§ 1.3 a.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. 1955, presented to this House on 29th March, be approved.It may be convenient to the House—as I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) and other hon. Members have something to say—if I reply afterwards to the details that are raised. I understand that that will be in order.
§ 1.4 a.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I beg to move, "That the debate be now adjourned."
In view of the statement that we have had from the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, he clearly anticipates a substantial debate and, indeed, he is not mistaken. He has specifically referred to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who has come here in order to make a speech upon this issue—as I understand from the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, who anticipates further speeches. In that case 226 I think it would be appropriate, in view of the lateness of the hour, if we were to adjourn the debate so that we may have the opportunity of hearing the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary on another occasion, together with my hon. and gallant Friend. We are always anxious to hear him, and although the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) desires to stay here, I am not at all sure that his desire is shared by the rest of his colleagues. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman anticipates a substantial debate, it should take place at an appropriate time when hon. Members are more alert than they are at the present time.
§ 1.6 a.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Hull, East)
I make no apology for addressing the House at this hour of the night, because it is entirely the Government's fault that this Motion is being debated at this hour. I am under no illusion at seeing the galaxy of hon. Members on the other side. I know they are interested in neither what I am going to say nor the subject matter of the Motion. The subjects of this Motion are, among others, pensions for officers and seamen of the Navy and the education of orphans, and no Tory Member has ever before evinced an iota of interest in either of those subjects. They have not come here tonight to speak on behalf of the officers and men or of their widows or their orphans. They are interested only in going home.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
There are more than 100 Members on this side and only six on the hon. and gallant Member's side.
§ Commander Pursey
That gives me the introduction for my next point. I shall be quite happy if the remainder of hon. Members opposite provide me with points to talk about, because then I shall be able to give three or four hours' instead of one hour's entertainment.
There is no question about the importance of this Motion. It appears innocent, but it covers a multitude of sins. We have been discussing millions of pounds. This Motion covers a matter 227 of £4 million. I shall refer to two documents, the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of the Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation for the year 1954–55 and the Accounts for 1952–53. On page 3 of the Accounts we are told that the total stocks are worth £4,116,881. On page 3 of the first document we are told that the total estimated income is £270,954; on page 6 we are told the total expenditure is £270,890. That means a credit balance of £64, but it is not shown as such. The question is why the income is approximately only £250,000 on £4 million of stocks, which includes valuable property, or a return of only 6 per cent.
The estates are indicated in general terms—Revenue from estates in the North of England, Revenue from property in Greenwich—which I understand includes the market, which should be a valuable property producing a good income—Revenue from other property, Interest on British Government securities; Interest on Australia stockand other stock. I shall not deal with each item in turn. In addition, there is a Parliamentary grant of £4,000 and then there is a transfer from the Reade Foundation of another £20,000.
Surely, from all these sources the income ought to be higher than it is. My first question is, has not the time arrived for a complete inquiry as to whether the present means is the best means of making use of this £4 million for the advantage of the widows and orphans of officers and ratings who were lost in the service of the State?
The next question is, where is money being lost? Obviously money is being lost, and there must be a considerable number of these estates, either in total or individually, which are not paying their way. If that is so, they should be disposed of and the money used to better advantage. Is not this the opportune moment to reconsider the whole of the organisation of Greenwich Hospital, its stocks, income and expenditure? The roots of this organisation go back some three centuries to 1694, the time of William and Mary, and I believe that it may well have had associations with Nell Gwyn.
228 A good place to consider an investigation and reorganisation is obviously at the top. Let us start by considering the director. I understand that the present director is an ex-Admiralty civil servant. If I am wrong, I am ready to sit down in order that the Parliamentary Secretary may correct me. I have no objection to a civil servant as such. I have no objection to the present director as such. I have no intention of mentioning his name. But if the hon. Gentleman looks at page 6 of the Estimates he will find that the director receives a salary of £1,655, alongside which figure there is the letter (a) and the letter means that in addition he receives a pension of £1,195-odd from Navy funds. If my arithmetic is correct, that gives this gentleman a total income of £2,850.
§ Commander Pursey
That shows what can be done if one is an ex-civil servant and not a Member of Parliament subject to the strictures of the Conservative Party 1922 Committee.
