secondly, having been a soldier I went through all those stages where a non-musician officer has to deal with the band—as president of the regimental institute, band president and finally commanding officer. I mention that only because so far this evening we have been hound up with the legalistic side of this subject, but what annoys me more than anything else is the emotional side.
Every person all over the country to whom I have mentioned this case is absolutely scandalised by the behaviour of the.Government. One after the other says, But look at the compensation they pay to the members of the IRA in Northern Ireland. Look at the things they do for people there who are supporters of those who cause the damage." After all, they compensate a soldier inadequately. Every— one says how the £20,000 given to the widow of an IRA man compares unfavourably with the £8,000 given to the widow of a soldier, and this is just another step in that direction. I do not look at this from a legalistic point of view, and I consider this behaviour an insult to the dead of that regiment in Northern Ireland.
I seem to remember that between the wars a battalion of the South Staffordshire regiment went out to India, and the Indian Government at that time decided that they would charge import duty on their band instruments. So, if my memory serves me aright, the regiment left their instruments in Bombay, Calcutta or whatever it was, and said All right, no play ". I think that something like that is what this regiment ought to do now. If they were a trade union instead of a loyal regiment of the British Army they would not go to Northern Ireland on their next tour of duty. I know that a very large number of people all over the country—every one of my friends—feel very strongly on this subject. If the Government had any sense they would pay the lot now. This penny-pinching, mean behaviour does not do the morale of the Army any good, and it is certainly doing the reputation of the Government a lot of harm.
§ 8.34 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend 237 Lord Tranmire and the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, not just because I also was in 50 Division at the time referred to but because I feel that the Government ought to stop considering this case as a fine legal point and instead look at it with a broader view and at its importance, not just to this regiment but to the Army as a whole. I do not want to make a speech now, but I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions.
I know something about this subject, having been a band president in ancient days, but I am now entirely out of date. What I should like to ask the noble Lord to confirm is that it was not possible for the regiment to insure for the full value, as has been suggested. Secondly, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the Government consider that regimental bands are a good thing. We can hear regimental bands play in London every day, and on Horseguards Parade shortly we shall have more than one, so I assume that in the opinion of the Government they are a good thing. If that is so, why are they trying so hard to disparage the efforts of this regiment, and making it so very difficult for them to reform their band?—which all of us who have served in regiments would say is something of which everyone is proud, which makes a great contribution towards morale in an Army, and which has done so through the centuries. Therefore, I beg the noble Lord to do his very best in this case, where everybody is agreed that the present stand taken by the Government is exceedingly mean.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, I regret that I did not put my name down and give notice that I was going to speak, but I was not sure that I could be here. However, I made an effort because the issues raised by this matter are of very great importance indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, thought that he might be out of date but let me assure him that he is not. What is at issue here is something which has worried the Army in peace down the years. It is a system of financial control by regulation. One or two things have been said by Ministers, and I excuse them because, obviously, they are not in their jobs very long and they cannot be expected to know very much about them. But there is no question whatever of the Common 238 Law being invoked in this matter, because if, for example, the instruments had been held by trustees for the regiment and they or the president of the band had sought to sue the Ministry of Defence, they would have come up against the argument that one cannot sue the Crown.
The classic case was those poor benighted individuals—not all of them poor and benighted—who, at the outbreak of the First World War, joined the Army on the basis that they would get six shillings a day as drivers of mechanical transport. Then, when they were compulsorily transferred, they found that their pay was reduced, so after the War one or two bright sparks sought to sue the Crown. Although they had a cast iron case, they were told that they could not sue the Crown, any more than I can sue the Crown for my pension, pitiful as it is. I get it by the grace and favour of the Crown, and there is no question at all of suing. The regulations which the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, has quoted are derived from the old Allowance Regulations. Some of us, who looked around to earn ourselves an honest copper, used to make ourselves expert in these regulations, but the spirit is just the same.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, put a fundamental question when he asked: do the Ministry of Defence think that hands are a good thing? Judge them not by what they say, but by what they do. The bandmaster and the whole of the band are borne on the strength of the peace establishment. The bandsmen are trained at Kneller Hall from public funds. But although the Ministry of Defence think that bands are a good thing, paying the bill for them is quite another matter. The reason for that is that, certainly up to the outbreak of the First World War and perhaps, to some extent, up to the outbreak of the Second World War, it was considered that officers had private incomes, and as a band was one of the social graces of a regiment the officers ought therefore to pay, as indeed they did, although of course the bulk of the money came from band engagements.
