HC Deb 08 February 1900 vol 78 cc941-73
MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

It cannot be denied that two of the principal features of the present war which redound to the nation's credit have been the bravery of our troops—whether they be members of the Regular Army, the Navy, or the Volunteers—and the determination on the part of the public to endeavour by their generous contributions to make provision for the dependents of those who have been called to the front, and to succour permanently the widows and children of those who lose their lives. The amount of money that has already been collected for this purpose is undoubtedly large, and I am confident it will be increased. But, at the same time, the needs will increase, the strain upon these resources will be heavy, and I do not think they will be found to be adequate. I have, therefore, felt it my duty to call attention to existing funds subscribed by the generosity of the public for kindred purposes, which have available surpluses and accumulations which, in my opinion, ought to be applied to the needs of the present war. The spirit of generosity actuating the country at the present time is highly commendable. It is no new experience. The same has always manifested itself in times of war or of catastrophe. During the Crimean War the sum of £1,500,000 was collected, and resulted in the Royal Patriotic Commission being issued in 1854. Its object was, to quote the actual words of the Royal Commission, "to aid the just and faithful distribution of" the money subscribed. Her Majesty at that time appointed a body of Commissioners, and they were solemnly charged "to make full and diligent inquiry into the best means by which the subscriptions can be best applied according to the generous intentions of the donors thereof," and also to make it their duty and concern to "secure the most impartial and beneficent distribution of all such sums as may hereafter and from time to time be received." I have set myself to-day the task of endeavouring to show—and I think I can successfully show—how little the "generous intentions of the donors" have been respected and how the Commissioners have failed utterly to appreciate what was intended by a "just and faithful distribution." I would like at the outset to ask a question and supply the answer myself, and I think the House will agree with both. What is the intention of subscribers to such funds as are administered by the Patriotic Commissioners? My conception is that those who subscribe to a fund for a particular set of sufferers desire, undoubtedly, that it should be gradually but completely exhausted for their benefit. I think that is the motive which actuates everybody who subscribes at the present moment. I shall be able to show that that has not been the conception of the Patriotic Commissioners in dealing with the various funds which have been handed over to them, for their policy has been something quite contrary to that. They have not only disregarded the "generous intentions of the donors," but they have paid scant regard to the public opinion which has been raised against them time after time; in fact, their policy has been one of hoarding the funds entrusted to them. I do not think that there is a general knowledge as to what these funds are that are administered by the Patriotic Commissioners. Everybody appears to know of the fund which became associated with the Crimean War, but the funds administered by the Patriotic Commissioners are very numerous. They amount to as many as eighteen individual funds, most of which have been subscribed by the public for a Specific set of sufferers, and in addition to that they control large and permanent educational endowments which have been set aside by them from moneys subscribed by the public to the original Crimean Fund. Now, I propose to examine some of the funds in detail, in order to criticise the method of the Patriotic Commissioners, and I date my examination back from 1881, for a reason which I will presently make clear. The first fund I will take is that of the original Patriotic Fund subscribed in 1854, or about forty-six years ago. The original amount subscribed was £1,500,000. There remains of this to-day £607,000, or about two-fifths of the original amount, which includes the educational endowments. Here I might I say that the setting aside of sums of money from this fund for permanent educational endowments is contrary to the wishes of the public and to the instruction of the proclamation of the Queen which called the Commissioners into being. They had no more right to devote money to permanent educational endowment than would the Lord Mayor to-day have to build and permanently endow a school or institution from the funds now being collected under his ægis. From the moment the Patriotic Commissioners took that course they got into difficulties, and they had continued from then until now to bear the weight of their original sin. A Government inquiry was, however, held, and in the result they condoned that offence and passed an Act legalising the illegality. Now, in 1881 the capital, excluding the permanent education endowments, which amounted to £237,500, amounted to £481,000, and the liabilities on the Fund were to 2,306 widows and 303 orphans, and there was a surplus of assets of £62,000. I will pass now to 1896, and what do we find? The liabilities had fallen for widows from 2,306 in 1881 to 1,244, and for orphans from 303 in the former period to 16, while the surplus assets had mounted up to the enormous sum of £109,000, the capital remaining at practically £400,000. Over all this area of time the surplus was augmented, and over all the liabilities were naturally decreased. In spite of these facts, however, no attempt whatever was made to administer this surplus for the benefit of the poor persons for whom the Fund was originally subscribed. The next fund, which I will deal with only briefly, is the "Captain" Fund. It was subscribed thirty years ago, in 1870, the original amount being £40,000. Of this there is still £37,000 remaining. Now, when people subscribe to these funds they have a right to demand that they shall be exhausted for the benefit of the people whom it was sought to benefit. Let us see what happened. In 1881—I will tell you presently why I take 1881—the capital stood at £31,700. The liabilities were as to 109 widows and 77 orphans, and there was a surplus of £7,500. Last year, in 1898, that is, the number of widows had fallen to eighty, and all the children had disappeared; but the surplus had mounted up to £17,000. Now, no additional annuitant had been put on this fund of the dependents of those men who lost their lives in Her Majesty's ship "Captain"; and the terms of my Amendment are framed with a view to detaching these surpluses, and making them applicable to the present war. The next fund is that of the "Eurydice," which was subscribed to relieve the necessities of the relatives of those who were lost in H.M.S. "Eurydice," which went down in 1878. The original amount subscribed was altogether £19,000, £3,000 of which was devoted to the Royal Naval Reserve Fund, leaving the amount appropriated to the "Eurydice" Fund at £16,000. After the twenty-two years which have elapsed since the Fund was subscribed there now remains £15,100, or nearly the whole of the original amount subscribed. In 1881 the capital stood at £15,000. There were thirty-eight widows and forty-seven orphans. Moreover, the surplus, which in the first year was £930, stood in 1898 at £4,800. To-day the capital is £15,100, and there are receiving relief thirty-three widows and one child. The Zulu War Fund is the next I deal with, and it is in a similar condition. It was subscribed in 1879, the original amount being £25,500; and to-day it stands even higher than it did at its inception, for it amounts to £27,500. There are certain particular features about this fund that I would like to lay before the House, all pointing to the defective policy pursued by the Patriotic Commissioners in distributing this fund. It was considered to be a poor fund, and the Royal Patriotic Commissioners arranged originally that the widows of those who were under the rank of an officer, that is to say, of non-commissioned officers and privates, should receive no more than 3s. 6d. per week and 1s. for every child. A large percentage of these widows remarried and went off the fund. That took place within three or four years of the conclusion of the Zulu War, and this fund, supposed to be a poor one, showed a surplus of over £6,200 in 1883. The Commissioners then decided to raise the pensions of the widows of the non-commissioned officers. But here is a most curious fact which I would like you to consider, viz., that while the non-commissioned officers' widows had the increase, the allowance to the widows of privates was not increased. They continued to receive the 3s. 6d. per week and 1s. per child. Up to 1883 the surplus assets amounted to £6,200. In 1886, in spite of the increase to widows of non-commissioned officers, the figures went up higher still, and in 1889 the surplus increased to £12,500. At that moment the Commissioners were spending less than their income, and yet the pensions to