Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and of Travers' Foundation for the year ending on 31st March, 1945, presented on 26th September, be approved."—[Mr. J. P. L. Thomas.]
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Just a few words on this interesting document, which I think is almost unique. I believe it is the only account of any charity submitted once a year to this House for approval. At least, it is not an account, it is a statement of the estimated income and expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation. However, the real thing that prompted me to get up for two or three minutes tonight was the fact that this 755 document was laid in dummy on the Table on 26th September. Some days afterwards my hon. Friend put down a Motion that we should approve it, and that Motion was put down long before this document was available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.
It was first in the Vote Office last Thursday. Intimation to Members that it was in the Vote Office was on the pink slips that are sent to us. Mine arrived on Saturday morning when, for good reasons, I was not at my office. Therefore, it was only yesterday that I knew that this document was available. I am not blaming my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. A similar thing has happened to him as happened to the Home Secretary, when somebody forgot to do something in time, except that in this case something was done too quickly. The official responsible for the piece of paper going into the Votes and Proceedings Office, showing that the document had been laid, also drafted the Motion saying that it should be approved and sent that in too, before the document was available. Although this is a trifling matter it is important, because it is only by looking after the small things that we can keep the big things in order.
Having got the document, it is interesting to observe that this charity has persistently been run at a loss. Last year, the estimated balance of expenditure over income in the case of Greenwich Hospital was £4,800, and the estimated loss this year will be £7,927. This loss is apparently approved by the First Lord of the Admiralty and Lord Bruntisfield, who is one of the members of the Board of Admiralty. It seems that the Admiralty are used to dealing in such large sums these days and are not taking much account of this loss. They have property all over the place, and a good deal of money invested in British Government securities, having transferred, last year, a large sum from Indian railways to Government securities, no doubt as part of the Government's process of realising overseas assets.
Their main job in this matter is to run a school, the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook in Suffolk. The accounts show that to run the school there are a superintendent and a headmaster. I am not quite clear why a superintendent as well 756 as a headmaster is required. That seems a little unusual. The superintendent, who has a furnished residence and an entertainment allowance, gets so much, and the headmaster, who has an unfurnished residence and is not so well off, receives less money. I would like to know what the superintendent does. I do not know why he should be better paid than the headmaster although perhaps the case may be something like that of the Provost of Eton, who has a highly ornamental job and has an assistant Provost to do most of the work, which is a kind of position I have been looking for for years.
I see that for the religious education of the boys there is a contribution of £80 to the Navy Votes for the services of a Methodist chaplain, R.N. (borne in H.M.S. "Ganges"). At least, the First Lord of the Admiralty gets it; the chaplain gets nothing. Then I see that there is an allowance of £96 to a Roman Catholic priest. Why should there be this discrimination? It calls for some criticism. I am glad to see that the school pays rates, but it is difficult to find out the cost per child. There is expenditure for the school amounting to so much and there is this interesting item: "Grant by the Board of Education in respect of boys in the school, £1,350." So it looks that the cost of education of the boys in the school is less than it really is. I see that the cost has gone up from £88 9s. 10d. in 1937–38, to £132 11s. 6d. last year. This is the estimate for next year, although those figures relate to last year. One would have thought that the Admiralty would have estimated the number of boys, as they had estimated the amount of expenditure. The number is not stated for this year. It was 588 for 1941–42 and for 1942–43, so presumably it will be about the same for 1943–44. The cost this year, so far as I can calculate it, will be £150. As between 1942–43 and what is called the year 1944, which I presume is the year 1944–45, and which seems a little inconsistent in chronology—the cost will go up from £132 11s. 6d. to £150. We ought to have some explanation about that. The late Mr. G. S. Reade, from whose estate the Reade Foundation was created, left 850 acres to be held by the Admiralty for the exclusive benefit of Greenwich Hospital. I do not know what is the rental value of these 850 acres—
§ Sir H. Williams
It does not say that, but the estate, with the exception of a small part which is let, is occupied by the Royal Hospital School and the home farm. So far as I know, nothing has been taken into account for the rental value of this land. But then the document ends with something which is encouraging. The total estimated income from the late Mr. Travers' estate is £2,292 per annum, which results in 29 people getting pensions of £75 per annum, which I hope will be borne in mind when we have the Social Security Debate. But I am not quite clear who the beneficiaries are; there is no indication as to who has qualified for the Travers pension. Here, again, the Admiralty are running into debt. Last year they lost £173, and this year it is estimated that they will lose £298.
