HL Deb 28 September 1976 vol 374 cc363-85

12 midnight.

Lord TRANMIRE rose to move to resolve, That, taking into account the exceptional circumstances in which their regimental band instruments and equipment were destroyed through IRA bombing at Strensall Camp on 11th June 1974, Her Majesty's Government should compensate the Green Howards for that proportion of the cost of replacement for which it was not, at that time, possible to insure. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I explained the position fully on 25th May. I want tonight to concentrate my remarks at this late hour on the developments that have taken place since that debate and today.

In winding up the debate on 25th May, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, at column 251, said: 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. Then the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, pointed out that the regiment could not insure beyond £12,000 and therefore the Government should make an ex gratia payment of £11,000. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, then said: I think the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg … has validity. … 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 not." [col. 254.]

On 17th June the noble Lord sent me the Written Answer he promised, and in that he said that the band's property could have been insured for its second-hand value. That was dealing with the point, correcting what he had said before, that it could have been insured for any value the band committee had agreed to place upon it. He then went on, which was not what we had expected, to say this: The Green Howards Band decided to re-equip with brand new instruments to avoid the cancellation of its forthcoming engagements and thereby placed itself in its present financial difficulties. They were fully entitled to choose the course of action. But I am afraid that they are not entitled to expect public money to come to their rescue. With hindsight, perhaps they may feel that they would have been better advised to rebuild more slowly even at the cost of cancelling a number of engagements.

Let me tell the House that those words of the noble Lord caused great indignation when they were known. How could you expect a regiment to have a regimental band without uniforms, without instruments? How could a representative of the Ministry of Defence really suggest that a regiment should abandon all efforts to recruit a regimental band or to keep the band together by allowing them to have no instruments and to wait as he suggests?

In view of that indignation, Sir Timothy Kitson asked the Prime Minister to receive a deputation with a view to asking him to intervene in this matter. On 15th July the Prime Minister sent Sir Timothy a letter in which he refused to see a deputation. But he did say this—and I am reading from his letter at page 2: Roy Mason has assured me that he accepts that ' new for old ' insurance cover might not have been available for bands before June 1974. But even where compensation from public funds is available on other grounds the method of assessment based on the value of the lost items has been used for many years rather than the replacement of lost items by new and more expensive ones. That again has caused very considerable surprise and disappointment. I do not think anybody who served under, or who has known, Winston Churchill, Clem Attlee, or Anthony Eden, would have believed that that would have been the reply of a Prime Minister when asked to receive a deputation of Members of both Houses. It is very regrettable that that has happened.

Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, put forward a new and surprising switch in the argument of the Government in a reply he gave to a Starred Question. He made a statement that conflicted both with his own letter to me of 25th June and also of the statement of the Prime Minister of 17th June. The noble Lord said: I confirm that Her Majesty's Government have been advised that the band could have insured its instruments in June 1974 for a sum which would have enabled the lost instruments to be replaced by similar, new ones."(Official Report, 27/9/76; col. 12.)

I have in my hand a letter from Wilson and Company, the military insurance brokers, dated 26th June. This company cover at the present day 90 per cent. of military insurance. They say: Prior to June 1974 it was not possible to insure all the instruments or band property for a greater value than the current market value of the item. They go on to say: As a result of this claim"— referring to the Green Howards' claim: it was apparent to us that a serious financial loss was being suffered. We as the major military insurance brokers made representation to under-writers to correct this situation for the future. As a result of our representations, we were able, subsequent to this situation, to offer insurance to regimental bands on a new-for-old basis, a situation which did not appertain in June 1974 and prior thereto.

After hearing and reading the reply of the noble Lord yesterday, I telephoned to the insurance brokers this afternoon. I am told that they confirm that their statement is accurate and true. I challenge the noble Lord tonight to tell me of any regimental band which, prior to June 1974, was insured on a new-for-old basis. If this company, who carry 90 per cent. of the military insurance, believe that statement to be wrong, I think we want to know of a case where a regimental band has been insured on a new-for-old basis before that day.