That is why when, in a few days' time, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has just said, noble Lords go across to Horseguards Parade and see the only tangible evidence they can get of the 239 thousands of millions of pounds which they pour out—the Trooping of the Colour—and all they get is a wonderful spectacle. Every instrument that is played in the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards is owned privately by the officers of the regiment. The instruments do not belong to the public. Every morning the public gather around Buckingham Palace and hear the band playing at the Mounting of the Guard, which is paid for not from public funds but from private sources. There is a pragmatic reason for that. There is a lucrative business in band engagements. The bandsmen themselves get private engagements. I noticed with amusement that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, asked whether this was a trade union affair. Of course it is. Every one of those bandsmen is a member of the Musicians' Union. How do I know? Because the Musicians' Union made me their honorary member for the interest I take in regimental bands, and that is one of the reasons why I am here tonight.
The Ministry of Defence are defending a quite indefensible system and they have given this away in just a few words. In another place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Brown, was goaded by Sir Timothy Kitson into Saying, " What do you want us to do? Do you want us to insure the property of every citizen in the country? " That is what is worrying the Ministry of Defence, not the Green Howards. The Ministry of Defence are worrying about the enlargement that may come from the contents of the paragraph which the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, quoted, which is derived from the old Allowance Regulations.
The case, not for generosity but for plain British fairness is quite indisputable. If the Minister is worried about how he can do it 1 will tell him what to do. He should read the preamble to the present Queen's Regulations—the King's Regulations of my day. Those regulations say that they do not govern every case. There are self-evident exceptions and the regulations should be read intelligently with that in mind. This is a perfect case for reading intelligently the regulations, not in the spirit of how not to give. One should read the regulations—all of us who have been Regular soldiers know 240 the trick—not to deny but to grant. If the spirit to grant is there, then it will be given.
I want also to underline the point that was made by the noble Lord who spoke before me. The noble Lord is absolutely right. Are bands good things? Are they essential to the well-belly of the Service? I have made my point conclusively. The fact that the public bears the major cost is evidence that bands are an essential part of the morale and well-being of what is called, euphemistically, the tribal or regimental system—something that has served this country very well in war. This is not capable of esoteric explanation. The explanation is the quite simple one that the chap who is in " B " company thinks that he is better than the bastards in " A " company; and if that chap is transferred to " A " company, then he thinks that that company is better than " B " company. The Green Howards think that because their band and their march past is what it is. they are better than the West Yorks. And the West Yorks think that they are better than the Green Howards. Sometimes this finds expression in the playing of the band: sometimes it finds expression in the regimental polo, hockey, or football team, or in the fact that the regimental sergeant major has a better vocabulary than the other chap. It is these indefinable qualities which have given the British Army its reputation and served this country well in both war and peace.
If tonight the Minister simply reaffirms, underlines and accepts in toto the brief which has been given to him, it will be another stab in the back of the regimental tradition in which the Green Howards have played a noble and illustrious part. I join my voice with those noble Lords who have spoken and beg the Minister, in the name of common decency, to take this Question back with the will not to deny but to grant.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, Members of your Lordships' House and of another place have now been pursuing this matter for some time. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, for raising this matter in an Unstarred Question. As a result of his initiative we are to have a much more effective and 241 rational discussion of the problems surrounding this episode in the history of the Green Howards than we could have done had we continued the debate during Question Time. I can, of course, understand their feelings that the regiment is entitled to some financial help, and sympathise with the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, who served with the Green Howards with distinction during the 1939–45 war. There are, however, so many misunderstandings about this case that I must set out the facts once again, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I speak at some length.
