HC Deb 11 July 1963 vol 680 cc1553-97

10.0 p.m.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. John Hay)

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 1964, which was laid before this House on 17th June, be approved. This Motion is one with which the House is very familiar. It is usually taken as an opportunity for a debate on the activities of Greenwich Hospital which, as hon. Members know, has two main functions today, first, the maintenance of the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, and second, the payment of quite a substantial sum each year in pensions.

It is interesting to know that, just 100 years ago, on 7th July, 1863, the House was concerned with legislation about Greenwich Hospital. On that day, there took place the Second Reading debate on a Bill called the Greenwich Hospital (Provision for Widows) Bill. I happened to come across this by accident the other day, and I was astonished to find that during the debate, which was closed by the then Secretary of the Admiralty, a certain Sir John Hay took part and had some rather trenchant things to say about Greenwich Hospital. I hope not to have trenchant things to say about the hospital tonight, notwithstanding what my name-sake had to say 100 years ago.

Hon. Members will have been glad to note that the income of the Foundation is still extremely buoyant. As my predecessors did, I pay tribute to the competent panel of advisers we have helping us with the investments of the Foundation. Relying on the steady increases of income, we have been able once more to make modest increases in pensions both to officers and to ratings and to increase substantially the number of awards to ratings' widows, which now stands at 510 as against 329 only five years ago. There are, however, indications of falling demand for officers' and ratings' pensions, the numbers having fallen slightly to 204 and 981, respectively. The House is aware that, nowadays, these awards are made on the basis of need and compassion only.

Perhaps the salient features in the Estimates are the increases in both income and expenditure on the Northern Estates. Higher expenditure is due partly to the postponement of work during the recent severe winter and partly to the continuation of the wood thinning programme, which, in its turn, has thrown up extra receipts for the timber.

As the House will have noted, there is an apparent decrease of expenditure on the Royal Hospital School, but this, I fear, is unreal. Lastyear, my predecessor explained that we were anxious to put away year by year as, so to speak, a sinking fund an adequate amount to ensure that expensive replacement of machinery when it became due eventually could be made without resort to any unwelcome increases in expenditure on the income and expenditure account. It so happens that the wording of the relevant Section of the Greenwich Hospital Act, 1885, is a little obscure, and the Comptroller and Auditor General was doubtful whether we could properly do what was proposed by the method adopted in the 1962–63 Estimates, where the amount of £4,000 for this purpose was shown as expenditure to be incurred by the school.

With the concurrence of the Comptroller and Auditor General, it has been agreed that this provision, now £4,750 as against £4,000 last year because of recent installations we have made, should be shown below the line. If hon. Members look at page 3 of the Estimates, they will see the figure shown underneath the total estimated expenditure. The result, however, is that expenditure on the school appears to be less. In fact, it will be about the same. Further increases in salaries and wages are being met by lower maintenance costs.

A further point that I should like to make on the school's estimates is that the reduction from £29,230 to £28,700 for provisions does not mean that the boys are getting less to eat. We have increased the daily capitation rate, but the cost has been more than offset because we have overcome difficulties about the milk supply which were estimated last year to add about £1,000 to costs, and we do not this year need to repeat the special provision made last year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the school's foundation.

I turn now to the events at the school. The anniversary celebrations which I have just mentioned passed off very happily in the presence of a substantial number of illustrious visitors who were able to meet the staff, senior boys and their parents at lunch in the school's dining hall. After that, prizes were presented by the First Sea Lord in the Assembly Hall, which had been improved and redecorated and is now like many other parts of the school a building of remarkable interest.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I am sure that the Civil Lord will want to get the sequence of events right. He said that the lunch was held and that then came the prize giving. I believe that the prizes were distributed and that then there was the lunch to celebrate the prize giving.

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

That is not so.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps I can intervene in this dispute. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has the advantage over me. He was present both at the prize giving and at the lunch. I must therefore accept what he says if his memory is accurate. But, since the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) was also present and not only, I hope, took part in the prize giving but consumed the lunch, perhaps his opinion is equally valid. I will not try to arbitrate between the hon. and gallant Member and the hon. Gentleman.

Whether the lunch or the prize giving came first, there is no doubt that the boys were not slow to celebrate the 250th anniversary in their own way. During the year they have won for the first time a remarkably fine cup presented by Country Life for shooting, and the school band entertained the public at the recent Royal Tournament at Earls Court. Two boys have gone to Dartmouth and one to Sandhurst as cadets, and a record number of reserve cadetships has been won at the Royal Naval College.