The regiment have always maintained that they should shoulder the loss of the £3,000 that was not covered by insurance, of the second-hand value. They admit they were under-insured by £3,000. That £3,000 has already been provided. The freedom boroughs have given instruments to the value of £900. On 8th August, variety artists from all over Britain came to Scarborough to give a performance, without taking any fee, in aid of the regimental band. This very generous gesture, to a packed house, brought in the £3,000. So tonight in this Resolution I am asking the Government to honour their obligations by making an ex gratia payment to the regiment, not of £ 11,000 as I was asking on 25th May, but of half that sum. There has been the generosity of people all over this country who have been wanting a way of expressing their gratitude to a very gallant regiment that had six tours of duty in Northern Ireland, and also of expressing their indignation that the IRA should place a regiment in such financial difficulties, when their band instruments were in protected Ministry of Defence property at Strensall Barracks. Tonight, therefore, I ask the Government to make a similar gesture to that which other people in this country have already made. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That taking into account the exceptional circumstances in which their Regimental Band instruments and equipment were destroyed through IRA bombing at Strensall Camp on 11th June 1974, Her Majesty's Government should compensate the Green Howards for that proportion of the cost of replacement for which it was not, at that time, possible to insure.—(Lord Tranmire.)

12.12 a.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, in this Resolution. I do it on several grounds. I was commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment. I was there for a brief period until I went to the Royal Flying Corps. Relatives of mine served in the last war in the Yorkshire Regiment. I was in the Yorkshire Regiment with Stanley Holloway, and I helped to teach him how to say "Sam, pick up tha' musket". I was also there on one occasion when the president of the mess committee had the bandmaster in to ask him if the trombones could not all come out and in together, which was a very classic occasion.

We have a Minister answering tonight whose forbears came from a very keen brass band area, where I live. It is said that one band came home triumphant in the middle of the night after a contest, and they played through his grandfather's village and the residents complained. The next time the band went to a contest and came back they took off their boots, but they still played through the village. On that alone I would expect the Minister answering for the Ministry of Defence to have a kindly thought on this appeal that has been made by Lord Tranmire.

I take a different view of this. During this conversation and argument that has gone on about this money, some suggestion has been made as to how the Minister of Defence can take responsibility for the actions of the IRA. We would all ask that question, why the Minister of Defence cannot take responsibility for the IRA in other places besides Yorkshire. Why was it that those instruments were able to be blown up so easily? I have never seen or heard any comment about how it comes about that a supposedly guarded place allows easy access as happened on that night in June 1974. I have seen no information as to whether or not anybody was hauled over the coals on account of it. Until I hear that responsibility was placed in the right quarter for what happened that night I shall be very dissatisfied. In any case, whether the satisfactory answer comes up tonight or not, if there is a Division on this issue I am going to vote against the Government. I think there are many noble Lords here who are prepared to do the same.

I should like to know this, too. There was a suggestion that payment might create a precedent, a kind of warranty for behaviour after the event. I reiterate part of the question the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, put to the Minister: Has there been any single instance of a band which has lost its instruments under similar circumstances since June 1974? In any case, if there had, it would not affect the validity of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, because at the time when the instruments were insured—admittedly under-insured because of the inability to insure on a new-for-old basis, which was soon afterwards changed—they could not possibly appreciate it. I agree that if it had been possible to insure on a new-for-old basis much of the blame would have attached to those in charge of the regimental band, but that was not the case.

After a day when big questions have been debated and partially resolved, we come on to a question of this sort, but while it might look unimportant it looms very importantly in the minds of people in the streets of some of the Yorkshire villages and towns. I tell your Lordships this. A fortnight ago I took a holiday up into Swaledale and I said to a man in one of the small towns there, "Do you know anything about the band of the Yorkshire Regiment?" He laughed. He said, "You must be pulling my leg". He said, "If those instruments had been bagpipes, bloody Government would have paid long ago!" We have a laugh about that, but do not let us have a laugh when it conies to the regional loyalties, while we are here at 17 minutes past 12 and proud of it to support something which we think is our due. When it comes to devolution and the debate on it I warn the Government, look out, because the ranks will be closed and it will not be a question of appealing for a few thousand pounds; it will be a question of appealing on a great matter of principle. I say no more on that.

With the people who are going to speak now I am going to give way, just as I hope the Minister is going to give way and be generous on what is a minor monetary matter but a very important one that is discussed in the villages and towns of Yorkshire. My Lords, we think we have been badly treated. Let the Government remedy that tonight.

12.20 a.m.


