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British Army

Volume 148: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1921

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Bands (Civilian Engagements)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that the Musicians' Union, which represents over 90 per cent. of the professional musicians of this country, and which strongly objects to the unfair competition with them of military and service bands, agreed to waive this objection provided Army bands were not allowed to undercut the rates that had been agreed upon between the members of the Musicians' Union and their employers; that his representatives concerned at the War Office met representatives of the Musicians' Union and gave this undertaking, and also agreed with them as to the minimum rates Army bands should charge when quoting for engagements in competition with professional musicians; that, despite this honourable undertaking, the agreement was broken by his representatives without any further consultation or communication with the representatives of the Musicians' Union who were loyally carrying it out; and that Army bandmasters are now allowed to quote any terms they think fit when canvassing for civilian engagements; and whether he will take steps to have this undertaking carried out in future?

I beg to refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring on 3rd May last. That answer indicated that Army bandmasters are not allowed to quote any terms they think fit, but are bound to charge fair rates which shall in no circumstances undercut civil bands. If the hon. Member will be good enough to bring to my notice any instance in which it is considered that these explicit instructions have been violated I will at once have it investigated.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that instances have been brought to the notice of his Department?

No, I am not. If my hon. Friend will give me notice of any instances I will look into them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman state what other useful purpose the officials of this particular Department serve, except to warn the public of the confusion and unrest that would be caused in the labour world if they interfered in every other trade and profession in the same way?

15.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that, notwithstanding the present abnormal unemployment in the country, the proprietors of the West Pier, Brighton, have discharged their permanent orchestra and are engaging relays of military bands in its place on the grounds that these bands, are much cheaper than those composed of professional musicians, and this notwithstanding the fact that the professional musicians concerned have offered to accept reductions in their salaries of 18s. and 20s. per week; whether he has considered the effect such unfair competition would have upon the present labour unrest if his Department allowed military units to compete in the same way with every other trade and profession in the country; and whether he proposes to abolish this unfair competition, or at least see that the rates agreed upon between professional musicians and their employers are not undercut by Army bands?

I have been asked to reply to this question. The Royal Air Force band was engaged by the proprietors of the West Pier, Brighton, at a fee which is considerably in excess of that for which civilian bands are obtainable. I am informed that the engagement followed the completion of a 3½years' contract and was entered into by the proprietors owing to their wish to revert to the pre-War practice of engaging service hands.

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware that many of these men are compelled to draw unemployment pay from the State because things like this are happening?

They are already employed by the Army in one capacity. Why should they compete with civilians outside their military duties?

War Medals

17.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any decision has been arrived at regarding clasps for the medals in commemoration of the great War?

Surely some decision can be arrived at three years after the War? Many of the men entitled to these clasps will be dead, otherwise.

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that a decision will be reached as soon as possible, but it is a very important matter and a very expensive matter, as he realises, and I must ask that time he given to the consideration of it.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the granting of the British war medal to troops engaged in the United Kingdom, consideration will be given to the personnel manning anti-aircraft guns and searchlights in Kent, Essex, and London, many of whom were in action against enemy aircraft on more than 50 occasions?

As already stated in reply to previous ques- tions, it was decided, after the fullest consideration, that a War medal should not be granted for Home Service, with the exception that the British War medal should be awarded to the personnel of Coast Defence batteries actually engaged with hostile vessels during the War.

2Nd County Of London Yeomanry (Headquarters)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that on the occasion of the use of the headquarters of the 2nd County of London Yeomanry in Elverton Street, Westminster, by the Australian Forces during the late War a very definite agreement was entered into regarding compensation to be made for such use of the premises; that the amount of such compensation was definitely and finally agreed by the officials of the Australian Forces with the parties concerned at £1,766; that since June, 1919, when the War Office took over all liabilities in connection with the property under arrangements made directly with that Department, and including the payment of the sum of £1,766, it has been found impossible to secure any satisfaction of the claim notwithstanding innumerable reminders sent on the subject; and that the continued delay of the War Office in effecting a settlement of a definitely agreed amount of compensation is likely to cause still further expense to the public through a further claim now being in course of preparation to cover the subsequent period; and whether instructions will be at once given that immediate settlement of the first portion of the agreed amount, namely, £1,766, is to be made?

I have ascertained by reference to the Australian Force authorities that the amount claimed as compensation by the Territorial Force Association, namely, £1,766. was not considered or agreed to by them. On the contrary the claim, which was in the form of an estimate, was passed by the Australian Force authorities to the War Office without comment on the day after receipt, namely, on 28th August, 1919. On examination, the War Department found it necessary to reduce the estimated claim to £1,334, which amount covered both the period of occupation by the Australian Forces and the subsequent period of occupation by the Navy and Army Canteen Board, referred to in the last part of the question. The local military authorities proposed settlement at £1,334 to the Association in February last, but this proposal was refused. I regret the delay that has occurred in dealing with the case, which is a very complicated one, and if the Territorial Force Association are now prepared to accept £1,334, without prejudice to further consideration of the matter, payment will be made forthwith.

Is it not the case that all the delay which is occurring increases the liability of the War Office?

War Graves

The following question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON:

"20. To ask the Secretary of State for War if he can see his way to make representations to the War Graves Commission that they should provide for the insertion of the soldier's age on the official record and not in the limited space reserved for relatives' inscriptions."

This question has been postponed, by request. When will the right hon. Gentleman be able to give a reply?

The Imperial War Graves Commission is meeting shortly, I think next week, and after that I shall be able to announce a decision.

Macgregor V Lord Advocate

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the case of Duncan Gregor Macgregor V. the Lord Advocate and another in which Macgregor sued for damages sustained by being run down by a motor car belonging to the War Department; whether he is aware that this action failed solely because of the theory that the Crown can do no wrong; whether his attention has been directed to the observations of the judges in the Second Division; whether he is aware that Macgregor is one of a family of nine brothers, all of whom served in the War; that he is very severely and permanently injured; that he has been so far put to very heavy charges for medicine and surgical treatment, and that his medical career has been seriously interrupted: and whether, in all the circumstances, as no action can lie in Law, he is prepared to consider an ex gratia allowance to Macgregor?

The opinions of the judges in this case were directed solely to the question whether an action for compensation for injury can lie against the Crown. It is not the practice of the Department to rely on its legal immunity and to refuse to pay compensation for injuries which have been caused by the wrongful acts of its servants. But in the present case, which has been carefully investigated by the Department, I am advised that the driver of the motor car was in no way to blame for the accident, and I am not prepared to make an ex gratia allowance to Mr. Macgregor.

Is it actually the case that the same practice obtains in Scotland as in the rest of the country, and is it not rather the fact that in Scotland there can lie no action against the Crown, whereas in England the Treasury defends these cases on behalf of the service, and a case is actionable?

I am afraid that is a legal question which I am not competent to answer.

Could my hon. and gallant Friend tell us how, without trial, he can state definitely to the House that the driver of the vehicle was not to blame?

Because the whole of the circumstances of the case were inquired into.

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that this case has been not only before the ordinary Courts in Scotland, but before the Appeal Court, and that the decision of the judges was solely as to the question that the Crown could do no wrong, and that they, in giving their decision, remarked on the hardship to this man, who fought right through the War, who was one of nine brothers who fought, and that the judges regretted that he had not the access to the law that the ordinary citizen had?

Is not the question of the responsibility of the driver a matter for the Courts, and not for the War Office, and will the hon. and gallant Gentleman not see that the matter is brought before the Courts, so that the Courts will have an opportunity of giving a decision on the legal question?

My information is that the whole question was inquired into carefully. The driver was held not to have been responsible.