The sixth form continues to grow both in numbers and in the scope of its curriculum. Twenty-one boys went on to further education, two of them to the university, four to teacher training colleges and 15 to technical colleges. The Services continue to attract leavers, and during 1962 about 55 per cent. of them entered the Services, Merchant Navy and Her Majesty's Dockyards. Academically also it has been a satisfactory year. In the General Certificate of Education, 94 candidates were presented and gained between them 34 passes at Advanced level and 382 at Ordinary level. I think that this is an excellent record of scholastic achievement.

The recent developments have made necessary at the school a considerable building and modernisation programme. Hon. Members have already been informed of the electrification of the kitchen, which is now a highly spectacular and streamlined affair. During the year we have seen completed a fine new boathouse as a centre for the much increased sailing, rowing and canoeing activities, and also the conversion of a stores block into classrooms. This has given us four excellent additional class rooms, much improved rooms for seamanship instruction and art, together with numerous hobby and storerooms and offices. We are now about to embark on improved accommodation for housemasters and senior boys. The foundation stone of a new games pavilion will shortly be laid. This pavilion is being provided, in the main, from an appeal fund collected to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the school. For the future, an additional laboratory to meet the requirements of Her Majesty's inspectors of education is contemplated.

I do not think I should detain the House longer. However, I shall be only too willing to answer as best I can any points which hon. Members may wish to put in the course of what I hope will not be an unduly protracted debate, because I think that there is general acceptance and appreciation in the House of the fact that Greenwich Hospital does an extremely fine job and that those who manage and look after its affairs give splendid service to the community and to the recipients of the benefits. I should like to express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East and to my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland), both of whom are members of the Management Committee and both of whom have long and great experience in this matter. I look forward as Civil Lord of the Admiralty to taking an active part as Chairman of that Management Committee in the activities of the school, and the first step, as I see it, is that the House should give us this Estimate tonight.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

The Civil Lord opened the debate with an explanation of what has been happening largely at Holbrook, which is a slightly different procedure from that adopted in previous years in dealing with this Estimate. I am glad that he has given us this information, but I was disappointed that at the end of his speech he expressed the hope that the debate would not be protracted. He said that the managers gave splendid service to the community and the Foundation itself, and that the people running this school elsewhere were doing a fine job. I completely agree with him.

I cannot, however, see any reason for saying that he hoped that the debate would not be protracted. There are hon. Members who wish to speak on this. The Civil Lord may be hoping, as this is the first time he has had to deal with this Estimate, that he would get off as lightly as possible, but I am surprised, knowing the Civil Lord, that he should give this impression. I was pleased that he was able to announce the modest increase in pensions, and the pensions paid to widows from this Foundation.

I notice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you slightly faltered when reading out the Estimate for the year ending 31st March. Then you stopped, looked again, and said 1964. We are discussing these Estimates, which were published on 17th June, three months after the year to which they relate had started. I cannot see any reason why Estimates of this nature, dealing with a financial year which began on 1st April, 1963, and going to 31st March, 1964, cannot, like any other Estimate of a Government Department, a local education authority or any other public body, be published at the time one expects to see Estimates, that is, before the financial year starts and not when the financial year is one-quarter of the way through. I suggest to the Civil Lord that this might be looked at.

Obviously, these Estimates must have been prepared before the financial year began. Yet on this occasion it was two days after it had been announced that this debate would take place that hon. Members obtained copies of these Estimates from the Vote Office. I suggest that there is no reason why these Estimates should not be made available to hon. Members at the beginning of, if not before, the commencement of the financial year, when obviously they are available somewhere in the Admiralty or the offices of the Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation.

Likewise, we have not yet had the accounts for 1962. I do not know of any local authority which runs schools or anything else which has not produced its accounts for the year ending 31st March, 1962, until three months ago. Presumably we shall not see the accounts to March 1963 for another nine months, yet any other authority subject to district audit would have its accounts prepared and now be waiting for the auditors to come along.

I suggest that the Civil Lord, wearing his Greenwich Foundation hat, might see if we cannot have these Estimates in a reasonable time. These Estimates cover a school, a farm, a whole load of rents from properties in the North and in Greenwich, rents from the Royal Naval College, and also on the expenditure side the pensions that are actually paid out.

