§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)
I beg to move, " That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This small Bill has a double object in the useful tidying-up of previous enactments. The purpose of Clause 1 (1) is the extension of the objects of the fund called the Soldiers' Effects Fund, which is, in turn, administered by the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. In this Bill, we seek to extend the way in which the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation can administer the Soldiers' Effects Fund in two ways.
In the last words of Clause 1 (1), we seek to make it possible to include as beneficiaries the wives, children and other near relatives of persons who have been soldiers and who have died. At present, the beneficiaries of the Soldiers' Effects Fund are somewhat narrowly restricted by a variety of provisions, which I will not detail, but the broad effect is that the beneficiaries must be the widows or dependants of soldiers who have died within six months of their discharge, and preference has to be given to the dependants of soldiers who have died 12 months after the occurrence of the wound or illness which caused their death. Clause 1 (1) frees the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation of these restrictions, which the trustees have found to be hampering to them in their work and to exclude, unnecessarily and unfairly, deserving beneficiaries. Clause 1 (2) includes in this provision airmen, who were not included before.
Clause 2, which is really unrelated, logically, to Clause 1, is inserted because 1274 we have taken the opportunity provided by the Bill to put another matter right. The Clause itself is not very readily comprehensible, and it is composed of one sentence, but its real effect is that the provisions referred to in the first sentence of the Clause shall apply,and be deemed always to have applied, in relation to those forces as if references in the provision to the military forces of the Crown or to members, or any class of members, thereof included references to the air forces of the Crown or, as the case may be, to members or the like class of members thereof.I should tell the House that I have been informed that the meaning of those words is that airmen should be brought within the provisions of the 1893 Act. For many years they have been brought within its provisions, but there has been grave doubt about the legality of that proceeding, and that is the reason why this provision is made retrospective, so that it will cover what the House will agree has been the entirely proper practice of the Fund for a number of years and include airmen in the scope of its beneficent activities.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, who is intimately connected with the work of this Fund, warmly concurs in the two objects which we seek to attain in this Bill.
§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
As I understand it, this Patriotic Fund was formed shortly after the Crimean War to administer funds which had been very generously subscribed by the public for the widows and orphans of soldiers, sailors and marines who had fallen in that war. Commissioners were appointed to administer the Fund, and they subsequently took over the administration of other funds which had been subscribed by the public for the benefit of widows, orphans and dependants of ex-members of the Armed Forces. That was the state of affairs up to 1903 when, by Act of Parliament, the Commissioners were replaced by the present Corporation.
The Act of 1903 laid down that, subject to any special trust, the funds administered by the Corporation were for the benefit of the widows, children and dependants of the officers and men of the naval and military forces of the Crown. While, on the formation of the Royal Air Force, no extension was made of the 1275 application of the Act, I am informed that certain of the funds—as the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed—were actually applied to the relief of dependants of personnel of the Royal Air Force. But I am also informed that other funds which were open to the military forces of the Crown have not hitherto been extended to dependants of men of the Royal Air Force.
As the right hon. Gentleman has told us, Clause 2 appears to regularise these matters. It seems to admit the dependants of men of the Royal Air Force to the benefits of all the funds of the Corporation, other than those earmarked for some specific purpose, and I am sure the House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that provision is right and proper, and that, although dependants of men of the Royal Air Force may not hitherto have suffered, this new provision is considerably overdue. One may not be worried about the provisions of Clause 2, but I have certain anxieties in relation to the provisions of Clause 1. That Clause deals with the Soldiers' Effects Fund, which is constituted under the Regimental Debts Act, 1893. It makes those funds applicable for the benefit of the widows, children and relations of soldiers and airmen who have died, instead of limiting the benefit to those dying on service or within six months of their discharge.
It may be wondered why airmen are admitted to the benefit of these funds. I am told that the reason is that since the formation of the Royal Air Force, the estates of airmen who have died intestate have, in fact, been paying into the Soldiers' Effects Fund. The limitation of benefit to dependants of those who died on service or within six months of their discharge was, I understand, considered to be necessary as, otherwise, there might well be so many applications for relief that the funds would be found quite insufficient to meet such applications in any adequate way.
The proposal in the Bill is, of course, that there should be no limitation whatsoever, and that the funds should be available to the dependants of persons dying at any time, and who, at any time, had been either soldiers or airmen. I have been given to understand that the reasons for that alteration are twofold: 1276 first, that the introduction of State pensions has reduced cases of destitution, though not, perhaps, the total number of cases of dependants requiring help in one way or another: second, that under modern conditions deaths from war service often occur much later than six months after discharge.
I understand it is contended that in consequence of these changes, there are not now so many calls to relieve destitution, while many cases of distress which are brought to the notice of the Corporation are time barred. I find it very difficult to credit that the income of the Trust cannot now be fully spent. I find it difficult to credit that, because we know, for example, that many soldiers and airmen died on service or within a few months of their discharge from causes which were not directly attributable to the war, and that their dependants receive no pension under the Warrant whatsoever, though I understand that they are eligible to receive benefit from the Patriotic Fund. Surely, it is not the contention of the Government that the income of the Patriotic Fund, and particularly the income from the Soldiers' Effects Fund, is more than sufficient to relieve the distress which must exist in that category of dependants.
If the income is more than sufficient for that purpose—which, again, I cannot credit—should it not go to supplement the income of those suffering from some particular hardship, though they happen to be in receipt of a war pension? After all, the pensioners, I understand, number some 350,000, and it surely cannot be claimed that among these there are no cases of hardship which could be alleviated by a supplementary pension or by a grant from the Patriotic Fund. The Fund was originally intended to provide for those for whom the State makes no provision, and I claim that dependants of those who died while serving—though their deaths were not directly attributable to war service—come within that category.
