HC Deb 10 July 1903 vol 125 cc1163-8
MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

I wish to ask whether this Bill has not been put down by inadvertence to-day, inasmuch as this is the day allotted to Supply, and under Standing Orders no business other than Supply can be taken before midnight. If my hon. friend brings in this Bill will not the day cease to be a day allotted to Supply?


Clearly the Standing Order does not mean that nothing shall be done except Supply before midnight, otherwise we could not take Questions and unopposed Returns and other business of that nature. The word business as quoted from the Standing Order means Orders of the Day and notices of Motion and such Motions as are usually put down with the Orders of the Day. It does not include a Motion like this taken at the commencement of public business.


In asking leave to introduce a Bill to reorganise the administration of the Patriotic Fund, I may say at once I do not propose to detain the House at any length, as I am proceeding under what is known as the Ten Minutes Rule. The object of the Bill is to reconstitute the body which has the administration of funds subscribed to provide for the widows, children, and other dependents of those who lost their lives in the service of the Crown. Those funds since 1854 have been administered by the Royal Patriotic Commission. The powers of the Commission have been modified and extended since that date, and in the interval it has accumulated a very considerable property, including an invested sum of £1,250,000. It also has a valuable property at Clapham. The constitution of the Commission is of a dual character, and it is in no sense popular. It consists of a number of ex-officio members and of members appointed by the Crown for life, and therefore it cannot be said to be in general touch with the country. Mainly on that account, I believe, there has been very considerable public dissatisfaction with the administration of the funds by the Patriotic Commissioners I would not for a moment attempt to lay down whether that dissatisfaction is justifiable or not; but I think it will be agreed that the main cause of the dissatisfaction is what I think may be justly called the want of sympathy between the country and the Commission, whose operations and administration are of a rather secret character. In the administration of a large fund of this character it is impossible to satisfy all the allottees. Complaints are made in public in consequence, while the answers given by the Patriotic Commissioners do not reach the ears of the public. At the same time, it is only right to say that no definite complaint or accusation has ever really been brought home to the Patriotic Commissioners, and the Joint Committee presided over by Lord James, which recently investigated the question, spoke most highly of the financial administration of the Commissioners. I think the House will most gladly recognise the amount of unselfish work which the Commissioners have given to the carrying out of their duties, and also the zeal and ability with which the Duke of Cambridge has presided over the proceedings of the Commission. When the question was first taken up, His Royal Highness wrote to the Prime Minister to say that the Commissioners welcomed inquiry, and no question of their charter would be allowed to stand in the way of any action that might be decided upon, and the Prime Minister admitted—and the House will agree with him that the country owed a great debt of gratitude to those who had administered the fund. If the present Bill is accepted by the House, I hope it will be in a spirit of recognition of that debt of gratitude, and as not implying any slight whatever upon the Commissioners.

The public interest in this question was brought to a head by the outbreak of the South African War—an interest which was very largely focussed and expressed by the hon. Member for Devonport, who has taken a continuous interest in the question, has asked many questions on it, and was a member of the Committee on whose Report the Bill is founded. By the interest he has displayed, both in the legislative and administrative conduct of the question, the hon. Member has entitled himself to the confidence of the country and of the House. Owing to the war, several funds were started, mainly by great organs of the Press, the Daily Telegraph, the Scotsman, and the Daily Mail, and, public attention having thus been drawn to the existing discontent, a Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Henn Collins was appointed to examine into the administration of the funds, and this was followed by the Joint Committee, of which Lord James was the Chairman. Mr. Justice Henn Collins's Committee recommended that a State pension should be granted, and, acting on that, a State pension of 5s. to widows, with an extra sum for each child, was granted. But naturally there was overlapping between the different funds, and consequently another inquiry was decided upon. Lord James's Committee recommended that there should be two Pension Boards formed—one for the Army and one for the Navy—and that these Boards should administer the State pensions and all locally subscribed, funds, as well as the property of the Patriotic Commission. But when the question came to be investigated it was not considered desirable to create these two official Pension Boards. It was thought better to leave the administration of the State pensions in the hands of the official bodies of the Admiralty and the War Office, who have the necessary machinery and all the information requisite for their administration, and to create one body which shall be in close touch with both the Admiralty and the War Office, but which shall at the same time contain such an element of popular representation as will enable it to command the confidence of the public. We believe this plan will be simpler than that recommended by the Joint Committee, and that it will tend to facilitate administration and economy if we have the Admiralty and the War Office in co ordination with this one body instead of having two Pension Boards. On this principle the Bill proposes to create a single body—


Order, Order! I think the hon. Member is exceeding the usual limit of time—ten minutes.


I wish to explain the Bill, and was not aware there was any Rule of ten minutes.


A brief statement is allowed, and ten minutes is generally considered to be the limit.


Am I not to make any explanation of the Bill at all, Sir?


If the hon. Member can conclude in a minute or two, but not more than that.


I imagine this is a thing which interests the House. The Bill creates a single body which will be called the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. That body will be constituted of six members appointed by the Crown, of whom one will be the President; then there will be the Chairman of every County Council throughout Great Britain and Ireland, every Lord Mayor and Mayor of county boroughs in England and Ireland, and the Lord Provosts and Provosts of towns of over 20,000 inhabitants in Scotland. In addition this body will co-opt six further members, and there will be up to seven members also co-opted to represent any local funds which are specially created.


Where will they meet?


said the corporation itself would meet once in every year; the official members would be appointed for three-year terms only, and would retire at the end of the three years. In the first instance, the twelve appointed members would be all appointed by the Crown, as it was evidently impossible to co-opt members until the body was created. After the first term of three years—


Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member is exceeding the limits allowed by the Rule.


If the Bill requires an elaborate explanation before the particulars are given, and then the particulars are to be gone into in detail it ought not to be introduced under this Rule.


said the corporation would appoint an executive committee, who would do the business of the corporation. He hoped the Bill would be in the hands of the hon. Members to-morrow morning. He might say that if this Bill were regarded as of a contentious character it could not pass this session, but he trusted it might meet with general approval.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reorganise the administration of the Patriotic Fund."—(Mr. Pretyman.)

MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

thought the House would agree that a Bill so complicated should not be introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule, but, at the same time, he hoped hon. Members would realise the great necessity of passing a Bill of this character. He understood that the new body would differ in a marked degree from the old, and would be more democratic in character. Any new body, unless it had the public confidence, was bound to fail, and the only way to obtain that confidence was to administer the funds in accordance with the wishes of those who supplied them. The money which had been subscribed in past years had been subscribed with the idea that it should by degrees be completely exhausted on behalf of those for whom it was intended, but that had not been the policy of the Patriotic Commission, who had endeavoured to husband or board their resources.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Pretyman and Mr. Arnold-Forster.