the widows of privates remained the same. In 1892 the surplus had become further augmented to £12,600; and then, and then only, the widows of the most needy class of recipients received an increase on that miserable pittance of 3s. 6d. per week which they had been receiving for nine years. It was raised to 5s. per week, and 2s. per child. May I say, here, that these figures are not my own; I took them from the Patriotic Commissioners' reports, hence they cannot claim ignorance of these facts. The Royal Naval Relief Fund is the next. It was started in 1879; but it was not a fund to which the public had subscribed. It consisted of a sum detached from the "Eurydice" fund, of £3,000, and also a fund subscribed in relief of the sufferers by the explosion on board H.M.S. "Thunderer" of £2,000. Out of the original combined total of £5,000 there remains a sum of £8,000. Now the average expenditure of this fund has never exceeded £50 a year, though the total subscribed amounts to no less than £8,000. It is burdened with no more than two widows and two orphans. I pass on to the Rodriguez Fund, which will certainly require some explanation. It was bequeathed in 1857, and was the bequest of Don Francisco Rodriguez, of Manilla, who in a generous moment presented a large sum of money to this country "for the relief of the families of English subjects wounded or dying in the wars." The original amount handed over to the Commissioners in 1865 was £7,400; and there remains to-day of this bequest no less than £16,000. The fund has been hoarded all these years till it has reached that sum. Now, since 1863—when the fund was partially handed over—the balance being handed over in 1865—up to 1880 not a single penny was spent. Can anybody assert for a single moment that nobody was wounded or died in the wars whose necessities did not command alleviation in that period under the bequest? [An HON. MEMBER: What about the indigent families?] The question seems to be whether or not the Commissioners were handicapped by certain conditions imposed by the trust. Certainly it depends upon the conditions of the fund; but I would remind the hon. Member that the Act of Parliament swept away all those conditions. Another bequest of a Greek merchant, Sir Constantine Zervudachi, is that known as the Zervudachi Fund, instituted in 1883 with the gift of £1,300. It has increased to £2,000; but not a penny was spent till the Parliamentary Committee held its inquiry, since when about £30 a year has been distributed. I now pass to a fund to which I have already made some reference in the course of my speech, one not subscribed by the public at all. It is the Soldiers' Effects Fund, being formed of the unclaimed balances of soldiers' effects transferred by the War Office under the Regimental Debts Act of 1863. It would appear that a sufficient number of persons eligible to utilise this fund could not be discovered, and it was said by the Commissioners, "we have had no application for relief," though its scope was of the widest character, including death by wounds in war, accident, and, in short, any cause attributable to service. The War Office was guilty of a grave dereliction of duty to allow money to pass out of their hands to be administered by a foreign body over whom they had no control. The first instalment was paid over in 1884 by the War Department to the Patriotic Commissioners. The sum was £44,000. In 1890 this had augmented to £93,000; in 1895 it had increased to £134,000; in 1898 to £155,000; and to-day, in reply to a question, my hon. friend mentioned that the fund had increased to £160,000. The income of the Soldiers' Effects Fund for the last four years has been £20,676, yet out of it all the insignificant sum of £4,513 has been spent, or practically only one-fourth of the whole. Sir, whatever may be the explanation of this hoarding up to the present time, for the future there will be plenty of beneficiaries who will require all the assistance they can get, in respect of the benefits they are entitled to. I have endeavoured, Sir, to set out these funds in detail in order to prove my case, and I submit that there are, firstly, available surpluses from many funds that cannot now by lapse of time be applied to their original purpose and that therefore they ought to be detached and utilised for kindred purposes; secondly, there are accumulations—I distinguish between accumulations and surpluses; arising from the fact that the uncharged capital has not been utilised at all. I ask if there is any justification for this policy of accumulation of these funds? Have there been any fettering restrictions? My hon. friend suggested that some are subject to restrictions. Now in 1881, as the result of the departmental inquiry into the maladministration of the Patriotic Fund, the Government expressly passed an Act of Parliament to enable the Commission to deal with all their surpluses as they might accumulate from time to time, and whatever justification they may have had prior to then, no valid excuse could be offered for all this continued hoarding, because the Commissioners had this Act of Parliament whereby an application could be made to the Secretary of State for War in order to make the surpluses available. But I would like the House to bear with me for a moment, while I examine the case as presented by the Patriotic Commissioners themselves. The Chairman of the Executive Fund of the Royal Patriotic Commission is a gentleman who bears an honoured name—Lord Nelson. He is the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Royal Patriotic Commission. He did me the honour to reply in the press a few weeks ago to certain strictures I had passed on their policy, complaining of their delay in not having availed themselves of this Act for utilising their surplus funds. "Our answer is"—Lord Nelson states—"that we were continually applying to successive Governments to extend the power of the original Commission, but only obtained power to deal with the surplus of the Patriotic Fund in 1897." Well, what are the facts? Sir, no application was made to any Government until after the Parliamentary Committee was appointed, and yet the Chairman of the Executive and Finance Committee assures us that repeated applications were made to "successive Governments." The Select Committee was appointed in February, 1895, and it was not until April of that year that the Royal Commissioners showed a feverish anxiety to put this Act into force. The Secretary of State for War at that time was the present Leader of the Opposition, and in reply to the application which was made he said that he preferred to await the Report of the Select Parliamentary Committee appointed to inquire into and report upon the Patriotic Funds. In June of that year the Rosebery Government fell and Lord Lansdowne went to the War Office. A renewed application was made, which brought the following caustic reply— Whilst fully recognising the position in which the Commissioners of the Patriotic Fund are placed by the receipt of many deserving applications for relief, which the Commissioners are unable to afford, though possessed of ample funds, he could not consent to the proposal of the Commissioners, pending the report of the Parliamentary Committee. So much for the excuse proffered by the Chairman of the Patriotic Commissioners for their delay. Well, now I will deal with the excuse he offers for the hoarding of these funds. He admits practically all my figures as to the surpluses, and he also admits there are large accumulations. But he meets us with the startling proposition that for certain of these funds, notably the "Soldiers' Effects Fund" and the "Rodriguez Fund," they are only indirectly responsible. Lord Nelson said— The Soldiers' Effects Fund is administered by us under directions from the War Office, and it will be for the War Office and not us to say whether the interest only or the capital is to be dealt with. That was not true, for the War Office had nothing to do with the Soldiers' Effects Fund, which is administered and regulated by Royal Warrant; and if the House will bear with me for a moment, I will read the terms of the Royal Warrant which alone regulates its distribution. It directs— All residues and income and accumulations of income so to be paid over or transferred as aforesaid from time to time, shall form one fund to be called the 'Soldiers' Effects Fund,' to be under the management and control of the Executive Committee for the time being, of Our Commissioners for the time being of the said Patriotic Fund, but subject to and under such orders and regulations as may from time to time be made by Our said Commissioners, or any three or more of them, and shall be applied in payment of such compassionate, annual, or other allowances, to the widows and children or other dependent relatives of soldiers dying on service, or within six months after discharge, and generally in such manner for the benefit of such widows and children or other dependent relatives of soldiers dying as aforesaid, as the said Executive Committee, or any two or more of them, shall, from time to time, think fit, preferential consideration being given to the widows and children of soldiers on the married establishment, who—