I further make the claim that the income of the Fund, if it is more than sufficient for that purpose, should be used—and here I speak figuratively—to enable dependants to add a little jam to the bread and margarine which the State pension provides. That, I think, was the intention of the founders and of many 1277 others since, who have contributed to this Fund. To throw the door wide open, as the Bill proposes, would almost certainly produce so many claims of equal and comparable hardship as to reduce any grants that can be made to such minute proportions as to be almost useless, and, indeed, farcical.
I am sure that is not the intention of the Government, but, on the other hand —and the right hon. Gentleman may as well know it—it is being said that the Government are afraid to allow any supplement to existing pensions in case that might give a handle to those in the House and outside who maintain that a review of war pensions is overdue and ought to be considered by some independent body, be it a Royal Commission or a Select Committee of this House. That explanation is accepted much more readily—as it appears to be much more reasonable—than the suggestion that the funds are more than sufficient to meet cases of distress among dependants of soldiers and airmen who died on service or within six months of their discharge.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
Ought not the hon. and gallant Gentleman to relate this fund to the large number of other ex-Service funds in the country, because there are 800 organisations with funds totalling some £20 million? There is, therefore, sufficient money in such Service funds to relieve any distress that may exist after State benefits have been taken into consideration.
§ Commander Galbraith
That may be the view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I do not think it is a view which would be widely held throughout the country.
§ Commander Galbraith
I do not think the Minister would ask the House to believe that distress of that character among the dependants of soldiers and airmen who died on service or within six months of their discharge is so slight that the Soldiers' Effects Fund is more than sufficient to meet it. In 1948, the income of that Fund amounted to less than £10,000, and I think it is rather a reflection on the administration of the Fund that £2,000 of its income was unspent 1278 when, surely, there must have been many eligible to whom a small part of that balance would have been a godsend.
I want to put three or four specific questions to the right hon. Gentleman or to whoever is to reply to this Debate. First, I wish to ask how many grants, or pensions are at present being paid out of the Soldiers' Effects Fund? Also- what is the average amount of these grants and pensions? What total payments were made from the Soldiers' Effects Fund for the year ended 31st December, 1938, the year ended 31st December, 1948, and the year ended 31st December, 1949? Finally, so that the House may be able to judge of this matter, how many widows-and dependants are there who are not in receipt of any public pension under the Pensions Warrants although their husbands, soldiers or airmen, died while serving?
Does the Minister really suggest that no hardship exists among that category of people? It may well be that the area over which it is now possible to spread the benefits of this Fund requires to be redefined, but it seems to me that to throw the door wide open, as suggested in the Bill, is really to make a laughing stock of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation and, indeed, to defeat the real intentions of its founders.
But for the fact that the Bill recognises the Royal Air Force, and provides that where the funds are administered by the Corporation for the Navy and Army they shall be deemed also to he administered for the benefit of the Royal Air Force, I should be inclined to ask the House to, divide against the Bill, to mark its disapproval of Clause 1 (1). But I am advised that it is possible that this Clause can be rectified during the Committee stage. Will the Minister and those associated with him in drafting the Bill be good enough to think again before that stage is reached? If they think some alteration is necessary in the area of application of this Fund, will they reconstruct it within some reasonable limit and so not risk bringing into ridicule this Corporation, which has an honourable record of service and the funds of which have relieved distress in the homes of thousands of those husbands and fathers who deserve so 'well of their country?
§ 11.22 a.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
I should have thought that any hon. Member would have approved of any extension of the terms of the numerous ex-Service charities in order to include more widows and children, and that there would have been no controversy about this Bill as such. I welcome the Bill. It is a small, innocuous Measure which might well have gone through under other conditions " on the nod ", as some of these things have done in the past. I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has discussed the Bill and the Corporation in some detail because this is the first time, certainly in the last five years, that this House, which is responsible for setting up a large number of these organisations, has had the opportunity to consider their present position and their activities.
This is particularly important, as the hon. and gallant Member said, because the roots of this organisation lie in the Crimean War of 1854. The school was established as a result of funds collected at that time. I have, however, discovered certain important points about the Corporation, its management and its activities from the brief researches I have been able to make. First, few members of the public and few hon. Members know anything of the Corporation or of its work, for reasons which I shall give in a few moments.
The Corporation was founded in 1903 and, therefore, has a record of some 50 years. Its treasurer is the Paymaster-General and its accounts have to be audited by the Treasury. In fact, they are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Several Government Departments have responsibility in connection with this Corporation. They include the Treasury, the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Pensions.
The Corporation is under an obligation to make a report of its proceedings to His Majesty each year. This is the first important point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. One copy only of this report is sent to this House marked, " For presentation to His Majesty." It is promptly filed away in the archives and nobody sees it. I have had to make a personal application to the Corporation for one to use in this 1280 Debate today. When I went there I was treated with every courtesy and the staff were quite prepared to give me any assistance. That being so, I do not wish to imply that there is anything going on there " under the counter."
I ask the Secretary of State, why this annual report is not drawn up in a similar manner and printed by the Stationery Office for presentation as a proper Parliamentary Paper for the use of hon. Members and for purchase by the public? The public ought to know what this Corporation is doing, what the funds are for and who may be able to obtain some of the money which, as I will show later, is not being distributed.
We have an analogous case in the estimates and accounts of Greenwich Hospital, of which both sides of the House are fully aware. Those accounts are produced in this House annually. Copies are available to hon. Members and they have been the subject of Debate. The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation is an analogous organisation, administering charitable funds for ex-Service men and also a school in almost precisely the same way as Greenwich Hospital.