I understand that originally the director of Greenwich Hospital was a disabled, retired naval officer. This is a naval charity and, largely, the funds have come from naval sources. They even came from the sixpences of the seamen in the Crimean and Napoleonic Wars. They have been built up from naval sources. I ask this question: why should the director of Greenwich Hospital, which is a naval charity, not be a disabled naval officer who has suffered injury in war in the service of the country and has consequently suffered loss of earning power, instead of being a civil servant who has been employed only in some stone frigate such as the Admiralty? It is not necessary that he should be an admiral: it is not necessary that he should be an executive officer. He could well be one of the supply officers, but, in any case, surely this is eminently a position for a disabled ex-naval officer? After all, it is only a director's job, such as those jobs which are performed by dozens of Tory M.P.s in their spare time so that they can vote down other individuals getting a source of income from elsewhere.
What are the duties of this officer who receives £1,655 a year? Is it to dole out half-crowns to the widows of officers? 229 Is it to dole out sixpences to the widows of seamen, or even sixpences to disabled seamen? Let hon. Members look at page 4 and see the figure for the education of orphans, pensions to officers, and other matters. Pensions to officers are shown as £13,500; education of children of officers, £5,000. Five thousand pounds! That is the amount spent on the education of these children who have lost their fathers in the service of the State. Here we have £4 millions which ought to be employed in better ways and an income of £250,000. Pensions to widows of seamen and Royal Marines—and there must be thousands of those—total £9,000, and education and maintenance of children of seamen and Royal Marines, £6,600.
What are the number of pensions, and what are the amounts of the individual pensions? I admit straight away that I have not given notice to the Parliamentary Secretary that I would raise that point, and I will make no complaint if he cannot give the figures tonight, but I do say to him that it is an example of the sort of information we shall want in the future. Previously, the idea has always been that this Vote goes through on the nod; that it need not be put on for discussion at a reasonable hour because there will be no discussion. But there have been occasions when this has not gone through on the nod, and this is obviously one of them. These are only pinches of salt out of £250,000, and it is high time that this whole matter was investigated so that we can see where the money is being spent.
Let us look at the expenditure for staff. There is the director, whose salary I have already mentioned, and then there is a clerk-in-charge at £1,562, and an accountant at £1,195, two higher clerical officers at £1,523, three clerical officers at £1,567. a temporary clerk, £408, a shorthand-typist, £390, a messenger, £330. and charwoman at £170. The National Insurance contributions total £150, a grand total of £8,950, and this staff is housed at Buckingham Gate in a separate spacious mansion when there ought to be some accommodation found at the Admiralty; or, they could be transferred to Greenwich or to the school at Holbrook, with Which I will deal in a moment.
There are other details about expenditure on works and funds and the buying 230 and selling of shares. What it amounts to is that there is in this Department a miniature Stock Exchange that is buying and selling stock and houses, and the whole thing going on as if it is Fred Karno's Navy playing Housey-Housey.
The Admiralty may argue that the main expenditure is on the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook. I happen to know something about that school because, as the House will know from my speeches, although I have not spoken on the subject for three or four years, I was educated at that school when it was at Greenwich, opposite the Royal Naval College. But since it has been moved down to Holbrook, the whole thing has gone completely out of proportion.
Everyone who knows anything about the school knows that it was the most expensive school ever built in this country. The original plans ran to £1 million. It has a church that cost a fantastic sum. It has a large organ which needs, if it is to be played properly, someone of the capabilities of the organist of Westminster Cathedral. Instead, the only guy who plays it is the schoolmaster, and so he gets up to the dashboard, as though at the dashboard of a bomber aircraft, and switches off all the gadgets and then plays it as a harmonium. The important point about that church is that although the school at Greenwich had accommodation for over 1,000, the present school has accommodation only for something like 600-plus, the reason being that having got those expensive estimates, they did not have the money in the kitty to go through with the full programme.
So what did they do? They cut out two hostels and the church. Then they got a windfall from Mr. Reade, who was rescued by the Navy in the First War. He had an estate at Holbrook and other money, and he decided to devote the money to Greenwich Hospital. The Admiralty sent a representative to discuss matters with Mr. Reade. More money became available, and they had the option of building the church or the two missing hostels. I need not give the House two guesses as to which they built. Obviously it was the church, which they use only once a week. Up to that time they had used the gymnasium quite well for church and other 231 religious purposes. Obviously, the thing they ought to have done was to have built the two missing hostels.
