HC Deb 26 March 1886 vol 304 cc50-62

, in rising to call attention to the distribution of Greenwich Hospital Funds, said that, if the Forms of the House would have allowed him, he should have been glad to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice, which was— That, in order to keep faith with the Seamen and Marines who entered or re-engaged in. Her Majesty's Service under the Regulations as to Greenwich Pensions laid down by the Order in Council of the 9th day of September 1865, the provisions of the said Order in Council should be carried out. At the last General Election this question excited a good deal of interest at the naval ports. When he formerly brought the question before the House I it had not one-tenth of the importance it had now. The number of seamen and Marines affected by the Regulations as to the Greenwich Hospital pension was now much larger than a few years ago; so that the funds of the Hospital, which were some years ago fully adequate to meet all the claims upon them, were now insufficient, and there was not enough to give pensions to all persons eligible. It might be said that, after all, it was only a small matter, as, at the most, the Hospital pension only amounted to 9d. per day. He could assure hon. Members, however, that it was by no means a small matter to the persons affected. They were men advanced in years, very frequently unable to do any sort of labour, and often this pension was the only thing a man had to look forward to. He knew cases in which the small pittance was the only means of support. Many men, in reliance upon the receipt of the pension at the age of 55, had not made provision for old age in benefit societies. Others, through not receiving the pension, found themselves unable to continue their subscriptions to such societies. There were now about 3,000 men who were eligible under the existing rules to pensions, who had been looking forward to them all their lives, and who now could not get them; and as years went on that number would be increased. When the Greenwich Hospital was disestablished in 1865 a bargain was entered into with the men. They were told that, for many reasons, it was desirable to disestablish the Hospital, but that their rights to it were to be respected, and in lieu of having this place to go to in their old age they might remain outside the Hospital and be granted a pension. Certain Parliamentary Papers were presented the other day, one of which was a copy of the Admiralty Circular of September, 1865. He was surprised, however to find that the Circular on which the men founded their claim to a pension—the Order in Council of 1865—had not been presented to the House. He found that the Paper which had been presented to Parliament was the copy of the Admiralty Circular of September, 1865, addressed to the in-pensioners; and he was anxious to see whether the Representatives of the Admiralty were going to rest their case on the statements contained in that Paper. It was desirable, however, to remember that that Paper also referred to out-pensioners. It is stated on the part of the Admiralty that any in-pensioner who was discharged from the Hospital would receive the same amount of out-pension as he received when he came into the Hospital. It also stated that the Act of 1865 authorized the Lords of the Admiralty to provide that if a pensioner was 55 years of age and had been a pensioner within or out of the Hospital for a period of five years he would obtain 5d. a-day and an additional 4d. at the age of 70. It was under those conditions that men claimed a title to pensions. They looked upon the disestablishment of the Hospital and the promise of pensions as a bargain that their rights in the Hospital were to be respected by the granting of pensions. Now, there could in his mind be no doubt that the Order in Council ought to be carried out; but, as he had said, there had been a Circular issued by the Admiralty which was headed to "in-pensioners," but which he contended from the body of it referred clearly to "out-pensioners;" and this contention he considered was proved by the fact that it was issued side by side with the Order in Council, which made no reference to "in-pensioners" at all; and, further, there were at the time only about 1,400 "in-pensioners." The Committee who had examined the question, and upon whose recommendations the scheme was based, expressly stated that the number of pensioners who might be interested in the scheme would probably be about 5,000; so that it was practically clear, and proved to demonstration, that the Admiralty Circular could not apply to in-pensioners only. In 1870, he might add, the Admiralty, in a reply to a Memorial, stated over again the conditions and amounts of pensions, and added that there was no intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to depart from the promises which had been made to all pensioners, irrespective of any other pension which they might be enjoying. It was clear, therefore, that the Government had made the promise, and that it referred to the pensioners of the Hospital generally. But how was it that the funds of the Hospital had not been sufficient to give pensions to all the men who had a claim upon them? He thought the reason was to be found in the fact that at the time of the disestablishment of the Hospital and the institution of the pensions which were to be a quid pro quo correct calculations were not made by the Admiralty. Experience had shown that the money had run out, and that there was not sufficient now to give to those pensioners who were eligible under the rules. The next thing which was done with the Greenwich funds was this. The right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) formed what was called a Pensioners' Reserve. He found that the funds of Greenwich Hospital were in a flourishing condition; and he thought that it would be an excellent thing to increase the Reserve Forces of the Crown, not at the expense of Imperial funds, but at the expense of what was really a charitable endowment, or, as the Admiralty themselves invariably designated it, "a charity;" and that had been done to the extent of some £3,000 or £4,000 a-year. In 1869, four years after the disestablishment of the Hospital, the right hon. Gentleman es- tablished this Pensioners' Reserve, whose remuneration was to be obtained from the funds of Greenwich Hospital. He arranged that those pensioners who chose to join this Reserve and come up for certain drills every year should receive a pension from the funds of Greenwich Hospital at the age of 50; whereas, if they had not joined that Reserve, they would have had to wait until the age of 55. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had believed the number of pensioners joining this Reserve would ultimately reach 5,000 men, entailing a cost on the Greenwich funds of £19,000 a-year. He (Captain Price) was glad to say that the Reserve had been, to some extent, a failure, and that it had only drawn on those funds to the extent, as he had said, of between £3,000 and £4,000 a-year. That was a considerable drain on the funds of Greenwich; and he did not see why payment should be made to the Naval Reserve out of an endowment like the Greenwich Hospital, instead of from the Imperial funds. He thought he should say a word on another point. It had been thought by some of the pensioners that a great number of officers were put into Greenwich Hospital who had no right to be there; and he had often been asked—was it a fact that officers were pensioned out of the fund? Well, the matter had been thoroughly thrashed out a great many years ago, and it was found that although the names of officers were not mentioned in the Charter of the Hospital, yet from the very first they were made inmates of the Hospital, some being among the first 100 admitted: and, therefore, it was clear that they were considered as equally entitled as the men to the benefits of the institution. Well, while he made that admission, he should like to say this—that if the pensions of the men were to be restricted, the same restriction should be made pro rata in the case of the officers; and on this subject he had himself founded a Motion some years ago. Then he came to the responsibility of Parliament in this matter. The Admiralty were Trustees of the Hospital; and if the Admiralty were Trustees, they being under the control of Parliament, it was tantamount to saying that Parliament were the Trustees. The men held that they had a right to these pensions; but, on the other hand, the representatives of the Admiralty maintained they had no right, and that these pensions were given at the discretion of the Admiralty. But the same might be said of all pay and pensions paid in connection with the Navy; and what he wanted to know was—How was the discretion exercised with regard to Greenwich Hospital pensioners? Neither he nor the men concerned meant to contend that they had a legal right to the pensions; but custom, to a great extent, made the law, and was, indeed, the foundation of the Common Law of England; and such pensions had, at all events, always been paid as a matter of certainty from 1865 up to the year 1878. In what respect were these Greenwich Hospital pensions more under the discretion of the Admiralty than any other pensions and pay? The seamen pensioners had never been told that their pensions were at the discretion of the Admiralty. It would naturally be asked, What would it cost to satisfy the claims of those men eligible for the Greenwich Hospital pensions, but who did not get them, and where was the money to come from? He was informed that about £20,000 would be sufficient, and that amount would have to be paid until all the claims of those men were satisfied who entered the Service prior to the year 1878. How was the money to be found? The funds of Greenwich Hospital had been very carefully nursed, especially in recent years; but he thought there should be a re-investment. There was the large sum of £1,500,000 of Greenwich Hospital property still invested in Consols; and it would be wise to re-invest £1,000,000 of that in some securities, which would give a better interest than Consols. He believed there was no money invested in Australian, Cape of Good Hope, or Canadian securities. Well, by re-investing the sum he had referred to in those securities it would give something like £7,000 or £8,000 a-year of the required sum. Then, by the Government giving up the remuneration which they now gave to the Pensioners' Reserve, and by placing it as a charge on the Navy Estimates, they might realize £3,000 a-year for the purpose. There was another source from which funds might be got. At Greenwich there was a school in which provision was made for the support of 1,000 boys. The Government had a right to enter these boys in the Navy; and, as a matter of fact, something over 100 boys entered the Naval Service from that school. He would ask, why should not the Government pay Greenwich Hospital for these boys, as they did in other cases? The Government paid £25 for each boy they got from the training ships in the Thames or other places; but there was not even a Government grant given to this school. If the Government would pay for these boys, it would give £2,500 towards the £20,000; which he maintained was necessary. Finally, if the age for second instalments was changed from 65 years of age to 70, that would release another £4,000 a-year, making in all nearly about the entire amount. It might be said that the pensioners themselves would not like this; but he had taken the opinion of the pensioners to the best of his ability, and he knew that the men themselves were willing that it should be done. A Petition had been sent to the Admiralty from Devonport and Plymouth, in which that had been one of the suggestions. If the sum could not be provided from the funds of the Hospital, Parliament had a deep responsibility with regard to the whole of the question; and, sooner than break faith with the seamen, it should ask for money from the Consolidated Fund if it could not be found in the manner in which he had suggested. He was quite sure that Parliament would do wisely in looking into this matter, with a view to keeping faith with the pensioners.

