Royal Marines School of Music, Deal

– in the House of Commons at 9:37 pm on 21st November 1994.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wells.]

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover 10:08 pm, 21st November 1994

In July this year, a tragedy befell my constituency. For many years, my constituency has had the Royal Marines school of music located within its boundaries. The 26,000 people of Deal have welcomed and loved the school, and have taken it very much into account as part of their normal lives. The proposal by the Government to close the Royal Marines school of music in April 1996 is not only a disaster but is regarded by many, including myself, as a disgrace. It is a wrong decision, and a wrong idea.

The tragedy comes about because there are effectively some three sites in Deal over some 42 acres of my constituency. There is a north barracks, a south barracks and an east barracks site. The site is under-utilised and has two large listed buildings. It has not really been given the attention that it should have been given over the years. There were some proposals some years back in the 1980s to have a combined school of music in Deal; a combined school of music which would have given Deal a strong, new lease of life as the centre of a defence school of music.

The bandsmen who are trained in Deal are commonly regarded as probably the best in the world. Our Royal Marines bandsmen, once trained, play on the royal yacht Britannia and support this country's export drives all over the world. They support the Queen and the royal family at major events. They are always called out whenever this country hosts the G7 conferences and other major conferences.

The bandsmen are trained in a unique way. They are trained on two instruments, which is not common in military music training. They are trained to perform in marching bands, concert bands, dance bands and in an orchestra. That level of training, which, as I said, is probably the highest in the world, costs money. There can be no escaping that if we want the sort of quality that the Royal Marines bandsmen have delivered.

There are strong feelings among the people of Deal that they want those bandsmen to continue to be trained at such a high quality, uninterrupted and not disjointed. Local school children are concerned. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister how he would have felt if he had had to go round his local schools recently and had talked to the schoolchildren. They asked me about the Royal Marine school of music. Eight-year-old girls came up to me and said, "What about the Royal Marines school of music and its future?" Also, business men in my constituency are concerned. Pensioners and the retired all feel strongly towards the Royal Marines school of music in the constituency.

In 1989, there was a terrible tragedy, of which my hon. Friend will be fully aware. It was the most outrageous abuse, the most cowardly attack, that has ever been seen on the mainland of the United Kingdom. The IRA planted a bomb—not aimed against people actively involved in military service, not aimed against people actively involved in the firing of weapons in this nation's defence, but aimed against people who played music. It also injured a number of civilians in my constituency.

The effect of that bomb was to cement even more closely the bonds between the people of Deal—the schoolchildren, the business men, the middle-aged, the pensioners and the retired—with the bandsmen of the Royal Marines.

It was an emotional occasion when the Royal Marines played on in my constituency and 11 spaces were left in the band for those who died, as the bandsmen walked through the constituency and through the town of Deal. It was an extremely emotive event. It was not surprising that many local organisations joined together to get 14,000 names on a petition to support the retention of the Royal Marines school of music in Deal.

The Royal Marines Association, the Deal Society, the Royal Naval Association, the Charter Trustees, the Mayor of Deal, the Burma Star Association, the local Rotary, the Deal Lions, the Deal chamber of trade, the Deal branch of the Men of Kent, the British Legion Downs band, the British Legion of St. Margaret's bay, the Deal Lionesses, the Inner Wheel of Deal and the Women's Institute of St. Margaret's Bay all joined together. Many other local businesses, including the Cinque Ports Music Company, also collected signatures. Many local restaurants, proprietors and customers contributed their signatures and organised the petition.

It was a petition of the people of Deal. It has also been supported by hundreds of letters from people in my constituency. I have passed those letters to the Ministry of Defence, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for reading them.

It is not just the strong emotional ties that are important. The Royal Marines school of music is the largest employer in Deal. It may not be an enormous employer—with 250 people directly employed and probably 250 to 300 people employed indirectly—but it is the largest employer in a town of small employers. It is very important to the economy of Deal and to the economy of my constituency.

With regard to earlier proposals to examine military music, studies have shown that the figures were wrong. A study in 1986 by Ernst and Young showed that the figures were wrong. The figures constantly showed that Deal was the best place to have a combined school of music. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the figures once more.

There has been talk, which has gained much publicity, about a so-called cost of £300,000 for training Royal Marines bandsmen. That figure is not correct. It is arrived at simply by taking £6 million—the cost of Deal—and dividing it by 15. There are more than 15 trainees at the moment, and there would normally be more than 15. There could be more than 15 trainees if other military musicians were trained at Deal. Deal also has outputs other than just training bandsmen.