At a later date somebody had the bright idea to make a national appeal for an Admiral Jellicoe and Beatty Memorial Fund, with the idea of using the money to build the missing hostels. But the story got round in the Press about this racket and they got no money from the public. That idea failed, and the hostels are still missing.
However, we now come to the cost of the school. We find that the total cost—it is not too clear which figures are gross and which are net, but I believe I have the right figures—is £149,550. There is another figure that brings up the total to something else, but that, apparently. is carried forward from the previous page. Then there is Estimated Receipts of £4,660, which gives an estimated net expenditure, apparently for the school—this is not well cross-headed—of £144,890.
Below that is given the average cost per boy. In 1947, when the number of boys borne was 576, the average cost was £183. In 1952, for 641 boys, it was £212, and there is a note which says:It is estimated that the net cost per boy for the year 1954–55 will be £223.When we consider what it costs to educate each boy and turn to the expenses of the school, we find first a headmaster with a salary of £1,750 and an allowance of £250 with a letter (a) which reads:With services of gardener and boy at expense of Greenwich Hospital Funds.I want to know why a headmaster receiving £1,750 plus £250 allowance, totalling £2,000, should also be given the services of a gardener and boy at the expense of Greenwich Hospital Funds, even though that may have gone on from the year dot.
Next there is a second master with an official residence and allowance, nine assistant masters, 22 assistant masters, a chief naval instructor with an official residence, four clerical officers, an officer-in-charge of works, a foreman of works, a foreman engineer, a chaplain with a (d) beside his name, so we had better be fair and look up what that means:Receives the full pay and allowances of his rank as Naval Officer.There are 11 house matrons, one sister-in-charge, one infirmary sister—
§ Commander Pursey
There are three assistant nurses. If we reckon up some of these items together, we arrive at 22 assistant masters, and another nine is 31, a second master makes 32, and a headmaster makes 33. With 646 boys it gives an average of about one to 20.
§ Commander Pursey
Let me relate that to the national system of education under this Government, with a ban on the building of schools, resulting in the numbers in classes being between 40 and 50. So I am not necessarily arguing everything in the negative. Then we have 11 matrons plus a sister-in-charge and so on, without going into all the details again. What it amounts to is that there is a collection of people here, including Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
Another point of interest, which is never disclosed by the Admiralty is this. What type of boy is now being entered at this school which was instituted in 1694 with one object and one object only, to educate the orphans of the poorest individuals in the Navy, namely, the seamen of the Navy? At that time the regulations did not include even warrant officers. While the school was at Greenwich—until about 1933—taking a total complement of 1,000, it was taking poor boys. The object was to take them and educate them even if they were slightly below standard. There is no doubt as to what the school produced, because contemporaries of mine have risen on the Active List, two to flag rank and one on the Retired List. Those officers commanded cruisers at sea during the war.
So there can be no question about the type of individual who was being properly trained at the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich. But, since the school was moved down to Holbrook, the policy of the Admiralty is to take only the cream of the applications, in other words the best guys, with the object of producing the best results, irrespective of the original purpose for which the school was 233 founded. The Parliamentary Secretary replies. All right, if he has some information to the contrary let him state the schools and where the individuals come from.
The question that follows obviously is: What happens to the boys who are trained in the Royal Hospital School? When the school was at Greenwich the majority went in as seamen boys in the Navy. Those who made good advancement in education entered the clerical branch as writers and ships' stewards, and a certain number, namely, those who were Boreman Foundationers, who instead of being resident were non-resident, coming in during the day, were selected from a higher standard of education, entered as engine room artificers, and a number of those artificers in time won commissions, served as engineer officers, and have risen to the rank of engineer commander.
Surely one is justified in saying that this sort of information should be in either the Estimates or the Annual Accounts. This idea that because for years these two documents are produced—one the Estimates and two the Accounts—and go through on the nod, and this House approves the Admiralty's dealing with £4 million, and with an income of a quarter of a million pounds, should cease. So far as the Conservative Party is concerned, no one is interested in this question of widows' pensions and allowances, education, or even the pensions paid to officers and seamen. It is time that ceased, and that some of the bare bones of this dead Account and Estimates were clothed in some human points, so that we could get to know something about the object of this organisation, what it is intended to do, and what in fact it does.