On 11th June 1974 there was a terrorist attack on Strensall Camp, near York, which destroyed certain public property. In addition, the explosions and subsequent fire caused the loss of the musical instruments, music scores, band uniforms and band equipment belonging to the regimental band of the first battalion of the Green Howards and also of musical instruments and possessions privately owned by individual members of the band. The regiment made a claim on its insurers and received £9,176. Since the total cost of replacement of the lost items was considerably more than that sum—it was about £30,000 at new prices—the regiment then asked the Ministry of Defence for the difference; that is, some £21,000. After the claim had been considered, compensation of about £2,500 was paid from public funds to individual bandsmen, but Her Majesty's Government were not able to meet any part of the loss sustained by the band itself. Various representations have been made by the noble Lord and there has also been a debate in another place, as noble Lords have mentioned. But since Her Majesty's Government have been unable to offer any further compensation, the matter has again been raised today in this Chamber.
I think that I should explain two points which form an important part of the background to this case but about which, as I have already said, there may well be misunderstandings. First, what is the position of the regimental band? Although the men forming a regimental band are, of course, ordinary serving soldiers on an authorised establishment, and although some financial help is provided from public funds to establish and maintain the band's instruments and equipment, the latter are the property of the 242 regiment and not of the Army as a whole. It is the regiment which is primarily responsible for their maintenance. A modest annual grant is made from public funds but the rest of the money needed to maintain and replace the band's instruments and equipment is found privately by the regiment. Some of it comes from the proceeds of private engagements, concerts, recordings, et cetera, undertaken by the band, and this is not small money. Never let us forget that " Amazing Grace " was " Top of the Pops ". The sums of money concerned are often very large.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord says that there is misunderstanding about this and that he is informing us of the true position, but he is repeating only what has been said so far by almost every speaker.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, thank goodness that we seem to be in agreement so far! Disagreement may come later. May I stress the point that bands are quite big business. As I have said, part of the cost of maintaining and replacing the band's instruments is found privately by the regiment—in the main, I stress, because of the money that they earn from playing at various public and private engagements. Nearly all the income from such engagements, after expenses have been met, is shared between the bandmaster, the bandsmen and the regiment's band fund. I am delighted that this is so. This is an incentive to play instruments with the skill and feeling that is common in all regimental bands, as those of us heard who this afternoon walked through Westminster Hall during practice time. A band—I assume it was a band belonging to one of the Guards regiments—was tuning up most harmoniously.
Only a very small percentage of this money, however, which is earned goes back to public funds. Should the band's instruments or equipment need replacing—without, in fact, the instruments being destroyed by an act of revolution—the cost must be borne by the regiment, not by the public. These items do not, therefore, come in the same category as ordinary military stores and equipment such as machine guns and rifles which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord 243 Shinwell, on a previous occasion and which are, of course, provided, maintained and replaced at public expense. The instruments and band equipment are, for all practical purposes, the private property of the regiment, not public property, and it is entirely the responsibility of the regiment to make sure that the property of the regimental band is properly looked after and insured, in the same way that any other prudent property owner will look after his own possessions and insure them adequately.
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me? If by chance this IRA bomb had been thrown into a barrack room in the North of Ireland, would the position be exactly the same or would the regiment then have been entitled to full compensation from public funds?
Lord WINTER BOTTOM
My Lords, subject to the right to correct later any statement I make, I understand that the situation is different in Northern Ireland and that there the regulations differ from those existing in this country, but I believe I may be able to confirm this a little later.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I am just coming to the point of whether or not the regulations have been kept up to date. The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, pointed quite specifically to two regulations which he thought were relevant to this particular situation. I think everyone will agree that it is in the regiment's own interests to see that the affairs of the band are properly conducted in every way since, as I have explained, the profits from 244 private engagements go mainly to the regiment and the members of the band, and not to the public. The Ministry of Defence therefore draws specific attention to the importance of insuring band property adequately.