My Lords, in the previous Unstarred Question debate on this subject I explained what I might call my sentimental attachment to the Green Howards, having served with the division during the war, and I referred to other connections of that kind. I have listened to and read about all the arguments on this subject, from the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, and others, and I have seen a copy of the Prime Minister's letter and, having done all that, I can only conclude that they are all completely and utterly irrelevant to what actually took place. To my mind and, I am certain, to the mind of every person who has ever served in any of the Services, let alone the Army, the circumstances under which this particular bombing took place makes everybody, certainly everybody I have ever met or have ever mentioned this to, say straight away, "There should have been no question of insurance, no question of anything; the Government should have recompensed them on the spot". They would have done it had they been in Northern Ireland, but because the IRA, the enemy on this occasion, did it in Yorkshire, this mealy-mouthed, penny-pinching set of beaurocrats says, "Oh no. We are going to argue about this. You should have paid for them".

The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in the last debate gave an excellent description to those of your Lordships who do not know the system of Army bands and how they are connected with the regiment, so I will not repeat what he said. He certainly put noble Lords in the picture. He made the point that to the regiment, its band is something particular, something personal and something very real. And where was this regiment serving at the time when the IRA blew up their instruments? Northern Ireland. And what happens in Northern Ireland? May I ask the Minister to say how much it costs to protect Ministers and senior civil servants in Northern Ireland? Consider the fortunes that are being made in Northern Ireland by, for example, glass manufacturers. Who pays for all that? But what are we doing in this case? Here we are discussing a paltry sum. It is a sum which any of us, by mortgaging our houses or whatever, could pay, yet we are arguing over it.

I went to see my old bandmaster last week. He now works at regimental headquarters in Exeter. He was not the regimental bandmaster in my day; he was a corporal drummer, I think. He had returned from one of the meetings that bandmasters have and he told me of the feeling that existed throughout that establishment over this matter. Yet this penny-pinching continues. More compensation than the amount we are talking about was given to a terrorist who was wounded in Northern Ireland. Why are we continuing to quibble over this? In my view, with respect to Lord Tranmire and not so much respect to the Government, all these arguments are irrelevant. This should be settled. Indeed, it should have been paid on the spot. The regiment, which had served the country and which was serving the country at that time should have been recompensed on the spot without any argument. That is the view of everybody I have discussed this with.

One final point. I have in my hand the instructions for bands. I do not think that Lord Wigg, in his excellent speech on the last occasion, instructed your Lordships on this subject, but my bandmaster discussed it with me last week. Amendment 3 of December 1972 to Instructions to Bands 1969, Army Code No. 14170, states what amount is to be paid to the Government—to the central fund—from band engagements. From the first £1,000, the public fund receives 7½ per cent.; above £1,000 it goes up to 10 per cent. That is what the Government get from all the Army bands when they play. If that is added together, would your Lordships think it beyond the realms of possibility that the regiment should be compensated out of that fund alone?

I do not look on this as a question of bureaucratic arguments. I do not look on it from the point of view of regulations. I go on the basis that "man cannot live by bread alone", and those of us who have served look on this as an absolute scandal. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, in his Resolution.

12.26 a.m.


My Lords, in support of my noble friend Lord Tranmire and the Green Howards, I feel that I am expressing the view of a great many people who are connected with the regiment in North Yorkshire, when I say that a gross injustice has been done by an ungrateful and ungenerous Government.

The details have been explained to the Prime Minister in full. His answer is, No, because there is a rule which says that compensation is not given for damage or loss of property caused by the IRA in England, Scotland or Wales. On the other hand, compensation is given to people in Ulster whose property or bodies are damaged. All right, that is the rule. But surely Her Majesty's Government have power to make an ex gratia payment without creating a precedent in order to help a regiment which has defended Queen and country against the enemy in Ulster in six tours of duty in the last six years and has suffered the irreplaceable loss of one officer and seven other ranks killed and 60 of all ranks wounded.

The Green Howards need only £6,000 to pay off their debt for damage done by the outrage of 1974. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, to remember the ideals of the regiment in which he had the honour to serve and to realise the obligations and the debt which Her Majesty's Government owe to this loyal and gallant regiment.

12.28 a.m.