The Corporation deals with some 18 funds. Some of them are quite " tuppeny-ha'penny " funds, one being for a matter of £348. The Soldiers' Effects Fund, however, which we are considering today, is over £250,000. Unfortunately, the grants and the expenses of all these funds are not totalled separately, so an exact comparison cannot be made of the cost per pound of money distributed. That is a factor to which we should have access. Even the summaries are not shown.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
In paragraph 16 on page 10, a summary of the accounts is given. Total payments, allowances, etc., are set out, so the hon. and gallant Gentleman can obtain some information from that.
§ Commander Pursey
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to be brief. I should have thought that this is a matter of some importance in view of the controversial speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, and also because he said the Opposition were considering dividing the House on the subject. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) has drawn 1281 attention to page 10. That is just the page that requires an explanation. Under the year 1948, we have the item: " Payments, allowances, expenses of management, etc., £53,000." It lumps the grants and the expenses together and so justifies the point which I have just made, that the grants and expenses are not shown separately, so that it is not possible to find the figure of the cost per pound of grants distributed.
Even the salaries are not shown in these accounts. One has to go to other official publications to find that there is a secretary, who is a major-general, presumably only part-time employed, and who is paid £900 per annum to dole out half guineas to widows and orphans. That, I submit, is out of all proportion. There is also a chief clerk, who is paid £600. What other staff is employed in the way of clerks, and what the offices in Sackville Street off Piccadilly cost, I do not know. I am quite prepared to admit that from what I saw of the room that I went into it was a reasonably modest office. I suggest, however, to the Minister that all these important points should be published in this annual report so that " the dog can see the rabbit," in the same way as they are published in the Greenwich Hospital accounts.
I want to say a few words about the organisation of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. It is drawn up on a vast nation-wide basis which I at first thought was the organisation of the Territorial Army. It includes lords lieutenant, mayors, provosts and a host of other people. There is a general council and executive, general purposes, finance and school committees. Some of these people apparently come from distant places, such as Devonport and Portsmouth presumably with first-class expenses, to attend meetings and possibly for a night in London. Consequently, every time the council or a committee meets money is frittered away which would otherwise provide more pensions, grants and allowances for the widows and other relatives who are in distress.
The nominal President of this Corporation is the Duke of Gloucester, and the vice-president and chairman of the executive committee is General Sir John Brind. A number of the other officers of the organisation are " brass hats " of high rank and titled people. This vast, high- 1282 ranking organisation is like a five-ton hammer that cracks nuts. The investments of over £1 million—which is no small amount of money to be responsible for —remain practically stationary. In other words, the money is likely to be there until the end of the world, unless an atom bomb from this House drops on it. All that the committees are actually concerned with is an income of some £50,000, including some £10,000 for the school. The total sum distributed in 1948 was some £40,000 and the expenses were nearly £4,000, or, according to my reckoning, nearly 2s. for every £1 disposed of. The number of beneficiaries is only 1,621, comprising 1,128 widows, 487 children and 6 other dependants. The average annual grant, omitting the school children, of some £24,000 for 1,560 women and children is only something in the order of £15 per annum—a mere pittance of charity. Truly it may be said that " this mountain labours and gives birth to mice."
Now for a few words about the school. As I said before, it was founded in 1857 at Wandsworth, the borough in which I live. It had to be evacuated at the beginning of the war in 1939. It is now in a large mansion at Bedwell Park near Hatfield. I have in my hand one of their documents, showing a picture of the house. This school can only accommodate about 60 children, and even then it does not provide their education, because the children have to go to the schools in the district. Therefore, all that this massive and expensive building provides is their accommodation. There can be nothing in the argument that these are girls who have been taken away from bad homes, because at holiday times they have to return to their homes, whatever the conditions are. Therefore, this is not even the ordinary type of ex-Service men's orphanage where they take care of the children right throughout the year.
The school is largely uneconomical and it must have expensive building extensions to make it economical. A licence is not likely to be issued for some time, and if I have anything to do with it, it will never get a licence. This school should be closed for this reason: the cost per head from £16,000 expenditure for 60 girls is over £250 per annum, and with Government grants and pensions that would pay for the education of these girls 1283 in some of the best boarding schools in the country. I submit that these girls ought not to be segregated as orphans. I am one who suffered from segregation for 3½ years because I was the orphan of an ex-Service man. We have now reached the day when that policy is to be stopped as being wrong in principle from the point of view of the orphans, whether boys or girls, of ex-Service men.
Moreover, these girls are being trained there for domestic service, and although there may well be other training available to them, it is definitely specified in the prospectus that there is training for domestic service. These girls ought not to be in that school. There is sufficient money available to pay for their places in any of the best boarding schools in the country, and they ought to be distributed over the schools of the country and not labelled during the most formative years of their life as orphans. They should be allowed to go as far ahead in this world as it is possible for them to go according to their abilities, even as far as getting into this honourable House, as I have had the good fortune to do and to fight on their behalf. If the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) wishes to say something on this point I shall be happy to give way to him. Apparently he does not wish to say anything; I thought he did.
I have got to cut down my remarks. There is a far bigger story to be told about this racket than I have disclosed so far, and I hope to have other opportunities now that it is appreciated that this House has got some control over this organisation. As a result of this we may find that we are able to control more of these organisations who are holding up to £20 million and some of which are frittering their money away in offices in Pall Mall at the rate of £100,000 per annum, with secretaries' salaries of £1,750—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order, Sir, for the hon. and gallant Member to refer to a charitable institution as a " racket "?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is apparently the hon. and gallant Member's opinion. I cannot say that it is out of Order.