  1. "(a.) Were killed in action, or died of wounds received in action, or from illness which can be directly traced to fatigue, privation, or exposure incident to active operations in the field, within twelve months of sustaining such wound or contracting such illness.
  2. "(b.) Died from an injury directly traceable to military duty within twelve months of sustaining such injury.
  3. "(c.) Died from illness directly traceable to fatigue, privation or exposure in the performance of military duty.
The widows and children of mobilised Army Reserve men dying as aforesaid shall be considered as on the married establishment. As regards the accumulation of the Rodriguez Fund, Lord Nelson says— There were peculiar clauses which required legal definition causing some delay. It is rather an extravagant excuse to say that there were legal difficulties and clauses which require definition in regard to a fund which was handed over in the year 1863, because those difficulties ought to have been discovered and dealt with long ago. I should have thought the Commissioners would have got rid of all those difficulties during the time which they have been hoarding up this fund. An explanation may be offered by somebody who will probably speak in this debate that it is the actuarial advice which governs the action of the Patriotic Commissioners in this matter. The Commissioners employ one of the most distinguished actuaries of the day, for he is a man well known and at the head of his profession. He is employed to audit their accounts, and possibly my hon. and gallant friend may attempt to explain some of these matters by saying that the Commissioners acted upon the advice of the actuary. But the actuary has no advising power in connection with the Royal Patriotic Commission, and he attempts to give no advice whatever. [An HON. MEMBER: Oh, oh!] I cross-examined the actuary myself before the Committee upstairs, and he assured that Select Committee that his position began and ended at this—that he gave no advice whatever, but when there was a specification handed to him setting out so many widows, so many re-married women, and so forth he made a report upon it. The Select Parliamentary Committee found that there were surpluses of £107,000 available, and accumulations of £160,000 which ought to be utilised. But notwithstanding this finding nothing has happened since except that the accumulations have gone on accumulating, and the surpluses have gone on increasing. They applied to the Minister for War for a supplementary Commission, which they obtained, but it was a mere sham and delusion. They set aside a surplus amounting to £110,000 of the original Patriotic Fund, on the pretence that they were going to utilise it. What has happened? It was set aside in 1897, and in the first year they spent £230 only. The next year this fund amounted to £117,000, and they spent £3,700. They have placed on the fund a number of aged and decayed widows, whose husbands fought for us in the Crimea forty-five years ago. To show the cruelty of this belated policy, let me ask the House to bear with me a little longer while I mention the ages of the pensioners who have just been put on this fund, and who ought to have been put on many years ago. I will take 362 recipients. Of this total 65 are of an average age of 70 years, 116 average 75, 117 average 80 years, 53 average 85 years, and 11 have an average of over 90 years of age. It seems incredible that these Patriotic Commissioners should have had the heartlessness to keep these poor old women out of the benefit of the money for so many years. They may argue that these poor people were not entitled to it at all, but I say that if the Commissioners had done their duty the fund would have been exhausted on behalf of those who were originally intended to be benefited. I would now like to say one or two words in the nature of a historical survey of the career of this body. The Patriotic Commissioners have entirely lost the confidence of the public, in fact they lost that confidence forty years ago. The Commission has been in hot water either with the Government or the public throughout the whole of its career. In 1881 a joint departmental inquiry was held, Sir Robert Hamilton and Mr. Lefroy being entrusted with it. After that inquiry Mr. Childers and Lord Northbrook came to the conclusion that the only cure for the Royal Patriotic Commission was to dissolve it, and they gave them notice to that effect, and they only afterwards escaped dissolution by the skin of their teeth. But even this did not reform them, and they never will be reformed. Let me remind the House what happened in 1893 in connection with the "Victoria" disaster. Then the nation made large contributions, and £70,000 was handed over to the Patriotic Commissioners in June. But not until the following November—four months after the disaster—did these Commissioners distribute a single penny, the delay being defended on the ground that other funds were being administered and they were desperately afraid of overlapping. We succeeded at that time in awakening public opinion. The amount it was originally intended to give to the widows was only 3s. 6d. a week, and the result of the agitation was that the pensions were nearly doubled. What explanation did the Commissioners offer? Did they admit the truth, that it was fear and fear alone of public censure which made them increase these pensions? No, they asked us to believe that the original allotment was purely provisional. I myself moved in this House for a return of the pensions they had allotted. They made that return on the lower scale of pensions, and, as I argued before the Committee upstairs, and as I repeat now, it was a most improbable thing that the Patriotic Fund Commissioners should have made a return to this House of a scale of pensions altogether different from that which they finally intended to allot. They had no intention whatever of fully utilising the Victoria Fund. They intended to hoard it precisely as they had hoarded other funds. Well, I am glad to say we secured a more liberal distribution of that fund, and I hope that the result of this debate will be that the other funds in the possession of the Commissioners will be similarly dealt with. After all, the question is, what is to be done? I have followed this matter since 1893, and I believe that nothing but Government intervention will rid the country of this abuse. It may be a question of reforming or dissolving the body—I care not which, though if I had my choice I would prefer that it should be dissolved—but there should be an independent valuation of the whole of the funds controlled by these gentlemen. When I speak of an independent I mean an actuarial valuation. I am not suggesting that Mr. Finlaison should not be consulted, but that the examination should partake of the character of that carried out by our great insurance offices. Let there be an investigation as to the liabilities and the contingent liabilities to provide for the beneficaries, but do not let us go on year after year with these visible surpluses, especially when a time of national distress has arrived in connection with our losses in the present war, when every penny is required. I assert that if the Government will only carry out our suggestion they will find they can get at once from the Patriotic Commissioners' hoard a sum not less than £500,000, not including the £270,000 which unfortunately was handed to them by the Lord Mayor recently. It amounts to this, that there is practically within the grasp of the Government for the benefit of the widows and orphans of those who have lost, or may lose, their lives in the war, a sum larger than the amount subscribed to the Mansion House Fund. How can they afford to disregard this appeal? Can they offer the excuse that what I have said is not true? I have given details, and I hope I have convinced the House that a great scandal exists which ought to be brought to an end. Some of us have tried for many years to bring that about. The Commissioners are a most influential body. We are not attacking them individually, but those managing the fund entrench themselves behind such great names as the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, and the Governor of the Bank of England, who are Commissioners, but who take no active part in the administration of the fund. The fact is that the fund is managed by the permanent secretary and a small coterie, and that there is, therefore, maladministration. A letter was published the other day from Sir George Hayter Chubb in reply to something I had said, and it merely quoted the names of the distinguished men on the body, and asked, "What is the good of anyone attempting to suggest that this fund is not properly administered?" These great names make up what is called in financial circles a good "front page." The fund is not properly administered. A million of money is concerned; it wants proper control, and I hope the Government will now take steps in the matter. I beg to move the Amendment standing on the Paper in my name.

MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

My first duty is to congratulate my hon. friend on the very able and lucid statement he has given in reference to the Patriotic Fund, and my second to associate myself with the view that perhaps the greatest trouble of our brave, soldiers, who are in a difficult and trying position at the front to-day, is, if they should be killed or wounded to-morrow, what would become of those dependent on them? And I consider it is the duty of this House to do everything possible to make our soldiers' minds as comfortable as we can, and also the minds of their dependents at home—their mothers, wives, and children—who have a right to our sympathy, and who number hundreds of thousands. There is one fact not disputed in connection with these funds, and that is that they are badly administered, and not administered in a businesslike manner. That is a proposition which I believe anyone who has looked into the reports must acknowledge. My second proposition is that although we appointed a Committee to inquire into and report on this matter, practically nothing has been done, and what little has been done has not touched the real grievance. My third proposition is that a public duty attempted to be performed by charity has been an absolute failure. A few years ago the Colonial Secretary brought in an Employers' Liability Bill, whereby the dependents of any person killed or any person injured had a claim against the employer concerned. Why not apply the same, principle to our soldiers and sailors when killed or wounded on active service as is applied to the soldiers of industry? That is a suggestion which I hope the Colonial Secretary, with his great power in the Cabinet, will consider and carry out. I believe it would be most popular in the country, and I am sure the Government do not desire that the servants of the State should be in a worse position than other employees. Doing this business by charity has failed and failed ignominiously, notwithstanding the great names attached to the fund, as these gentlemen do not give an hour's work to it, and cannot be expected to. I will give one illustration not mentioned by my hon. friend to show how the fund has been administered. I refer to the administration of the Balaclava Fund. A sum was subscribed for the men who survived the Balaclava charge. About twenty-three of them are alive now. The common-sense principle would have been to purchase annuities for these men; but nothing of the sort was done, and when the last man on the fund is dead there will be about £2,000 left. If the last man or the two or three last men went to a clever solicitor, and if the matter were brought into the courts, I believe they could claim every penny. The money was subscribed absolutely for them, and the Royal Patriotic Fund has neither a legal nor a moral right to keep the money from them. While I speak with the highest respect of the very honourable men connected with the fund, I must say they neglected their duty in allowing some of these men to go into the workhouse because they did not receive the money which belonged to them. I sincerely hope the Government will now go seriously into this question and settle this fund on the basis of the recommendations of the Committee of this House. I hope they will go further and relieve the anxiety of our soldiers, who are fighting well under the most difficult and trying circumstances with which the British Army has ever had to contend. I beg, Sir, to second the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— At the end of the Question to add the words, 'But we desire humbly to represent to Your Majesty that it is the duty of Your Majesty's present advisers to take immediate and effective action to ensure that, the accumulations and available surpluses of various funds administered by the Royal Patriotic Commissions should be applied for the benefit of the widows and children of officers and men of Your Majesty's military and naval forces who lose their lives in the war in South Africa.'"—(Mr. Kearley.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

I feel it my duty to offer a few observations in reply to the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the executive committee of the "Captain" Relief Fund. The hon. Member for Devonport deserves much credit for the interest he has shown in the general administration of the Patriotic Fund, but when he says that the public have lost confidence in the Patriotic Fund Commissioners, I think the hon. Gentleman must bear a great deal of the responsibility for that want of confidence. He has brought charges of a very serious character against the Commissioners, and obtained a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry; but the result of that investigation was practically to absolve the Commissioners from the serious charges brought against them. I have not much fault to find with the form in which he has brought forward his Amendment— That the accumulations and available surpluses of various funds administered by the Royal Patriotic Commissioners should be applied for the benefit of the widows and children of officers and men of the military and naval forces who lose their lives in the war in South Africa. I think that suggestion is not objectionable, and might be fairly well entertained. But the hon. Member did not seem to have sufficient regard, in his attack on the administration, to the fact that many of those funds to which he alluded are governed by distinct trusts and conditions. I am not competent to deal with all the funds, but only with the "Captain" Fund, for it was mainly at my suggestion that that fund in 1872 was handed over to the Patriotic Commissioners. It was handed over under a distinct trust deed, the terms of which were settled with legal assistance.


Does my hon. and gallant friend maintain that the "Captain" Fund is still subject to that deed? If he looks at the schedule of the Patriotic Fund Act of 1881 he will find that the fund was expressly scheduled there with many other funds, so that the surplus could be applied irrespective of the trust deed.


