HL Deb 18 January 1993 vol 541 cc720-2

2.50 p.m.

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure the future of regimental bands in view of unit medical cover currently provided by regimental bandsmen.

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

My Lords, the future structure of bands in the Army is at present under review. A number of options are being considered but it would be wrong for me to anticipate the outcome.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the Government are fully committed to the preservation of the regimental system; and would not the removal of regimental bands indicate that they are changing their present policy? Secondly, does my noble friend agree that the abolition of regimental bands will mean that a number of trained soldiers will be denied valuable field training experience because, when regiments leave their barracks in order to train, those trained soldiers will have to stay behind to carry out barrack security duties currently undertaken by regimental bandsmen?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am delighted to give my noble friend the assurance about the regimental system which he seeks. All Ministers in the Ministry of Defence and members of the Army Board have repeatedly given that assurance. It gives me great pleasure to give a similar assurance to my noble friend today. Furthermore, I can reassure him that the review process will take full account of the additional duties undertaken by bandsmen; for instance, medical and security tasks and how they can be fulfilled in the most cost-effective way. My noble friend may agree that it would be unwise of me to anticipate the results of the review and answer a hypothetical question.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that when the regiments in question are engaged in operational duties it is still Army practice to look to the personnel of the regimental bands for stretcher bearers?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, my noble and learned friend knows that in wartime bandsmen have a task as medical orderlies and that that task is still part of their duties. However, I must point out that that task is not fulfilled during the course of their duty in Northern Ireland.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, will the review to which my noble friend referred include examination of the arrangements for training military bandsmen, in particular the three training establishments where that takes place, no doubt using a considerable amount of scarce resources?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question, conscious as I am of his considerable knowledge and experience of these matters. Yes, indeed, the future of the training schools is being kept under active review and will form part of the review to which I have referred. I can only repeat that no decision has yet been taken.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, will the Minister confirm my memory that the Government spend more money on regimental bands than, through the Arts Council or in any other way, on any other form of music?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am ashamed to admit to your Lordships that I have not yet indulged in making comparisons with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage in respect of how much he spends on music. The approximate cost of Army bands for this year, including capitation, is anticipated to be £50 million. I must point out that that considerable amount of money has to be examined in the light of the reduction in the overall military forces. As many of your Lordships have pointed out, manpower is a continuing issue which we keep under review. We are well aware of the importance of ensuring that we have adequate numbers of operational soldiers over and above bandsmen.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I greatly admire military bands, but does the Minister not agree that the fact that they provide stretcher bearers is a slightly eccentric reason for keeping them?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, no doubt the noble Lord is a better judge than I of the eccentricity of others. The review is couched in less subjective terms than he suggests. The results will be entirely pragmatic and will attempt to take account not only of the future of Army manpower as a whole but of the most cost-effective way of maintaining the morale which bands undoubtedly provide to the military man during the execution of his duties.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the five bands of the Foot Guards and the mounted band of the Household Cavalry are not threatened by the proposals because they constitute state bands which perform public duties? If that is the case, does it mean that all other regimental bands are not state bands?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am constantly astonished by the remarkable authority with which the noble Lord informs your Lordships of the true state of affairs in my department. He and other noble Lords will not expect me to anticipate the results of the review today. However, I give an undertaking to your Lordships' House that as soon as a decision is taken I shall make an announcement in an appropriate form.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that in the review to which he has referred there is no intention of reducing the number of territorial and other reserve force bands which play such an important part in recruitment to those forces? They often supplement the bands of the regular forces and it is important that that should continue.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I confirm that the present review does not count within its remit the status of Territorial Army bands. As far as my department is concerned their status will remain the same for the foreseeable future.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, did the Minister's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, mean that the noble Lord was correct in saying that the Household Cavalry band and the band of the Foot Guards will not be subject to review?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I apologise for not having made my reply clear. However, much as the noble Lord tries, I hope that I shall be able to withstand his blandishments and ask him, as I asked the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to wait until the completion of the review to hear my announcement.

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