HC Deb 17 July 1956 vol 556 cc1164-82

10.0 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. George Ward)

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, 1957, presented to this House on 4th June, be approved. Looking at our debates on this subject in HANSARD during the last few years, I notice that my predecessor generally moved the Motion formally and, at the end, answered questions which arose during the debate. This year, however, I want to make a short opening speech because I want to tell the House of an important change in policy regarding the Royal Hospital School. Then, with the permission of the House, I shall try to deal with questions which arise during the debate.

The Royal Hospital School represents the largest item of expenditure shown on the estimates which I am presenting to the House this evening. It is, in fact, £160,000. In the financial year 1946–47—ten years ago—the expenditure on this item was £106,000. The cost of the school, therefore, has increased by well over 50 per cent. during the last ten years.

So far, it has been possible to meet this gradually mounting expenditure mainly by careful stewardship of the resources of Greenwich Hospital and also thanks to grants from the Naval Prize Fund and to the generous benefaction of the late Mr. G. S. Reade. But it has also been necessary—this is the important point—to restrict expenditure on maintenance work and renewals in the school and to forgo developments in higher education which we should have liked to introduce.

The stage has now been reached when we cannot defer any longer certain important repairs and renewals. We are faced with considerable arrears of maintenance which must be done sooner or later. For example, one big item is the kitchens, which are now quite out of date. For their reorganisation, the estimated cost is around £9,000.

Moreover, costs will increase in other ways. As hon. Members know, the school, in common with other schools, will have to meet further substantial pay increases to the teaching staff from next October, and there have also been considerable increases recently in the pay of other staff, both industrial and nonindustrial. We also want to pay more attention to higher education.

After careful consideration of the position, the Board of Admiralty, in its capacity as Trustees of Greenwich Hospital, has reached the conclusion that we shall in future have to get some contribution to the costs of the school from the parents of boys who attend. We expect that in most cases assistance towards this contribution will come from the local education authority, and we shall certainly take steps to ensure that in any case no hardship arises.

So far as the sons of serving sailors are concerned, their fathers can now get a grant from Navy Votes for boarding house accommodation. The fee which we are introducing, however, will apply only to boys entering the school next January and subsequently, and not to pupils already there. The cost per pupil at the present time works out at about £240 a year, which incidentally compares with only £91 in 1939.

After consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, the fee has been fixed at £24 a term, or £72 a year. This will probably produce between £5,000 and £7,000 in the first full year which, of course, is the financial year 1957–58. I need scarcely say that the Admiralty has reached its decision with considerable reluctance because it has become a tradition in the course of nearly 240 years that education at the Royal Hospital School was free. So far as I know, the school is the only one of its kind which has been able to hold out so long against the tide of rising costs, and I think that considerable credit is due to the management of the school for the fact that it has been able to keep going for so long. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the decision which we have taken is now quite inescapable.

Having said so much about the cost of the school, I think I might add a word or two about the results which the school has recently been getting. In the 1955 G.C.E. examination, seven candidates were admitted at advanced level and 39 at ordinary level. They attained between them 16 subject passes at A level, and 148 at ordinary level. The average of 3.8 per cent, passes per candidate is very creditable, especially when it is considered that many of these boys were not selected for grammar school places when 11 years of age.

One A level candidate got an award to King's College. One elected to forgo a major award at London University, and instead took a commission in the Royal Air Force. Another went to Manchester University with a Lancashire award of university fees. Another went up to Southampton University with a Kent county High Exhibition and Kitchener's Scholarship.

An old boy at the school has recently gained a first-class in the B.Sc. general degree at Reading University, the only first-class award at that examination. One boy secured one of the first batch of Royal Navy scholarships, under which he will be given a place at Dartmouth next year. Many boys, of course, leave at 16 and I am glad to say that no fewer than 54 per cent. of all boys who left in 1955 entered the Royal Navy.

Apart from what I have said about the Royal Hospital School, and my other few remarks, there is, I think, nothing of outstanding importance to which I should draw the attention of the House in these Estimates. But, as I have said, I shall be happy, with the permission of the House, to deal with any questions that hon. Members may wish to raise during the debate.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

I think I am right in saying that for many years this Motion on the Greenwich Hospital accounts was agreed to annually by this House without debate. Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, was only just frustrated a few moments ago from reverting to the pre-war practice. I think it is a good thing that in most of the post-war years we have had a short debate on these accounts because, after all, we are dealing with funds of a capital value of £5 million or £6 million.