The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, referred to Regulations 1527 and 1544. May I draw your Lordships' attention to Regulation 1535, which is absolutely designed to cover the situation which we are discussing tonight. Regulation 1535 says:Band committees are to effect adequate insurance for all band property vested in the Defence Council, and in view of the provisions of this section they are also strongly advised "—because this is private property, as we have already said, regimental property, the Defence Council advises them to insure all other property owned by or on loan to such committees and so protect themselves from the high cost of replacements in the event of loss or damage. Really, my Lords, this was advice to the regiment which they could accept or reject.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but is he suggesting that " new for old " insurance was at that time available?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I am afraid I shall have to agree with the noble Lord that at that time it was not available, but a more extensive insurance policy could have been undertaken in the situation existing at that time.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, if the House will forgive me, I will give your Lordships a substantial view on this particular point. The House is obviously clearly interested and I am also interested in this particular point, and therefore in due course I will discuss the " new for old " or " new for new " problem, but at the moment I see that the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, wishes to make a point.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can clear up this point, because it is most important. So far the Secretary of State for Defence and the Under-Secretary have both said that it is an undisputed fact that they 245 could not have insured on a " new for old " basis. I gather that the noble Lord did not dispute my figures. I gave the total loss as £23,000; under-insurance for which the regiment was responsible, £3,000; insurance money back £9,000, making a difference of £11,000. Does the noble Lord dispute that or not? We want to know.
Lord WINTER BOTTOM
My Lords, I cannot answer the question of what might have happened if something different had been done. What I can do later in the discussion is to state the problem of inflation insurance, which is really what we are discussing. But if I may just leave that for a moment, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention once again to Regulation 1535, which I really cannot believe could have been clearer. The regulation says:Public property must be properly insured; private property—the property of the regiment—should be insured so that the high cost of replacement in the event of loss or damage is covered.It really could not have been clearer and presumably the adjutant at his desk on the particular day when this was issued, read it.
The second point is the question of compensation, and since this really does give rise to a great deal of confusion I should like to go into the matter in some detail. Broadly speaking, Her Majesty's Government pay compensation of the sort we are now considering in two ways; either as Common Law damages, or where provision is made either in legislation or under Departmental regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, is perhaps better qualified than I am to explain certain Common Law damages, so perhaps I may confine myself to saying that such damages are paid by Her Majesty's Government when loss, injury or damage has been caused to the claimant or plaintiff by negligence for which the Crown is legally liable. The legal position is based, of course, on the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, which enables the Crown to be sued in tort, and any claimant at Common Law may, if he so wishes, ask the Court to hear his case against the Crown, and give judgment.
It has been suggested that Her Majesty's Government might have some legal liability for the loss of the Green Howards band property because it took place on 246 premises owned by the Crown. This suggestion was not pursued and since the loss was caused by terrorist activity I suggest, with respect, that it most unlikely that a court of law would hold the Crown legally liable to meet the regiment's claim. This leaves compensation which may be paid under legislation or regulations, and we have been talking about regulations. There are, of course, a great many varieties of this form of compensation, but the feature common to all is that payment is made if certain pre-determined conditions are fulfilled, and the question of negligence does not normally arise. Perhaps the most widely known compensation of this type is the industrial injury benefit paid by the Department of Health and Social Security to an employee who is injured at work.
Among the various regulations which govern the lives of Servicemen and civilian employees of the Crown there are, therefore, regulations, which include provision for the payment of compensation to officers and soldiers who lose personal possessions in specified circumstances, subject to certain conditions which are clearly laid down. May I stress, officers and soldiers. It was under this particular part of the Ministry of Defence regulations that the regiment's claim was made and considered. Unfortunately, the band's claim did not fulfil one of the basic requirements, which is that compensation cannot be obtained under an insurance policy or elsewhere. We have already seen that the band obtained some compensation from its insurers. Furthermore, bands are specifically mentioned in Regulation 1535. The attention of band committees is specifically drawn to the need to effect adequate insurance of their property to protect themselves from the high cost of replacement in the event of loss or damage. A similar warning is given in the Ministry's Instructions for Bands.
