HC Deb 07 July 1952 vol 503 cc1020-32

10.0 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)

I beg to move, That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation for the year ending on 31st March, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th May, be approved. I think it would be convenient to the House if I introduced these estimates very briefly, and then, if the House desired it, I could answer any points that might be raised. First of all, we ought to be most grateful that this debate is taking place at this relatively early hour, for my memory of these debates since the war is that they have usually started somewhere near midnight, on one side or the other.

I think the House is aware that this is not public money with which we are dealing tonight. It is what might be called a foundation or trust which has to meet its expenses and pay its benefits from its income. The income comes from estates at Greenwich and in other parts of London, some 20,000 acres in the north of England, and also from investments.

It will be seen from the estimates this year that we estimate for an increase in income. That is due to increases in rents due to improvements and new agreements, and to economies that we have made. That increase is being applied to more benefits; that is to say, more pensions, more widows' pensions and more education grants. We now give a total of nearly 2,000 pensions and grants.

Before concluding, there are two very short points on which I should like to ask the assistance and help of hon. Members. The first is with regard to education grants. We could give more of these grants to the children of seamen and marines, so if hon. Members know of any deserving cases, either in their constituencies or elsewhere, I should be most grateful if they would bring them to the notice of the Director of Greenwich Hospital or myself.

The other point is with regard to the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) took a great personal interest in this school, as I do myself, and I think that he and our predecessors would agree that probably one of the most pleasant duties of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty is to watch over the progress of this inspiring school.

First, let me assure the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. J. Edwards) that we are not going to spend less on this school this year, as it might look from the Estimates. In fact, last year we under-spent on the school, and we have made economies in the running of it, so that really we are spending more. We want to make quite certain that the money spent on this school at Holbrook goes, as far as possible, towards the education and amenities for the boys.

I invite the attention of hon. Members to the school, and I will place some information about it in the Library. It is primarily for the sons of seafaring families. It is a boarding school, giving a good general education, with a naval background. A very high proportion of those who entered gained the General Certificate of Education last year. There is no compulsion to enter the Navy, although 65 did last year, which was over one-third of those who were leaving. There is one cadet now at Dartmouth, and several others in the last year or so gained commissioned rank through other channels. I think the House will be interested to know that at the prize-giving this year, to which I am going in a week or two, the prizes are being presented by an "old boy" who is a serving vice-admiral.

I should like to say that we are very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) and to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), who have served on the management committee of this school for several years. We are most grateful for their help and for the continued interest they have shown. I commend these Estimates to the House.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. W. J. Edwards (Stepney)

I do not think that this statement need take up much of the time of the House. Prior to 1950 a similar statement was presented every year for eight years to the House for debate. In 1950 the present First Lord of the Admiralty felt it his duty to criticise the statement, and in 1951 the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty found it necessary to have a debate on the' statement of Greenwich Hospital.

I cannot see any difference between this statement and that of 1950. Perhaps the present Parliamentary Secretary and the present First Lord of the Admiralty felt that it was necessary while they were in opposition to try to find some fault in the administration of the Greenwich Hospital while it was under the control of the Labour Government.

There are one or two points which I should like to make in connection with this statement. I agree that there is not much with which to find fault. The Parliamentary Secretary has already referred to the fact that there are to be more grants by way of pensions. I should like to draw attention to page 2 of the Statement concerning the item of expenditure which deals with property in Greenwich, as a result of which I notice that the estimate for 1951–52 of £13,450 is reduced to £10,750 this year, a reduction of £2,700. Whether this is due to the policy of the Government in restricting work or not, I do not know, but I should like to find out exactly what that reduction means—whether it is a reduction in necessary repairs to buildings or whether it relates to past policy. It seems rather a big item to reduce the expenditure by £2,700.

When we compare 1952–53 with 1951–52, I notice that, so far as the Hospital School, Holbrook, is concerned. although there is a reduction in expenditure this year—which the Parliamentary Secretary said is really not a reduction —they have gone to the extent of employing a supervisor at £300 a year, which they never had before. What sort of supervisor are they going to get for £300 a year? I should like to know whether that amount is to go on top of somebody else's salary and whether that person is called a supervisor because of that.

