HC Deb 28 January 1902 vol 101 cc1163-8
(7.50.) MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

said that the Amendment which stood in his name dealt with a subject which he had frequently brought before the attention of the House, but unfortunately, the Government had found no place for it in the King's Speech. As the matter was urgent, he felt it his duty to press this matter seriously upon the attention of the House. There was nobody at present upon the Government Benches, and he wished to know from Mr. Speaker, whether he should go on discussing a very important matter of this kind without a single representative of the Government being present. He asked whether they were not entitled to have some representative of the Government present to hear the debate and give some reply to it?


returned to his seat.


Am I to go on now?


Yes, I will stay.


said that the charge he had made during the last ten years was well known, and it had stood the test of two inquiries instituted by the Government. The Patriotic Commissioners had been heard in their own defence, and their policy had been condemned, and what he was claiming now was, that the Government should give immediate effect to the finding of the Committee. The effect of the policy pursued by the Patriotic Commissioners had been that the Commission had lost public confidence and the people who were willing to subscribe money would not hand it over to the Commissioners in consequence. There had been as many as four inquiries instituted by the Government within the last six years. In 1900, two years ago, he moved an Amendment calling attention to the administration to the Royal Patriotic Commission. Upon that occasion he received a great deal of sympathetic support from the opposite side of the House, and so much was this the case that many hon. Members came to him and said if he went to a division they would support him. The result was that the First Lord of the Treasury was sent for and with his usual diplomacy he smoothed matters down and agreed to appoint a Committee of which the present Master of the Rolls was Chairman. That Committee recorded the opinion that, unless the Commissioners radically changed their administration, making it more businesslike and elastic, the public confidence, which had been shaken, would never be restored. This warning was altogether unheeded, and the Commissioners pursued their old policy on the old lines so much that they thoroughly exasperated public opinion, and the demand came stronger than ever from all parts of the country for the abolition of the Commission.

In 1901 he moved another Amendment to the Address to the effect that the administration of the Royal Patriotic Commissioners in regard to the funds under their control had been such as to deprive widows and orphans of the benefits of the funds, to which they were entitled, and asking that the Commission should be dissolved. The Government stopped him from moving that Amendment by putting a notice on the paper that they intended appointing a further Committee. That Committee was appointed, and it differed from the other Committees because it was a Joint Committee of both Houses. Once again the Patriotic Commissioners were invited to attend before this Committee and state their case, and they were heard very fully. The unanimous decision of that Committee was that there was only one course to adopt, and that was to dissolve the Royal Patriotic Commission and hand the funds over to two other bodies which would be likely to possess public confidence. But it was one thing to arrive at a verdict that a particular body should be abolished, and quite another thing to recommend how the abolition should take place. This Committee recommended a scheme whereby efficient administration would be secured. It was proposed that there should be two new pension Boards upon which there should be a popular element. In handing over these funds to the new pension Boards they were handing them over to bodies which possessed machinery and experience which could be at once utilised, and they were handing them over to persons who had had to deal with kindred work. The Committee suggested a Committee of seven Members, two representing the officials and the remaining five to be popular representatives, so that there should be always a preponderance of the popular element in the management of these two Boards. They laid down that the duty of these Boards should be to actively co-operate with local bodies which would from time to time be taking an interest in the various war funds which would continue to be collected in time of war. That report justified him in moving his Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had already given him an answer which might be considered satisfactory. It might be felt that it was rather forcing matters to proceed with this Amendment. But, although he had the fullest possible belief in the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to do something in this matter, he felt that the question was of pressing importance, that no time should be lost in handing over a fund, not now efficiently administered, to bodies who would administer it properly. There was no impediment in the way why the report should not be accepted. It had been accepted by the country, and the Press of the whole nation had approved of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not put forward as an impediment that they were asking him to find any money. The needs arising out of the South African war had not been fully met. There were over 3,000 widows and 4,845 orphans, and he could not say how many dependent relatives, who were not adequately provided for. The Government had spared no money, nor had they hesitated at any sacrifice to put the war through. He was their supporter, more or less, in the war policy. He had not supported it all; but he had never denied any money which they had demanded to carry the war to a vigorous conclusion. The Government had been splendidly served by the bravest and most humane Army the world had ever seen. It was their duty to think of those who had been left behind by the men who had served them so well. The Government would incur guilt themselves if they did not relieve the House and those who administered the fund from the reproach of its administration, which was more like a workhouse administration than that of a benevolent body, who felt there was more honour in giving than receiving. He hoped the Government would be able to give a definite assurance that they intended to accept the report of the Joint Committee, and to act upon it promptly.

(8.5.) MR. WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)

in seconding the Amendment said he agreed with the hon. Member for Devonport with regard to the eleemosynary nature of the pension scheme of this country. Without going into the details of this matter he had come to the conclusion that the Patriotic Fund, Greenwich Hospital, and all the so-called outside departments should be concentrated into one Government Department. All the money of the Patriotic Fund and all the income of Greenwich Hospital should be placed under the management of a pension bureau so that naval and military pensions should be granted to the relatives of those who were killed not only during "warlike operations," but also while "on duty." There never would be a satisfactory settlement until some such system was adopted. As showing the necessity for the change he proposed, he instanced what happened in the case of the relatives of the men who were killed in the "Cobra" disaster. It was unjust that the widows of those men should only receive 3s. 6d. a week, while the pension was 5s. for the widows of those killed in warlike operations.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,— But we humbly express our regret that there is no indication in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech that any measure will be submitted to Parliament for the abolition of the Royal Patriotic Commission and the establishment of a Naval and Military Pension Board to administer the funds now vested in the Royal Patriotic Fund Commissioners and others, as recommended unanimously in the report of the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lord and the House of Commons on Charitable Agencies for Relief of Widows and Orphans of Soldiers and Sailors:"—(Mr. Kearley.)

Question proposed, "that those words be there added.


I am sure the hon. Gentlemen opposite know already that the Government are in very hearty sympathy with the general sentiment which animated both their speeches. In fact, I thought I had given to the hon. Gentleman the mover of the Amendment an answer which would have given him a great deal of satisfaction, interested as he is in this work; for I am conscious that he has done a great deal towards calling public attention to the needs of our soldiers and sailors and their widows and orphans. Before coming to the Patriotic Fund, may I say that the Government is hardly open to the reproach of having ignored the claims of the widows, for we have for the first time in the history of the country given them the right to a pension? But the Amendment does not refer to the general system of Government pensions. It refers rather to the organisation of the system of distributing money partly subscribed by the taxpayers and partly subscribed by the public. The report of the Joint Committee appears to be accepted as a complete and satisfactory report; and, although it would be fully to pledge ourselves to act on every detail of that report, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the proposals which it will be our duty to make on this subject will follow the general lines laid down by the very strong body of advisers who made the report.


Do you pledge yourselves to abolish the Patriotic Fund?


I think I intimated to the hon. Gentleman in my recent answer that the recommendation would be certainly followed by the change he indicates. I read out to him a communication I was authorised to make by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge who, after seeing the report and considering all the circumstances of the case, officially told me on behalf of himself and his colleagues that the Royal Patriotic Commissioners would not for a moment think of allowing their charter to stand in the way of any reforms which the Government should desire. In these circumstances, I hope, without any undue delay, we may be able to make a communication to the House. I am not sure what amount of legislation is required; but, at all events, I hope to acquaint the House with a scheme for carrying out in main outline the recommendations made by the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I hope that general indication of our intentions will be satisfactory both to the mover and seconder.


Speaking for myself I am perfectly satisfied with the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury, and with the permission of the House I will withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn (8.18.)

Main Question again proposed.