HC Deb 29 March 1898 vol 55 cc1307-12

On the Order for the Second Reading of the Greenwich Hospital Bill,

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

Mr. Speaker, I think some information ought to be given to the House as to the aim and object of this Bill. We ought not to be asked to pass it without a word being said. It is a curious condition of things that there is no one here to give us any information.


Mr. Speaker, this is a Bill to amend the law in two or three small points in regard to Greenwich Hospital. The first point is to enable the Admiralty to avail themselves of certain charitable bequests which have been left for the purpose of educating children of officers of Marines. The second point is to give the Admiralty greater powers in regard to the leasing of property. At the present time there are certain restrictions, and they have not the same powers that are possessed by other authorities, and, as some of their property consists of licensed premises, it is considered advisable that they should be enabled to take premiums in respect of that property just as all other owners can do. The third point with which the Bill deals is the raising of the amount to be paid for those who are desirous of being placed in hospitals other than Greenwich. At present the amount paid is £36 10s. That is not sufficient, and it is proposed to raise it to £45, which is about the average cost. The last point is a purely conveyancing point, and I do not think the House will object to it.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

Mr. Speaker, so far as I can gather from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, this is a Bill to enable the Greenwich Hospital trustees to augment their income by taking premiums on public-houses. I think there is a good deal to be said on that matter. It seems to me to be hardly the thing that the trustees of a great national hospital like this should obtain licences for public-houses, and then sell them at a premium. I should like to know how many public-houses there are connected with this Hospital, where they are situated, and what the distance is between them? I do not say I shall take a Division, but this seems to me an objectionable condition of things.

MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)

Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who is interested in this question, and knows more about it than anybody else, whether this is not a fitting opportunity of extending the augmentation pensions, so that they can be awarded to the 2,500 men who, for their services, become entitled to them on arriving at 55 years of age, but who, because of the lack of funds, are still deprived of them, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Departmental Committee which considered this question about five years ago. From time to time, as the outcome of Parliamentary pressure, increases have been made in the funds. For many years the Admiralty occupied one of the most important wings of the Greenwich Hospital as a Naval School, and paid the most inadequate rent of £100 a year. That was afterwards increased to £5,000 a year. The Admiralty is using Greenwich Hospital at the present time to such an extent that I think we are entitled to ask that they should pay a larger rental than £5,000. They ought to pay £10,000, which would enable these men who are entitled to it to receive the augmentation pension. I shall take this opportunity of dividing against this Bill as a protest, unless some undertaking is given that this matter shall receive consideration.

*MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the hon. Member for Northampton, I may say that the licensed property owned by the trustees of the Greenwich Hospital is situated in Greenwich. What is proposed by the Bill is to put the trustees in the same position as an ordinary landlord, so that they can secure from the licensed houses on their property the highest sum, whether in rents or fines, that can be obtained from the lessees or occupiers of them. As regards the question of age pensions, I think it would be altogether outside the scope of the Bill to attempt to deal with such a subject. This question, as the hon. Member knows, has been under consideration for many years, and in consequence of a Report of a Committee of the House largely increased sums have been allotted for the purposes of these pensions. I cannot admit that the men of whom the hon. Member for Devonport has spoken, are entitled to such pensions on reaching the age of 55. They become eligible and qualified to receive them, and a selection is made of those who have the greatest claims, either from the nature of the services they have rendered the country, or from the distressed condition in which they are placed. Not only has the amount available for this purpose been increased by raising the rent charged for the building used by the Naval College on two occasions since the Committee met, but there has also been a large grant in aid of the expenses—I believe I am right in saying the grant was £16,000 a year—to enable extra pensions to be given. The Admiralty has thus gone a very long way already towards meeting the case urged by the hon. Member for an extension of these pensions, and I hope the matter will not be pressed further on a Bill which has really nothing whatever to do with the subject, but which is designed to enable the Lords of the Admiralty, as trustees of Greenwich Hospital, to make the best use of the property they have in trust for the benefit of those for whom it was intended, and to use to the best advantage any fresh gifts they may receive. I hope a Bill of this kind will be allowed to go through unopposed.

MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)

Mr. Speaker, I can quite understand that this Bill does not deal with the subject of pensions, but I do not see why it should not deal with it. This is a matter of which I have had some experience. I am continually receiving letters and appeals from men who feel that they have a right to these pensions. I think the time has arrived when the question of these augmentation pensions should be placed on a satisfactory basis, and I am of opinion that this object might be effected by means of the present Bill.


There are really no funds. The income of Greenwich Hospital is not sufficiently large to allow of this being done.


I would point out that these men have a very strong objection to the selection that is made of those who shall receive these pensions. I think it would be more satisfactory if it could be made clear to them that they would receive a certain pension, even if it were not so large. They say they have a right to this pension, and ought to get it.

CAPTAIN G. R. BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)

Mr. Speaker, I would urge hon. Members not to interfere with the Second Reading of this Bill, which, though it may not do all they require, is a step in the direction of enabling the Admiralty to increase the income of the Hospital and the amount available for the benefit of seamen. Although it has been stated to the contrary, I think I am correct in saying that these men have a right to these pensions, providing there is sufficient money to pay them.


The Admiralty are already paying a larger sum than they undertook to pay.


Is it not, nevertheless, a fact that so long as there is money enough, the men over 55 years of age are entitled to pensions, and that they do not all get them because there is not sufficient money in the charity? Be that as it may, I would urge hon. Members opposite not to interfere with this Bill, as to a certain extent it does improve the position of the Greenwich Hospital funds.

SIR J. BAKER (Portsmouth)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member for Devonport has over-estimated the number of men who are entitled to this pension, but who do not receive it. The number of men who are entitled to it, and who are left out, is only about 500, and I contend that the Admiralty, having gone so far as to give £16,000 a year in one instance and to raise the rentals in another, should have made a clean sheet of the whole case, and not have left 500 or 600 men, who entered the service thinking they would receive at the age of 55 this pension, out in the cold. All that is required is that the Admiralty should make arrangements that this paltry £3,500 a year should be given to these worthy old sailors. If the property cannot be made to pay a little more than it does, there are other means of getting this £3,500 a year. Why, the School itself could get a grant from the Education Department equal to this amount. It is a cruel thing that men who entered the Service believing that at the age of 55 they would be entitled to this additional pension, should be told that it cannot be granted to them, because the funds of the Greenwich Hospital cannot afford it. I strongly urge the Admiralty to give attention to this matter.

MR. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

Mr. Speaker, a number of important questions have been raised on this Bill, but there is another question which is just as important; it is the question of principle. I think it is high time that the House of Commons should raise some objection to the system of legislation by reference.

[The HON. MEMBER was speaking at Ten minutes to Seven o'clock, when, under the Rules of the House, the Debate was adjourned.]