Existing bandsmen and trainee bandsmen are trained at Deal. We also run the library for the Royal Marines music service. That library does not just supply the Royal Marines with music: it also supplied the United States marines band when it came to commemorate the D-day landings. In front of President Clinton, Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister, many lords and ladies and distinguished guests, the bandsmen played music supplied by the library at Deal.

Musicians at Deal have their instruments repaired by a very successful repair service. Deal also advises the Army bandsmen on how to purchase military instruments. As I understand it, the Army does not have a properly co-ordinated purchasing facility, while the Royal Marines do. That is all handled from Deal, and it is a cost and output at Deal.

I want to pay tribute to Councillor Paul Watkins, the local councillor for the area.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Needless to say, all Conservative Members greatly admire the fight that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is putting up for his school of music in Deal. However, he referred to comparative costs. I remind him that, on 20 June in this House, the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), told me that the costs of training at Deal were £72,000 per man a year, while at the Royal Military school of music, Kneller Hall, in my constituency, it cost £16,000 a year to train a bandsman. As Kneller Hall is one of the glories of our country, I hope that my hon. Friend will not do anything which would be detrimental to Kneller Hall.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

I must pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) for managing to keep Kneller Hall open for so long. Having regard to the fact that aircraft noise interferes with music practising, I understand that there are no rooms for musicians to practise in at Kneller Hall. They must practise in their bedrooms, whereas in Deal we have wonderful rooms. The property value of Kneller Hall is £10 million to £15 million, which would be of enormous benefit to taxpayers.

Nevertheless, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham for his skill in keeping Kneller Hall open for so long, when all the evidence suggests that the Army bandsmen should move from Kneller Hall and go to Deal, where they would be most welcome.

Several serious questions about the consultative document must be raised. We have to ask whether the comparative costs between Deal, Lymnestone and Portsmouth are accurate. We have asked for more information. Kent county council and Dover district council support the east Kent initiative to investigate costs thoroughly, but we need more information. Ernst and Young, a leading firm of accountants and economic consultants, has been retained to investigate costs.

We question the security costs at Deal. They are enormous because of the three sites. Electronic security such as that which hon. Members have for their offices would enable much manpower to be released. For obvious reasons, I do not want to discuss the extent of manpower that can be released in the public arena, but it could be substantial. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look again at those costs.

I question whether building maintenance costs will be as low as suggested at Lymnestone and Portsmouth. No cost has been put in the consultative document for maintaining the two listed buildings at Deal if they cannot be sold. They are not easily saleable. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister also to say what he proposes for the graveyard and the memorial garden at Deal. They cannot be swept aside.

My hon. Friend the Minister must examine the cost of covenants to maintain the listed buildings and consider whether they would result in a negative value on the site at Deal. If the Deal site is sold, my hon. Friend might receive negative proceeds—that is, he might have to pay somebody to take it off the Ministry's hands. As I have said, Kneller Hall might have a value of £10 million to £15 million.

In the 1980s, the Government felt that the employment issue could be considered. Why has that changed? Why are the Government not considering the worsening employment in my constituency? On Saturday, a constituent came to my surgery who had tried to get on the self-employment start-up scheme. He was not able to do so, because there is not enough money under the self-employment start-up scheme for my area.

I know that it is not the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister, but how can the Ministry of Defence be allowed to close something that employs so many people if not enough money is being put into the Department of Employment programmes to get new businesses off the ground in my constituency? If employment was a major consideration in the 1980s, it must be a consideration today. We cannot allow the channel tunnel and the single European market to have a negative impact on employment in my constituency. The Ministry of Defence is ignoring those issues.

What is happening to the defence intelligence centre at Ashford, which, it is understood, is likely to close? I hope that it will be moved to Deal, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take every step to make sure that it does. That would provide employment in my constituency.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence wrote to Conservative party chairmen on 14 July, saying that the defence changes were being brought about in order to make the most effective use of the money voted in the Defence budget by Parliament. He went on to say that the most effective use of the money could best be carried out by moving troops from expensive city centre sites to vacant MOD owned sites with little capital value, and replacing three single service establishments by one joint facility. I ask my hon. Friend to make sure that what our right hon. and learned Friend said to Conservative party chairmen on 14 July is implemented—move the troops, move the military schools out of expensive city centre sites, and move them to one joint facility with little capital value. Let us ensure that letters written to Conservative party chairmen and Government policy are consistent.

