24 Jan 2001 : Column 253

House of Lords

Wednesday, 24th January 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

NCOs' Parade Ground Orders

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether non-commissioned officers have been told to reduce their decibel levels when instructing recruits on the parade ground.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, no, they have not.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on giving what I believe is the shortest reply she has ever given. Were the newspaper reports that said that the Army had issued red and yellow cards to new recruits true? They reported that if a recruit thought that the non-commissioned officer was speaking too loudly, he could put up a yellow card, and if he thought that the officer was speaking terribly loudly, he could put up a red card, in which case the officer would have to report to his senior officer. If that is correct, it would be interesting to know whether health and safety regulations would be relevant.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. My reply may have been short, but it was as accurate as always.

On the question of red and yellow cards, reports of which appeared in the newspapers, it is true that recruits were issued with temporary identity cards--I stress that they were ID cards--while they were waiting for permanent documentation at two Army training centres, one of which was at Glencorse in Scotland and the other at Lichfield. The cards were indeed red and yellow, but they were for the purposes of aiding staff in the NAAFI. The cards made it clear who could and who could not be sold alcohol. For your Lordships' further elucidation, I add that in Glencorse the over-18s were issued with yellow cards and the under-18s with red cards. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that in Lichfield the exact opposite pertained--the over-18s had red cards and the under-18s had yellow cards.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I should begin by declaring an interest, which I may share with other Members of the House. Is the noble Baroness aware that, as a former officer cadet, I was under the training of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan?

24 Jan 2001 : Column 254

If, as I am sure is the case, the Minister's reply was correct, I express regret at the fact that the potential for opera singers in Britain may be severely damaged.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this matter raises an important point about industrial deafness. Work is currently under way studying soldiers who may suffer from deafness following battlefield exercises. That is important, because obviously any impediment to hearing in the armed services could be very serious.

I take the points that the noble Lord made about his sergeant-major and about opera singers. He may be interested to know that the loudest shout ever recorded in this country reached 121.7 decibels. The shout came from a lady called Anna Lisa Ray. Her shout was recorded in Northern Ireland in April 1994, and she was shouting the word, "Quiet"!

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, have there been any cases of pensions being applied for or awarded for impairment of hearing arising from the impact of parade ground orders?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord raises another serious aspect to this question. I have made inquiries on exactly that point. I understand that during the past three years there has been one attributable pension because of deafness of an individual leaving the Army.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's encouraging Answer to the Question, and her response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, is she aware of the power of the voice of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan? When I was a boy at Wellington, he drilled me, as an officer cadet, to line the route at the funeral of the late King George VI. I measured the commands of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan and found that they were audible from a distance of more than 1,000 metres or--to use a measurement that meant more to me in those days--five furlongs. That was, roughly, the distance between Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace. That is considerably in excess of what is required to be an opera singer.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, if it would help the noble Viscount, I have in my possession a very interesting chart that shows the decibel levels of just about everything, from whispering in a public library through to the take off of a jet aircraft. I do not know whether Sergeant-Major Brittan was able to rival a jet aircraft; I rather doubt it. Nonetheless, long may our officers be able to make themselves clearly heard and understood.

Again, an important point is raised. Those who are sent into battle have to hear clearly the instructions that are given to them. If instructions were not clearly

24 Jan 2001 : Column 255

heard, the most appalling incidents might result. Although the noble Viscount made his supplementary in a light-hearted vein, he raised a serious issue about hearing in the Armed Forces. I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish that to be forgotten.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most likely cause of deafness is from groups at discos rather than regimental sergeant-majors?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, unfortunately, the chart that was provided to me by the Ministry of Defence does not contain the decibel level in discotheques. I could have told your Lordships about the decibel levels of pneumatic drills or riveting machines but, unfortunately, I cannot do so for the typical disco.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the noble Baroness have a recording of the decibel level of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as always, the noble Earl is the model of clarity.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me--and I know that it is slightly unfair because I am sure that it is not on her list--what would be the decibel level for people standing on tanks, instructing tank gunners in AP shell-firing on ranges? That is chiefly what I suffered from at the end of the war, after I had been wounded.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as luck would have it, I can say something about the decibel level in a Challenger 2 tank. The level outside a Challenger 2 tank is 176 decibels and inside the Challenger 2 tank it is 142 decibels. For those of your Lordships who are interested in the SA80, a point which very often concerns your Lordships in this House, that rifle fires at 160 decibels.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, as a result of those questions, can I take it that all non-commissioned officers, sergeant-majors and so on, are to be able to shout in the way that they always have done and are not going to be restricted by any health and safety regulations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, the noble Earl may.

Railtrack: Licence Obligations

2.43 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Railtrack is in breach of its licence obligations to operate a reliable rail infrastructure.

24 Jan 2001 : Column 256

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, licence compliance is a matter for the rail regulator. The rail regulator made a provisional order under Section 55 of the Railways Act 1993 requiring Railtrack to produce, by 18th January, recovery plans for individual train operators. I understand that Railtrack supplied these plans on time and that the regulator is now considering them.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. Is my noble friend aware that, while all this was going on, Leeds station and Willesden station on the West Coast Main Line have been closed for two weeks longer than was planned due, I am told, to mismanagement of the work? But the chief executive of Railtrack is quoted as saying:

    "We have had a very successful Christmas/New Year period".

Is this not a case for what Sir Alastair Morton calls the "nuclear" option, and he asks:

    "Should they continue to have this monopoly licence to operate the infrastructure"?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, while there were delays in regard to both Leeds and Willesden, I am delighted to report that those have now been sorted out. But I am even more pleased to report that by next week 85 per cent of the normal daily total of 18,500 passenger services should be running normally.

I should make it clear that we have no plans to revoke Railtrack's licence. We want Railtrack to succeed most immediately in delivering the rail recovery programme.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, will the Minister please inform the House which authority is responsible for specifying the quality of steel to be laid on a particular section of track?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page