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Column 530Many elderly people in my constituency make Kneller Hall their summer home. When they go there, they enjoy walking in the gardens. They like listening to the music, and they know people who have been associated with Kneller Hall and the Royal Military School, the Royal Marines and so on. To those people, it is not only a sentimental attachment but a great service to their social well-being. It is for that reason that I stand before you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to consider carefully all the various options that he must consider. It is quite right that he should consider those options carefully before he reaches a decision. 3.23 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) on his tenacity in securing the Adjournment debate on a subject that I know is close to his heart. I referred to him earlier in the week as my hon. and musical Friend. I should make it clear that that was meant very much as a compliment to the staunch way in which he has championed the cause of Kneller Hall for many years and kept the merits of that wonderful institution in the parliamentary and public eye, as well as in recognition, of course, of his own extraordinary musical talent and, if I may say so, that of his wife.
I recognise also the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), and I am grateful for his excellent brief contribution. I acknowledge his dedication to this cause, the presence and intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert)--a former Defence Minister.
I am only too pleased to place on record my own high regard for the musical skill of our Army bands and bandsmen and women, as well as those equally professional members of the Royal Marines and Royal Air Force bands. My hon. Friend spoke passionately about the high regard in which our Army bands are held throughout the world--I could not but agree.
There could have been no better example of just why they are held in such high esteem, and no better demonstration of the skill, dedication and imagination of our Army bandsmen than that incredibly uplifting sight of the band of the Coldstream Guards marching on to the football stadium in Sarajevo on Sunday 20 March playing, appropriately, "Peacemakers".
When historians come to chronicle the 20th century, the images of that event will be hard to ignore. I certainly suspect that only a British Army band could have put on such a display--and I, for one, was most proud of it.
Kneller Hall is still the Army's centre of musical teaching It gives more than 120 Army bandsmen each year a foundation course in music theory and instrumental skill, while training a select number of experienced musicians on a full three-year bandmaster course. That qualifies them academically and practically to become bandmasters and possibly commissioned directors of music. On average, about 30 such students are resident at any one time.
The school also welcomes students from overseas--mainly from Commonwealth armies and police forces, teaching on average some 20 students each year on both bandsman and bandmaster courses. That is extremely helpful in building further links with friendly nations and other forces to which I referred.
Column 531In addition to the teaching functions carried out at the school, Kneller Hall houses the headquarters of Army music, in which the commandant has responsibilities as inspector of bands for the military and musical standards of 30 bands and more than 1,100 musicians.
My hon. Friend referred to the affection with which Kneller Hall is regarded in the local community, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. If I include myself, there is a holy triumvirate of hon. Members present whose constituencies are close to Kneller Hall, and I know that many of the 25,000 people whom my hon. Friend said attended the last season of open-air concerts are my constituents--who would rightly expect me take this opportunity to place on record their own warm feelings about Kneller Hall, which I share entirely.
Only last year, I marvelled at the musicians' musical skill, laughed till I cried at their good humour, felt the hairs on my neck rise with the emotions they engendered, and cursed the aircraft noise at Heathrow that affected the concert so badly.
All that is confirmation of the reputation for excellence in military music that the Royal Military School of Music has throughout the world. Its motto --"Nulli secundus"--is most appropriate. and I assure my hon. Friends that the Government's respect and admiration for the important role that the school has played over the years continues undiminished.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham made a number of points, with his customary vigour and volume, about the future of Army bands and Kneller Hall in particular. He was kind enough to give me notice of many of them, for which I thank him.
My hon. Friend's overriding concern is, as one would expect, the future prospects for Kneller Hall itself. He alluded to the defence costs study "Front Line First", which has been in train since last December. It is well known that the study was charged with examining all aspects of support to the front line. As my hon. Friend recognises, that has, quite properly, in spite of the recent review of Army music, included a scrutiny of military music in all three services.
A special study team--one of 33 such teams--was established to examine the subject. My hon. Friend may agree that in such a comprehensive review of the support services of our armed forces, no sacred cows should be safe from consideration.
Perhaps it would be helpful to my hon. Friend if I say a little about how the team approached its task. Its remit was to examine every aspect of military music, identify the requirement for music in the services and establish how it can most cost effectively be met. The study examined in detail the needs of each services, operating and administrative costs, the balance between Regular and Reserve personnel, accommodation and training of bands men and
women--including at Kneller Hall, and the operational roles performed by band personnel.
It is perhaps the last item on the list, the operational roles performed by band personnel, that is most often overlooked. I know that it is not overlooked by my hon. Friends, but perhaps I could dwell on it for a moment. As my hon. Friends know, bandsmen and women are not merely professional musicians in uniform ; they also have an important operational role as medical orderlies. During Operation Granby, more than 800 personnel from 35 bands were deployed to the Gulf in that role.
Column 532Of the 34 bands remaining in the United Kingdom, all but two had teams of personnel deployed to airheads in the United Kingdom, in anticipation of the possible requirement to receive casualties from the Gulf. Also, members of the Duke of Wellington's regimental band are currently deployed to Bosnia in the medical role. I am sure that my hon. Friends would wish to join me in paying tribute to the important role played by bandsmen on both of those occasions. Let me assure the House that the defence costs study fully recognises the significance of the role which military music plays in military life, for all of the reasons that my hon. Friend gave. I know that he will appreciate that I am not in a position to discuss the proposals that have emerged from that study, or indeed from any of the other defence costs studies. The proposals number well into the hundreds and are at present under detailed consideration by officials. I can say, however, that formal recommendations are to be put to Ministers very shortly, but it will take some time before decisions are reached.
We have already told the House of our intention to make an announcement on the broad outcome of "Front Line First" in July. Although I cannot predict what the final outcome will be, I can assure my hon. Friends that we will take full account of the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham has so persuasively set out in reaching any decisions affecting military music in general and Kneller Hall in particular.
The final proposals emerging from the defence costs study will be subject to full consultation in the normal way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham also referred to the early-day motion of 1986--No. 397--that I, among others, signed. I make no apology for signing it, and I still stand by a great many of the sentiments it contained. In particular, I see no inconsistency in the statement made at the time that the requirement for a defence school of music, as well as its possible location, should be looked at afresh in the light of the latest facts. The defence costs study has been considering alternative proposals in the light of the latest facts in many areas--including music.
Mr. David Shaw : Will my hon. Friend accept from one accountant to another that one of the major concerns of our constituents will be the credibility of the financial assumptions in the decision-making proposals put to Ministers ? Will he ensure that as many of those financial assumptions as possible are published, as high security is not at risk in this instance ?
Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend makes an important point. The decisions reached by Ministers, following the recommendations of the various teams that have been undertaking the tasks in the defence costs studies, must be credible and must be available for inspection. When we announce the decisions, they will be supported by sufficient information for a proper consultation process to be undertaken. I cannot give an exact assurance to my hon. Friend that every financial detail will be published, but I assure him that I will try to carry out the preparation of the
Column 533work and the announcement of our decisions with the skill in which my hon. Friend is well versed and which I still hope that I possess. I should like to assure my hon. Friends that I set great store by the quality of our military bands and believe that they will continue to be the envy of the rest of the world for many years to come. But what is being considered is how we sustain that quality by assessing how our
Column 534musicians are trained, where they are trained and at what cost. Not even my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham would seek to justify needless cost which puts in jeopardy the effectiveness of our front-line fighting capacity.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham for his important contribution.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Four o'clock.
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