§ Subject to the provisions of this Act, the said endowments of the Private or Lower Foundation, and any other property applicable for the purposes of that foundation (including any income arising from those endowments or property after the passing of this Act, or which has arisen therefrom before the passing of this Act, and has not been applied for the benefit of the Private or Lower Foundation), shall, so far as not applied by direction of His Majesty for the benefit of any knights of the Private or Lower Foundation so long as there are any such knights, be applicable at such times, and in such manner, and subject to such provisions as to accumulation, or otherwise as His Majesty may direct for the benefit of the Royal or Upper Foundation.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I did not say anything about this Bill last night as the Secretary of State for War had not got his supper and was in a hurry to get home, and I allowed him to get the Second Reading without any discussion, because I took pity on him; but to pass the Committee stage also without a word of explanation is rather a tall order. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he has brought in this Bill and especially this first Clause? I do not know whether he consulted the Law Officers before he did so. If he wants to vary a charitable foundation he should apply to the High Court for permission, and why is he defrauding the Law Officers out of the revenue they would get for making that application? I would also like to know why he proposes to abolish this foundation and devote the proceeds of the lower foundation to the 842 benefit of the upper foundation? Why does he not take the money from the upper and give it to the lower? So far as I can make out from the Memorandum, the Knights of the Lower Foundation are getting £55 per year and the Knights of the Upper Foundation £126 per year. I object above all as a lawyer to this Bill, because it outrages the will of a dead monarch and plays ducks and drakes with what was left for a particular object. The Secretary of State for War comes along like an up-to-date Cromwell and proposes to vary the will of Henry VIII. and to apply the money whatever way he thinks fit. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever read Henry the Eighth's will.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I do not believe he has, and I doubt if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has read it. The residuary legatees, I am informed, under that will arc the very numerous progeny of Henry the Eighth's very numerous wives, I think we ought to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether any effort has been made to trace those numerous descendants of Henry VIII. before he appropriates the money which this very deserving and popular and esteemed monarch left for particular parties. There is another thing. I should like to know, and that is who are these thirteen gentlemen getting this, £126? Why are they getting it? As I understand they get free quarters in. Windsor Castle and get this money. Who, selects them? Is it the Secretary of State for War himself, or how is the thing done? I am afraid there are Members of this House who if they knew there were nice little jobs of this kind going, would be willing to prove themselves lineal descendants of Henry VIII. Who are these knights, and arc they real knights? I see there are Knights of the Upper Foundation and Knights of the Lower Foundation; how do, they get there, arid are the titles hereditary? I never heard of these worthy gentlemen before, and I do not think anybody in this House ever heard of them before, nor do I think the right hon. Gentleman himself ever heard of them before bringing in this Bill. I suppose, like his illustrious ancestor, who once asked what these "damned dots were about," he asked what these blessed military Knights of-Windsor were about, but I think, before we pass the first Clause, the Secretary of. State for War might tell us more about this mysterious class, and we ought to know whether there is any danger of the class 843 becoming extinct and the intention of the testator failing, therefor. I do not want to put the House to a Division at this hour, but if the right hon. Gentleman does not give us some information about these knights I think we shall have to divide the House.
§ 12.0 M.
Unfortunately the only copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT I have been able to obtain of last night's proceedings ended in the middle of a most eloquent speech by the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher); it ended with asterisks, and I have searched in vain for any record of an explanation of this mysterious Bill given last night, when, I understand, it passed its Second Reading. One is always suspicious of a Bill which contains a whole page of Preamble containing apparent reasons why the Bill should be passed and only two Clauses of operation. I think the Committee is entitled to receive some explanation from my right hon. Friend as to what the Bill is about. I am not at all sure that my right hon. Friend is the proper person to be in charge of this Bill. There is a great deal of legal questions obviously concerned in it upon which one would wish to hear the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and, as far as I can sea from this very involved Preamble, a sum of money was left in the way which the hon. Gentleman opposite somewhat inaccurately described, but the general objects of the Trust appear to have been to build houses. I must say that one regards with extreme suspicion, at a time when the Government has be-en asked to find subsidies for houses, any attempt to divert a housing endowment to some other peculiar, and lay, and unsuitable purpose.