On page 5 of the Statement, it will be found that in 1950–51 the number of boys was 641 compared with 648 in 1949–50. I rather suspect that this year the number may be lower than 641. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who is not in his place tonight, although he is usually on these occasions, would certainly draw attention to that point, and I should like to get some information from the Parliamentary Secretary on it.

I should like also to have an assurance that, in regard to the amount of money to be spent on Greenwich Hospital and Holbrook School and in allowing a reasonable number of boys to attend the school, the policy of the present Government is no different from that of the last Government. If the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to let me have answers to the points which I have raised, I do not think the discussion need take too long.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

My comments, which will be very brief, refer to the estates in the north of England, and if the Parliamentary Secretary does not feel that he can comment in reply tonight he may think the suggestions worth considering before the estimates for next year are presented.

First, I want to comment on the question of expenditure on the estates in the north of England. I am not questioning the figure, which happens in this case to be more than the amount spent last year. When estimates for the management of property of this sort are prepared, the expenditure ought to be broken down under two headings, the first to maintain the existing annual value and the second which will bear interest or additional rent and, hence, amounts to improvements.

I am sure all hon. Members would like to know whether it is the policy of the Government to improve these estates in the north of England little by little. and to increase the annual revenue to be obtained from them, or whether the figure of £13,850 is what is considered necessary to maintain the existing rent and do no more than that. An important principle underlies that comment.

My second point is a more general one. These estates are of very great interest, and not least to hon. Members of this House, since I believe they came into the possession of Greenwich Hospital through the attainder of one of the forebears of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) who backed the wrong horse at the time of the Jacobite Rebellions. While he and his family are the losers, the 641 boys born on the establishment and those receiving pensions through the centuries have been the gainers, and I am sure they would all like us to express our gratitude to him.

The area of the estates was given as 20,000 acres. The estates have one feature which I believe to be unique in this country, and that is that many of the farms are not let on the sort of lease which is common in Scotland, nor on the annual tenancy agreement which is common in England, but are let for a very small ground rent for a very long term of years, in some cases several hundred years. I know no other estate in this country which may be managed on that principle.

It would be interesting to know whether the £24,000 represents the full annual value of the 20,000 acres, or whether it represents the full annual value of only a part of it and a peppercorn rent for the remainder. In fact, can we look forward at some future date to a substantial reversionary value, because it may well be that a very large sum will accrue? It would be useful for us to know that next year, even if we cannot be told this year, and I hope the estimates for the next year will give a little more information on both the points which I have raised.

10.14 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

For about 20 years until October, 1944, this statement had not been discussed. I raised the issue that year, and the results were most beneficial. The Board of Admiralty are, in effect, the trustees of the school, and up to that time they had rather neglected their duties. As a result of that very useful debate, in which the present First Lord of the Admiralty and I took part, and in which one or two other hon. Gentlemen joined, a very drastic reform was brought about in the administration of the school, which is a very large one, having 641 boys.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why it is that he was so economical or cheeseparing in regard to the cost per boy. It will be seen on page 5 of the Report that in 1945–46 the cost per boy was £173 5s. It is estimated for this year that it will be £206, and, whatever may be said about the cost of living. I am quite satisfied that it has gone up pro rata more than the difference between £173 and £206. I hope that in administering this school my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary have not been too cheeseparing and that the boys are not being treated inadequately An interesting point was raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite about getting a supervisor for £300. I do not know what union he belongs to, but I do not think we will get a very good supervisor for £300 a year today. I hope there will be some comment on that because it seems rather small, particularly when set against an infirmary sister at £342 and who is given furnished quarters and her board. I was wondering whether the supervisor has furnished accommodation. I am afraid not. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman opposite must bear in mind that he probably fixed the rate of pay, and so he must not absolve himself from the responsibility for the payment of this supervisor. I think I am right in saying that the rate is the same as last year.

Mr. W. J. Edwards

No, there was no rate last year. This is an additional appointment.

Sir H. Williams

I apologise, I did not know it was an additional appointment. I should like to know what they are supervising anyhow, because if the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. J. Edwards) got on without a supervisor, I wonder why my hon. and gallant Friend has to have a rather underpaid one. That is a legitimate point to raise.

The real issue I want to raise is whether the Board of Admiralty are satisfied that they are now administering this important school properly, because the Board of Admiralty have a few jobs on as well, and it was in the interests of the people that some of us raised this issue in 1944—the first time it had been raised in 20 years. I hope that this school is receiving proper attention, I do not say from the whole of the Board of Admiralty, but from some of them, and that they go down now and then and give it the "once-over" to make sure it is properly conducted.

