HL Deb 22 April 1993 vol 544 cc1712-5

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, before closing down any military band, they will examine alternative forms of funding, including sponsorship and voluntary donations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, military bands are part of the Armed Forces and alternative means of funding them and their core activities such as sponsorship or voluntary donations would not be appropriate.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering my Question, although the reply was rather disappointing. Is he aware that military bands have wide social implications? Many young people become interested in music with the incentive of playing in a military band later on. That keeps them off the streets. Does he believe that music has an important function by putting heart into our flagging bodies and souls?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I believe I can answer yes to both those questions. One of the most beneficial results of the proposals for changing the structure of Army bands that my right honourable friend and I announced recently will be the transfer of 600 men to the teeth arms of the Army. After all, it is teeth arms we want to enhance rather than the support element.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister accept that his Answer that funding from other sources would be inappropriate comes as a surprise? Is he aware that Army bands are very much sought after in their professional right and are paid for their appearances? Is he also aware that the Welsh Guards band, one of the most superb military bands in Britain, recently toured parts of the United States of America, was received with acclaim wherever it went, distinguished itself and brought credit to Britain?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I should like to associate myself enthusiastically with the noble Lord's remarks about the Welsh Guards band which is in the best traditions not just of the Brigade of Guards but of the Welsh nation. I phrased my Answer to the Question asked by the noble Baroness with some care when I said that alternative means of funding the Armed Forces bands and their core activities were not appropriate. For the non-essential core activities, as the noble Lord points out, we encourage sponsorship and funding and that is extremely effective. The noble Lord might also like to know that, if we were to rely entirely upon alternative sources such as sponsorship for the core funding (the pay of musicians and their everyday military activities), we should still be relying upon military musicians to whistle rather than to play instruments.

Lord Renton

My Lords, to what extent is there increased scope for Army bands to be funded by public and private engagements, of which they do a good deal already?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, in the first instance I refer my noble friend to the answer that I have just given to the noble Lord, Lord Parry. There is scope for sponsorship and alternative funding for the non-core activities. I believe that I am right to say that the total amount received by Army bands in the last year for which the information is available (1991–92) was £113,000. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that that is hardly sufficient to fund even the reduced number of bands we now propose.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that 38 out of 60 military bands are to be disbanded, including two Scottish bands? Does he agree that the effect of that reduction will be like cutting down the flowers of the forest at Flodden Field in 1513?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, as an Englishman ultimately of Welsh descent, I am tempted strangely by my noble friend into commenting upon the results of the Battle of Flodden Field. I suspect that my noble friend and I would fall out if she tempted me down that path, and I should dislike that above all things. But even after what we propose has taken place after 1st April 1995, the Scottish regiments will retain their pipes and drums. I understand that the pipes and the drums are the heart of the Scottish regiments, and I too should hate to see them go.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the only military band in history to sell 1 million copies of its recorded music was the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and not the Welsh Guards? What happens to the royalties from the sale of the records made by that world famous band?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, there is a formula which is hallowed by time and tradition, almost as well hallowed as the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards themselves. It is, if the noble Lord would like to know it, as follows: between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the receipts are kept by the Ministry of Defence—which in view of its present shortage of cash is remarkably generous of it—the band funds receive between 5 per cent. and 20 per cent.; the musicians receive between 65 per cent. and 75 per cent.; and the director of music and/or the conductor receive the remainder.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that abolishing the remaining Cavalry and Royal Tank Regiment bands will produce a saving of only about 80 men? After the draconian cuts of about 50 per cent., which have been imposed on the Royal Armoured Corps that will be another serious blow to morale. Will my noble friend explain why those bands cannot be retained by the Cavalry and Royal Tank Regiment when, prior to their disillusionment brought about by Options for Change, they were well recruited, played music superbly and were frequently awarded excellent gradings on their biannual band inspections? Will my noble friend agree to review the case for the retention of Cavalry and RTR bands?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am far from being a judge of music and therefore must defer to my noble friend's opinion about the Cavalry bands. I wish to associate myself with his remarks about the RAC, which has responded to the enormous changes imposed on it with its characteristic constructive spirit. However, in spite of what my noble friend said—and I am well aware of his long experience of these matters and with the Royal Armoured Corps in particular—it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit musicians to small bands. In the larger bands, whose success we are reinforcing, there is less difficulty, and that is where the future career of musicians inside and outside the services lies, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the five bands of the Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry bands were classified as state bands, as I forecast in January, and were therefore given preferential treatment? Is it not the case that those are the bands which can attract the kind of money which my noble friends and the noble Baroness spoke of? Secondly, will the Minister tell the House what is to be the future of the Royal School of Military Music at Kneller Hall?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can confirm that the state bands which the noble Lord described and the band of the Royal Engineers will not be touched. Furthermore, we are reaching a decision about the future of the Royal School of Military Music at Kneller Hall. We expect soon to be able to announce the amalgamation of the schools of music there. Your Lordships will be among the first to hear of that decision.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, does my noble friend agree—

Noble Lords

Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, we must get on.

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