I think that the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary was wise this year to break the normal rule of moving the Motion formally and replying at the end of the debate in order to inform the House of the serious, and, in my view, retrograde, change of policy with regard to the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook. Before I deal with that, there are one or two other matters about which I should like to question the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure that he will have the leave of the House to reply to them and to other points which may be raised by my hon. Friends.

About one-third of the outgoings from this fund, apart from expenditure on property, relates to Greenwich Hospital pensions to officers, seamen, marines and widows. It is some time since the House has been told anything about these pensions, and I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could give us a few facts and figures. Can he say, on what basis these pensions are awarded? Is it on long service, good conduct or hardship, or a combination of all three?

Perhaps he would also tell us how many pensions are being currently awarded to officers, seamen and widows and what is the average pension; or, if it is easier for him, the range of pensions in any or each of these categories. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman feels able to say that where pensions are awarded in cases of hardship, or for any other reason, it merely means that the supplementary pension which the pensioner would get from the National Assistance Board is reduced by that amount. I understand that that may be the case.

I wish to say a word about the new proposals in connection with the Royal Hospital School. The introduction of fees on what, quite clearly, from the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, is a means test basis is a wholly deplorable innovation. I should deplore it even were I satisfied that every other way of meeting the difficulty which has arisen had been exhaustively explored. But I am not satisfied that these methods have been so explored. Before I come to any possible alternative way of meeting the financial difficulty in which the school finds itself I wish to say how I, and probably my hon. Friends, regard this proposal.

The post-war developments at this school have undoubtedly changed its character very much for the better. I have not had the good fortune to visit the school, but I understand from hon. Friends of mine who know it and particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) who serves on the committee of management, that it is a very good school indeed. The results that the hon. Gentleman read out bear out that interpretation. The school record over the past 12 months is most admirable. It now draws boys from a wide social field, gives them a good education and prepares them not only for a naval career, as it used to do, but for many other careers as well; although we note that more than 50 per cent. of the boys still go into the Navy when they leave Holbrook.

I do not wish to engender any political heat about this school, but it seems that in a sense it is a comprehensive school, and, in our view, it is all the better for that. The fact that no fees were payable must have resulted in a feeling of equality among the boys which I regard as a basic essential in any educational establishment. This proposal to exact fees, however modest they may be at first, will certainly put an end to that.

Gradually and subtly the distinction as between fee-paying and non-fee-paying pupils will creep in. There is bound to be a means test, because, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, in cases of hardship no fees will be exacted, and one has to make inquiries to determine whether hardship exists. It is no use saying that no one will know whose parents are paying fees and whose are not; these things always become known in a school. A class element is inevitably introduced.

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that such a step as this should be taken only if it is absolutely unavoidable. How necessary is it? I am quite ready to believe that every reasonable economy has been effected within the school, but the responsibility in this matter is not only with the committee of management. Why is it in this difficulty? Why cannot it meet the expenses of the school from existing sources of income? The answer, of course, is that the school is suffering, like everyone else, from rising prices and from the inflation which the Government have so far shown themselves quite unable to control, despite their promises at the last Election. The Government as a whole have a responsibility, and I cannot see why they should shuffle it off on to the parents of the boys.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that he hopes that the fees, when they are exacted, will be met, so far as is possible, by the local education authorities, but I understand that he cannot say with certainty that this will be the case. I would ask him about the possibility of a grant from the Ministry of Education, as that seems the obvious way out of the difficulty. I notice from the accounts that there is now a grant from the Ministry of Education. It is a derisory sum of £1,485 in all. I have made a quick calculation and I think it works out at 22s. 6d. per boy per annum. Nevertheless, it indicates that the Ministry of Education is able to make a grant to the school.

That grant should be substantially increased. The difference between current expenditure or estimated future expenditure and the present level of income of the school ought to be met by the Ministry of Education in the form of a direct grant. The Financial Secretary did not tell us whether he or the Admiralty had approached the Ministry of Education for a grant sufficient to meet the expected deficiency. Perhaps he can tell us the estimated deficiency for the coming year, and how much he estimates will accrue in the aggregate from these fees, if they are levied, in the current year and how much in a full year. I do not think he told us what would be the maximum proposed fee per pupil.

We have here, Mr. Speaker, a school which for many years—I believe 200, if one goes back to the days when it started at Greenwich Hospital—has educated many boys; now 650 boys at a time—free of charge, without any cost at all to Exchequer funds. I would have said that there was an obligation on the Ministry of Education to provide a grant adequate to enable the school to continue on the existing basis.