My Lords, it is disappointing that it is necessary to speak a second time in support of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, in his plea for compensation for the loss of band instruments and other property of the Green Howard's hand as a result of an IRA bomb. When I was in Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Strensall, the other day, I saw a number of handsome new brick buildings going up. I understand that these are paid for under a different head of estimates, but surely, from some other head of estimates, some savings could be found to pay the sum outstanding for which it was impossible to insure in 1974.

The Prime Minister, in a letter to the honourable Member for Richmond, Sir Timothy Kitson, said: I think one must start from the general arrangements for the payment of compensation for damage caused by terrorist activity. So far, so good. He continues: Although there is a scheme for the payment of such compensation in Northern Ireland, there is no similar scheme in England. No organisation can make a claim against the Government, nor can the Government pay for any damage caused by terrorists in England. Any individual or organisation which suffers such damage must look for compensation to their insurers. My Lords, I find this argument not merely curious but simply fallacious. If there is no compensation scheme in England, why is there not one? Why should Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, enjoy privileges that do not apply to the mainland of England, Scotland and Wales? Again, in the letter the Prime Minister says, "nor can the Government pay …" Of course the Government can pay, either by drawing up a scheme which will include England, Scotland and Wales, or by making an ex gratia payment.

Indeed, it seems to me that a scheme should be drawn up without delay. It is absurd that the law should be so arranged that terrorists can cause greater financial distress to individuals in England, Scotland and Wales than in Northern Ireland. It is, in fact, nothing other than providing them with an additional weapon in their squalid armoury. I hardly think that that is the intention of the Government.

My Lords, there is one aspect of this matter which has been entirely ignored. The real fundamental issue in this case is, who was responsible for the custody of the property of the Green Howards band on the night of 11th June, 1974? The answer to that, I understand, is short and simple—the Ministry of Defence. I see no reason why the Green Howards should not sue the Ministry of Defence for negligence at common law. It would be a lengthy and expensive process. There is no doubt in my mind that the Ministry of Defence would lose, and so have to pay the costs. Surely it would be much cheaper for the Government to settle out of court.

I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter in a manner favourable to the Green Howards. After all, if this incident had taken place in Northern Ireland the Government would have paid compensation.

12.32 a.m.


My Lords, I would not have troubled your Lordships by speaking again, but when on 25th May we debated the loss of the Green Howards' instruments I urged the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, to put down a substantive Motion and I said that if he did I would add my name to it, and, as is my custom, my vote would follow my name. I regret that my knowledge of your Lordships' procedure was such that I made a promise that I could not carry out; I could not add my name to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire. I apologise for that error, but I am going to carry out the rest of the bargain; that is why I am here tonight. My vote is going to go against the Government, and I say that with regret.

I think about all my time in this House and as a Member of another place; my maiden speech was made on defence. Like my forbears I was a regular soldier and and I cannot quite understand when a Service Minister draws a distinction that he does between individuals and a regiment. I shall try to illustrate the point I have in mind here. The rivalry between the Green Howards or the West Yorks, or any other regiment, or the rivalry between A company and B company does not mean, in the last analysis, that one is better than the other. It is concerned simply with an individual serving in the company. A company is not a thing, it is not a place; it is an individual. It is a characteristic. A regiment, a company, any unit of the Regular Army, is a living thing, and an individual serving in it is as much a part of it as the fingers on his hand are part of him.

It astonishes me that a Minister responsible for a Service Department could have used some of the arguments that have been used. Just think for a moment, my Lords. Members of the House of Commons lose their property in an explosion in the House caused by some terrorist activity. Without hesitation the Government pay compensation. I frankly do not understand the argument. But because I know, because I have served in a minor capacity, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister, my noble friend Lord Shinwell; because I have been taking part in Defence debates for a very long time, I do understand (at least, I think I do) the nature of bureaucratic control in the Army and that it exists to a greater extent than it does in the other two Services. I say, without the slightest hesitation, that had this outrage occurred in the Royal Air Force the bill would have been paid almost as soon as the damage occurred; and 1 believe the same is true of the Navy. Only in the Army—which, God help it!, lives by regulation—do we find this kind of nonsense running round.

