HC Deb 18 March 1881 vol 259 cc1359-60

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether it is true that the capital of the Royal Patriotic Fund has been diminished by a very large amount; whether the accounts of the fund have been audited annually according to the requirements of the Royal Commission; whether, in consequence of the diminution of the capital referred to, it has been found necessary to close, or advise the closing, of the Boys' School at Wandsworth, the same being unendowed; and, whether he will lay the Papers, and all the information on the subject which may he in his possession, upon the Table of the House; in the event of the above facts being as stated, whether he will take the necessary steps for the appointment of a Committee for the purpose of thoroughly investigating the matter, and suggesting some scheme of reorganisation with a view of placing the funds so liberally subscribed by the public under more responsible control; and, whether, in view of the present system of short service, and of the fact that the benefits of education are made generally available through the Board Schools, he will consider the advisability of applying the whole of the interest of the fund to the grant of pensions or compassionate allowances to the widows and children of officers and soldiers killed in action?


Sir, at the opening of the Session I stated, in reply to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry de Worms), that I had not then received an answer to a letter written to the Patriotic Fund Commissioners on behalf of the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself, in which we pointed out the very serious and unsatisfactory state of the finance of the Commission. As I then stated, the subject was under the consideration of the Commissioners; and I have since received from Lord Nelson, the Chairman of their Executive Committee, a letter going fully into the question of their finance, and the remedies they propose. This letter, after enumerating considerable economies, which the Committee hope to effect, recommended the closing of the boys' school unless the War Office and the Admiralty could come to the assistance of the Commission by supplementing their sources of income with certain funds at the disposal of the two Departments. Lord Northbrook and I, after full consideration, found ourselves unable to comply with this request; but we have made a proposal to the Commission very much in the sense of the last part of the hon. Member's Question. If, as we hope, the Commissioners should see their way to adopt our views, it will be easy for them to complete the special task for which they were orignally appointed by the Crown, and, at the same time, to assist in placing upon a permanent footing the main object for which they were constituted. I think I ought to add to this reply that, although, for want of sufficient data given to their actuary, it is the case that their assets have been found to be insufficient for the expenditure to which they were more or less pledged to Parliament and the public, there is no reason whatever for imputing to their officers any defalcations, and the whole matter has been so thoroughly probed to the bottom that the appointment of another Committee on the subject would be now useless. In any case, a Bill must be brought into Parliament to carry into effect the proposals of Lord Northbrook and myself, or of the Commission, and before then I hope to lay on the Table all the Papers and Correspondence.