§ Commander Pursey
If the hon. and gallant Member is in any doubt about it, I am prepared to make that statement from any platform in the country, without any question of Parliamentary privilege at all. I say that this organisation is second only to the British Legion as the biggest charitable scandal in the country.
§ Commander Galbraith
May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Member? Does he not recognise that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who names appear on the back of the Bill may have some responsibility for the " racket " of which he complains?
§ Commander Pursey
That interruption helps not at all. I explained earlier in my speech what were the various Government Departments which were responsible. The annual report has probably gone into their Departments in the same way as it has come into this House; it has simply been tucked away in the archives. As long as this thing goes on undisturbed there is a nice little cubby hole, with somebody getting £900, somebody else getting £600, these other people having a joy ride up and down the country, and money being frittered away which ought to go to the widows and orphans for whom the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok made such a passionate appeal. I should have thought that I should have had the whole-hearted support of both sides of the House in exposing this racket so that we can get at it and clean it up.
To sum up—
§ Commander Pursey
I have not taken up much time on this, and I guarantee to the hon. and gallant Member that on another occasion I may go on even longer. I submit to the House that this subject of ex-Service charities and the Soldiers' Effects Fund, with which we are mainly concerned today, must also be considered against the background of the new national position of social security and the large Services Funds. These charities can now pay only 10s. 6d. a week as a sum to be disregarded where State aid is received, and that is one of the reasons why they cannot get rid of their money. If they pay any more than 10s. 6d., a deduction is made from the 1285 State funds. I am wholly opposed to that; there should be no misunderstanding on that point.
There are 800 ex-Service organisations with funds totalling £20 million and, provided the individual or his dependants know where to go, there should be no question of any ex-Service man or his relations being in distress at all. We have, for example, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund with £.51 million and, as a result of the Naval Prize Fund, the Royal Air Force organisations have this year received another £1 million.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. and gallant Member says, " Hear, hear." I am in agreement with that, but the more that is done by the State—and more has been done by the Labour Government than by any other previous Government—and the more that is done by the men voluntarily, the less reason there is for cadging from the public for the ex-Serviceman by rattling tin boxes on street corners on Poppy Day and similar days.
§ Commander Pursey
I will give way in a moment. In the Navy we decided a quarter of a century ago to abolish this national and Service disgrace of cadging from the public. We formed our own benevolent trust to which rebates from N.A.A.F.I. go and to which the proceeds from Navy Week go, in the same way as proceeds from Air Force displays go to the Fund of the hon. and gallant Member's Service. There is no reason at all today why there should be any public cadging for the ex-Service man.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for giving way. He is inferring that the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund rattles tin boxes—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware that the bulk of the money subscribed to the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund is given by those in the Service and by those outside the Service who like to subscribe to that very charitable Fund?
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. and gallant Member is supporting my argument. 1286 I did not accuse the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund of rattling tin boxes.
§ Commander Pursey
I did not. [HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear."] As the hon. and gallant Member wants to dispute that point with me, however, I will say that the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund is guilty of public cadging by advertisements in the Press and wherever they can find an opportunity. However, this is going rather wide of the subject of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation Bill. I want to mention the amounts of the other two Funds and then deal with the Corporation before I conclude.
§ Commander Pursey
It is a strange thing that the Opposition want to suppress this information, because it knocks the bottom out of their argument. The Army Benevolent Fund has £42½ million and the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust £½ million. There is something of the order of £13 million available from their own funds to ex-Service men and their relatives if they are in distress. But these comparatively small and " tuppenny ha'penny " funds under the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation should be transferred to the Service funds or other funds. Alternatively, the funds should be transferred to the Minister of Pensions for him to administer as he administers the King's Fund. In either case, great economies would be made and more money would be available for a greater number of widows and orphans.
I support the Bill as a step in the right direction, but I intend to campaign in this House, as far as I am able, by Question and Motion, and outside wherever possible, to have the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation closed down lock, stock and barrel, and its funds amalgamated and transferred elsewhere, because only in this way can the fullest value be obtained from the money which is available for distribution to the widows and dependants. of ex-Service men.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I thought the explanation given by the Secretary of State was a little brief and inadequate. He did not explain many matters upon which the House might have expected some information. 1287 We are, however, indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) for having given us in such an agreeable form this morning, the benefit of his exhaustive and painful researches. I should like also to say, in a most friendly way, how glad I am that his curiosity is so impartially distributed.
There are two groups of money which seem to me to have been dealt with by this Bill and I want to consider certain aspects, both of the administration and of the law, which are affected by what it is proposed to do in this Measure. There is, first of all, the Fund subscribed by the public. As I understand it, this Fund was started after the battle of Alma in 1854, when " The Times " newspaper launched a great public appeal and, I am told, £½ million was raised. I have not been able to check this and it seems a very large sum, especially way back 100 years, before money began to depreciate as it has done so rapidly lately. I am told that the funds were reinforced by public subscription at the time of the Zulu. War and at the time of the Boer War. There may be substantial sums of money which were collected by public subscription and the point is that the money collected by public subscription bears upon it a sense of trust, perhaps a sense of limitation, having regard to the terms under which it was collected.
Next we come to the funds which have accumulated as the result of the diversion of soldiers' effects. When a soldier dies intestate, instead of the money going to the Treasury for whatever general purpose intestate money may be attributed to, this particular money goes to the Soldiers' Effects Fund, and it is limited not by trust or donation or implied trust but by Statute and Warrant. In both cases there is this sense of limitation, and we ought to hesitate before we depart from these limitations and to have the fullest possible information not only as to whom we may be benefiting, however slightly, but also about those from whom we may be taking rights.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East, has made some criticism which indicates that he agrees with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) that in some cases, perhaps, greater distribution of some of these moneys might have been made 1288 and some of the smaller funds might have been wound up and distributed; but amongst whom? Amongst those for whom the money was given or designated by Parliament or amongst the whole population or, at any rate, 10 million or 12 million people? That is an important question.