The reason for it is not because the late Minister for Defence, Mr. Mason, is a mean-hearted man, and so on and so forth., but because he is the child of a rather special breed of bureaucracy which, when faced with the particular problem of what happened at Strensall in June 1974, at once thinks: "If we go and do that, somebody is going to make a claim for a mouth organ in Suez, or somewhere else". Therefore, you must not settle for the trombones in Strensall lest you have to pay for the Jew's harp (I beg your Lordships' pardon; that sounds almost racialist) or similar instrument in the West Indies or any other part of the Commonwealth. That is the argument. And it was because I sensed my noble friend's difficulty that I tried to find a way out—and the Minister did say that my point had validity. I am not here scoring a debating point, but I want to try to help him out again.

The argument is this. If this outrage had occurred in Northern Ireland, the money would have been paid; but the band is part of the Regument, and the Regiment was in Ireland on its fourth tour. Ipso facto, what happened at Strensall happened because the band was in Ireland; and as the band is part of the Regiment, then, very well, treat it as being where it is as a whole.

If I draw on my memory, I well remember, now so long ago—1921, I think—that I was attached to the second battalion of the Royal Scots. I was serving with the detail in Salamanca Barracks in Aldershot, but the regiment was in Enniskein in those far off days when it took us 72,000 troops to take on 27 men of Michael Collins' Cork Brigade. That was in the days, of course, of long ago, but the problem was not so different. But, then, everything that ever happened had to be referred back to the regimental headquarters. It is just the same here. The commanding officer of that detachment was in Strensall—it happened to be the band—and so they do not pay. But if it had been part of (shall we say?) the regimental messing equipment, they would have paid. It just happens to be that the Ministry of Defence can draw a line here and make a distinction between the individuals to whom they make ex gratin payments and the band, which they will not pay for. It is utterly illogical, except, of course, as I say, that somebody is worried stiff about the possibility that if they pay 4p here then they may have to pay 3½p somewhere else.

My Lords, one could almost say that this is not the way to run a railway. It is certainly not the way to run an Army if you want to retain (and in the circumstances in which the Army is serving in Northern Ireland I should have thought you would want to retain it at all costs) a high sense of morale and, apart from fine words from visiting Ministers, the realisation, not in what men say but in what they do, that this country places a high value on, and holds in the highest regard, the great sacrifices which the Army is making in the interests of civilised society—and that is in the name of every one of us. It is making a contribution there which is utterly and completely beyond price. Therefore, I feel slightly demeaning to reduce the sacrifice that that Regiment has made in six tours to the level of a few thousand pounds when one knows what it means, not only to the Green Howards but to the Army as a whole. Because this is a piece of meanness. Perhaps it can be argued that it is a piece of bureaucratic and therefore necessary meanness.

What I have tried to do on a previous occasion—and I have tried to do it tonight—is to ask the Minister again to go against his brief and to go back (he has the feeling of the House as he had on a previous occasion) even to the Prime Minister, whose letter, if I may say so, does him little credit. To refuse—and I support the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, on this—an all-Party delegation in a plea from the heart of this kind does no Minister any credit.

Apart from that, I ask the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, to forget his brief and to get up and say, as he said to me on another occasion: "Yes, your argument has some validity. I cannot say, 'Yes'; but, in view of the feeling of the House I am going to take it back again." If he does that there will not be a vote. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, will accept that. In the ultimate, here we shall go on nagging and arguing about this. It will not be forgotten because this is a piece of meanness which not only does the Government no credit but does the Army—and this is what matters—irreparable harm.

12.41 a.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I did not put down my name to speak, for which I apologise, but just two points occurred to me while listening to the debate. The first is that it probably cost quite a lot of money to keep this House open late on the two occasions it has debated this subject. The second is that we are all very concerned with the amount of money the Government are spending. The Government today have come to this House and said that they are going to spend £300 million nationalising the shipbuilding industry and the aircraft industry—which most people do not want. Yet they are not prepared to spend £6,000 on a piece of justice to the Green Howards—which probably everybody wants.

12.42 a.m.


My Lords, at this late hour we are debating what I can only call this vexed question which has been raised several times already by my noble friend Lord Tranmire. I think the House will be aware that all the speeches tonight have been notable. I think it would be invidious of me to draw attention to any one of them, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, will not mind my thanking him for his reference to the bagpipes. As, certainly, the youngest representative of the Army here—I had the honour to serve two years as a Scots Guardsman—I still remember distinctly my service with the Scots Guards and particularly their music and bagpipes. I could not immediately think of any tunes which would be applicable to the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes,apart from two that came to mind: "My Love is but a Lassie Yet" and "Ho-ro my nutbrown maiden". This does not apply tonight to the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes.