MR. VANDERBYL (Portsmouth)

said, he had much pleasure in seconding the Motion which had been proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Price). The fact that the Mover and the Seconder sat on different sides of the House showed that this was no mere Party question. In his own constituency there were at least 2,000 naval pensioners interested; and he knew that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction and soreness prevailing in regard to it. They were under the impression that the funds of Greenwich Hospital were created in their interest, and that the terms on which they entered the Navy, according to the Order in Council of 1865, entitled them to pensions; and they felt that the promises then made should be carried out. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, in stating the case of the naval pensioners, said that he was not a lawyer; but he (Mr. Vanderbyl) thought he was justified in saying that, if there was not an express contract, there was an implied contract; and, that being so, he did not think that the Admiralty would be justified in ignoring an arrangement considered equitable and fair when it was entered into. He might remind the House that before the Committee, over which the Duke of Edinburgh had presided on the subject, Captain Holland had said that it was most desirable that the soreness of the naval pensioners on this question should be overcome; and Captain Chanwick, of the American Navy, had expressed himself to the effect that a large body of naval pensioners, going back to the places where they came, acted as a leaven through their discipline, resources, energy, and honesty among other classes. It was essential that a just grievance of that kind should be remedied. There was just one other point with which he would trouble the House. On going into Hospital reductions had been made from the pensions of the men disproportionate to the reductions made from the pensions of the officers; and he ventured to submit that if it was necessary that those reductions should be made it was only right and fair that the reductions should be made in the same proportion all round. If the special pensions were done away with there would be more money for the regular seamen, who were so well entitled to their pensions. With those few remarks, he begged to second the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.


said, that it was the duty of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, as Trustees of this charitable fund, to endeavour to make the most profitable investment of these funds, to protect the property from any misappropriation; and, in the third place, so to regulate their management that they did not hold out any expectations to the seamen which they were not able to perform. If some private person were Trustee of that property, and had to administer it for the benefit of the pensioners, he would probably sell the buildings and site, and invest the proceeds for the benefit of the persons in- terested. But, the Trustees being the Board of Admiralty, it was proposed to let the buildings at the absurdly inadequate rent of £100 a-year. The amount of money which was by that means diverted from its proper and legitimate object was no less than £3,000 per annum, and he asked the Secretary to the Admiralty to put a stop to that. He had in vain repeatedly asked for an explanation of this singular course of action. It was nothing less than a misapplication of the funds to let the buildings for the purpose to which they were applied at this nominal rent. The Seamen and Seamen Pensioners' Reserve Force had been proved before H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh's Committee to be practically a failure. There were only 6,750 men in the force, and it was certainly a misappropriation to apply the fund in any way for the benefit of the active service. Then they ought to pay for the boys who were trained for the Navy just as they paid any other training ship or school. He would ask that the steps taken should be retraced, and that the fund should henceforth only be applied to its proper purposes. Then an obvious breach of faith had been committed against the Greenwich pensioners. The terms of the pensions had been settled in 1870, and it was expressly provided that the pensions to be provided out of the fund should be in addition to any others to which the pensioners had been entitled. But now all were to be reduced to a dead level, and the promises made in 1870 had not been fulfilled. He hoped they would hear nothing about legal obligations of the Admiralty. It was not a question of legal obligation, but of honour. It was the duty of the Board of Admiralty, who had this large property under their charge, to administer it for the benefit of the pensioners. If they let the property at all, it was obvious that it should be let at its full value, and the proceeds devoted to the objects of the fund. He earnestly hoped that the Board would consider the matter in a generous spirit, and if they did so they would see that the complaints which had been made were not ill-founded.