There is also the question whether the right to obtain some benefit from these funds should exist forever and under conditions which have no connection whatever with war service. It is fairly clear that the original moneys contributed after the Crimea War, the Zulu War and the Boer War, and perhaps later, were contributed by people for helping the widows of persons killed in those wars, or helping soldiers maimed in those wars, or helping cases that immediately arose after those wars. There was no intention on the part of any donor to those funds that the money should be hoarded and kept for future generations for people who die from ordinary old age, however much their need may be.
A situation may therefore arise in which a donation given for the purpose of helping a South African War veteran or a South African War veteran's widow having been hoarded up, may be spent this year to aid the widow of an old gentleman who died at the ripe old age of 80 from old age and no other cause whatever. Whatever our sympathies with that widow, it cannot be stated that this case is sufficiently near to the original intention of the donor to justify the application of the cy-pres doctrine.
In the last 10 years or so, I have in my capacity as Chairman of St. Dunstan's had to consider and take legal opinion and the necessary steps in the matter of widening the objects of the organisation. It was originally set up for the First World War, but when the Second World War seemed imminent it was obviously desirable to apply the knowledge and experience of that organisation to helping young men who might be blinded in the Second World War, and so with proper legal advice and following the proper procedure we widened the objects of St. Dunstan's so that it might look after men blinded in any war.
This is an important point. The Charity Commissioners in so far as one is dealing with the charitable trusts, the 1289 London County Council which is the inspecting and registering authority for charities of this kind, the Board of Trade which registers a particular company as being a company limited by guarantee—all these various public authorities have to be consulted and have to consent to a change of objects. If it is a proper change they allow it, but when they allow it they insist upon one very important proviso. The proviso is that money which is previously subscribed for some limited purpose must continue to be used for those objects and so accounted for in separate accounts.
This Bill proposes, as I understand it, to abandon all these safeguards commonly regarded as being an important element of our trust law and practice, and to allow all the funds, however donated, however collected and for whatever limited purpose to be made available for a purpose so wide as to be almost a universal purpose. I question whether this is proper or right. The right hon. Gentleman swept it all aside by saying that everyone would agree that it is right to extend the objects to all ex-Service men's widows of whatever period. I question whether that is really right.
We might say that henceforth the Soldiers' Effects Fund shall be for all ex-Service men's widows, but I do not think that even there that would be a good thing to do. We may think it wise to stick to the qualification that the widows must have become widows in relation to their husbands' service or effects of service, but even if we do apply the future funds to a wide group of millions of widows, I question very much whether it is proper to take away from the more limited classes which may still exist the rights which they have under the old funds contributed for their benefit.
While there are any South African War veterans—and there are many still alive and many still in need, as I know from letters I receive—and while there is any widow of a South African War veteran still in need—and I hear that there are many—while this is so, it cannot be right to allow sums of money which should be used for his or her benefit to be distributed in driblets in millions of cases. I think that in the Committee stage it may well be proper for some of us to consider putting down an Amendment, or a new Clause, which would limit the widening to new funds, so that old funds which bear 1290 the stamp of trust, may still remain applicable to those for whom they were collected and for whom the donors and subscribers and Parliament itself intended them to be used.
I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East, in any controversial manner. I only want to make, as it ought to go on record, a most modest and, I hope, friendly answer to some of the points which he brought into his speech. The £20 million which he says is in the hands of the voluntary, agencies should be distributed, he says, in such a way as to relieve all distress and make a Measure such as this and the action we are proposing to take today quite unnecessary. I think he is in error there. This £20 million represents very largely sums of money paid out by the canteens and N.A.A.F.I. to Army, Navy and Air Force organisations, and if we follow the precedent of the First World War, the Army Benevolent Fund and' these other funds will spread the expenditure over 30 or 40 years in order to see that the kind of need which may arise in 30 or 40 years' time is as surely met as the kind of need that arises now. That is a sensible thing to do.
Therefore, this £20 million must be looked upon as capital or, at any rate, as a fund that would provide an annuity to provide for the needs of a whole generation of ex-Service people and not as money to be divided out for a brief time in order to make a jolly time for all. The hon. and gallant Member is, therefore, misleading people when he talks about this £20 million which could be so readily divided up.
§ Commander Pursey
I had not intended interrupting the hon. Member but, as he has set out to correct me, he must get it clear that he is just talking nonsense. He keeps on making this statement publicly that these funds are for a generation. He is absolutely wrong. The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust is intended to be carried on as a permanent trust for all time. Its expenditure is related to its income. Its income is from the N.A.A.F.I. canteen funds, Navy Weeks and so on. When he says that these funds are for a generation he is talking tommy-rot, and the sooner he gets the facts right and stops putting over this misleading information, the better. As I understand it, the R.A.F. 1291 Benevolent Fund is also a permanent fund. The Army Benevolent Fund is also quite different. It is collecting money every year and is trying to get its expenditure related to income.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is trying to make a second speech. He has already exhausted his right to address the House by his first speech.
§ Sir I. Fraser
In so far as any of these funds are contributed to from canteens and the N.A.A.F.I., it is within my knowledge that it was the intention of the trustees to regard these sums of money as funds from which annuities could be drawn, so that the benefits might be spread over a generation of ex-Service men. If £5 million or f10 million have been collected from canteen funds I am sure it would not be the wish of any soldier, sailor or airman that the money should be dissipated within the first few years, when the need may spread over 20 to 40 years. These are indisputable facts. They are so reasonable that one would expect them to be indisputable.