We must examine the alternatives. There is a proposal in my constituency for a national centre for band studies to be based at Deal. It is an imaginative proposal by Lieutenant Colonel John Ware, a former director of music at Deal. We will bring my hon. Friend the details. I want his assurance that he will look at it. It would involve creating a new centre for band studies on the south barracks. It complies with the Ministry's requirements to move ultimately to civilianisation. We need my hon. Friend's support for this. I hope he will ensure that it is properly scrutinised.

I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Armed Services) 10:24 pm, 21st November 1994

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) on finally securing this debate and on the persuasive, clear and moving way in which he presented the greater part of his case. I shall try to deal with as many of his points as I can in the time available.

This debate will most certainly not be the final opportunity for him to put his constituents' case during the formal consultation period, which runs until 16 December. I immediately give him the assurance that he sought—that we shall consider whatever papers he presents us with. I would, however, urge him to get them to us as soon as possible, because we intend the consultation period to end, as I say, on 16 December.

The consultation document issued by my Department was intended to provide an overall resume of our proposal—not a volume containing every minute detail. As such, it forms the basis for further inquiry and discussion within the consultation period. My hon. Friend has taken this up on behalf of his constituents with great vigour.

It is our policy and practice to ensure that in putting forward proposals for consultation we are as open as humanly possible.We aim to provide all the details that my hon. Friend might reasonably wish to have on the rationale for our proposals to transfer the training of Royal Marine bandsmen from Deal, and on the figure work involved.

I feel that I must, however, reiterate the background to our proposals for relocation. Before I do, it would be most remiss of me if I were not to recall the long and historical ties that the Royal Marines and the school of music have with Deal.

Deal's association with the Royal Marines goes back to the second Dutch war when on 28 October 1664 an Order in Council called for 1,200 men to be "raysed". These troops, the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot, were the forerunners of the Royal Marines of today.

Deal's particular association with royal naval music began in 1930. In 1950 musical training for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines was concentrated at Deal when the divisional bands were amalgamated with the Royal Navy school of music, which was rechristened the Royal Marines school of music.

Since that time, successive generations of recruits have passed through the depot at Deal, and I know that all have experienced tremendous support from the people of the town. This close relationship was epitomised in the granting, in 1945, of the honorary freedom of the borough of Deal to the Royal Marines.

Since 1981, Deal has effectively been home solely to the Royal Marines school of music, housing only students and teachers of music and their support staff.

The fact that there were no operational units located in Deal made the bombing of the school by the provisional IRA on 22 September 1989 all the more cowardly and outrageous. The House, I know, shares with me the continuing great sadness we all feel at the death of 11 fine Royal Marines as a result of the bombing. The House will also recall the exemplary support and affection afforded to the Royal Marines during those unhappy days by the people of Deal.

Given these very close links between Deal and the Royal Marines, and the mutual respect shown by one to the other, it is no surprise that our proposal to transfer the school of music has been greeted with dismay locally. I know that my hon. Friend truly represents the feelings and emotions of his constituents in his campaign for the school to remain.

However, I must stress that which my hon. Friend knows—that there is absolutely no question of our singling out either the Royal Marines or Deal. Our proposals to transfer musical training must be seen within the context of the changes in the international defence environment, which have led to alterations in our force levels and structures, and have had to take account of the present and future commitments likely to be faced by our forces.

My hon. Friend known as well as anyone that reductions in the size of the armed forces following "Options for Change" had to be accompanied by equal or perhaps greater savings in support and headquarters. We had good reason to believe that even further efficiencies could be achieved in the support area, allowing the maximum proportion of the defence budget to be spent on the fighting capability of our armed forces.

It was in this context that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence initiated the defence costs study "Front Line First". It was quite right that, as part of that scrutiny of the way in which my Department supports the front line, we should look at the provision of military music and musical training.

It was made abundantly clear that there were to be no sacred cows in the examination of the costs of support activities. In his role as a vigorous guardian of the public purse, my hon. Friend will know about the quite extraordinary success of the defence costs study, and the benefit that it will bring to the front line.

Much has been said about a possible future location for a tri-service school of music. Earlier internal studies had recommended rationalisation of this sort, and had identified some suitable locations, including Deal. But that form of rationalisation is not what we are planning now. The recent studies have pointed to the more radical approach of placing basic musician training with civilian schools, and we expect these changed methods to secure greater economies while maintaining the highest standards of military music. That is the basis of the proposal set out in the consultative document.

Our thoughts about moving towards a bursary training scheme for our musicians fall exactly within the parameters of "Front Line First". We intend to preserve the excellent standards of our service musicians, but to train them in a more cost-effective way. Therefore, we are starting a three-year pilot scheme for training all military musicians at civilian colleges. If this proves as successful as we expect, by the turn of the century no basic training school of music will be needed anywhere.