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is making some mistake as between the period and the personality, but, in any case, I am quite sure that an adequate explanation will be given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War. I am sorry to see that the Labour Benches are so sparsely occupied, although, as an hon. Friend reminds me, the Members of the somewhat more limited form of democracy are here in what I might call, at any rate, proportion-ate numbers. [At this point the Paymaster-General (Sir Tudor Walters) 844 entered the House.] Here is one of the representatives of the Ministry of Health who has arrived, and may I ask him whether he has read this Bill? May I ask him also whether he has been consulted as to whether the Ministry of Health consents to this -diversion of a housing endowment to purposes which are specified in Clause 2? The hon. Gentleman does not answer, and I can only suppose he is unacquainted with the Bill. I therefore propose to give him the opportunity of reading the Bill while I am concluding the remarks I am going to make, in order that we may know what the views of the Ministry of Health are on this measure. Why 1 regret that the Labour Benches are not represented is that I see that the fourth reason given in favour of this Bill in the Preamble is as follows: "Whereas it is expedient that the Private or Lower Foundation should cease to exist." That makes me suspicious. I do not know what the Private or Lower Foundation is. If the right hon. Gentleman had been a little more explanatory on the Second Reading, we might all be more aware of the lower foundation, but I am still at a loss to know whether it refers to this particular Order of Knights, or whether it refers to the foundation of the edifice for which the hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Health is responsible. But if it means that the private or lower foundation is to cease to exist, it seems to me to be thoroughly undemocratic. I am the more suspicious as to what is intended because I see the Treasury Bench completely full, and I am led to suppose that it must be for some sinister purpose. No doubt the Leader of the House will enlighten us as to what there is behind it all, otherwise I cannot conceive why the Leader of the House is here at five minutes past 12. Indeed, I feel almost tempted to move to report Progress to give the Leader of the House an opportunity of explaining. This seems to me to be a thoroughly unsound measure. It seeks to divert to wholly secular purposes—if I may -put it so —an endowment which was intended for housing the people. It purposes to abolish a democratic foundation in these days when we are attempting to make the world safe for democracy. It seeks to suppress what one may call the smaller nationality. The House, before it proceeds to a consideration of this measure, is entitled to a far fuller explanation, not only from the Secretary for War—and I have heard that this matter was debated 845 at considerable length by the Army Council, and only by considerable pressure, corresponding to our Closure, was it agreed to by that august body—but from a representative of the Ministry.
§ Captain ELLIOT
Might I be allowed to support the very eloquent appeal for further information made by my hon. and gallant Friend? If the Treasury Bench mobilise they can vote down the rest of the House. I appeal to the Committee, as a whole, to stand up for ancient rights against the mobilised services of the Government, who have come from their private rooms, recesses, cellars, and caves of this House, have come down in their dozens, to carry, on a snap Division, a measure like this. It is rather a discreditable phase of Parliamentary history. It has been impossible for us in the smoke room to conduct our business because of the disquiet occasioned by Ministers returning here—
§ Captain ELLIOT
I am pointing out that this is a sinister conspiracy on the part of the Treasury Bench against this Committee. All I wished to say was that I do not wish to have a statement from the Secretary for War. These things are not properly explained by him. But on his left is one of the diarchy, one of the right hon. Gentlemen who rule this House. I call for an explanation from the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Board of Trade. After all, nothing can be done in this country without the intervention or control of one or the other of the great twin brethren. We ought to have a real explanation, without any camouflage, by one of them. We came down to this House well-knowing that if this matter is pressed to a Division we shall be beaten by this mere mechanical majority. [HON MEMBERS "No, no 1"] An important measure like this ought not to be rushed through the House. We have been here lately late at night, and some fall asleep on the benches. This House has been discussing important matters all day, and is weary. We have listened to the eloquent speech of the Prime Minister. This measure only concerns the rights of a few private citizens, so far as we can judge; but they are Englishmen, and their rights ought to be considered. We have been talking about Czecho-Slovaks and Jugo-Slays, and we have had eloquent speeches from various people—
§ Captain ELLIOT
I cannot give all my reasons at this late hour why the Clause should not stand part of the Bill—I want to get home to bed, the same as everybody else—but we have had no explanation. The Treasury Bench is becoming more and more packed—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is repeating both himself and the speakers who have preceded him, and that is contrary to Standing Order No. 19.
§ Captain ELLIOT
Then I will reserve my remarks on the general aspect of the Bill till the Third Reading, and content myself now with supporting the eloquent appeal of my hon. Friend, that this Clause should not stand part of the Bill without any further explanation.