I have one further observation to make. I do not consider that the original appeal made by " The Times " in 1854 for a fund which would enable thoughtful and kindly people who thought they owed a debt to soldiers to contribute was an improper, undignified or bad thing. Nor do I consider that the appeals now made to the generosity of our people, willingly supported by millions of folk and made in a proper and dignified manner and supported from the heart, are a bad thing. It is a good thing that people in every village and town should want by their activities to blaze new trails to add to the services given by the State. I hope that this voluntary spirit will continue throughout the land, because it brings a great deal of extra help materially and spiritually to those in need.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
The House is fortunate to have the advantage of a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on this subject. I think the Secretary of State will agree 1292 on reflection that his opening speech was a little short. This is really rather a complicated matter. As the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has said, it is not easy to get the documents which tell us about it. It is impossible to understand the Bill unless we know a little more about these funds. The hon. and gallant Member made a somewhat curious speech which appeared to be in complete opposition to the Bill. He wanted to abolish this Fund altogether, and therefore I do not see how he can support this Bill.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale said on Clause 1, and I am wholly in agreement with the purpose of Clause 2. In order to make quite certain that I have understood Clause 1, I hope the Secretary of State will indicate whether I am right in thinking that it refers to the Soldiers' Effects Fund only and not to any other funds.
§ Mr. Low
Therefore, any question of extending the purpose of other funds does not arise on Clause 1.
The object of the Bill is to extend the area where assistance can be given. This seems to me to raise some very important questions. First, would it not bring into the area of this Fund an enormous number of people, which will mean increasing the expenses? Secondly, what regulations are to be imposed on the Fund by Royal Warrant as a result of the extension of the purposes of the Fund? I understand that at present the Royal Warrant of 27th August, 1893, which sets out the provisions for the regulation of the Fund, is still in force, and that it requires priority to be given in considering applications in respect of widows and children of soldiers who were killed in action, or died of wounds or of injuries directly traceable to military duties, or of illnesses directly traceable to fatigue, privation and exposure. These are now covered by the Ministry of Pensions, and it would seem odd that a Royal Warrant giving these priority instructions should still be in force.
The Secretary of State will agree, I think, that these instructions are quite unsuitable for the extension of the area of the Fund. Clearly, we have to have new regulations and should be glad if the 1293 Government would inform us, before we come to the next stage of this Bill, what regulations they propose to issue on the subject. However well the new regulations may be drafted, the area covered by this Fund will be so wide that the expenses of management are bound to increase. Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull to the total expenditure by way of payments, allowances and benefits by the Royal Patriotic Fund. I have made some calculations which I think he will find it easy to make himself, so I need not weary the House by saying how I made them. I reckon that in 1948 the total expenses were just over £4,000 and the total benefits just under £50,000, which gives a ratio of between 8 and 81 per cent.
Let us get this right. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman has included £16,000 of expenditure for the school. I have given the figures, and if he will look at the top of page 11 he can make the quotation himself instead of my having to make another interruption. Will he read to the House that quotation from the top of page 11?
§ Mr. Low
I know of no way of including £16,000 in a total of £4,000—certainly not in any way that I understand—and I think I had better leave it there.
I was about to say that I am not an expert and I do not know what the ordinary expense ratio in a fund of this sort is, but it seems to me that between the total number of people who are able to draw benefits under the Fund and the total amount of money that is paid away from the general Fund each year the ratio of expenditure is rather high. If it is going to get higher, I think the Government ought to consider whether the action they have taken under this Bill is right or wrong.
Secondly, what is the Government's view about the future of all these funds, and in particular the future of the Soldiers' Effects Fund? My hon. Friend the Mem- 1294 ber for Morecambe and Lonsdale made a very interesting speech upon the future of funds which started for specific objects. The Soldiers' Effects Fund as a result of its various reorganisations, can be said, I think truthfully, not to have objects which refer to a particular generation, and it would be within a fair definition of its objects to say that it could go on for ever. I hope it is the Government's view that the Soldiers' Effects Fund should go on for ever, but it is important that we should know what their view is. If they mean to allow it to go on for ever, they will presumably see that over a period of years the payments and allowances out of the Fund are not allowed to exceed the total receipts from interest and donations to the Fund; in other words, they will not eat away the capital. I think we should have some indication from the Secretary of State, either now or later, of the Government's views about the future of this important Fund.
When hon. Gentlemen refer to the total size of these funds, they should try to distinguish between the total amount of interest received annually on the funds and the total capital of the funds; and, having distinguished between those two things, they are then entitled to ask whether in respect of some funds it is not right over a period of years to begin using up capital. However, I do not think -that argument applies to the Soldiers' Effects Fund.
My last point concerns the particular class of people with whom, I hope, the Soldiers' Effects Fund is at present designed to deal, and will continue to deal in the future. That class of people includes those widows and children of soldiers who have died due to natural causes, or due at any rate to causes which do not qualify their widows and children for State assistance. It is very important that we should be clear about their position under this extension of the objects set out in Clause 1 (1).
While we are considering them, it is right to recall that the previous Minister of Defence announced on 11th May, 1949, that His Majesty's Government had decided to promote a family pensions' scheme on a contributory basis for all established civil servants, and that, in those circumstances, it became necessary in the interests of the Forces to consider a similar scheme, also contributory in 1295 character. On 29th June, 1949, in answer to a Question, the Minister made it clear that this new scheme which he had in mind could not apply to existing widows, and that therefore they had no chance of help from the State.