As I hope to show in a moment, the regiment, unfortunately, nevertheless failed to take this simple and sensible step, and they now seek to obtain assistance from public funds to make up for their omission. In spite of the fact that the claim did not fulfil the conditions laid down in the regulations, Her Majesty's Government decided, as a special case, to pay sums totalling nearly £2,500 to individual bandsmen who had lost private 247 instruments and other personal possessions, because it was thought that, as good employers, it would be reasonable to do so.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, surely the men who are not given this compensation are also employees of the Government. Why is there discrimination between the two?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, because not everybody in the regiment is a bandsman. It was the individual bandsman, who was also a soldier, who was compensated for the loss of his instrument; but the regiment is also a corporate body and as such has responsibility for its own hand—not the Government. May I make the point that compensation paid to the individual bandsman was paid, as usual at the estimated second-hand value of the items at the time of their loss. I am sure—perhaps I am not so sure after this debate —that it will be recognised that in making these payments Her Majesty's Government were acting generously and as good employers, particularly since there is in Great Britain no general scheme for paying such compensation from public funds for damage to private property caused by terrorist attacks. May I say that again? It is the key of the argument. There is no general scheme for paying such compensation from public funds for damage to private property caused by terrorist attacks. Those instruments of the band were not the private property of soldiers or bandsmen; they were not private property, but corporate property.
Damage from terrorist attacks has become a tragic feature of life in England. and, when personal injury or death is caused thereby, a claim may be made under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. However, there is no corresponding provision for paying compensation from public funds for damage to private property in Great Britain, as there is in Northern Ireland.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, in that case, why is there in Clause (g), paragraph 1530,and band property limited to articles considered necessary "?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I cannot answer that at this point. What 248 I am saying is that at present there is no corresponding provision for paying compensation from public funds for damage to private property in Great Britain, as there is in Northern Ireland. This is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made—the noble Lord is not here at the moment. I said I thought there was a difference, and this is confirmation of that fact. The situation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is different. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been asked more than once to introduce a scheme for compensation for damaged property to be paid from public funds, but has declined to do so since the risk can be covered by insurance, and the sensible owner should insure his own property. If the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood (who has just returned to the Chamber), will read Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I confirmed what I said to him earlier, that the situations in England and in Northern Ireland are different.
My Lords, it has been argued that having paid compensation outside the regulations to individual bandsmen, the same should be done for the band itself. This is what the argument tonight is about. However, there is a difference between individual soldiers and a regimental band which, as 1 have said, is expected to organise its affairs properly. With your Lordships' forbearance, 1 will state the new-for-old argument, because this has been raised. It has been argued that at the time of the loss the band could not obtain insurance to cover the cost of replacing the lost items with new ones, although what is now termed new-for-old insurance has since become available. That is the point. It was not available at the time. This was raised by several noble Lords. I am not quite sure why it is considered that this is a good reason for asking for compensation from public funds, but a few words about this might be appropriate.
In normal times, most articles have a second-hand value which decreases as they wear out. If the article is insured for its original value and is lost, the insurance company will pay either the original value, the insured value, or the actual value at the time of loss, whichever is the lesser. Inflation has changed this picture, however. As the cost of new articles continues to rise, so, very often, does the second-hand value of used articles. The actual value 249 of a used article, therefore, can increase instead of decrease, although the increase may well be less than the increase in the price of the new article. Because of this situation, insurers introduced new-for-old insurance. This means that, subject to certain conditions which often include an additional premium, an insured part-worn item lost or destroyed can be replaced by a brand new one, of which the insurers will pay the full cost. This change in insurance practice started, I believe, with the insurance of house contents. By 1975—and what we have been talking about took place in 1974—it had been extended to some other types of insurance.