The ground on which this school stands was a free gift. It was 850 acres, and a small part of it is left, but part is used as a home farm. It would be of interest to know more about this home farm; why it is still run as a home farm by the Greenwich Hospital organisation, and what happens to the produce of the farm, because today, with the freeing of meat from control, there ought to be a greater demand for Lord Woolton's real red meat, as announced in his election speech, particularly at a price which the lower income group can afford to pay. Instead of it being used 234 to go anywhere into the kitty, the home farm might be used to some advantage to Greenwich Hospital, or the school, or something else tied up with the Greenwich Hospital organisation, instead of simply for the benefit of the farmer who happens to have been selected to run it.
Then, as a matter of interest, there is the Reade Foundation, about which there happens to be a footnote at the bottom of page six. It refers to a sum, at present approximately £110,000, to provide income to pay annuities, and a further £100,000 for the purpose of a cumulative investment in accordance with Mr. Reade's will. The income from the Admiralty portion in the current financial year is estimated at £23,200. Provision is being made for £19,000 of this sum to be transferred to Greenwich Hospital Account, and the balance will be transferred to capital account for investment. In the '30s the Select Committee on Estimates went into the whole of these Accounts and produced a very caustic Report. I intend to go on putting down Questions to ventilate some of these points, and so I do not propose to delay the House unduly tonight.
This is not a speech prepared for the occasion. What I am saying is just an example—although the Government Front Bench have let their rabbit get away—that it is possible to harass the Government in the trenches as was advocated by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury when he was in Opposition. This is an example of a preliminary skirmish over the ground, picking out here and there points which occur to anyone with any idea of facts and figures. I hope that several hon. Members opposite who are interested in the welfare of widows of seamen and the education of orphans will deal with some of these figures, particularly if they have a knowledge of directorships and figures.
This is simply an example of Don Quixote tilting at some of the many windmills which are available, but I warn the Admiralty and the Government that the Opposition is not going to stand for this procedure any longer. This subject is of sufficient importance for Active Service officers and ratings and ex-Service officers and ratings, particularly disabled ex-Service officers and ratings, to know more about it: to know what pensions are available in what amount and to 235 whom; and to know what fees are available for the education of the orphans of officers and serving men and also ex-serving men. Service and ex-Service officers and ratings have a right to know how the £4 million is administered and why there is not more income than there is. If there are estates which are derelict and should be disposed of, well and good. A comprehensive review should be made of the whole organisation from top to bottom, including the school and whether the best value is being got out of the school by the boys resident there.
I have stated before that the whole policy of the Minister of Pensions and the country is not to take youngsters at the age of 11 and segregate them in a monastery. We have killed that nonsense at Dartmouth College for cadets after a century. Now it is obvious that it was always boloney to say that we must collect them young to get them into the Navy, particularly when we realise that many of those going to the Royal Hospital School do not go into the Navy.
There is no doubt that the money which is spent on the school to educate 646 boys would be better spent on arranging for those boys to be at home. It is exceptional for both parents to be dead because the loss occurs mainly through the service of the father in the Navy, particularly in war. It would be better for those boys to be at home with their remaining parents. Incidentally, it would be interesting to know how many of the boys at the school today have both parents alive: I believe that would be so in the majority of cases. However, instead of being segregated in a monastery, the boys should be at home being brought up as normal individuals.
Why, because a boy has lost his father, should he be segregated in an orphanage like I was from 11 to 15. It is not done for officers' children. They are given a bursary. If an officer's child is entitled to a bursary to go to a school of the choice of his parents, and other means are found to enable that child to mix with his contemporaries and get into the walk of life his parents or guardians decided, why should a seaman's son have his career decided at 11 without any option. If any hon. Gentleman opposite thinks I am wrong, he had better check it 236 up. You have got the information. I have got to seek it. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, let him stand on his feet.
§ Commander Pursey
Mr. Speaker is able to take care of himself without obnoxious interventions with irrelevancies and nonsense by an individual who does not know the first thing about what I am discussing and has no interest either in the officers, the men, their widows or their orphans. He has got the same information as I have. I have told him where it is. All he needs to do is to go to the Vote Office and get a copy of the Accounts and Estimates. Then he will be able to make a marvellous contribution—preferably standing on his head.