I hope that I have said enough to show how seriously we on this side of the House regard the Parliamentary Secretary's statement. I ask him to give us at least the assurance that he will not introduce this change during the current year and that he will examine the suggestion that I have made, and any other possible way of meeting this deficiency; and that, in the meantime, the Greenwich Hospital Fund will be prepared to meet any deficit, which can only be a modest one, which might arise in 1956–57.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make every effort in the course of the next few months to find a source of grant which will enable the Royal Hospital School to carry on on a non-fee paying basis.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)

I should like to reinforce the plea that has been put very effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) that we should delay the imposition of charges at Holbrook School. I have been a member of the management committee of that school for about ten years, and I have found in that time that it is perhaps the most important thing I do as a Member of this House.

It is a very good school indeed. It is good in itself, but it is also good as an example to the rest of the country. It is a boarding school. There may be argument about the matter, but on the whole I think there is a very strong case for boarding schools in this country. It is a boarding school which, thanks to the headmasters who have had charge of it during the ten years since the war, has begun to develop a really comprehensive system of education. I do not mean that only in a political sense, but in an educational sense. It is now providing a first-class education and it is completely free. Nobody just by shortage of cash can be prevented from going to Holbrook.

During the last ten years we have had a frightful struggle with costs; they have been going up continuously. I think that on the whole the costs, so far as the school is concerned, have been absolutely unavoidable. Some of them have not even been debateable, certainly the increase in payments to the staff of Holbrook School. They were getting low pay for very good work, and they are now getting slightly better pay for even better work and I do not grudge that increase in costs at all. We have had that tremendous battle to which I have referred. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave one encouragement the other day that perhaps this battle of increasing costs was now won, and that we were reaching the plateau where costs would even out. If he was not just talking party politically and meant what he said, I think it is quite tragic that we on the Holbrook management committee should now have to recommend to the House, just at this moment after our long battle, when the plateau is being reached, that we should go back on a principle for which we fought for such a long time.

It may be that there are economies on the other side of the hospital foundation to do with the administration of pensions. I know nothing about that at all. As a member of the school management committee I am not concerned with that, and as a Member of Parliament I am afraid I am ignorant of it. It may be that there are possible economies which could be made there. My complaint about this necessity—unless there are economies that can be made—for imposing some sort of fees is directed, not against the Parliamentary Secretary, not against their Lordships of the Admiralty, but is directed straight at the Ministry of Education. It is not necessarily directed at the present holders of that office but against successive holders.

Here in the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook was an experiment which was showing more and more success, which was unique in this country, yet those wretched people in that Ministry were not prepared to provide even a small sum which could keep us going on the principles on which we work. My complaint is not against the Parliamentary Secretary at all, but it is very strongly directed, with everything I can put into it, not only from political background but from experience of this extremely good school, against them. I think it is horrifying that they should have been so ignorant or so indifferent to the work which is being done in this school that they were not prepared to help.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and their Lordships will be prepared to listen to the plea which has been put forward by my hon. Friend that, although the decision has been taken in principle, and although without help from the Ministry of Education I feel it to be inescapable, we may still hope that he will refrain from taking action for a little longer in order to see, first, whether this plateau which the Chancellor foresaw will in fact develop, and, even more, whether we can at last have a Minister of Education who, for a change, is interested in real education.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I have listened with very great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), which confirms what I have heard of the reputation of this excellent school. In addition to all that we know to its credit, we find, by a study of these accounts, that it must be run very efficiently and with genuine and not false economy or it could not show the figures of cost per boy which, in fact, it shows. It is this school, with its excellent scholastic, social and administrative record, which is now to have planted on it for the first time a fee paying system with, one must suppose, all the apparatus of a scale of parents' incomes and some kind of means test.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, first, whether I heard him aright on one point which he made. He said, if I heard him aright, that these fees were expected to bring in between £5,000 and £7,000 in a full year.

Mr. Ward

In the first full year.

Mr. Stewart

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that figure is likely greatly to change in subsequent years? Can he tell us that, because quite a lot turns on it.