10.18 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

I shall detain the House for one minute only. I was interested in the statement of the Minister that there was difficulty in filling all the places at this school. That is abnormal in a state school at the present moment, and I hope the Minister will say a word or two more about the method of selection and the means that he adopts to let the public know about the places there are at this school.

Will the Minister tell us the age of entry and the financial burden that is placed upon the parents whose child has secured a place; and what information he can convey to the local education authorities about the places that are obtainable in this school so that we may see that the local education authorities, who have numbers of pupils who could profit by the education that takes place at this excellent school, may see that the children under their care have an opportunity of going there? I come from a town where we have to dissuade many boys from going to sea, because we could almost supply the Navy and the Merchant Navy with personnel if the young lads of Southampton who are keen to go to sea went to sea. Let us hope the Minister will give us a little more useful information on this subject.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) commiserated with me upon the forfeiture of the Derwentwater estates, which would not have been mine, anyway. I would return the compliment by commiserating with him upon a less grievous injury which he has apparently suffered, namely, the damage to his arm.

I ought to disclose at the outset what almost amounts to a personal, though not financial, interest in this connection, for two reasons. First, that the Travers' Foundation, which forms part of Greenwich Hospital Endowment, was formerly applied to the Naval Knights of Windsor. There are no more Naval Knights at Windsor, and if there were, it is a matter of conjecture whether they would record their votes in my favour.

Secondly, I come to something of a more personal nature. It was two ancestors of mine, James and Charles Radclyffe who, by the part they played in 1715 and 1745, lost their heads and their Derwentwater title and their estates. The revenue from the estates was taken by the Government and applied to the Greenwich Hospital Fund. The events which took place at that time are not without interest. They involved special legislation and, if the House will bear with me for two or three minutes, I will recite them, if only because, had those events not taken place, we should not now be discussing a substantial portion of the Greenwich Hospital Accounts and, in particular, we should not see it estimated for the year ending 31st March, 1953, that the rents of farms and lands of the property in the north of England be £19,960.

Lord Derwentwater was tried in Westminster before the Privy Council in 1715, and condemned to death. Immense pressure was put upon Sir Robert Walpole to reprieve him, and, as a matter of fact, the Motion in this House demanding his reprieve was defeated only by the narrow majority of 162 to 155.

The legal position in respect of the Government's seizure of the estates appears to have caused some concern. By the Act of Attainder, James Radclyffe could only forfeit his life interest in the estates, and his son was perfectly entitled, by an Act of 1708, to claim them. However, just before his death in 1731, special legislation was introduced which debarred from any benefit of the Act of 1708 any child born abroad—as he was—whose father stood attainted at the time of his birth. That was probably one of the earliest examples of retrospective legislation. It was introduced for the specific purpose of enabling the Government of the day to seize and administer the estates because the existing legislation was not sufficient to enable them to do so.

In 1865 the estates were transferred to the Lords of the Admiralty. It is interesting, though difficult, to compare the rents of that time with whose which appear in the accounts today. In 1735 the acreage was, so far as I know, about 37,000 and the rents were only £6,000. By 1816, the Lords of the Admiralty had increased the revenue to £43,000, including £15,000 income from mines, though I doubt whether I am comparing like with like. Between 1832 and 1884, part of the estates were sold by the Greenwich Hospital Trustees for the sum of £1,200,000. I imagine that a considerable portion of that sum is represented by the investments in the Accounts today.

Anyway, the Admiralty are to be congratulated upon maintaining, and indeed increasing, the income from these estates throughout the years. How very different the story might otherwise have been. For the property and the capital would surely have dissolved in the form of Death Duties and have been spent by different Chancellors of the Exchequer for different purposes.

I end on a gruesome note, for the remains of James Radclyffe suffered a somewhat rough fate. When a deputation of the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners on an official inspection in 1805 went to Northumberland and had one of the coffins opened, the body was found in a state of complete preservation. A blacksmith drew several teeth from the corpse and sold them at half a crown each.

I thought the House might be interested to learn that the history behind these Accounts is a little less dry and categorical than the bare items of expenditure would seem to suggest.

10.26 p.m.