The Admiralty has the money for the education of the sons of seamen, leading seamen, petty officers, and maybe warrant officers, but they do not use it to the best advantage of the orphans of fathers who have been lost on war service by giving them bursaries for public schools. As for the Royal Hospital School, I suggest the Admiralty should close it down. There are plenty of purposes for which it could be used. It could be used as a hospital: there is accommodation for staffs, and no doubt the Minister of Health would be happy to take it over from the Admiralty.
It is nothing new to have this subject debated at this hour. I ran a campaign about it when I came into the House in 1945, and my maiden speech was made at 1.5 a.m. At that time the Tory Party were in Opposition, and there was only one member present on these benches. He was the son of an ex-captain of the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, and suddenly he heard something he thought he knew about. He registered some attention in the debate but did not participate. We have had no contribution from the Tory Party in our debates on this matter, except from the hon. Baronet for Croydon East (Sir H. Williams) who poses as the only individual who has ever taken part in, or has any interest in, this subject. He has always talked nonsense, because it was not until the matter was ventilated by Labour Members when the school was 237 transferred from Greenwich to Holbrook that the subject came up for discussion.
I warn the Admiralty and the Government that we are not satisfied with this business being sandwiched in between bits and pieces at the end of the day when we have discussed several items, some of which are subject to an allocation of time order. There was never any question of several items getting through quickly. The Third Reading of the Finance Bill was timed: there was other important business dealing with the Army and Air Force, which the Government thought they would steam-roller through on the nod. But the days of "on the nod" are finished. The total amount involved is £4 million for the officers, men, widows and orphans of the Navy. It is a matter of supreme importance. The figures should be more publicly known. The officers have their own organisation, and when appeals come to them they know where to recommend them.
As to education, it is time the idea of segregating the boys ended and the whole organisation were gone through with a small tooth-comb from A to Z and back again, to see whether a more profitable use can be made of the £4 million, whether the best use is being made of investments, and what is going on.
I assure the Government and the Admiralty that if something is not done about this before next year, and if the business is not put down to be taken at a proper time like other ordinary business of the House, we shall have no hesitation in carrying on an all-night debate on the subject of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation Accounts.
§ 1.47 a.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I wish to speak for myself and not for the Opposition, and therefore I do not speak from the Despatch Box.
The pertinacity of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) is well known. He is right to ask the Parliamentary Secretary his policy in relation to the division of the funds between pensions and schools, and the Minister should welcome a question of that nature so that he can give 238 a considered figure. I appeal, however, to my hon. and gallant Friend, on behalf of the boys at the school. We have exposed matters in the past, and they are well known. The Press have helped us, and every year when applications are made they are willing to give us space.
When the school was started in 1933—I think it was—we said it was built on a grossly extravagant basis which could not be justified on any account. We all know these facts; but that water is under the bridge. The boys are there and the school is going on. It has a corporate existence. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend what good he thinks he does year after year by raking over these 20-year old scandals, which only redound to the discredit of the boys in the school at the present time? It is a fine school. My hon. and gallant Friend has only a skeleton to base himself on when he makes these criticisms.
Why does he not accept the invitation constantly extended to him to go down and see the place for himself? They extend it to him now, and I have not the slightest doubt that he would be a welcome visitor. Why does not he go to see what is being done, instead of coming here year after year and making veiled allegations which are quite unsubstantial to those who know the facts and who know that the school is a fine place.
The headmaster, who has been appointed during the last four years, is one of the best in Britain. The boys are getting a first-class education and the standard is being constantly raised. I do not want these boys to be press-ganged into the Navy. I do not regard it as the job of this House, acting as trustees for these boys, to see that they are required to go into the Navy. Our job is to see that the boys are given the best education they can profit by, and that they develop along the lines most suitable for them.
This school is in some ways a prototype of a really comprehensive school. Some of its boys can get through the School Certificate examination and pass into Dartmouth at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18, or whatever it may be; the natural vocation of others will be seamen boys in H.M.S. Ganges when they leave, and others will be able to fulfil their talent in ordinary civilian occupations. I beg of my hon. and gallant Friend to let 239 them alone, and let the school get on with its job.
The mistakes of the past have, to my mind, been largely overtaken and remedied. I have seen the school long since my hon. and gallant Friend has seen it. Whatever criticisms he may have against the Admiralty's administration, or as to the division between the sums allocated for pensions and for education, or whether the director should be a retired civil servant, an Admiralty official or a paymaster-commander, is all beside the point. For heaven's sake let these boys alone and let the school get on with the job which it has done so well during the last few years of trying to build itself up into a place of which any hon. Member of this House, were he to go there, would be as proud as I am.