It is possible that the surplus may be given to some other naval object. There is a provision in the deed that after every care has been taken to meet the claims of every widow and orphan who had a claim on the fund the balance should be handed over to the Royal Naval Relief Fund. This was, in fact, the first nucleus of the Royal Naval Relief Fund. Surely my hon. friend will not deny that it is necessary to make actuarial calculations when you have to deal with widows and children, and the actuary has to allow a considerable margin for epidemics of disease. I believe that the "Captain" Fund, as well as all the other funds, has been admirably administered. The hon. Gentleman stated that the surplus of the "Captain" Fund has grown to such dimensions that it now amounts to £37,000. But the hon. Gentleman forgot that that might be due to the wisdom with which the funds were invested. It was at first proposed to invest the whole of the "Captain" Fund in Three per Cent. Consols. I opposed that tooth and nail, and at my suggestion one-third was invested in New South Wales Government Stock, one third in Canadian Stock, and one third in Indian railways. These investments have largely grown. The pensions and scale of allowances to widows and children with a claim on the fund were based on the same lines as those applied in the administration of the Crimean funds. There must be some principle in the administration of every fund. The Commissioners are trustees for the subscribers, but I do not share the view of my hon. friend, who goes so far as to say that the funds sub- scribed should be used entirely for those for whom they were subscribed, without any reservation whatever. For if the nation were to subscribe an enormously large amount to a fund, as has been the case in the present war, it might be that the widows would be placed in the position of being infinitely better off than if their husbands were alive. My hon. friend is illogical, for by the terms of his Amendment he proposes to depart from the principle he has laid down, and to take away the accumulations of the old funds, and apply them to sufferers from the war in South Africa. I do not object to that, for I agree that it would be a very good thing if a reasonable amount of these surpluses were applied to widows and orphans of men who have lost their lives in the South African War. At the present time, however, I do not think the Commissioners would be justified in transferring the whole surplus of the "Captain" Fund to the Royal Naval Relief Fund. The hon. Member for Chesterfield may have possibly some ground of censure of the Patriotic Commissioners for undue delay in granting relief. I believe that that mode of administration has been remedied. I quite agree that immediate relief is necessary, even if it be only a small sum, until adequate inquiry has been made; but my belief is that the delay is caused by the enormous number of applicants, and it takes time to make the necessary enquiries. The Patriotic Fund Commissioners have worked laboriously and well, particularly the Secretary, who is one of the ablest men I have ever come across in administering charitable funds. The public mind had been unduly poisoned against the administration of the Fund. The hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that the fund would be transferred to the War Office. I trust that that will never be done, for the War Office has enough to do with its proper duties. In the present administration there is a most admirable machinery, tested by the experience of years. It may require some reform; then reform it by all means, and make it a perfect machine. It ramifies all over the country, and, with the aid of district paymasters and the Post Office, I do not know that the mind of man could much improve on it. If there be defects, let them be remedied; but do not let the hon. Member offer up to public opprobrium and scorn the efforts of men who have been labouring to do their duty to the nation and as trustees for the subscribers to the funds. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press his motion to a division.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

said that if proof were needed of the necessity for reform, it was supplied in the defence of the Patriotic Fund Commissioners which the House had just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne. A paper had been issued, stating that the Commissioners were perfectly right in hoarding up their funds, as long as one person existed with a claim on the funds. That meant that the £220,000 subscribed to the Lord Mayor's Fund for widows and orphans in the present war was not to be touched so long as one widow or orphan remained.


I do not go so far as that. Provided you leave a sufficient margin for the widows and orphans, I am quite willing that the balance should be transferred to the Royal Naval Relief Fund and the Royal Military Relief Fund.


said the hon. and gallant Gentleman held that the Commissioners had the confidence of the public. He denied that, and would show how that confidence had been lost. When the Lord Mayor opened the Mansion House War Fund, he announced that the money, except sums ear-marked for any particular purpose, would be handed over to the Patriotic Commissioners, and £220,000 subscribed was disposed of in that way. At the Mansion House Conference the whole question of the administration of the Patriotic Fund Commissioners was brought before the public, and the Lord Mayor took the right to deal with the funds as he thought fit. Since then, another £100,000 had been subscribed. Her Gracious Majesty, through the Home Secretary, suggested what was now known as "Queen's Sunday," and the result was that the magnificent sum of £60,000 was raised in the churches throughout the country. That money was dealt with by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and they expressly stated the objects to which they wished that money to be devoted. Amongst these objects was not found the Patriotic Fund. He maintained that the public had entirely lost confidence in the Patriotic Fund Commissioners. His hon. friend had suggested that the surpluses should be devoted to the widows and orphans of the soldiers and sailors who had fallen in the present war. To that no one would offer the slightest objection; but how were the surpluses to be applied in the future? He held that a very grave duty devolved on Her Majesty's Government in regard to these funds. At the present time utter chaos reigned in the administration of the various funds. There was overlapping in all the various funds, and the policy of the Commissioners had vacillated so much that he was at a loss to understand whether they had any policy of dealing with the widows and orphans of the present war. There was another fund in which the country had full confidence. The Daily Telegraph Fund was dealt with almost entirely on the lines of the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment. The widows and orphans were provided for by purchasing Post Office annuities, and that was the only practical way in which the widows and orphans could be dealt with. He thought the Daily Telegraph deserved the highest praise for having come forward, at a time when something definite was needed, with their scheme, and for having got the money which would have gone to the Patriotic Commissioners if these Commissioners had had the confidence of the country. There were the Imperial War Fund and local war funds, and all these funds should be added to the surplus of the Patriotic Fund, the whole taken over by the Government and administered by the War Office, or somebody under the War Office, so that an end might be put to the absolute chaos which at present reigned in the administration.


I certainly have no complaint whatever to make of the manner in which my hon. friend the Member for Devonport has brought this matter before the House at the present moment. He has always shown, if I may say so, a most intelligent and patriotic interest in this question, and has made himself a complete master of it. Undoubtedly at the present moment our deepest sympathies are enlisted on behalf of the widows and orphans of our soldiers and our sailors. I suppose there is nothing at the present time which is more deeply moving our population than the present war; and the generous response to appeals on behalf of our brave soldiers' widows and orphans is sufficient proof of it. But, Sir, in regard to the particular motion, we have to deal not with the past, but with the future, and therefore I shall not attempt to follow my hon. friend in the history of the Patriotic Fund which he has laid before the House. In some points I should not be able to entirely agree with the hon. Member, but for the most part what he has told us is substantially accurate. I am afraid that the course which the Patriotic Fund Commissioners have adopted for many years has not had the full approval of the public; but it must be remembered that they are trustees, and it is certainly true that they have only acted as they believed they were bound to do, as honest and honourable guardians of the money placed at their disposal. We may differ from them as to the methods they have adopted or as to the views they have held; but unquestionably they have been guided by one motive only, and that is the interest of the beneficiaries committed to their charge. At the same time I am afraid that public opinion about them is that they have conducted their operations very much upon the principles which are supposed to govern a very interesting bird called the magpie, who always hides the coin. Well, Sir, some observations were made by my hon. friend with regard to the actuarial advice, or actuarial calculations, by which they had been guided. Now, it is perfectly true that the results arrived at are very largely guided by the specification and by the circumstances of each case, and I do not follow my hon. friend when he says that there is very much room for error. When you have so many persons of such and such an age, receiving a certain weekly sum, it is not a very difficult calculation to make when you have the facts before you, and therefore I think that in all probability, in respect to what my hon. friend has said, the results which Mr. Finlaison has from time to time laid before the Patriotic Commissioners are practical results, and such as should guide them. For myself I think that all these funds ought to be administered on the same principle. I do not think that the corpus of one fund ought to be kept—unless there is an enactment to that effect—and the corpus of another fund distributed. It would be a good thing, in my opinion, if not only the funds which we are discussing, but every fund which is now being distributed, could be administered by one hand and on one principle. Great waste and much overlapping would be avoided if something of that kind could be brought about, and I think it would be a very patriotic and beneficial action if some influential person would take the matter in hand and get a body of persons together in whom the country and the contributors to the funds would have confidence. Administered thus on one principle it might operate for the benefit of the relatives of all soldiers and sailors who would ever come upon their country for support. In regard to the Soldiers' Effects Fund I would like to impress upon the House what my hon. friend behind me said—that it is a diminishing and a dying fund. It is largely made up of deferred pay, which is practically abolished, and therefore it would not be a matter for astonishment if, in the course of a very few years, it were to cease to exist altogether. But in regard to this fund we are tied down by the terms of the Act of Parliament. The Royal warrant provides only for the distribution of the interest and not the corpus of the fund.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

Does that apply to all the funds administered by the Patriotic Commissioners?