Even on a contingency basis, in the unlikely event that we might need to revert to in-house arrangements for service musician training, we see no financial case for keeping the Royal Marine school of music at Deal in the interim. I regret that the simple fact is that there is no reason to forgo the massive savings which we will achieve by not delaying a decision on Deal for another five years.

When a potentially highly emotive issue such as this one on Deal is debated, it is vital that the House does not lose sight of the essential facts. I shall outline some of those facts about Deal.

As my hon. Friend knows much better than anyone here, the establishment consists of three separate, predominantly 19th-century barracks covering 41 acres, which are surrounded by more than 3 km of security fence.The establishment contains 69 buildings, of which three are listed and more than 30 are now shut down as surplus to the diminished requirements of the school of music.

To give an idea of Deal's surplus scale and capacity, its Royal Marines population totalled over 1,000 in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was a major training depot for the corps. The service personnel now needed to run the school of music, its sole remaining Royal Marines function, total 170. Of those, 57 make up the staff and 34 conduct musical instruction in various forms. However, a further 79 personnel are needed purely to run the establishment as such and guard it.

There are also some 82 directly employed civilians. I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said about employment, and I have certainly hoisted that aboard and appreciate it. Set against the large number of personnel required to run Deal is the fact that the numbers of initial musical trainees have dwindled to the point where they today total soiree 50 musicians, in various stages of their initial specialist course of two years and eight months.

Three, or at most four, bandmaster students are also undergoing higher training at Deal in any given year. Between 20 and 25 other band service personnel pass annually through the gates of Deal to undergo various other forms of higher musical training, although, as my hon. Friend knows, they are certainly never all there at the same time.

The initial trainee intakes may sometimes be as few as 14. These are all facts, and render the ratio of support staff and real estate costs to trainees at Deal a patently cost-ineffective use of taxpayers' money.

Another key factor which impacted on future projected trainee numbers and which cried out for another look, was our decision last year to reduce the overall Royal Marines band service by nearly 100 musicians to a long-term total of 358.

Inevitably, the smaller size of the Royal Marines band service leads to the reduced requirement for trainee musicians, and there is no reason to believe that training activity will ever increase markedly again.

As the investment appraisal published with the consultative document indicates, the annual running cost of Deal—even at its most economical retrenched into south barracks for the next five years as we have examined—would never be much lower than £6 million.

Of that, almost £3.5 million annually is attributable simply and solely to Deal's nature as a stand-alone establishment. Much has been said about the way in which the financial case has supposedly been weighted against Deal. That is simply not so. No amount of worrying at the edges of the figures will make their magnitude disappear. There is absolutely no getting away from the harsh reality that the Royal Marines school at Deal finds itself in costly isolation from the main body of the naval service, for which its role is to train musicians.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Armed Services)

To bring the cost-effectiveness issue into even sharper focus, existing buildings at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth could be adapted into a musical training facility for some £450,000. That is less than a month's worth of the overall annual running cost of Deal. Such a facility at Nelson would quite simply avoid the £3 million or so annual burden imposed by Deal's nature as a stand-alone site.

There is no escaping the fact that immediate, significant and sensible economies are achievable by relocating the school of music to the centre of an existing naval concentration.I cannot and do not deny that our proposal that the Royal Marines should leave Deal is unwelcome to many people in the town and those with memories of having served there.

My hon. Friend regularly reminds all those who care to listen to him, and there are many, of the importance of not frittering away public funds. I have to say that I do not believe my hon. Friend can have it both ways. There is a compelling financial case for closing Deal, and it would be irresponsible for us not to proceed. It is for that reason that we examined the potential to transfer Deal's training activities elsewhere, and concluded that it would be sensible to move down this path. The fact is that the sharing of facilities, security and administration all result in economies of scale.

I find myself in a difficult position in having to promote the closure to my hon. Friend, who has fought a heroic battle and continues to make the most positive representations to us. But I want to be quite clear on one very important point—it was the Royal Marines themselves who identified the relocation of musical training as their best course, and they remain firmly convinced that there is no viable alternative to leaving Deal.

It is the Royal Marines who have been foremost in recognising that they must not ignore changed circumstances or turn their backs on this kind of common-sense saving in the support area—the very essence of the "Front Line First" initiative. With regretful realism, that is why the Royal Marines are firm in their wish to relocate the school of music from Deal, and at the earliest opportunity—

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Eleven o'clock.