§ 1.51 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)
Before I refer to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), I should like to say one or two words about the Estimates in general. As will be seen the affairs of Greenwich Hospital cover a great variety of interests. I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) would agree that watching over those interests is a very interesting part of the job of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. It will be seen from the Estimates this year that we budget for an increase in income for various reasons. There is an anticipated increase in income from our estates in the North of England, at Greenwich and elsewhere, and from our investments. On the other hand, we budget for an increased expenditure for maintaining our various properties as good landlords should. and a considerable increase in the various pensions and benefits that we pay.
It will also be seen that there is increased expenditure at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, and with that I shall deal in a moment. That is, of course, maintained by Greenwich Hospital, and it takes about two-thirds of the total money available.
We think that one-third on pensions and benefits and two-thirds on the school is just about right. It has been like that for several years. I agree with the 240 hon. and gallant Member that the proportion has to be watched. Some of the increases in expenditure at the school are, quite naturally, like Burnham increases but some are non-recurring, like the repairs to the swimming bath roof, and the organ, of which the hon. and gallant Member told us so vividly. At the same time, we take every opportunity of making every possible economy in the overheads of the school.
It is doing very well from all points of view, and last year obtained the highest number of General Certificates of Education in its history. I echo the hope of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, that if any hon. Member finds himself near Ipswich he will pay a visit to the school. It is a very fine school, and the more Members of this House know about it the better. They can then take part in these debates as the hon. and gallant Member wants them to do.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that this is a most important subject. As far as I know, it has not been taken on the nod since 1945, at least since I have been in the House. I have spoken in the debates on this subject from that side of the House, and in the last three years' debates from this side. The hon. and gallant Member talked about the hour at which the debate Domes up. Last year it started at 10 o'clock, and the year before that, before 11 o'clock. Had it not been for certain activities in the House tonight it would have come on very much earlier. I fully expected this debate would start much earlier.
The hon. and gallant Member also referred to the administration of Greenwich Hospital. I think our present administration is good. The Board of Admiralty are the trustees, the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary gives it special attention. The director, who has done extremely well in the past, is a senior civil servant. There is a great deal of business of a very varied sort connected with this enormous sum of £4 million, and we think that somebody with that sort of experience is well fitted for that job.
I rather imagine the hon. and gallant Member is one of the few old boys who has even tried to abolish his own school. That is exactly what he was trying to do tonight. I ask him to go to look at it now. I should be grateful if he would 241 tell me when he last visited the school. I understand that he has not been there for many years, and yet year after year he makes these accusations.
§ Commander Pursey
Both my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman have said I get up year after year to take part in the debate on this subject. For three if not four years I decided to drop the subject—once the new headmaster was appointed. This year I have developed a theme different from that I dealt with before—the complete reorganisation of the Hospital and Travers' Foundation.
§ Commander Noble
I think all the same that the hon. and gallant Member will have a far better knowledge of the school if he will take the trouble to look at it. He talked about the orphanage atmosphere. That is exactly what we try to avoid. He also talked about the monastic atmosphere. He will not find that there. The boys do not have their careers chosen for them. A boy cart take up any career he likes. Some boys go into the Navy—quite a number of them; 53 last year. However, they have gone from Holbrook into every walk of life and profession. There is no compulsion on any boy to enter the Navy.
As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said, the overheads of this school are expensive. It was built on a very extravagant scale, but, as he also said, we want to give the boys the very best we can. We want no boy who deserves the best not to be able to get it. That is our object. There has been no change of policy during the time of this Government. We are going ahead on the lines followed at Holbrook for some years.
As to entry, there is no change in that respect either. I quote from the prospectus:Admission to the school is restricted to the sons of officers and men who are serving or have served in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines or, subject to certain conditions, in the Merchant Marine and the Lifeboat Service. Priority is given to those whose fathers have been killed or died on active service.That has always been the rule for entry, and it still remains.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is it the case that boys are still coming from the State primary and junior schools?
§ Commander Noble
I was just coming to that. They are coming to Holbrook just after they have left their primary schools. They come to Holbrook from schools all over England, but primarily from the home ports of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. Boys of the type for which the school was designed are still coming to it. I do not think there can be any criticism on that score.