§ Mr. WALLACE
It is because I consider this is a matter of urgent public importance that I venture to rise. It is most unfortunate that at the end of the Session an extremely important and complicated measure of this sort—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That has been said three times already, and Standing Order No. 19 comes into operation.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I am extremely sorry that my ignorance of the Rules of the House causes me to contravene your ruling. We have upon the Front Bench the Patronage Secretary, who, I understand, has a matter of this sort within his purview, and it seems to me an extraordinary procedure that he should decide that the lower foundation should be altogether abolished and that the upper foundation should take its place. It seems to me, in these days when we all believe in the general interests of democracy, extraordinary that a retrograde step of this kind should be taken. I am especially surprised that a Coalition Government, in which we all believe, and which is supposed to have the interests of democracy at heart, should take such a step. It is bound to react in the country in a way that the Coalition Government, I am sure, will not appreciate. As a matter of fact, I had never before heard of the Military Knights of Windsor, though I had heard of the "Merry Wives of Windsor," but I am always willing to add to my stock of knowledge, and I suggest, if we are to be properly informed about the provisions 847 and scope of this Bill, that there ought to be circulated a copy of the will of Henry VIII. We are asked to take these things for granted; none of us have the means of checking the statements made. I am extremely disappointed that one —ho has such a wide and democratic outlook as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War should make himself responsible at this late hour for a Bill of this nature, a Bill which I am sure, in a full House, would not appeal to hon. Members. I suggest that it is just one of those Bills that should be left over till next Session. I understand that there was a certain General Sir George Boles, under whose will these military knights benefit. and that a sum of £2,083 6s. 8d. has been invested at 2½ per cent. in Consolidated Stock. May I suggest that this sum, if the right hon. Gentleman has really got the interests of these military knights at heart, ought to be invested at a higher rate of interest. I am quite sure, if he realises the responsibility of his position, he will see that this sum is transferred to a stock which will produce a higher rate of interest.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
On a point of Order. I wish to ask for a definition between the higher and the lower orders of these knights.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)
I deprecate undue levity in dealing with this topic. The subject is a very simple one, and a very ancient story, and it deserves to be treated with the greatest respect. The measure is one which is capable of being defended not only by reference to the past, but also to the strictest canons of democratic opinion at the present time. Under the will of King Henry VIII. certain very small sums charageable upon a particular manor in Norfolk were left to provide for the declining years of a small number of unemployed military gentlemen.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
On a point of Order. I wish to ask whether it is not an inflexible and invariable rule in this House that when a Minister quotes from a public document he must lay it upon the Table? The Secretary of State for War is now professing to quote the will of Henry VIII., and I submit that it ought to be laid upon the Table.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was not attempting to give a textual quotation, but merely a general rendering of the sense and. purpose. Under the will of Henry VIII. a sum, which, with certain additions that: have been made from time to time, provides approximately £126 per year for thirteen retired military gentlemen, was set apart and was charged upon the revenues of a manor in Norfolk. This £126 was given in addition to free quarters in Windsor. That is the Upper or Royal Foundation of the Knights of Windsor. Under the will of Charles I., and subject to the augmentation of Sir George Boles, certain other funds were made available for five other retired military gentlemen who did not receive free quarters but who received £55 per year. There are, therefore, thirteen retired officers in indigent circumstances who under these ancient, wills and legacies receive £126 per year. and free quarters, and five who receive-£55 per year and no free quarters. We do not think that £55 a year is quite good enough for a knight.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We do not think it is practicable to continue the upkeep of the Knights in the Lower Foundation on this basis of £55 a year. In passing, let me say it is not proposed to take anything away from the existing beneficiaries; it is suggested that they shall be allowed to die out, but as they pass away the Knights of the Lower Foundation will not be replaced. That is not a matter which really lies within the discretion of this House.; it is within the discretion of the Crown to extinguish the Lower Foundation in the ordinary way, but the Crown seeks from Parliament power to apply the five £55, a year saved by letting the Lower Foundation die out and to add the amounts to the emoluments of the thirteen Knights of the Upper Foundation, whose annual stipends will thereby be eventually raised to £147 instead of £126. I have heard some ignorant people say it is an undemocratic principle to wipe out the lower foundation. But I should like to see a point like that maintained on a Labour platform. We consider that the £55 a year knights are paid far below the economic level at which knights should be maintained; they are really sweated knights, and as such ought not to be encouraged. It would be far better to adopt the principle of the minimum wage—far better to collect such 849 revenues as they have and apply them to the benefit of a smaller number of persons to enable them to be maintained as well possible. How these have been affected by the absolute fall in the ordinary purchasing power of the sovereign is a very serious reflection, and it is obvious that, prices being as they are, a more sensible course cannot be taken than to allow the lower foundation to die out and apply such moneys as are available to sustaining in a better position the Knights of the Upper Foundation. I do trust that the Committee will give a cheerful, if curious, attention to this measure, and also offer a due measure of sympathy to what, after all, is a rather difficult though humble business.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am opposed entirely to the principle of the Bill. What is the use of giving a man £147 a year instead of 1,126; it is almost adding nothing to nothing. The truer policy would be to abolish the thirteen knights—that most unpropitious number—and add their salaries to those of the five. Suppose that gave them £360 a year; calculating the purchasing power of the sovereign at about 6s. 8d. in the £1, that would bring their income down to about £127, or pre-war purchasing power. It is far far better to have five well-fed knights than thirteen half-starved ones. I have a great deal more respect for the will of Charles I. than for that of Henry VIII. He was the more responsible monarch of the two; indeed, I was rather surprised Henry VIII. should have mentioned knights in his will. I should rather have expected him to make provision for dames. I think the Knights of the Higher Foundation should be allowed to die out, and their salaries handed over to the Knights of the Lower Foundation.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be better to establish an Industrial or Whitley Council for these poor sweated Knights of the Upper Foundation?
§ Captain R. TERRELL.
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." It is too late an hour to take this Bill.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It would be very undesirable, after we have had such an illuminating and variegated discussion as we have had this evening, not to proceed with this Bill. It is apparent from the 850 attitude of the Committee that it intends to legislate, and it ought not to allow the hon. and gallant Member's somewhat frivolously moved proposal to stand in its path. However late we shall have, to sit, I hope we shall not separate until we have settled the vexed question we have debated.
§ Mr. NEWBOULD
As we are likely to, have a Division, might I appeal to the Leader of the House to take off the Government Whips?
§ Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.