My Lords, I am quite willing to accept that new-for-old insurance may not have been available for bands in 1974 and, indeed, may not have been widely known. However, for various reasons I do not think the argument has any validity. In the first place, if new-for-old insurance was indeed not available, the regiment was in no worse position than anyone else whose property was destroyed or damaged, and for whom " new for old " insurance was not available in 1974. Secondly, even if new-for-old insurance had been available to the band, I am not at all sure that they would have taken advantage of the position and increased their insurance cover.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I think this is coming into the realms of supposition in a way that is not wholly right. What we want to know from the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who has said that the regiment should have insured the instruments and did not do so, is how they could have done so when new-for-old insurance was not available.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, they could have insured on the old basis, but not on the new basis introduced following inflation.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, many of us believe it is a very far cry to assume that, had new-for-old insurance been available, the regiment would not have used it because they did not take out adequate insurance on the old basis. Would the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, agree that this is supposition, and that it is really a smear on the regiment and, indeed, on the Army?
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, that is not so. What the noble Lord stated is pure supposition, and I really must stress this.
§ Lord LYELL
That because the regiment did not take out adequate insurance on the old basis, they would not have taken out adequate insurance on the new-for-old basis had it been available. To suppose this goes well beyond, I believe, what we are debating this evening. It goes into the realms of hypothesis, and I understand that what we are asking for is fact.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, may I accept the noble Lord's point; I was moving into the field of supposition and I will cease to do so.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, surely if the noble Lord abandons the supposition then he must admit that the regiment was in no position to insure on an adequate basis. Having regard to the fact that it was IRA terrorism, should not the Government at least say, " We will pay the difference "? The regiment had been hit right between the eyes because it could not do something which it was impossible for it to do, and the Minister now admits it.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
No, my Lords. What I am going to say is, quite simply, that it would have been entirely possible under the old regulations to have placed a value on the band's instruments and insured them for a certain value. When we insure property we do not always go out and get a valuation of its value as at today; we say that obviously the value of the property has risen and we assess its replacement value today at EX thousand, and therefore we raise the value we place upon this particular property for the purpose of insurance. Even under the old rules it would have been possible for the regiment to make an intelligent guess at the replacement value of the instruments and to have insured them at that estimated value at the time of the insurance. That was open to the regiment.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord did not hear me when I said that that had been done, after the attack, by the insurance brokers, Wilson & Co., who are the military insurance brokers. They set the figure at 25 per cent., which was repeated by my noble friend Lord Lyell, and that made £12,000. The difference we are talking about tonight is between £12,000 and £23,000. I am still waiting to hear the answer of the noble Lord to the argument that all noble Lords have addressed to him on that difference. We are not talking about the £3,000.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, we are talking about the procedures of the prudent insurer of private property. In any case, however comparatively small the sum is, the regiment fell short: it did not, even on the lowest level, pay a proper premium for the instruments as at that time.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I am sorry to come back to this point, which is a very difficult one. Was it, or was it not, open to the regiment to insure those instruments for £23,000?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I really cannot answer that because I am not an expert on insurance. I would have thought that I could insure my life for a quarter of a million pounds. Whether it is worth it or not is another question.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
Well, my Lords, I would have thought that under the old regulations it would have been entirely possible to insure the band's instruments for any value that the band committee agreed to place upon them.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to keep away from the question of insuring his life? He is going to live for a long time yet, so the answer to that is academic. Would he concentrate on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire? Would he concentrate on finding some respectable argument—because he has not done it yet—as to why the Government should not cough up £11,000? That point has not been answered.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I am about to find a respectable argument which I shall give to the noble Lord. It is respectable certainly, unpleasant also, but that is the argument I am about to give. I have mentioned more than once that the band's property was under-insured, and since it is this fact which is the main cause of the regiment's difficulties I must give some details. I say this in accordance with my brief, but I think all the details have been covered by noble Lords who have laid the foundation for today's discussion. At one point in our earlier discussion, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, made exactly the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is on his side. Obviously Gog and Magog are against me. He said that the Government might pay the insurance premium, but, as I have explained, the property involved was the regiment's private property and the responsibility rested fairly and squarely on them to insure it at a realistic value.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