He mentioned a fee, presumably the maximum fee, of £72 a year. If he multiplies £72 by the number of boys in the school he will get a figure of £50,000. If he is expecting to collect between £5,000 and £7,000, we must therefore presume that the great majority of parents will pay substantially less than £72. So far so good. But he proposes to save between £5,000 and £7,000 on a school the estimated net cost of which at the moment is over £150,000. For the sake of saving apparently about one-twentieth or one-thirtieth of that expenditure, we are to alter the whole nature and traditions of the school, give ourselves the trouble and expense of administering some sort of means test and bring into question whether entry to this school will be on the admirable and sensible basis on which it has been for so many years. I think we all sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary in having to present this particular piece of business when the responsibility for it lies elsewhere. Nevertheless, if he is thinking of saving only £7,000, is he not ashamed to bring that proposal before the House? What is the sense in it? Is there any correlation between the amount of saving to public funds and the amount of danger to the school? If he is to tell us later that the saving will be much more substantial, that will mean that more parents will have to pay the full £72.

I do not think we ought to let this item go without asking him to tell us more precisely how much money will be collected in fees when the scheme is in full working order, what sort of parental scale there will be, how large an income a parent will have to have before he pays fees at all, and what sort of parent will be required to pay £72 a year. On all these matters the Parliamentary Secretary has so far left us in the dark.

Then we are told that it is expected that these fees will be met by the local education authorities. Local education authorities already have power to pay boarding school fees, not only at this school but at other boarding schools, but it is well known that they vary widely in the use they are prepared to make of that power. On what evidence do the Government say that it is expected that the local education authorities will pay the fees? Have they looked at the areas in which the boys now at the school live? What local education authorities are concerned? What record have these authorities so far in willingness to use their powers to pay boarding school fees? Has any inquiry been made of the local education authorities?

Finally, suppose the local education authorities pay the fees in every case, then what is the purpose of the transaction? Why could not the money have been given in a grant from the Ministry of Education? What is the sense of imposing the fees? Is it to save public funds, to save the Ministry of Education or some other Government Department from having to find the money? No other reason has been suggested, but if that is the reason then it is blown to bits when we are told that the local education authorities will pay, because those authorities pay out of public funds anyhow.

If the Government are frightened of the inflationary effect of not charging fees for boys going to the school, they have just as much reason to be frightened if they find the money from the Ministry of Education grant as if they ask the local education authorities to pay it. Already there is too big a share of the financial burden of education on the local authorities.

Therefore, I say that if it is true that the local education authorities are to pay the fees—all, or nearly all—there is no sense in the transaction. If it is not true, then we come down at last to the point, that, in order to save a certain amount in the Ministry of Education Estimates, the parents have to bear the burden. We are told that there will be no hardship. That means, I suppose, that parents will be given help if they absolutely could not pay the fees and there is an overwhelming case for a boy to be educated at the school; but what about the parents who just can pay the fees? They will have to pay.

It is an extraordinary thing about this Government that apparently they cannot see anybody anxious to get education without, in effect, imposing some sort of tax on them for wanting education. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give further details of this scheme and some more credible explanation of what appears to be a shocking piece of vandalism. It is proposed to alter the whole nature of a school for a sum of money which, if one assumption I have had to make is true, is ludicrous, and, if another assumption of a much larger sum is true, imposes a very heavy burden on the parents; and the whole thing is justified by an argument about the local education authorities which makes nonsense of the whole proposition from start to finish.

We all want to meet the difficulty in connection with this school. It is probably the only completely non-fee-paying boarding school in the country, and a very good school too. We all want it to be able to carry on and extend and improve its work. That is worth paying for, and the Ministry of Education ought to find the money for the Admiralty grant.

10.35 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

The Minister must feel very sad tonight. As one who, in another capacity, did something most progressive for the education of cadets in the Air Force, he is now taking quite a reactionary move in education.

It is a curious and long tradition that makes us tonight almost the governors of the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook. We are dealing with property which was confiscated from a rebel Scottish lord about 200 years ago. It has been used to establish what is really the first, and so far the only "public" public school in the country. It is the departure from that that some of us regret tonight, and which we plead with the Minister not to carry on with.

I have said that it is a "public" public school. Admission is free. It is a boarding school. The children are selected from the sons of naval Service men, independently of the means of the parents—indeed, independently, as the Minister himself has said tonight, of the ability of the pupils. It is a school of quality. We have had occasion before in the House to congratulate the headmaster on the results that have been achieved. I am very pleased tonight to hear one of the governors of the school, himself an hon. Member, paying tribute not merely to the careers which boys from the school are making for themselves, but to the quality and character of the young men whom the school turns out. These are young men drawn from every group of society in the country and building themselves together in the sort of true democracy that we hope one day will be the pattern for the whole country.

