Army Bands: Redundancies

– in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, up to 76 members of the Corps of Army Music will be made redundant as a result of the implementation of the Future Army Structure. This represents a reduction of 8 per cent against the current Corps of Army Music trained strength of 997.

As well as redundancies, the Corps of Army Music will also reduce in size as a result of natural wastage, and by limiting the extensions of soldiers employed on short-term engagements. Recruitment to the Corps of Army Music will continue.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Spokespersons In the Lords, Defence, Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Whip, Whips

My Lords, in addition to the redundancies that the Minister mentioned I understand that there is an ongoing review. I am concerned that that will also result in more famous bands going to the wall. This Government have been appallingly careless with our traditions. British people old and young take enormous pride and pleasure in our Army bands. Does the Minister agree that they play an important role in maintaining esprit de corps and in keeping the Armed Forces in the public eye? Why are any redundancies being considered when the Corps of Army Music is, according to its website, short of players of the violin, viola, cello, double bass, oboe, bassoon, clarinet and saxophone?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, it is fairly outrageous and cheeky of the noble Lord to say that we are careless of traditions. That is completely unfair given that this Government have spent more on defence over a continued period than any other for 20 years. The noble Lord's comment is a bit rich. After all, the noble Lord supports a party which when last in power reduced planned defence spending by 15 per cent. Therefore, I shall not take any lessons from the noble Lord on that although, of course, he asked his question in his normal charming way.

Of course, the importance of Army bands is very much recognised. They will continue their long and illustrious history of being primarily linked with regiments and corps to help support and perpetuate the regimental ethos of the Army. That ethos is as important today as it ever has been.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, have efforts been made to rerole those bandsmen rather than making them redundant? As many bandsmen have nuclear, biological and chemical training and are trained as medics, would it not be cost-effective to rerole them rather than retrain other people? Following the noble Lord's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, is he aware that an election may come round soon?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, I am aware of that matter. As regards the noble Lord's first point, I shall certainly ensure that that is considered. As I say, redundancies will constitute a small number of those who will leave the Corps of Army Music. The remaining reduction will be achieved through natural wastage and by limiting the extensions of soldiers employed on short-term engagements. That is the same as elsewhere in the Armed Forces but I shall, of course, take away the idea that we should consider reroling the relevant people.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the band of the Royal Marines is about the finest of any of the military bands? What is its role, particularly since playing on the royal yacht—the noble Lord seems to have forgotten the question of tradition—constituted its main role?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness's comment about the band of the Royal Marines. I have had the pleasure of listening to that band play on a number of occasions. I have listened to it in the Royal Albert Hall and in other places. The Question I am answering today concerns Army bands. As I understand it, no change is considered with regard to the Royal Marines.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister give me an absolute guarantee that if the Scottish division is reduced to five battalions, each will have its own pipe band? How many military bands will there be in the Scottish division?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a guarantee on that. It is proposed that there will be one band for the division. I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord regarding pipe bands.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, the Minister gave us a very precise answer regarding the bandsmen who will have to be made redundant. Presumably, he has similar figures for the various specialisations of all the other services. What cash provision is the Ministry of Defence having to make for redundancy for the financial year that starts tomorrow and for the subsequent two years?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the cash provision over the period when the Future Army Structure comes into being is about £30 million.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend accept from me that the shortages in recruitment to which the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred are not limited to musicians wishing to take part in military musical activities but are an indication of a general shortfall in young people wishing to take up music as a career and reaching the required standard? Will he encourage his colleagues in other departments to continue the good work that this Government have been doing in getting more young people involved in music at an early stage?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, my noble friend has great experience in this field, but I know myself that there are shortages across the board as far as music is concerned. I will certainly pass on what she said to other government departments.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in the Scottish regiments pipe bands are normally formed from fighting platoons whose main task is military, and that the role of pipes and drums is purely secondary and undertaken when they are not required for military purposes, unlike military bands as such?

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Spokespersons In the Lords, Environment and Transport, Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, Defence, Whip, Whips

My Lords, when so many fighting regiment bands are likely to be decimated, why is it necessary for the Adjutant-General's corps to have a band at all? In view of the redundancies that he has announced, will the Minister confirm that the school of music at Knellor Hall is not under threat of closure?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, as far as I know, the school of music is not under threat of closure. If I am wrong about that, I will of course tell the House in the normal way as soon as possible.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Spokespersons In the Lords, Economic Affairs, Whip, Whips

My Lords, I remind the House of my peripheral interest. The Minister introduced the subject of the size of the defence budget. As a percentage of GDP, has the defence budget increased or decreased?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question. All I know is that this Government have increased the defence budget over the past number of years, in absolute marked contrast to the party of the noble Earl opposite.