My Lords, I believe that all of us have been unconvinced by the reply given to my noble friend Lord Tranmire on 25th May this year in reply to an Unstarred Question he had down that evening. Of course, there has been a great deal of discussion since then. But all the points raised during the last debate on the Unstarred Question are still valid.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, could explain one or two points. For instance, how could the Regiment have been expected to insure, according to Regulation 1535, quoted by the noble Lord in column 245 of the Official Report of 25th May, so that the high cost of replacement in the event of loss or damage is covered"? I have a letter (I think my noble friend Lord Tranmire also referred to it) written in confirmation from Wilson and Company, who are the regimental insurance brokers, saying that the new-for-old insurance cover was not available for the regimental band in June 1974. My noble friend Lord Tranmire has spoken of this matter most clearly. Could the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, explain in detail how it was possible for the band equipment to be adequately insured under this Regulation 1535?

Perhaps my noble friend Lord Tranmire will forgive me if I ask one or two further questions. First, the Ministry of Defence pays compensation for loss or damage according to the article's worth where insurance is not available. Who can declare what is the worth, say, of a tuba or a clarinet or, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, I think, mentioned, a mouth organ? I can think of at least three different figures defining the value of what is article for insurance purposes.

I submit there is a perfect case for assuming that value to the Regiment was meaningless, merely emotion. The Regimental Bank needs possibly another tuba or another euphonium in order to meet its obligations. But would the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, confirm that the Government expected the Regiment after the explosion at Strensall in June 1974 to scratch around, seeking replacement instruments at a value determined by insurance on a written down basis? Would he agree that even had the Regiment insured their equipment to a figure of £12,000, replacement instruments, even old, second-hand or used ones, could well have cost substantially more? I stressed in my remarks during our last debate that the speed and urgency of re-equipping the band was paramount, and I have no qualms in returning to this point tonight.

Did the Government believe that the Regiment were unwise or foolish, or was it wrong to replace the instruments, uniforms and music in order to fulfil long-standing engagements? The second major question the Government can explain to us is how they expect the morale of the Green Howards to have been affected by the refusal to cover the uninsurable and extraordinary loss. Leaving aside the precedent of £2,500 paid to members of the Band as compensation when their personal effects were destroyed in this same explosion, does not the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, recognise that soldiers do care about their band? Noble Lords will know from visits to Service personnel that they may make of the immense effect on competence, professionalism, and indeed self-confidence, of all members of the Services. I think that it is almost impossible to explain to them the reasons why the Government thought fit to pay £2,500 to the Green Howards bandsmen, and yet they continue right up to this evening to refuse to cover the uninsurable loss to the Regiment.

The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom mentioned in his speech during our last debate on this subject that the situation in Northern Ireland is different as regards compensation for uninsurable losses. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, referred to that this evening. This fact is certainly unknown to the majority of the population on this side of the water. The Government did not have to make payments to dependants of clearly identifiable terrorists in Northern Ireland, yet these payments were made on an incredibly generous scale, and we find it hard to explain such payments to Servicemen. Perhaps the Government can find more convincing reasons.

The House, at this late hour, would wish me to be very brief. The points which have been raised already by so many noble Lords are still valid. In our earlier debate I raised the questions of morale, of recruiting for this gallant Regiment, and of the need for fulfilling engagements when the band might play at shows, sports meetings, concerts and also recruiting marches in various towns. All of these aspects of a Regiment's life are more important to the members of that Regiment than we can imagine as we sit here tonight. Servicemen and Servicewomen do not believe that a band is merely inefficient, useless or utterly frivolous. I believe the public do not believe this, either.

The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, did not convince us in his reply to Lord Tranmire's Unstarred Question earlier this year, and I hope he can go some way to explain to us tonight how the Regiment can have been at fault in not insuring itself when the particular insurance was unobtainable in June 1974. Because nothing new can have been discovered since then. We believe that the Government have been misguided; they have been mean; they have been petty and, worst of all, they have been totally unreasonable in refusing to compensate the Green Howards. Should the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, wish to press this matter, we are certainly going to be supporting him gladly through the Division Lobbies.

