HC Deb 04 April 1921 vol 140 cc70-4

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I do not think I need detain the House more than a very few minutes in explaining the purport of this measure, which was presented shortly before the Recess by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir J. Craig), who has now gone to Ireland to take up a very difficult and responsible task, in which I know he will have the sympathy and good wishes of all hon. Members. By the Greenwich Hospital Act of 1872, Section 4, the Admiralty was empowered to provide the cost of the education and maintenance of daughters of warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines, but the section added a restrictive condition to that authority namely, that the amount to be expended in the course of any one year should not exceed £20. That sum may have been adequate, though I think not more than adequate, in the conditions of 1872, but it is quite obviously inadequate in view of the immense increase in the cost of living since the War. I do not think I need labour that point. It has been raised often in this House, and it has underlain the discussion we have just been listening to on which the House has given a non-dissentient Vote. The authorities of the, different schools to which these girls have been sent have represented that they cannot possibly educate and keep a girl on that amount.


Will my hon. and gallant Friend state where the money is coming from?


The Greenwich Hospital authorities are quite willing to find the small extra sum required from their general funds, which are derived from their properties and their invested capital, and there is no question of coming to the taxpayer for any increase in the small fixed grant of £4,000 a year for Greenwich Hospital which has been made since 1814, and which replaced an earlier compulsory levy of 6d. a month from seamen's pay towards pensions for wounded and disabled seamen. Therefore there is no question of anything except the removal of the statutory restriction. The restriction being in a Statute, it is impossible for the Greenwich Hospital authorities to use their own money to supplement the £20 hitherto fixed as the maximum without Parliamentary authority, and the only object of this measure is to give the authority of Parliament to the removal of the limit of £20 originally imposed 50 years ago.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am sorry in a way that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement has rather spiked the guns of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and I take it his whole objection is removed. But I am afraid he will object to a proposal that I should like to make in Committee. Section 4 of the Act of 1872 deals with the education and maintenance of daughters of warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men, and therefore the officer class is introduced. Section 5 of that Act deals with the education and maintenance of sons and daughters of deceased officers, and the Admiralty make a grant not exceeding £20 to assist necessitous cases of this sort. It says: The Admiralty may, under Regulations to be from time to time made by them, provide solely or in part for the education and maintenance of sons and daughters of deceased or distressed commissioned officers of the Royal Navy or Marines, subject to the following restrictions. It then restricts the number of boys and girls to be educated and maintained to not more than 50, and the amount of maintenance for each boy or girl at £20 a year. We are here dealing with the case of seamen and marines, though it also deals with the daughters of warrant officers, and we are proposing to remove the restriction on the governors of Greenwich Hospital not to exceed the amount; but I should very much like to know why the sons and daughters of necessitous deceased officers of the Royal Navy and Marines are left out. Is nothing going to be done for them? If £20, as I think everyone will agree, is inadequate to maintain the daughter of a warrant officer, it is equally inadequate to maintain the daughter of a commissioned officer, and the commissioned officers to-day, fortunately, and quite rightly, contain many men promoted from the ranks and from the rank of warrant officer. Therefore, if an officer is killed in action or dies in the service of the Royal Navy of the rank of warrant officer, his daughter can get this much-needed assistance in her education, but if through superior merit or good fortune he has attained the rank of a commissioned warrant officer, the daughter is not eligbile for anything more than £20 a year. I do not think that is altogether fair. It only affects 50 children, and I am sorry the Bill did not include some relaxation of the restriction on the system.

Lloyds Quarterly Navy List contains the only advertisements there permitted, namely, requests to the charitable to support naval charities, and amongst these of course is this Greenwich Hospital, and it includes the question of the educational grants for distressed officers' children, and it says the Admiralty have power to grant sums of £20 per annum from the funds of Greenwich Hospital, and therefore I take it that the sum of £20 exists in the year 1921 as it was passed in 1872. I think there has been some remissness on someone's part in not including the children of deceased commissioned officers. Officers of the Royal Navy are very hard hit by the rise in the cost of living. Their pay has not been raised to anything like the scale of the higher grades of civil servants, for example. The position of a married officer to-day with a family, without private means, is very hard. The position of the widow of an officer with young children to support is very terrible if she has not some private means, and I am certain this House would not have refused if necessary to increase the funds of Greenwich Hospital to supply some extra money for the maintenance of daughters of commissioned officers, and I hope very much that in Committee the Government will accept an Amendment on these lines. I quite agree that we have great necessity to-day to watch the expenditure of all moneys, but simply deleting the words which put a limit on the amount to be expended is not sufficient. The Government ought to have taken advice as to what the amount required was. I should think to-day it would be about three times what it was in 1872. We will say for example that the costs of educating a child have gone up 300 per cent, in the last 50 years. They ought to have put a limit of £60 instead of removing the limit altogether. I say that from no feeling of niggardliness, but in order that the fund should be safeguarded. After all the Greenwich hospital funds have to provide for aged seamen, for the daughters of deceased officers, and one or two other minor matters and it is necessary to safeguard them, and I do not think simply removing the limit is sufficient safeguard. In fact it is no safeguard at all. I hope there will be no feeling of super-economy in this matter and that the Amendment I have mentioned will be accepted.


I do not quite understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he says that he hopes there will be no niggardliness in the matter although he is most anxious to put a limit upon the amount to be expended.

Lieut.-Commander KEN WORTHY

There are other charges on the fund as well. It was with a view to safeguarding the fund for aged seamen.


I quite expected that would be the explanation given, but. I thought it my duty to call attention to the matter. The Bill itself seems to me to be very useful and one which everyone interested in the matter will be very satisfied with. We do not think £20 is sufficient for educating a girl in these times, and we are glad that that amount is to be deleted. I am also rather pleased that no other sum has been specified in the Bill, because that gives the Admiralty a wide discretion, and in certain cases where the needs require it a larger amount can be given, and in others where the needs do not require it a lesser amount, but still one far exceeding £20. As the hon. and gallant Member said, there are a great number of other matters which come under the Greenwich Hospital Act. There are a great number of individuals who are in receipt of moneys from that fund, and I feel certain that the Admiralty will in no way allow those particular sections to suffer from any act of theirs in raising the amount from £20. I do not know whether the Financial Secretary will be in a position to tell me, but I should like to know what is the position of a boy. Is the amount limited in the case of a boy, and, if so, perhaps he will consider the advisability of extending to the case of a boy the same privileges that it is proposed by this Bill to extend to the case of a girl. I think the Bill is a very excellent one, and I should like to join with those hon. Members who have spoken on the subject in thanking the Admiralty for bringing forward a measure of this kind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.