said, that this question was a burning one among a very large number of seamen, and would in the future have a great deal to do with the entry of men into the Service, because there was a widespread feeling that the Admiralty had not kept faith with the seamen, and had by a legal quibble attempted to deprive them of their just rights. He objected altogether to the Government proposal that the pensions hitherto enjoyed by seamen when they attained 55 or 70 years of age should be converted into special pensions, which would inevitably be conferred by favour upon those who had friends in that House or in the Service, instead of upon poor and friendless men. He entirely denied that the fund was now better administered than it had been before; and he thought that it was a mistake, in these days of Board Schools, to deprive the old men of their pensions in order to increase the grant to the schools from £22,000 to £29,000. If the magnificent property at Greenwich were to be kept intact it should be at the expense of the nation, and not of these poor old sailors. If the funds were carefully administered and allocated alone to the purposes for which they were intended in 1865 there would be no necessity to ask for a contribution from the Consolidated Fund, and there would be ample means of giving the poor men that which they honestly and truly believed was their right.


said, he thought that the difference between £152,000, the income of the Hospital, and £145,000, the amount of the expenditure—namely, £7,000, together with other sums referred to in the Report of this Duke of Edinburgh's Committee, would be sufficient to provide for these pensions. If the funds did not admit of the whole amount being paid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not refuse to grant the very small sum that would be required to complete the amount from the Consolidated Fund.


said, that they had had the opinion of a Naval Officer, and also a legal opinion from the late Solicitor General. He would now give the House a mercantile opinion. If the statements made by the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) were correct, which he verily believed them to be, he would only say, speaking as a mercantile man, that neither he nor any other mercantile man of standing would deny that there had been a gross and wilful misapplication of the funds applicable to these pensions. The idea of letting Greenwich Hospital for £100 a-year was simply folly. The Government had better have taken the place for nothing than have committed an act of that kind. Instead of investing these funds in the Three per Cents the Admiralty should have invested £1,000,000 of them in the Guaranteed Four per Cents which had been lately issued. They would 1hen have more than enough to give these men their right and their due. He had given them now what he considered a mercantile opinion, and he should be glad if the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Duff) would state that after what he had heard that night he gave the matter a full and favourable consideration.

ADMIRALFIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

said, he protested against the fact that in the question of the legal right to these pensions the Admiralty had acted as judges in their own cause. A good deal had been said about finding ways and means to meet the extra charge involved; but he had to point out that there was a fund which actually belonged to the seamen of the Fleet, and that was the savings on the provisions of the Fleet. These savings, he believed, amounted to something like £34,000 annually, which would meet the extra charge and leave a balance of £14,000 besides. That fund, belonging not to the nation, but to the seamen, ought to be applied for the benefit of the seamen. This was a question of contract, and any departure from the spirit of the Circular of 1865 was a breach of faith utterly unworthy of any Department.

SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said, that when urging seamen to remain in the Navy on account of the good pensions which had been promised them, he had frequently been met with the rejoinder that the promises might be altered any day by an Order in Council. The men said they were never sure of getting what had been promised them. In his own experience he had had to wait no less than 16 years before he received some small prize money to which he was entitled. That was a usual occurrence, and he wished to impress on the House that these things rankled in the breasts of the seamen. Even in a financial point of view, there was no more expensive way of engaging men for any employment than to do so under circumstances in which the men had not confidence that faith would be kept with them. He hoped the Government would look at the matter not from a strictly legal, but from a point of view in every sense of the word liberal.