I wonder whether it is the Government's intention, by extending the objects of the Soldiers' Effects Fund, to provide some help for these people? If it is their intention, we should be told. In any case, I should like to know from the Secretary of State—and I hope this is not out of Order—when we are to be given details of these two contributory pensions' schemes, the decision to set up which was announced nearly a year ago. I think the House should be told what progress has been made, and what future plans there are with schemes such as this, which are really very relevant to the consideration of the general subject before the House today.
Before resuming my seat, I should like to say once again that I think this is a most important Bill for the House thoroughly to consider. Whether we disagree or not—and I disagree very much with what the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East, has said, it is a very good thing that we have had sufficient time, in a reasonably calm atmosphere, to discuss this important matter this morning. I am sure that when we consider this matter even further, on later stages of the Bill, we shall require to give it even closer consideration, and if we are to give it that closer consideration we must have much more information about the facts and about the intentions of the Government. After all, the Government have available for themselves information and experience which we have not, and we must have their views about these funds, and in particular about the Soldiers' Effects Fund.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes in making the two observations I desire to put before the House. First, in my experience over the last four or five years of investigating claims for pensioners, disabled and otherwise, I have been struck by the extraordinary lack of knowledge that there is throughout the country about the various funds which 1296 are or might be available to them for their assistance.
§ Brigadier Peto
I think that more information must be given to the House and the public. The only sentence of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) with which I agreed was the need to make these various funds more widely known to the people who may wish to call on them. I agree with him there, and I wish to reinforce that point.
Second, and last, I wish fully to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said about the importance of not lightly breaking trusts. We have already had in this House, during the last Parliament, an instance where trusts were broken in the case of the National Health Service, by a particular Minister putting voluntary hospitals, and other hospitals of that sort, under public control, and the confiscation of funds left for specific purposes by people now deceased. I think we must examine this Bill particularly with a view to seeing to what extent trusts made for specific purposes are to be altered or swept away if the Bill is carried through as it stands.
I am right against what the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East, said about closing the Patriotic Fund, " lock, stock and barrel," and sweeping it away, combining it with other funds, and putting it under the control of a Minister to use as he thinks best. That would be entirely contrary to the wishes of the administrators and of those who have contributed towards the various funds administered by the Corporation. When the time comes to examine the Bill more closely in Committee, some limitation must, in my opinion, be set to those who can receive benefits under Clause 1.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
It always seems to me that, although he may sometimes use language which I would not use, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) does a very useful job in drawing the attention of the House to the administration of these various funds. We have heard from two hon. Members opposite about the importance of keeping trust. One of the things which should be borne 1297 in mind is that one is not keeping trust if he administers a trust for the benefit of the administrators instead of for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
Unless a very jealous eye is kept upon the administration of these ancient funds, that is what tends to happen. People get slack, the matter becomes routine, they are friendly in the best sense of the word with the various people who are running the fund, and the question is asked, " Why should not poor old So and So's screw go up a bit? " Funds of this sort should have a spotlight upon them. Parliament does a useful job in maintaining that spotlight, and it is always useful to have a Member like my hon. and gallant Friend, who is fearless and industrious in performing that function.
One point which greatly impressed me was what my hon. and gallant Friend told us about the school. We have not heard the other side of the story—no one has mentioned it—but the cost per head, something over £250 on the figures which we have been given, for a school which does not provide education but is merely a boarding establishment, is, upon the face of it, scandalous. If that is so, none of us will doubt that better service would be given to the beneficiaries by sending them, as could be done for this price, to the best boarding schools of the country rather than by maintaining a boarding establishment which is not really fit to be dignified with the name of school since it does not provide education at this cost. I hope that we shall hear something about this from my right hon. Friend.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Strachey
If I may have the leave of the House to reply, I would say that the Debate has largely turned on the provisions of Clause 1 (1). The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) voiced the general feeling, I think, on his side of the House that this Clause and subsection were widening too much the provisions of the Bill. We can, of course, consider that in detail on the Committee stage. At this stage I would only point out that in widening the ranks of the beneficiaries who come under the aegis of the Fund, we are of course doing nothing to prevent the Fund, if it so prefers, increasing the benefits to its existing beneficiaries. We are simply giving them a choice.
1298 I should like to contradict the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member that we were seeking to widen the choice of the Fund to avoid the Fund giving increased benefits to war widows and thus revealing the fact that their pensions were inadequate. The Bill does not prevent the Fund from doing that. I should have thought that the administrators would usually hesitate to do that but, after all, the pension of a war widow of a private soldier is already 9s. a week higher than the pension of widows under the Insurance Acts. Nevertheless, the Royal Patriotic Fund, either now or after the Bill has become an Act, would be perfectly within its rights and terms of reference to make a grant or, indeed, give a pension, if it wished to do so, to such a widow.
The widows whom we have in mind in this extension of the powers of the administration of the Fund are of a different class—they are quite a small class but they do exist—who, as it were, fall between two stools: widows whose husbands died more than six months after their service and who did not die of war service injuries and are, therefore, ineligible for war pensions under the Royal Warrant. The vast majority of such widows receive pensions under the Insurance Acts, but I think that there are a small number who are not eligible under either the Warrant or the Acts. I should have thought that it was Service widows of that type for whom the provisions of the Fund were very suitable. The National Assistance Board can, of course, help them, but we felt that the provisions of the Bill should enable the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation to help them. That purpose is achieved by subsection (1).
§ Commander Galbraith
Could the right hon. Gentleman consider, before we come to the Committee stage, whether that could not be done without making the Bill as wide as it is?
§ Mr. Strachey
I have no doubt that that purpose could be achieved without going as wide as this. Nevertheless, I think that, as at present advised, we can consider that on the whole it is wise to go too wide.
I think I can reassure the hon. and gallant Member that there would be no question about " making a laughing stock 1299 of the Corporation " because, after all, it is by their wish and on their advice that we have made these proposals for this undoubtedly wide discretion. If we have confidence in their administration, this type of fairly wide concession should be given.