12.50 a.m.


My Lords, this evening I shall touch on only two points. The first is whether or not the replacement value of the instruments could have been achieved by insurance; and the other is the whole appeal to sentiment—with which I have a great deal of sympathy—in helping the Green Howards to replace their regimental property, even though this, in the official view which I am expressing tonight, could have been covered properly by insurance.

We first discussed this matter in May, and the reply that the Prime Minister sent to various people in July expressed an element as to whether or not full replacement value of the instruments that had been lost could have been achieved by insurance. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in May, because I respect his views on matters of this kind. When I said on that occasion that I believed his views might have some validity, I was not trying to fob him off. He raised a point no one had raised before, and therefore I said that I would look at it.

I believe that the question of whether or not these instruments were insurable to a replacement value is really the crux of the whole argument. My view was, of course, given to the Ministry of Defence, who studied the position again very carefully indeed as a result of the discussions we have had in your Lordships' House. The Defence Claims Commission, who are responsible at the end of the day for deciding these matters, had a lengthy correspondence with a leading member of Lloyd's and in fact received information, which I will quote, which indicates that insufficient care had been taken by the regiment. The instruments could have been insured for what Lloyd's described as their agreed replacement value. That is not quite the same as "new for old", but is very similar. I assume that it means that the replacement value of the instruments was agreed annually between the adjutant and the insurers. What the Defence Claims Commission were told is as follows: The fact is that for many years— "for many years", please note— Lloyd's have issued policies attached to which there is a schedule containing a description of each instrument and a sum insured applicable to each item which is the agreed replacement cost which the underwriters agree to pay in the event of loss on the particular policy. It is said that 90 per cent. of insurance is covered by Wilson and Company, the military insurance brokers. The assumption is that Wilson and Company cannot make a mistake. It seems in fact that they must have done, because this firm whose letter I am quoting is a most reputable firm. And so I have satisified myself—


My Lords, surely this is without precedent—to come to this House tonight and quote an official in the Ministry of Defence on the basis of correspondence he has had with an un-named firm, when the Prime Minister of this country on 15th July wrote to Sir Timothy Kitson in these terms: Roy Mason"— that is, the official's boss— has assured me that 'new for old' insurance cover could not have been available for bands before June 1974. In the name of goodness, who is right— the un-named official or the Prime Minister?


The Prime Minister, my Lords, wrote that letter with the same information available to the Department and myself in July. During the Recess in August various studies were carried out to see—


My Lords, in that case surely propriety requires that if the Prime Minister was wrong then, it is the Prime Minister's bounden duty to write to the Member of Parliament he wrote to originally and to say, "Sorry, mate, I am wrong."—not to come down here tonight and say what some un-named official said. Who the hell is he?


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is asking for the impossible. I am speaking for the Government on this matter, and the fact is that the Government's view is that at that time, when an inadequate insurance policy was taken out, if sufficient trouble had been taken the agreed replacement value for all the instruments could have been calculated, and something very close to new-for-old could have been achieved. The noble Lord may not like it, but that is a fact.


My Lords, if the Prime Minister, with all his advisers did not know, how could the Green Howards have been expected to know?


My Lords, perhaps by getting better professional advisers than they had at the time. That is the answer.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, can the Prime Minister perhaps get better professional advice and possibly resign?


My Lords, may I repeat the question which I put to the noble Lord when I made my speech? How could any regiment deal directly with Lloyd's? They have to do it through a firm of brokers. Wilson and Company handle 90 per cent. of all military cover. How could the Green Howards have found that syndicate, which the noble Lord has spoken about, which was offering that? Also, will he tell me of any case where a regiment has insured its regimental band and equipment under a policy having a new-for-old basis? I asked for that.


My Lords, I shall do my best to satisfy the noble Lord. I can do no more than that. It is the view of the Government that an agreed replacement value could have been achieved. May I go on? I have not satisfied noble Lords on that, and I expect that I shall satisfy them even less at the next stage of my argument. First, may I say to my noble friend Lord Rhodes that he is a little unkind in appealing to my Yorkshire nationalism, which I think is just about as strong as his. The situation is that private property cannot be automatically compensated for by the Government, if that property is capable of being insured. Ex gratia payments can be made, but the phrase "ex gratia" implies that it is an act of grace and is not something that comes as of right, as a result of a certain event. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who made a point about the ex gratia compensation for Members of Parliament when a bomb went off in Westminster Hall. That is fine. An ex gratia payment was made to the individual bandsmen, as individuals of the Green Howards, because they were in a position different from that of the regiment. But the regiment could have insured its instruments to an agreed replacement value and did not do so.