No, only to the Soldiers' Effects Fund. My hon. friend made some observations as to the course taken in regard to that fund. He expressed his opinion as to the taking over of the fund by the Patriotic Commissioners. It was found that there had been overlapping in the relief of some individuals. It was also found that in all probability the Patriotic Fund Commissioners had means of information far wider and far more accurate at their disposal than the War Office possessed; and it was for this reason that it was thought desirable that the fund should be put into the hands that now administer it. Now, in regard to these matters, I would like to remind the House of what the position is. The Patriotic Fund was originally subscribed, as the House is aware, for certain widows and children of soldiers and sailors. There was, at the time of the new Commission, a certain number of widows and children upon the fund, and the actuarial calculation is that when the claims of those at present on the fund are exhausted the fund will have left in it only about £17,000. That is the calculation to-day.


Is the hon. Member referring to what is now called the Crimean Patriotic Fund?


Yes. In respect to the persons for whom the fund was originally subscribed the surplus on the actuarial calculation is only £17,000 at this moment. But that is not an excessive sum to have to provide for contingencies. The actuarial calculations might prove inaccurate; the claimants on the fund might live longer than expected, and it is desirable that there should be some kind of surplus. [An HON. MEMBER: Is that the face value in December, 1895, or the selling value of the securities in 1896?] I take the figures which the hon. Member has in his hand, the actuarial valuation of the securities, not their face value. When the new Commission was issued, under which not only widows and children, but other dependents of persons for whom the fund was subscribed, became entitled to relief—that is, not merely the widows of soldiers who lost their lives, but who only served in the Crimean War—it provided for the fund to be distributed, and a new fund was set up; and the Commissioners now annually transfer the surplus of the old fund to the new one. My hon. friend is entitled to this explanation that the new fund is not administered upon the principles of the old one. The old fund is being exhausted not only in regard to the income, but also as to the corpus, for the benefit of the persons for whom it was subscribed. With regard to the new fund, it is the income only which is being distributed. If I am asked to explain why, I do not know why there should be a difference of distribution between the two. I do not know why the new fund should be hoarded and the old one distributed. That is a point for the Commissioners. When all the claimants who are on the old fund have passed away there will not, in all probability, be a surplus of more than £10,000, according to the actuarial calculation.


said there was a very important point involved in this "passing away," and asked for some information as to its purport.


The passing away of the old claimants does not really matter. The answer of the Commissioners in regard to that is this: We have taken upon the new fund a little over 500 widows older in age, regarding them as the more deserving. But in addition to these 500 there are, we are told, 800 more widows who, under the new Commission, are entitled to the benefit of the fund, but who cannot receive it because the Commissioners had not the funds to give them relief. Now, the course the Commissioners take, therefore, is this: they only spend the income of the fund for the time being, because if they spent the corpus, the total of the new fund will be distributed over only a comparatively small number of recipients entitled to benefit. Now, I can promise that it is our intention, on behalf of the Government, to urge upon the Patriotic Commissioners not only that they should get a new valuation of their assets, but also to go seriously into the whole question. That is to say, that Lord Lansdowne will make a communication to the Patriotic Fund Commissioners, informing them that the terms on which their calculation is based have been challenged in this House, and so get the whole thing looked into in order to see that the calculations they make are based upon accurate figures. I think I may say on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne that we are prepared to go into the question with a view to seeing if any re-arrangement be possible of the methods governing the distribution, and the terms of the trust upon which the money is held. Under these circumstances I trust my hon. friend will not press his motion to a division, but will rest satisfied with this assurance that the Government fully realise the importance of this question and quite see the force of the criticisms which he has addressed to us in his able speech.

CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

I do not propose to detain the House at any considerable length, more especially as my hon. friend the Member for Devonport has dealt so exhaustively with this question. I am sure that there is no man who wears the Queen's uniform who will not be grateful to my hon. friend the Member for Devonport for the vast amount of time and attention he has given to this question for many years past, and it is almost solely due to his exertions that the question comes before the House at such an opportune moment. Now, the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office has made, in my opinion, but a very faltering defence of the Patriotic Commissioners. If we look into the past, how do we find that this body has done its duty? We find that they controlled a sum of one and a half millions, and they proceeded to deal with that sum by misdirecting the use of the money committed to their charge. They erected, amongst other things, a school without properly endowing it; they got into grave financial difficulties, and their conduct was inquired into by the Government. They endeavoured to minimise the surplus of the various funds, and after having taken into consideration every contingency they actually instructed Mr. Finlaison, their auditor, to arrange a sum of no less than £6,000 in addition to that. And I ask the House, therefore, in face of these facts, whether or not they have followed out the intentions of Parliament in regard to this matter—that is to say, to ensure the full distribution of the fund as expressed in the Acts. I say they have failed in their duty to the widow and orphan. My other point against them is this: that they seem to have been influenced by narrow sectarian motives. For instance, there were large numbers of men who were Catholics in the Crimean War. When they erected these schools (it was true they permitted Roman Catholic children to enter these schools) they were not availed of by the Roman Catholics as they might have been, for everybody knows that adherents to the Roman Catholic faith will go to great lengths to have their children educated in a Roman Catholic institution. Large numbers of these children were kept waiting for entrance into the various Roman Catholic schools, and when there was an outcry about the matter there was allocated a very small sum, out of all proportion to the number of children who were waiting, for their support. I now come to the question of the increase of the assets. The Commissioners acknowledge that for fifteen years these assets were constantly increasing, and it was only when they had accumulated to such an extent the Commissioners were shamed into doing it, that they consented to replace the re-married widows upon the establishment. Until 1895 they refused applications over and over again, and dealt with these poor widows in a narrow and highly regrettable spirit. As regards the Zulu War Fund, the corpus of which was something like £25,000, handed over to the Commissioners in 1879, that fund after a period of sixteen years stood at almost the same figure, and yet these Commissioners never increased the paltry sum of 3s. 6d. per week which was allowed to the people who were entitled to every penny of the fund. The Soldiers' Effects Fund has been dealt with, but I would point out that between 1885 and 1893, the surplus of that fund grew from £21,000 to £106,000. I know it was receiving constant support from the War Office, that constant accretions came in from the effects of soldiers dying intestate in the field, but what is the excuse of the Commissioners for not dealing with this fund? They had power under the Act to deal with applicants under three different headings. They dealt with them under heading (a), but they objected to deal with those under headings (b) and (c); because, forsooth, they were unable to relieve all the applicants they decided to relieve none. I think that fully justifies the mover of this Amendment in saying that they followed a policy of hoarding up. Then there is the Rodriguez Fund, which had an income of £508, and yet the demands never exceeded £104 per annum. As to the Victoria Fund, the Commissioners themselves were obliged to acknowledge that they had pursued a tardy and parsimonious policy. The way in which that fund was administered gave rise to a discussion in the public press and in this House, and had the pensions been continued on the original scale we have the actuary's statement that little more than 11s. 6d. out of every £ would have been expended. In fact, the Commissioners never attempted to administer the funds in the spirit in which the donors gave them until public opinion brought pressure to bear upon them. Their excuses as regards this particular fund were these: that they had knowledge that local relief was going on; that the Admiralty were acting on the one hand; that the inadequacy of the pensions given to the different applicants was only a temporary measure; and that Miss Weston was at work locally giving relief to those who were in need of it. That is to say, they were in constant fear of overlapping. Could we have a stronger case for the whole of these funds being liberated, due provision being made for the present beneficiaries, than out of the mouths of the Commissioners themselves, when they acknowledge that they did not act up to their duty for fear of overlapping? In fact, because of the unfortunate jealousy which exists amongst, those who administer these various charitable funds, as they are called. As regards the Royal Naval Relief Fund, it was established by Royal Commission in June, 1875, but no effort was made on the part of the Royal Commission to attract public attention towards it. There have been many cases where the widows of men who lost their lives while on duty or in the Naval Service might have been relieved by this fund, but they never came on to the fund because they had no knowledge of its existence. As a consequence, when the Royal Naval Exhibition had a large fund at their disposal they objected to hand it over to the Royal Commissioners, deciding to administer it themselves. They have administered it with very good effect and in the most satisfactory manner. In other words, the contention of the mover of the Amendment that the Commissioners have lost the confidence of the public has, in my opinion, been proved up to the hilt. There are two further important funds, as well as a number of funds outside the control of the Royal Commission, which we would like to see dealt with, inasmuch as the corpus of these funds amounts to £370,000. Our contention is that an enlargement of powers is wanted. But if an enlargement of powers is about to be given, is it right and proper that those enlarged powers should be given to a body which has manifestly failed to do its duty? I do not desire to make a vindictive attack upon the Royal Commissioners as a whole. On the contrary, I consider, with the one exception that they have not managed the funds in the way intended by the donors, that they have acted up to the letter instead of the spirit of the law, their affairs have been extremely well managed. They possess as secretary one of the most able and capable men for the purpose that could be found in the kingdom. Their position is that they have lost the support of the public at large, that they are damaging the interests and the welfare of the widows and children of our soldiers who may be killed in the present war, because large numbers of people who would give willingly to a fund for the purpose of assisting those people fail to give now in consequence of not being certain that the money will be managed as they would like. The policy of the Commissioners has been, as I say, if they cannot relieve all of a class to relieve none at all. What do we who take an interest in this subject, recommend? We recommend that these Commissioners, if they are not abolished and reconstituted, if a completely new body is not constituted, should be brought into harmony with public opinion; that the new body should not be drawn from one particular class, but that in it there should be a sprinkling of the different classes who take a deep interest in the Army and Navy, that it should contain a certain proportion of distinguished non-commissioned officers and a certain proportion of distinguished business men, who will see that the matter is run on business principles. We would like to see the co-operation with this body of the naval and military authorities, and, above all, the co-operation with that body of the staffs of various other associations throughout the country. It is well known that through the want of publicity many women entitled to come on these various funds have not done so, simply because they were ignorant of their right. There should be local committees at local centres, and above all we contend that there should be a "token" vote in Parliament to enable the country at large to exercise some control over the vast funds which their fellow countrymen have subscribed in the interests of the widows and children of soldiers who have given their lives for the country. This is a national duty. It is a duty which should not be left haphazard to a large number of societies here and there throughout the kingdom. Quite recently the country has subscribed to the Mansion House fund some £640,000, and to the fund of a London daily newspaper something like £115,000, while if you include all the other agencies which have collected money for the sufferers by this present war, you get a total of something like £1,500,000. If that £1,500,000 be added to the £1,000,000 already possessed by the Royal Commissioners, you have the magnificent sum of £2,500,000 available for the widows and orphans of the soldiers who may be killed in the war. The hon. Member for South-west Manchester pointed out quite recently that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York objected to hand over to these Royal Commissioners the money they had succeeded in obtaining—partly, perhaps, because of the danger of overlapping. I was glad to hear from the Financial Secretary to the War Office that he hoped there would be no difference made between the widows of men on the strength of the regiment and those off the strength of the regiment. I hope there will be as little difference as possible made, although, in the first instance, no doubt there must be some. After all, whether a man is married with or without leave, his wife and children are undoubtedly just as dear to him, and the least we can do for our gallant soldiers who to-day are fighting in the front is to give them the consolation that if they die in their country's cause those whom they hold near and dear will not be neglected. Unfortunately we have on record a very black page in the history of this country. There is no man who has read the life of Nelson but has blushed with shame to think that England's greatest naval hero had his dying request neglected by the nation, and that the woman he loved died in actual want and penury in a foreign land. I hope that no such cant will enter into any arrangements that are made for the soldiers at the front. If there ever was a moment when such an appeal should go to the hearts of Members of this House this is the moment. There are few Members who have not some relative or friend engaged in this conflict, in connection with which we are led to believe there is fighting now going on in almost every area of the theatre of war. It would be the greatest consolation to every man engaged in that struggle if he could feel confident and certain, not that money would be showered into these funds, but that the funds would be publicly administered by a body appointed by Parliament, that the funds would be controlled by Parliament, and that those near and dear to him would not suffer pecuniarily by his death.

COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)

There is a fundamental difference of opinion which, I believe, lies at the bottom of all our troubles, and I am sure it is reflected in the minds of the House, and especially in the mind of my hon. friend who moved the Amendment. The point is this: The minority of the Committee thought that fund for a special cause ought to be exhausted in the assistance of beneficiaries under that special cause. That is the view of the minority. The majority take the view that it would not be right, when large sums of money were contributed, to exhaust them in favour of the beneficiaries. It was felt that perhaps it would not be fair to others to put widows in a much better position in life than they would have been had they not, unfortunately, lost their supporters. That has been the difficulty with which the Commissioners have had to deal in giving relief. The public have got hold of the idea that the funds which have been supplied for the sake of special purposes, instead of being given to beneficiaries, have been hoarded. That is the fundamental question which the House of Commons ought to decide, and to instruct the Commissioners upon: whether, when a sum larger than is required for a specific purpose is contributed, it is to be expended in favour of those beneficiaries, or whether it is proper and legal that it should be hoarded up, put aside, and afterwards applied to some other special purpose. I expect the House of Commons will agree that it is better that the whole of the money should not necessarily be applied in favour of the persons for whom it was given, but that if there is too much money it should be put on one side and afterwards used for the benefit of others who may be more or less suffering under certain circumstances. The Committee recommended, that the surplus funds should be lumped together in two classes, one for the Army and one for the Navy. In fact, if their recommendation had been carried out, I father think that all that my hon. friend now wants would substantially have been obtained. At any rate, whatever the War Office do, they ought to try to grapple with that admitted fundamental question which I have submitted to the House, and to guide the Commissioners on that point.


May I venture to make an appeal to the House on the subject of this Amendment. I am perfectly aware, of course, that this is a question which has always excited some interest—a good deal of interest in the minds of those concerned with this and analogous matters—but that interest sinks into insignificance compared with the public attention now devoted to this subject in consequence of the war, and the whole subject of the provision for the widows and orphans of those who are killed is naturally, and in my opinion quite properly, deeply engaging the public mind and conscience. I do not feel that I have enough detailed knowledge of the management of the Patriotic Fund, or of the controversy which has centred round that management for some years past, to be able usefully to give to the House any personal opinion. But I will undertake that some consideration shall be given to this matter, and not to this fund alone, but to the whole question raised by these great funds, to see whether by better organisation they may be so directed as to benefit those for whom they were intended in the manner which will produce the maximum of good. The public, both at the time of the Crimean War and on the occasion of the present war, have shown themselves generous beyond hope and expectation; and I verily think the Government and the House ought to give the public every assistance in their power for the purpose of securing that that generosity shall not be wasted, and that their efforts shall not be permitted to be fruitless. If that promise on my part at all contents the hon. Gentleman who has raised this question, I should certainly feel grateful in the interests of the business of the House that we should conclude the discussion of this particular subject as soon as possible. There are many important and interesting matters on the Paper on which a certain number of Members desire to speak, and I think, perhaps, it might be considered that this subject has been sufficiently debated.


Would the right hon. Gentleman say more definitely what is the promise he makes, because I would be glad as far as I am concerned to assist in bringing the debate to an end if the promise is definite and satisfactory.


The promise I make is that the Government, or those who represent us, will do their best to consider with those who are responsible for the new funds and the old funds some method of general organisation by which those funds may be turned to the best advantage.


Will the Government give those who have some knowledge of these funds an opportunity of expressing their views? You would receive a plausible answer from the Patriotic Commissioners, I have no doubt, but I am afraid no ultimate good would ensue.


I shall endeavour, of course, to see that those who have knowledge of, and have taken interest in, this question shall have an opportunity of expressing their views.

MR. ALLAN (Gateshead)

I will not occupy the time of the House for more than a few moments, but I desire to impress upon the First Lord of the Treasury that this is a matter he ought to take up. The real fact of the matter is that the Patriotic Commissioners are antiquated and altogether out of touch with the real and ostensible object of the provision of the money. There is no mistake about that when one remembers that this war has really been paid for by the wives and children of our soldiers. Men who were earning 25s. a week have gone to the front, and their wives are only getting now 10s., so that they are practically paying for the war. The First Lord of the Treasury ought to take the matter in hand in a strong and forcible manner, and clear out the whole of the Commissioners. They are absolutely granting pensions to the relatives of their own secretaries, and the Secretary of the job is now in South Africa receiving his pay, and at the same time drawing his salary from the Patriotic Commission. That is not right, and I hope the First Lord will deal with the matter in a businesslike manner as a Scotsman would do, and settle the job properly.


I will not detain the House, but I want to address one more question to the First Lord, and if he makes a satisfactory reply I shall be glad if my hon. friend will withdraw the Amendment. This debate has been much too technical. The First Lord of the Treasury has, if I may say so without presumption, anticipated a great deal of what I was going to say. I will not go into the whole subject; I will only refer to the widows and orphans who will arise from the present unfortunate military proceedings. That is really the substance of the Amendment. We did not have a very satisfactory reply from the hon. Gentleman who replied in the first instance, but if I understand the First Lord carrectly, I think he has met my hon. friend nearly as far as could be expected. But there was one point in the right hon. Gentleman's statement to which I must refer. He stated that the Government would take this matter in hand, and consider what provision it was proper to make for the widows and orphans; and then he added that they would discuss the matter in conjunction with specialists, or words to that effect. We fear that that means the Patriotic Commissioners. We have faith in the Government in the matter, but we have no-faith in the Patriotic Commissioners. Perhaps I am not judging the right hon. Gentleman fairly. If he would go to the length of saying that the Government would consider the large and grave question to which he has rightly attached importance—that is, the grave question of the widows and orphans created by this war—and that when they have considered it they will make some statement, which I feel sure would be satisfactory to the House and to the country, I think the Amendment might be withdrawn.

MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)

May I ask whether the reference to this Departmental Committee, or to whatever authority the matter is referred, will consist merely or mainly of the provision for widows and orphans by private benevolence, or whether the right hon. Gentleman will undertake also that the question of making provision for the widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors out of State funds shall be fully considered. We ought not to depend upon eleemosynary efforts for the performance of this public duty, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will add that subject to the reference to the proposed Committee.


The motion on the Paper relates simply to the Patriotic Fund, and I have already gone beyond that. The hon. Gentleman wants to press me still further, but the matter to which he refers is really not relevant to this motion. Any inquiry we may make will be on the responsibility of the Government, and we shall get every assistance we can, not merely from the present trustees of the Patriotic Fund, but also from those who by their connection with the newer fund may be said to be thoroughly in touch with the country on the subject.


After the very generous promise of the First Lord of the Treasury I would desire to withdraw this Amendment. What I understand the right hon. Gentleman to undertake to do is this—that the Government will take immediate action to ensure that the accumulations of the various funds in the hands of the Patriotic Commissioners shall be applied to the benefit of widows and orphans—


I think the hon. Gentleman must not press me further.


I think I must accept the promise as made, and, with the permission of the House, withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.