HC Deb 18 July 1955 vol 544 cc173-8

10.32 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, 1956, presented to this House on 16th June, be approved. I hope it will be convenient if I move the Motion formally, and then I will try subsequently to answer any points that hon. or right hon. Members might raise.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

We have just been discussing matters which involve a large expenditure of money and are exceedingly complex. We turn now for a few moments to discuss matters which involve only very few people and are relatively simple in content. But although they involve few people, they are nevertheless of importance to those few people, and it is interesting that every year, in spite of all its other preoccupations, the House should take the trouble—indeed, past Parliaments have seen to it that it should have to take the trouble—to go in detail into the affairs of a single school and of two charities.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions about this school and about these charities, in which those of us who have been concerned with the Admiralty take some interest. My first question concerns the expenditure on what are called the Northern Estates. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the charity owns large properties in the North. The interesting thing is that although the figures are relatively small, the expenditure on these estates has, as I see it, gone up this year by approximately 30 per cent., which seems a very considerable increase. I may be wrong, but that is how it appears to me.

What is the reason for this increase? I hope, in particular, that part of it is due to expenditure on the upkeep and improvement of farm buildings, cottages, and things which eventually may make the estates more valuable and will be of use in helping agricultural production and improving the conditions of people who live on the estates. I hope that in this case the Admiralty will be a good landlord, and as good a landlord as any in the vicinity.

I turn now to the question of Holbrook School, which, apart from the pensions granted to seamen through the funds, is the greatest cause of the expenditure which we have to consider today. I wish to raise two points, one of which has aroused a certain amount of national interest.

The smaller point is about the salaries paid to house matrons. I note that house matrons receive a salary of £175 to £250 a year. Admittedly they also receive free board and lodgings, but when their salary is compared with the salary payable to ordinary domestic staff it will be found to be relatively small. It may well be time that the salaries should be reviewed in an upward direction.

The house matron is responsible, not only for looking after what a domestic servant might look after, but she has the responsibility, in a way, in loco parentis for the boys in the house in which she is situated. I think that she deserves quite considerably higher pay than that paid to an ordinary domestic servant. At present, apparently, she does not get it. I hope that we may be told whether it is possible to increase the pay of the house matrons.

The other matter concerns the question of adopted children being allowed to go to this school. There was recently a case, which attracted some attention in the Press, of a seaman who wished to send his adopted child to Holbrook School. He was not allowed to do so. I appreciate the reason. I do not quarrel with the reason, which was that the original deed by which the charity was founded referred to the sons of seamen and did not say "the adopted sons of seamen".

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that it may be found possible to get round this difficulty. I am not quite certain how it can be done, but I hope that it will be possible. It seems to be a hardship, if a seaman had adopted a boy and wishes to send him to the school, if he cannot send him there in the same way as another seaman can send his own child.

Those are the only questions I want to ask. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can throw a little light on them. I hope that he will take plenty of time to do so, because we have started the debate three hours earlier that we usually start our discussion of this subject.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)

I should like to add a few words to the comments made by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), which I am certain have interested the House. I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty a Question last week upon the subject mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, the eligibility of adopted children for the benefits of the charity at Holbrook School. The reply I had was to the effect that under present law it was not possible for such adopted children so to benefit, but that the matter would be considered.

My special interest in the subject arises from the fact that, having been fortunate in the Ballot, I introduced a Private Member's Bill which ultimately became the Adoption Act, 1950. The great purpose of that Measure, which was supported by many hon. Members, was to endeavour to put the adopted child in a position as nearly approximating as possible to the position of a natural child.

In these circumstances, one feels very strongly that where a seafaring man—to use the words of the Charter of William and Mary, of, I think, 1694—adopts legally a child he should have the same opportunities of sharing in the benefits of Holbrook as others. Therefore, I join in asking my hon. and gallant Friend to consider sympathetically, as I am sure he will, the possibility of including adopted children in these benefits.

10.40 p.m.

Commander Noble

First, may I say that I agree with the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) that it is quite right that these Greenwich Hospital matters should be brought before the House from year to year, and that there should be a brief discussion on them. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the most interesting and pleasant duties of a Parliamentary Secretary is to concern himself with these affairs.

The right hon. Gentleman asked first about the Northern Estates. I wish to give him the reassurance that we are good landlords and that the money is being well spent. There are very extensive estates in the North of England of about 40,000 acres, a great deal of which is timber. No income is obtained from the plantations unless money is spent from year to year on thinning and planting, and that is where a great deal of the money goes. The amount varies from year to year. This year it is less than in 1950–51 and in 1951–52.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the cottages. We have a vigorous policy of modernisation with regard to them; seventy-six out of eighty-seven have been modernised. I have visited the estates and seen some of the cottages. A good job is being done, and our tenants are very satisfied.

Turning to the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, which used to be the Greenwich Hospital School, at Greenwich, the answer to the small point about house matrons is that in 1949, when the right hon. Gentleman was in my position, a scale was adopted comparable with the scale for similar schools in other parts of the country. Since then, there have been two increases of salary to correspond with salary increases outside. So far as I know, there have been no complaints from these ladies and we have had no difficulty recently in obtaining their services. Some of these positions are filled by the wives of housemasters, which I consider to be a good thing, as it makes the house even more of a family affair.

Both my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Nield) and the right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of adopted children. Here we are faced with a legal problem. We are bound by the Greenwich Hospital Act. Legal opinion was taken in 1948, when the advice was that the word "children" in the Charter did not cover adopted children. Since then there has been the Adoption Act, 1950, for which my hon. and learned Friend was responsible. Again we have taken advice, which has proved to be the same. Although that Act confers certain rights, it does not place adopted children for all purposes in the position of ordinary children.

As my right hon. Friend said in answer to Questions from my hon. and learned Friend, we are examining the position and considering what can be done. I regret the handling of the case mentioned by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich. If the position of the Admiralty had been explained to the parents in the same manner as I have explained it tonight, I am sure that they would have understood.

Mr. Dugdale

Do I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will make a statement at some later time about what is to happen to this boy? Will he be able to go to the school?

Commander Noble

I was trying to say that I am sure that if the boy's parents had fully understood the position, and had been made aware of the legal difficulties, they would have understood. But they were rather curtly informed that because the boy was an adopted child he could not go to Holbrook.

Holbrook had a good year from a scholastic point of view. Three boys went to university, one passed into Dartmouth and another won a Naval Cadet Scholarship. It also had a large number of General Certificates of Education.

Mr. Dugdale

I am still not quite satisfied about this boy. Do I understand that it has in fact been decided that it will be impossible for him to get in—that the law cannot be got round, as I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman said—or is there some chance that some way may be found by which he can go to the school?

Commander Noble

I thought that I had made the position clear. At the moment, adopted children cannot go to Holbrook—and the boy is an adopted child. If we can find some way round the rule, while the boy still wants to go there, and is of the right age, we shall consider it. of course.

Finally, I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. N. Mallalieu), who have sat on the management committee of this school for a great number of years. We are most grateful for the help and time that they have given us.

Resolved, That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation, for the year ending on 31st March, 1956, presented to this House on 16th June, be approved.

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