I am not taking that.


May I say that they did not do so, and for that reason it was felt that the best that the Ministry of Defence could do for them was to give the regiment an interest-free loan for part of their loss, repayable over a period of eight years. It may not seem generous, but it was the best the Ministry of Defence thought it could do in the circumstances and under existing law.

Various somewhat critical remarks have been made about the danger of creating a precedent. Every Government is afraid of creating precedents, and the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, knows very well, because of a letter that I wrote to him, as I undertook to do, the kind of precedent that we were afraid of creating. May I quote to him a section of my letter. It said: The principle that compensation should he based on the value of the item lost or damaged has been long established. It has been applied to countless regulation claims over the years and to the special cases, such as the servicemen and civilians who suffered losses during the Cyprus emergency, and other bomb attacks. After all, the event at Strensall is not the only one of this nature that has taken place. Many Members of your Lordships' House suffered loss in Cyprus, and because they were covered by private insurance they did not suffer too severely. Do not let us forget, either, the many civilians who died in the bomb attacks on the pubs in Birmingham. Men and women are suffering damage from the activities of the IRA and other terrorists throughout the country. If precedents are created, then how do we know where the end of the situation will be?


My Lords, may I ask the Minister this question? It is now three years since this incident occurred. Has there been a similar incident in which a band has lost its instruments? If there has not, the fact that insurance is now available would have been taken up. If the insurance had not been taken up to cover fully the instruments, then the Regiment would be to blame, but if there has been no incident since then there is no argument about a pracedent. There is no precedent.


My Lords, the odds against another band being blown up are very long, but it is not only bands which are blown up. Every kind of house, equipment and, indeed, human beings are being destroyed by terrorist action.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, if the noble Lord would give way, perhaps I might point out to him that the noble Lord said that the majority of people who were hurt and maimed in Birmingham were not servants of the Crown. In this case we are speaking about servants of the Crown who, while serving the Crown, have had their property destroyed. In those circumstances the Crown, or Her Majesty's present advisers, should, in my humble opinion, ante-up the cheque for £6,000. This is not going to break the Government. Then we can all go home quietly and peacefully to bed and not have the same debate in three months' time when the Government will be stubborn again and again.


My Lords, I have marched behind many bands in my time, and I think too much stress is being placed upon the fact that it is a band that has been destroyed rather than an element of regimental, not governmental, property. That is the simple view of Her Majesty's Government.


Simple, my Lords?


My Lords, it is extremely simple and clearcut. If the noble Lord does not like it, he may have to come back to make a further attack on me or my successor, but the hard fact of life is that it is the view of the Government that where private property can be covered by insurance, there is no force which can be applied automatically on Her Majesty's Government to give an ex gratia payment. An ex gratia payment was given to the individuals who were affected by this explosion. An Army loan from the Army Benevolent Fund was given to the regiment, but the fact that not the whole of the difference between the under-insurance of the instruments and their replacement value was achieved does not, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, make it imperative and statutory to compensate the regiment for the whole of their loss. Much as I should like to see such things happen and, clearly, much as your Lordships' House would wish to see such an act take place, I cannot go any further than that tonight.


My Lords, the noble Lord is one of the most popular Members of the House. We all know what he really thinks. We all know that he finds what he has had to say exceedingly distasteful. Perhaps he will take one thought back with him. I was Secretary of State for Defence for four years. If I. as Secretary of State for Defence, had asked a Minister in my Department to make the answer that the noble Lord has had to give the House this evening, I should have been ashamed.


My Lords, will the Minister do one thing? Will he go back to the Prime Minister and at least write a letter of apology to Sir Timothy Kitson saying that on 15th July he gave him information which was utterly and completely untrue?


My Lords, as I regard that reply by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, as—in the words of my Leader—disgraceful, I hope that the House will come to a decision on this matter and vote.

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!

On Question, Motion agreed to.