We admit that expenses are going up. None of us would suggest that the alternative to the proposal that the Minister has made is to cut down expenses in the school. We know that he cannot cut down teachers' salaries—those salaries are about to go up. He cannot reduce the number of children in the school. To do so would be not only foolish, but quite uneconomical. He cannot cut down the education in the school to reduce his costs. Assuming, then, that the costs cannot be cut, there are only two alternatives. One is the lamentable one that the Minister himself proposes of imposing school fees, and the other is to come to terms with the Minister of Education and make this a special agreement school. After all, we have done this on occasion after occasion when dealing with schools which, though not of this unique character, are of somewhat similar character.

I am rather troubled to hear my hon. Friend say that the Minister of Education is the nigger in the woodpile. If it is true, he ought to be exposed. I think we should know. From what has been said tonight, apparently it is not the governors who are saying, "Rather than sacrifice any element of the uniqueness of the school we must charge fees." Apparently, it is not the governors. In that case, it can be only either the Navy itself or the Minister of Education, who refuses to come to reasonable terms.

I hope that as a result of our pleas tonight it will be possible to reach some agreement, because, otherwise, tonight a curious and long tradition comes to an end. Tonight is the beginning of the insidious seeping away of the first free public school in our history. We, on this side at any rate—and I think the Minister himself, in view of what he has said on previous occasions—would lament the passing of what is really a precious piece of British heritage. I would, therefore, add my plea to those of my hon. Friends to the Minister to think again before taking this step.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Ward

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) asked me about pensions and to give some facts and figures about them. It is impossible to do that very briefly. I am quite prepared to do it if the House will bear with me, but let me first answer the other small points made by the hon. Gentleman about pensions. He asked on what basis they are awarded. The answer is that they are awarded on a combination of all three of the considerations that he mentioned, that is to say, on service to the Navy, on need and on compassion. On the point of National Assistance, in cases where National Assistance arises the amount of the pension is limited, so that assistance will not be reduced.

I will, if I may, deal as briefly as I can with the various types of pensions. The amount allowed for in the current estimates for pensions is £79,900 from the Greenwich Hospital Estate plus £2,550 from the Travers' Foundation. That is the basis of the pensions. The £79,900 from the Greenwich Hospital is made up, approximately, as follows.

Pensions to officers are at the standard rate of £50. That has been so only since 1949 and, therefore, a few officers are receiving more than £50, but none is receiving more than £100. At present, the number of officers' pensions being paid is 247 at a cost of £12,405. Then there is the education of officers' children, and that consists of three separate benefits. The income from the Canada Grant is about £500 a year and there are nine such grants. Then there is the Rotely Bequest. The income from that is about £190, and at present there are five grants of £20 each from that bequest.

Thirdly, there is a grant from Greenwich Hospital funds for the education of officers' children. At present, there are 72 such grants costing £4,212 a year.

Then there are the pensions to seamen and marines. They consist, first, of special pensions. We are at present paying 1,049 special pensions at a cost of about £40,000. Then there is the Canada pension for seamen and marines. We are paying 50 pensions at a cost of £380 a year. We are paying 293 pensions to widows of seamen and marines, at a cost of about £8,000.

Then there is the education and maintenance of children of seamen and marines. That, again, is divided into two, the maintenance of children in orphanages—there are 25 of those at a cost of £1,690—and the maintenance of children at home, of which there are 177 at a cost of £3,968.

Finally, there is the Travers' Foundation which is kept quite separate from the Greenwich Hospital accounts. The maximum amount of the Travers' pension is £100 a year, and at present we are paying 38 of them, 26 at £50 a year and 12 at £75 a year at a total cost of £2,200.

Hon. Members will notice from the figures I have given to the House that the amounts actually being spent are less than the estimated amounts for the current year. That is because it is, of course, still fairly early in the financial year and we have not yet worked up to the full amount allowed for in the estimates.

I will now turn to some of the questions I have been asked about Holbrook School and our decision to impose fees. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North said he thought that a sort of class element would grow up between those who paid fees and those who did not. I disagree. There are many other schools in the same position. This is not the first school to impose fees. In any case, there are at present, and will continue to be, the sons of officers and of ratings at the school, and so far, no element of class distinction has arisen between them. I do not think that the new policy will make any difference.