Of course you can. I can estimate the value of my life. The hand can estimate the value of its instruments.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I cannot insure my small car to be replaced by a Rolls-Royce. That is what we are talking about. Insurance does not work that way. One can obtain insurance now on the new-for-old basis, but if one went to an insurance broker in 1974. Wilson and Company as the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, mentioned, and said that one wished to insure the instruments of the Green Howards, which as noble Lords and experts from the regiment have stated were worth about £12,000, I do not believe that it was possible. From the inquiries I have made outside, apart from the papers I have received from the regiment, we do not believe that it was possible then to insure, on the basis that the noble Lord is claiming, for £23,000. We should be grateful if, at a later stage, he might be 253 able to let us know whether his argument is correct. From all the researches I have done—and they are quite considerable—he is, I am afraid, wrong.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I do not know how much value the noble Lord places on expert advice, but I am always somewhat sceptical of its absolute value. May I repeat again what I said before the interjection: As I have explained, the property involved was the regiment's private property, and the responsibility rested fairly and squarely on it to insure it at a realistic value. It did not do so, and it has only itself to blame.
Reference was made at the same Question Time to the compensation paid to Members of Parliament who lost some of their belongings in the explosion in Westminster Hall a week after the incident at Strensall Camp. The compensation which was paid was assessed on the same basis as that paid to individual bandsmen of the Green Howards. In both cases the payments were to individuals. The regimental band is not in the same category.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether the Members of Parliament were duly insured against their loss?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, the bandsmen were not duly insured, but nevertheless they received an ex gratia payment from the Government, as did Members of Parliament on the same footing.
If I may say so without disrespect, the arguments which have been advanced to support the band's claim have been based mainly on sentiment, and partly on misunderstandings. I hope I have cleared up the latter. I am as sensitive to sentiment as I think any noble Lord here. am not, of course, suggesting that the question of sentiment should be brushed on one side, but there comes a time when sentiment must be weighed against reality. This is where I must give the respectable answer to my noble friend Lord Wigg. Her Majesty's Government have, as good employers, already paid certain compensation when such compensation from public funds was not generally available. But if they were, in addition, to pay compensation to the Green Howards, who failed to keep its 254 band property adequately insured, other organisations with insufficient insurance, whose property was damaged by terrorist activity, would look to the Government to pay them compensation. In fact, the payment of compensation of the type proposed by various noble Lords tonight would create a precedent which would have absolutely unforeseen results in the future. As I have already explained, it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government to pay compensation to the owners of property damaged by terrorist activity, and it is for this reason that we cannot make any payment to the Green Howards.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he take back to his right honourable friend the very evident feeling from all quarters of this House?
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, once again I beg of him to admit this: ex gratia payments were made to individuals, so there is obviously no objection in principle to ex gratia payments being made to somebody else. That is the first point. The second thing is—and will he please write this down because it is clear that he does not understand it—that the regiment could not do that which he says it ought to do. It could not insure beyond £12.000. Therefore, as it could not do that which he says it ought to do, the Government, having made an ex gratia payment to individuals, should make an ex gratia payment of £11,000 at least to the regiment. Would he be good enough to take that back?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
Of course, my Lords. I spoke against sentiment, but I am not insensitive to the feeling of this House. I think the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, at the end has validity. I shall give him, I would suggest, a written answer
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
I shall give to the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, a written answer on this particular point. My whole case has been based on the fact that the regiment could have insured its instruments properly and it did riot. If I 255 am wrong, I shall certainly inform the House.