said, that the subject raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir William Crossman) was one of very great interest to the Naval Profession, and especially to the men. He should like, in the first place, to notice the point referred to by almost every speaker, and that was the assumed breach of faith on the part of the Admiralty with regard to the Circular of 1865. Now, when Greenwich Hospital was abolished there were two sets of provisions. In the first place, there was a Circular issued to the in-pensioners, which said that any in-pensioner would receive a specified amount per day "whether he is in or out of the Hospital." But the naval pensioners who had formed the subject of the present debate had been dealt with in an entirely different manner. They were dealt with by an Order in Council, which was the outcome of the Act 28 & 29 Vict., and issued in 1865. The Circular was very distinct in its terms— An extra pension of 5d. per day may, at the discretion of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, be granted to seamen and Marines now in receipt of pensions who are over 55 years of age. The two classes of pensions were quite distinct. Now, with regard to the original Circular. When Greenwich Hospital was abolished the intention was to have a limit of 5,000. It was true that was not stated in any Circular; but there was no doubt about the intentions of the Admiralty.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present: House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


, resuming, said, that things went on so until 1869, when the maximum of 5,000 was exceeded. In 1878 Sir Massey Lopes held the Office which he (Mr. Duff) had now the honour to hold. He spoke with the greatest possible respect of Sir Massey Lopes, whose personal friendship he had the honour to claim, and who had left behind him the character of a strong Civil Lord of the Admiralty. But Sir Massey Lopes took too sanguine a view of the resources of Greenwich Hospital. The original intention might have been carried out, he believed, but for the alterations made in 1878. In the first place, the age was reduced to 65 from 70. That involved an increased charge upon Greenwich Hospital of between £10,000 and £12,000 a-year. Then 200 boys were added to the school, which made another increase in charge to the amount of £5,000, so that about £15,000 a-year more would have fallen on the funds. The hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Southampton (Sir John Commerell) was anxious to put a pensioner's coat on every seaman's back; but you must cut your coat according to the cloth. The hon. and gallant Admiral was on the Board in 1879, and he (Mr. Duff) did not find that any step was taken by the Colleagues of the hon. and gallant Admiral in the direction now advocated.


said, that he was not on the Board until the latter part of 1879.


said, that they had now reached the limits. They were already spending £98,000 a-year, and the scheme proposed would involve an additional £15,500, which would bring up the entire sum spent on pensions to £113,500. He did not think they would be justified, having regard to the other charges, to spend £113,500 in that way. The appropriation of Greenwich Hospital was as follows:—Superannuations and maintenance of painted hall, &c, 2 per cent; pensions to officers and education allowance to children, 5½ per cent; pensions to seamen and Marines, and maintenance in hospitals, 64¼ per cent; education of children of seamen, &c, 21 per cent; pensions to widows, &c, and gratuities to relatives, 1¼ per cent; cost of administration, 2 per cent; surplus, 4 per cent; total, 100 per cent. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) dwelt upon the question of granting £3,000 a-year towards the pensions of Reserves. That was a matter open to discussion. It had been before the Admiralty, and all he could say was that it had been submitted to the Treasury, and was now under consideration. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Sir John Gorst) found fault with the way in which the Admiralty dealt with Greenwich Hospital buildings, and thought that they ought to be sold. Under the Greenwich Hospital Act of 1869 power was conferred upon the Admiralty to permit the buildings to be occupied temporarily for the purposes of the Naval Service. When the Hospital was closed in 1869 these vast buildings had to be maintained at the charge of Greenwich funds. The buildings were historical and of great architectural merit, and it was not practicable to relieve Greenwich funds by selling the buildings or letting them for commercial purposes. The cost of maintenance was about £3,400 a-year. In 1873 the Admiralty decided to utilize the buildings for the purposes of a Naval College, and from that date all charges in connection with the buildings so appropriated had been transferred to naval funds. A nominal rent of £100 a-year was paid, and it was a condition that the buildings were to be kept in thorough repair, and might be re-occupied for the purposes of a hospital if required. With regard to the Greenwich Hospital landed estates the charge for management was no doubt very large. It came to 47 per cent. He might say that the Admiralty were considering the matter, with the view of seeing whether the charge could not be reduced.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present: House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjoured at Eight o'clock till Monday next.