I wondered why this document was to be brought before Parliament, and I see that it has been brought before us under chapter 42, 48 and 49 Viet. The curious thing is that this was an Act of Parliament which laid down that particulars of all charities administered by the Admiralty should be brought once a year before Parliament for approval. I think we had better amend that Act, and put this charity under the Charity Commissioners rather than the Admiralty. They are running into debt, and there will not be enough money with which to pay any pensions. As regards the education of the boys it would not be a bad idea if my hon. Friend consulted the Minister of Education to see what kind of a show he would make of it if the school was transferred to him from the Admiralty.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)
As a Member of this House I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) on his watchfulness, and the fact that this Estimate has been challenged for the first time for many years is a justifiable revenge by hon. Members for having had to read it on the Order Paper for so many weeks. My hon. Friend is perfectly right. There was a breakdown in the presentation of the accounts to the Vote Office. The Motion was signed by me on 26th September, which was supposed to be the date for the presentation of the Estimates, yet they were not available until Thurs- 758 day of last week, in spite of the fact that the Motion was signed by me so long ago. My hon. Friend was good enough to exempt me personally from his censure, but I am afraid that he was too kind. As I signed the Motion I must take full responsibility, because I should have assured myself that the accounts had actually gone to the Vote Office for the study of hon. Members. There was the usual printing delay, but that cannot be considered an adequate excuse for the failure to synchronise the Motion with the presentation of the accounts and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, to accept my apology for what is entirely my fault. Neither my right hon. Friend the First Lord nor Lord Bruntisfield, nor myself, would wish to have been discourteous in any way to hon. Members of this House.
My hon. Friend also asked me why this particular charity of all charities should go through this very elaborate procedure and come before the House annually. May I look back into its history and show how very close the connection has been between this charity, the Crown and Parliament? I should like to check the dates that my hon. Friend has given. My advice is that this is laid before the House in accordance with the Greenwich Hospital Act, 1885. There have been several Acts of Parliament concerning this charity, which make it imperative that the Admiralty should lay the accounts before Parliament yearly.
This charity was started by Queen Mary II in the old Palace of Greenwich for wounded and disabled seamen after the victory of La Hogue, in 1692. She died shortly afterwards, but King William III carried on her wishes and granted funds to Greenwich Hospital obtained by the House of Lords from fines on certain merchants and smugglers. He even gave his royal blessing to a national lottery which was called the Charitable Adventure. Smugglers and pirates continued to be a fruitful source of the Greenwich Hospital Funds, and in the reign of Queen Anne its exchequer was increased considerably by no less notorious a person than Captain Kidd. Again during the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 a very big windfall came from the Earl of Derwentwater, who supported the Old Pretender, lost his head, and forfeited his estates to the Crown, and the 759 House of Commons at the request of King George II devoted in 1736 all funds from the Derwentwater estate to Greenwich Hospital. In the 17th century the funds of Greenwich Hospital were amalgamated with the Chatham Chest, which was one of the first contributory schemes of its kind, of 6d. a month from seamen, beginning in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Most seamen then, however, preferred to live in the hospital rather than draw their pension in cash. After the French Wars funds grew so low that in 1834 Parliament finally abolished the contributory pensions scheme and made a grant direct from the House to Greenwich Hospital, to be charged on the Consolidated Fund. At a later date, when these cash pensions once again became more popular than residence in the hospital, the hospital's overhead charges grew so high that the Admiralty took over the buildings for the Royal Naval College. To-day the funds of the hospital are spent partly on pensions and partly on the Royal Hospital School for Seamen's Sons at Holbrook. This school is on the estate left by Mr. Reade in 1829. I know that at this time the figures of the expense of educating these boys looks unsatisfactory. The reason is that the numbers at the schools have fallen considerably because of the war. Holbrook is so situated that it was thought advisable only to take in a sufficient number of boys who can be accommodated in the safer areas of the school and the ground floors of their buildings. The numbers are considerably down but there is every hope that during the coming year, if conditions get better, the numbers will increase to the normal peace-time figure.
My hon. Friend also asked me why there were both a superintendent and a headmaster. As a Royal Naval School, it was thought necessary to have a naval superintendent and a headmaster under him. But that matter is under consideration and I hope that news of a change may soon be published.