Commander Noble

I think the House is grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having allowed my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) to give us that interesting history. I will answer one or two of his points in a moment, but I will first deal briefly with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. J. Edwards). He said that it was not until 1950 that any debates took place on these estimates. That is not quite correct, because my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) said that he initiated a debate in 1944 and, if my memory serves me aright, there has been one every year since, sometimes due to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who is not in his place tonight, and sometimes due to other hon. Members.

With regard to the smaller amount which will be spent on the property at Greenwich next year, we have a big building programme to come on in the future as a result of houses that were demolished in the war. Since the war, however, we have done a considerable amount of repair work and war damage work which is now coming to an end. That is the reason for the decrease in the money that is being spent. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the First Lord and I have raised one or two points on this matter in the past, and have perhaps criticised the administration, but I am sure he will agree that that is what the Opposition is for, and that is what he himself has been doing tonight.

The supervisor of the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook represents a saving, because this supervisor replaces a housekeeper and a clerk. With regard to the number of boys at Holbrook, we aim at maintaining 660, which is the full number in this school.

Mr. W. J. Edwards

On the point of the supervisor, is it seriously suggested that the supervisor now being employed is replacing two other people at a cost of £300 a year?

Commander Noble

The lady in question is a housekeeper in that sense of the word. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman prefers the word "housekeeper," perhaps the lady herself prefers the word "supervisor." I do not know, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is an economy in the administration of the school.

As I said earlier, we are trying to cut down on the non-teaching staff and on the overheads of buildings which, as the hon. Member knows, are on the same scale as the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. We want to make quite certain that the maximum amount is spent on the boys. Both he and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) asked about the boys.

We are doing everything to publicise the school, and that is one of the reasons why I raised it in the debate tonight in the same way as my predecessor did last year. We make quite certain that some mention of this school is made in nearly all magazines that reach the seafaring families of this country. The reason why we are not up to numbers at the moment is that it is a little difficult in a school like this to realise how many boys are to come up each time, because they have to have special qualifications, and also at what age they have to leave school because many of them go to the Navy quite young as boys.

The hon. Member for Stepney asked various questions about the school. If I may, I will give him a little pamphlet after this debate and will also place one in the Library, as I do not wish to delay the House. I can assure him quite categorically that our policy in running the school is the same as was his. It is a very fine school, and we want to make certain that it attracts the boy for whom it is designed and gives him the best possible start in life.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), we give in these estimates the information we are required to give by statute. But the estimates have to be read with the accounts for this year, which of course will not be produced until September. Our policy at the moment is one of improvement. As I said in my opening remarks, we are obtaining increased rents due to the fact that we have improved the cottages and farms. Ours is a continuous policy of improving the estate. The rent figures given in the estimates are normal rents for the property and are not "certain rents plus peppercorn rents." I think I have answered the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East except to say that there is no cheese-paring going on other than that we are striving to economise in what one might call overheads.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor referred to the Travers Foundation and the Naval Knights at Windsor. Perhaps I might be allowed to add something to what he said, because it is a rather romantic story. Mr. Samuel Travers, who was Auditor-General to the Prince of Wales, in his will of 1724 desired to set up a habitation of seven gentlemen at Windsor. They were to be either superannuated or disabled lieutenants of English men-of-war. It is laid down in the Foundation that they should be: Single men, without children, inclined to lead a virtuous life. Mr. Travers was leaving nothing to chance. These gentlemen were to be … inclined to lead a virtuous, studious and decent life, to be removed if they give occasion for scandal. In 1892, unfortunately, it was found difficult to secure persons eligible for appointment, and I regret to say that the corporation was dissolved in 1892 by the Naval Knights of Windsor (Dissolution) Act. The property disposed of now brings in an income of about £3,000 a year, which is paid out in what are known as Travers pensions. I do not think I should be called upon to answer for the Government of the day for the rather sordid story told by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, or indeed for the Board of Admiralty of that day; but I might assure him that the Board were not quite so bad as he painted them, because they paid an allowance to the widow of the last male of the line up to about 1861.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that they had to be single men. How could one of them leave a widow?

Commander Noble

The right hon. Gentleman has not realised that I have passed on from the Naval Knights of Windsor to my hon. Friend's ancestors.

There is only one other thing I may add. Under the foundation "widowers" were looked upon as being single men within the meaning of the Act.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation for the year ending on 31st March, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th May, be approved.