If the hon. and gallant Member would like me to do so now, I will answer as far as possible his specific questions; but this could, of course, be done in Committee. His first question asked how many widows and dependants there are who are not receiving a public pension under the Royal Warrant and whose husbands were soldiers or airmen who died while serving. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to get any accurate number, but I will try to give the hon. and gallant Member any information which there is on that point. He then asked how many continuing grants or pensions were at present being paid from the Soldiers' Effects Fund. There are weekly allowances to 61 widows and 336 children. The hon. and gallant Member wished to know the average amount of each of such grants and pensions. The average of grants is £10 18s. and the average of weekly allowances is, for widows, £22 4s.—I am giving the figures on an annual basis—and, for children, £9.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman next wanted to know the total expenditure from the Soldiers' Effects Fund in the three years ending 1949-50. The answer is: in 1947-48, £7,528 6s. ld.; in 194849, £7,892 19s. 9d.; in 1949-50, £8,399 10s. 6d. His fifth question was: What is the amount now standing to the credit of the Soldiers' Effects Fund? The answer is £283,496 9s. 2d. as at 31st December, 1949.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am grateful for the information which the right hon. Gentleman is giving, but I think he must be quoting from a document and not answering the questions I asked him. The questions which he has answered were, in parts, not the questions which I asked, but I am grateful for the information.
§ Mr. Strachey
I agree that I did not take down accurately the hon. and gallant Gentleman's words, but I think that the information covers the questions which he asked. I understood the informa- 1300 tion to be that which he and the House wished to have on the subject. It goes a little further than that for which he asked, but as he criticised me for giving too little information to begin with, I was giving him a little more on this occasion than that for which he asked.
§ Mr. Strachey
The information comes from my Department, of course. If the hon. and gallant Member thinks that I carry these figures in my head, he is incorrect.
§ Mr. Strachey
The information can certainly be obtained, but there is no reason why it should not be given to the House.
The question of how wide the Bill goes can be considered in Committee, but I should have thought that it was an advantage to go wide. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member also who felt that we were going much too wide in the sense that we were bringing in all widows and all dependants of the whole population. That is not the case. We are restricting it to the widows and dependants of Service men. We are surely well within the intentions of this Fund in doing that.
§ Commander Galbraith
Would the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific on that point? He talks about Service men. Does he mean anyone who has at any time served in one of the Armed Forces?
§ Mr. Strachey
Certainly, someone who has served in one of the Services and has left a widow or dependant. Surely such a widow or dependant is a Service widow or dependant, unless the definition is to be restricted to the widows or dependants of those who had served on Regular engagements. Surely there is no desire that that should be so.
§ Mr. Strachey
I take it so. It would be invidious to make a distinction between them and others.
I wish to refer to an important point in regard to which the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) 1301 was under a quite natural misapprehension. There is no doubt that in Clause 1 of the Bill we are dealing not with the funds of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation as a whole but with the Soldiers' Effects Fund. Therefore, there is no question of breach of trust of or diverting funds which were collected by private subscriptions for one purpose and applying them to another purpose. That could arise if we were dealing with the funds of the Corporation as a whole, but we are here dealing with a fund within a Fund.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think not, although I should like notice of that point to enable me to be certain about my reply. It is an important point, but it does not really arise.
I now turn to points of quite another character which were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey). He feels that charitable bodies of the type of which the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation is an example have become anachronistic. In principle, I have a certain sympathy with that point of view. I think that in general—not necessarily the body which we are now discussing—these very numerable charitable bodies, many of which have served excellent purposes, and many of which I am sure still do so, require looking at in the considerably changed social conditions of today to see whether, quite properly, within the powers of this House, their functions and administration should be reviewed.
The point which my hon. and gallant Friend made forcibly upon the subject of the school is one of which this House must take some account because these matters are within our purview. It may be that because of changed social conditions in the country what has been a perfectly good activity in the past ceases to be so. I agreed with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when he said that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East, does good service in calling our attention to these points.
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. and gallant Member is entitled to his opinion on the matter and we are entitled to ours. I repeat that I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend does good service in calling attention to these matters. I really cannot see how the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) can think it is a bad service to the House to draw our attention to these matters.
§ Mr. Strachey
The Government have already had this matter under consideration, and, as the House knows, we have set up a committee under Lord Nathan. I should like to remind the House that the terms of reference of that Commitee are:to consider and report on the changes in the law and practice, except with regard as taxation, relating to charitable trusts in England and Wales which would be necessary to enable the maximum benefit to the community to be derived from them.It may well be that without casting any reflection whatever upon the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, that committee of inqury might like to look at its activities in the changed social conditions of today. This Debate may have served a useful purpose in directing the attention of that committee of inquiry to this matter.
Today, we have to decide only one thing, which is the principle of whether the changes, or some such changes as are.in this Bill, in the work of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation are desirable or not. I think there is complete agreement in the House that the retrospective change in Clause 2 is desirable and necessary. I think, also, that there is very general agreement that some change in the nature of Clause 1 (1) is necessary. We can, of course, look at the exact nature of the change during the Committee stage.
After we have passed this Bill, whether it is amended or not, we shall have to make regulations which will, no doubt, be of a restrictive character. During the Committee stage we can give some account of what those regulations will be. Quite frankly, they are being discussed, as I think they should be, with the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation at 1303 this moment, and for that reason I am not prepared to describe them today. But during the Committee stage we must give the Committee at any rate an indication of the nature of those regulations which will be more restrictive than the Bill. Our conception is of rather wide words in the Bill and then more restrictive regulations.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.