The hon. Member mentioned a direct grant, as did other hon. Members. They said they felt that there should be a direct grant paid by the Ministry of Education. From the Admiralty point of view that would have been the simplest course. It was discussed at length with the Minister, in 1954, and it was made clear that any grant which the Minister could make in line with grants to other comparable institutions would not be large enough to make a significant difference to the school's finances. Moreover, the fact that no fees were enforced would create difficulties. The hon. Member was right in saying that the Ministry has paid an annual grant for each boy for the past sixty years and this still continues. The present rate is 45s. which, I agree, is very small.

The hon. Member asked how much parents were likely to pay. This turns on the scales used by the various local education authorities which, as has been pointed out, vary to some extent. Under a typical scale the contribution of parents would be something like this. Where the father is alive, and after deducting rent and rates the weekly income is £6, and there is no other dependent child, the father would pay £20 a year. If the father was dead, the contribution from the mother would be £10. Were there one other dependent child the contribution in either case would be nil. Where a contribution would involve a measure of hardship, as I have already said, the Greenwich Hospital would consider sympathetically on its merits a claim for further relief.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) spoke of the importance and quality of the school and I share his enthusiasm. He has served the school for a great deal longer than I, but I share with him an interest in taking part in the running of the school. It is one of the most interesting tasks which fall to a Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Member said that because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed the hope that we were in sight of a plateau, we should not impose fees at this moment. I had hoped that I had made it clear in my opening remarks that, in effect, the school is already "in the red" as regards deferred maintenance, and we shall be quite unable to meet these arrears of maintenance unless we take steps to raise the money.

The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) asked about the amount of money which we hope to raise by the imposition of £72 a year per pupil. Because only the boys arriving at the school on 31st January next year will be paying fees, between then and 31st March, 1957, we shall raise only £500 and we have allowed for that in the estimates. In the first full financial year, 1957–58, the amount will be about £5,000 to £7,000. Then, as non-paying pupils leave and more paying pupils arrive, we shall eventually work up to about £30,000.

Mr. M. Stewart

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if he expects it to bring in £30,000 that means an average fee of £45 per boy? If the maximum is to be £72 and the average £45, there is not going to be a great deal of room for operating a scale to see that parents do not suffer hardship.

Mr. Ward

One has to make a start somewhere, and this figure of £72 is one at which we have arrived in consultation with local education authorities. We shall have to watch the situation and see how we get along. But in any case, by the time we have worked up to our full £30,000 we have no means of knowing how much our expenditure will have grown. I pointed out that we were keen to increase developments in the field of higher education, and that will be to the benefit of the school and the boys attending it.

There is also a point on the effect which the present financial situation is having on pensions. As the portion of Greenwich Hospital income spent on the school has been increasing, the proportion available for pensions has necessarily been falling. Indeed, for some years in the past it has been necessary to limit the expenditure on pensions in order to meet the rise in the cost of the school.

The proposal to charge fees now is not designed directly to rectify this position—I have explained the reasons—but it is to be hoped, nevertheless, that one of its results will be to enable us to deal more adequately with applications for pensions, both from men who, having rendered good service to the Navy, are in their declining years, and for widows. The sums needed for these changes are marginal and there will be no intention of embarking on a general augmentation of pensions. Nevertheless, it may be that we shall need extra money to avoid a reduction in the scale of pensions. That is just another argument For doing it.

Then the hon. Gentleman asked on what evidence we say that the L.E.A.s will pay. We have had certain general consultations with them which led us to expect that at any rate the L.E.A.s will be co-operative in this matter. He asked where the boys come from. They come from many areas, though, obviously, the bulk of them belong to the naval port areas. But the burden will not fall very seriously on any one local authority, though more seriously on the port areas than elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) ended by lamenting the passing of this free education system, as have other hon. Members. I join with all hon. Members in lamenting its passing. I wish we had been able to avoid it, but I can assure the House that, having looked into this matter extremely carefully myself, and having had the distasteful task of asking the Board of Admiralty to introduce these fees, I did so only with the greatest reluctance, and only when quite certain that there was no alternative.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that he is not prepared to reconsider this or to go back to the Minister of Education and ask him, once again, whether he can see another way out of the difficulty?

Mr. Ward

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have done all that. We have explored it as carefully as we can, and I could not hold out any hope of getting any concessions that we have not already got, or of being able to come to a different decision.

Mr. Robinson

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) said about placing the responsibility for this situation on the Ministry of Education. I give the hon. Gentleman notice that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will do all we can to exercise pressure on the Minister of Education and to help him, provided that he is prepared to help himself at the same time.

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, 1957, presented to this House on 4th June, be approved.
  1. ADJOURNMENT 15 words
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