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Bands (Civilian Engagements)

Volume 148: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1921

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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?


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?