The hon. and gallant Member asked about the Home Farm. I took this up with the director the other day and asked why we continued to maintain this farm ourselves and whether it would not be cheaper to get rid of it or to let it to a tenant. I was told that we did better out of it by the present system. It provides the school with vegetables and milk.
Another question by the hon. and gallant Member was about the Reade fund. We are quite entitled to decide for ourselves how much we should transfer to income and how much to capital account each year.
We would welcome any questions or inquiries or visits from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We would welcome any questions about Greenwich Hospital or any inquiries he cares to make about our investments or our estates in the North of England, which I visited last year and which cover a large variety of farms, in both the hills and in the lowlands. They are making a substantial contribution to this country's food production. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman likes to put questions about them or about our property at Greenwich, where we are starting a rebuilding programme, having completed the war damage repairs, he is welcome to do so. He is welcome to ask our tenants whether we are good landlords. On all these things, we are quite satisfied that we should produce a good and proud record.
§ 2.1 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I do not know much about this school, but I have much sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey). After all, he went to this school, and if he is in revolt against his experiences on the lower deck, he knows that I am in sympathy with him, because I am in revolt against the experiences which I went through in the 243 ranks of the Regular Army. He and I can claim that we have more other rank service than the whole of the Tory Party put together, and because we have shared the same sort of experience, I have sympathy with his point of view. I have expressed this sympathy on other occasions, often when I have not agreed with him.
What concerns me about Greenwich Hospital is not whether the school is a good school or a bad school but the fact that there is a hangover from the days of long ago. It hangs over not only the Greenwich Hospital but also the Royal Chelsea Hospital, another admirable institution which, like the Greenwich Hospital, so my hon. and gallant Friend suggested, has its origin with Nell Gwyn.
I recall my hon. and gallant Friend making a speech—perhaps it was his maiden speech—on the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, when he pointed out that Nell Gwyn had an occupation besides selling oranges. It may be that both her occupations led her to establish these two institutions. While the good lady, in addition to selling oranges, may have been actuated by the best of intentions, she left behind a tradition for pensioners of both the Army and the Navy—a tradition of charity.
The pension which I receive as an other rank is one which I do not receive as a right but as an out-patient of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. I understand that a naval pensioner, too, does not have a right to a pension but receives it by way of grace and favour as an outpatient of Greenwich Hospital. If the Parliamentary Secretary does a little research, he will find that I am right. We know that there is a Royal Warrant dealing with pensions, but the atmosphere in which the pensions of the Royal Navy and the Army are administered is an atmosphere of charity. I could give example after example, if it were not out of order, about Army pensions, a subject which I know—and naval pensions are granted in the same way. It is a hangover from an admirable charity which may have been satisfactory in days gone by; but today that tradition acts as a brake on Regular Navy and Regular Army recruiting. The quicker it is got rid of, the better.
244 My hon. and gallant Friend may well come down and make suggestions to the House about this school which are not borne out. Equally, I think that the Admiralty would do well to look at this charity to see if it could not divest itself of it. If this is a school which, as we have just been told, is run on the most modern lines for the children of officers and ratings, then why does not the Admiralty hand it over to trustees? Let the Admiralty pass it over, and let the Royal Navy get on with its job. Let there be something more in keeping with the mood of the second half of the 20th Century.
That, in effect, is what my hon. and gallant Friend is saying. He has protested on other subjects concerned with these Accounts, and if I knew more about this I might find myself in disagreement with him, as I do over his views towards the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. But I do hope that what my hon. and gallant Friend has said will not just be dismissed as of no consequence. I do hope that, instead, the mood which prompts him to speak with the lucidity with which he addresses the House will be understood. The Parliamentary Secretary argues about what he believes is past. My hon. and gallant Friend argues about what he believes still survives. It may be that both would be doing a great service to the Royal Navy by getting together and understanding the protests which are made.
People are not coming forward for the ranks of the Royal Navy as in the past, and the very reluctance which prevents the First Lord of the Admiralty from setting up an inquiry into the Naval Discipline Act is the sort of thing which prompts my hon. and gallant Friend to speak as he does. Let the Admiralty appreciate that this is the second half of the twentieth century, and not the good old days of Nell Gwyn.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation for the year ending on 31st March 1955, presented to this House on 29th March, be approved.