My hon. Friend asked me specifically about the Travers Foundation. Samuel Travers was Auditor-General to the Prince of Wales who afterwards became George II. The money from his bequest was to be used to house, within the castle walls of Windsor, naval lieutenants, and shortly afterwards naval commanders were in- 760 cluded, to be known as the Naval Knights of Windsor. These lieutenants and knights had to be single men, without children, inclined to a virtuous, studious and devout life, and to be removed if they gave occasion for scandal. At a later date these bachelor candidates of virtue began to be difficult to find. The result was that the Corporation of the Naval Knights of Windsor was dissolved by Parliament in 1892 and the property and funds were invested in the Admiralty, also by Act of Parliament, but on condition that the Travers Account was to be kept distinct from the general accounts of Greenwich Hospital and shown separately in statements rendered to Parliament year by year, which is why we present the Travers Account to-day separately from the general accounts of Greenwich Hospital. My hon. Friend asked me several questions that I cannot answer at once but, as far as the school is concerned, we are suffering very much as I said from the fact that the war and the position of the school have reduced our numbers, though we hope to build them up in the coming year. The other suggestions and criticisms that he made I will gladly take back to the Admiralty for consideration.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
When the hon. Gentleman was generous enough to exonerate everyone in the Department from blame, was he not going a little too far? When the Home Secretary apologised to the House, he said the people in his Department had heard about it and it was not likely to occur again. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to go as far as that?
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
It would not be in Order to discuss the difference between this system and that of the Army, which is a much better system, by which the Paymaster-General is responsible to the House for the administration of Chelsea Hospital. He has to advise him a Council of ex-officers of distinction who run the hospital, and if anything goes wrong questions can be asked in the House. Is there any outside advice taken in the administration of these very important charities which involve sums of money given partly by pious benefactors in the past, or are they being administered by an extremely overburdened Department? Is there no system by which the First Lord can call in an 761 Advisory Council of ex-naval officers? Is such a Council in existence?
§ Mr. Thomas
There is no outside advice in this matter. The charity is administered by the Admiralty and the accounts are laid before the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
The hon. Member has not asked the permission of the House to speak a second time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is perfectly true. We are not in Committee. I am not raising it for the purpose of creating difficulties, but it must not be taken for granted that a Minister can speak an indefinite number of times.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I shall be glad if my hon. Friend will look into the point I want to raise. If this charity is to go on losing money from year to year, Parliament should have more knowledge of the assets of the trust. It is not much use producing a document which is based on income and expenditure. We want to know from year to year, if the expenditure exceeds the income, that there are sufficient assets to account for the annual deficit, and we want to see that we are not running into a situation which will call for some action of the House. I would, therefore, ask my hon. Friend to find out whether it will be possible next year to include a full balance sheet showing the assets and liabilities of Greenwich Hospital.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I made my first speech from the Front Bench nine years ago in defence of this charity, and I am extremely interested in this school. The thing that worries me is not so much the point that has been raised, but the fact that there used to be 1,000 boys at the school. I remember when there were more. Can my hon. Friend tell me what is happening to the sons of these seamen who used to get the advantage of this magnificent school? I have not quite got the point why the numbers are reduced. I realise roughly the position in regard to security, but does my hon. Friend mean that the place is being used for other purposes, or that it is not considered advisable to have these numbers there? The reduction means that boys are being deprived of one of the best and healthiest schools in the country.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I hope that the Minister will have the willing leave of the House to reply to the various points that have been raised, because the whole purpose of this procedure is to give Members the opportunity to put questions and points arising out of the Motion and for these points to be answered. We are indebted to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) for having raised this matter. The Minister has worn the white sheet with such wonderful grace that he has almost persuaded us that it was his own. It is clear that he has done it out of the spirit of chivalry. Are we to understand that there is no advisory council in connection with this school? I suggest that it is desirable that there should be one, not only to represent the point of view of the interests of the parents, but to include people with educational experience and knowledge.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas
I must make my second apology to the House to-day and this time for not asking permission to speak a second time. I got up rather quickly to answer the Noble Lord and did not intend to make a second speech. If I may have the leave of the House, I would repeat that there is no council of naval officers to advise the Admiralty in the administration of the finances of Holbrook. The Board of Admiralty functions as the governing body of the school, and there is no outside council to assist it. In answer to my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), the capital expenditure is looked at by the Auditor-General and put before the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will look into that point and let my Noble Friend know. In answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), as far as I know the space is not being used for anything other than for the school, but it has been found practicable for security reasons not to increase the numbers. I hope that it will be possible for that policy to be reversed in the near future. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has performed a useful service in starting this Debate, and the Admiralty will bear in mind the points and criticisms that have been made.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Will they consider particularly the question of an educational advisory council? I think the time is ripe for it.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will certainly put that point to the First Lord and to the Board of Admiralty for their consideration.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and of Travers' Foundation for the year ending on 31st March, 1945, presented on 26th September, be approved.