I have had a fair amount to do with the running of local authority schools, and I can only say that estimates of this kind, dealing with expenditure on a school, would never satisfy the education committee of a local authority. Much more information would be required. One can only assume that the governors and managers have had a great deal more information and that this is only a synopsis which is being presented to us.

The school at Holbrook, which occupied most of the Civil Lord's speech, has in recent years been the main matter discussed concerning the Foundation in these debates. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary, at which two of my hon. Friends were present. I have one point to make which has been made in past years from this side of the House. I understand that in about 1949 or 1950.

provision was made whereby the sons of officers would be admitted to the school. I am repeating what has been said before, but we must keep repeating it here, that we on this side are concerned, as, no doubt, other hon. Members are, that we should not move too far from the original intentions of the Foundation and that while the school continues there, every effort should be made to try to fill as many of the vacancies as possible with the sons of ratings, for whom the original Foundation was intended.

We do not want the school to follow the path of so many other so-called public schools which started with a similar charitable foundation but, as we know, have greatly altered in character and nature in recent times. It is right to draw attention to this point every year and to bring it to the attention of the governors of the Foundation, because it is part of the job of the House of Commons in connection with this charity to keep an eye on this aspect.

In last year's debate, the former Civil Lord said that every effort was being made, and would be made in the future, to persuade more ratings to enter their sons for the school. I hope that when the Civil Lord replies tonight, we can have from him an idea of the progress which has been made in that direction and of the additional steps being taken to provide information on this subject. That is all I wish to say about the school, but I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) will have more to say about it.

I am more concerned with some of the other aspects of income which accrue to the Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation and which are shown in the estimates. I understand that the trustees of this charity are the Board of Admiralty. Therefore, on some occasions, when sitting round the table—which I presume to be the same table at which they normally meet when discussing other Admiralty matters—they have to make up their minds which hat they are wearing. I hope to illustrate that, in considering certain aspects of the property which is owned and managed by the Foundation, they tend to wear their Admiralty hats when dealing with Foundation business.

This is similar to the position of members of a local authority, who have the dual rôle of having to act in the best interest of the ratepayers, trying to borrow money at the lowest possible rate of interest and at the same time being the trustees of local authority superannuation fund. There is always the thought that they would like tomorrow money from the superannuation fund at an artificially low rate of interest to assist the local authority by keeping down its interest payment. This is something which I have encountered on many occasions as a member of a local authority It is a temptation which must be resisted by elected councillors.

I feel that the Board of Admiralty, in its two capacities, has rather succumbed to the temptation of getting a good deal for some of the property that it rents from the Greenwich Foundation and of paying to the Foundation a rent which is well below the value of the property which it rents from it, in that way depriving the Foundation of income which, if a proper rent were paid, could be used to improve the facilities of the school, which the trustees are responsible for looking after, or increasing, if necessary and when able, the amounts of the pensions which are paid.

In some respects, I understand, the Greenwich trustees—the Board of Admiralty when wearing that hat—have taken steps to try to increase the income of the Foundation in recent years. I understand that immediately after the war one piece of property at Greenwich—the"Trafalgar"tavern—was converted into flats. Then, however, the Board of Admiralty, in the capacity of trustees of Greenwich, reviewed this item of property a year or two ago and decided that they could probably get a better return for the benefit of the Trust—which is what they should be considering when acting as trustees of Greenwich—byterminating the tenancies of the flats and handing the property over to be turned into a restaurant.

I understand that this particular tavern used to be a Whig restaurant where whitebait suppers could be obtained in competition with a Tory tavern at the other end where the "Cutty Sark" now stands and which was built a few years later. I do not know what type of restaurant is to be there now. I have heard it referred to as a Joe Lyons steakhouse, but the trustees have quite rightly decided, in their capacity as trustees, to get the benefit of income by changing the use of the place, and that they intend to do, and, in my view, they are doing that quite rightly in their capacity as trustees. I might perhaps argue against them in their other capacities on such matters as reducing living accommodation, but they do have the legal responsibility to get the best return they can for this piece of property as trustees for the people who benefit. They have closed down living accommodation to get this better return.

The rent income at present received from the Admiralty is £19,050 a year for property at present occupied by the Admiralty at the Royal Naval College, and I would suggest they might get a better rent by seeing if it is possible to get another tenant for that particular piece of property. It is at present paying a rent this current year of £19,050. I put down a Question to the Civil Lord for Written Answer yesterday asking how this rent was assessed and how it was worked out. The Answer I received, which did not surprise me in the least, was that the rent was assessed by the Chief Valuer of the Inland Revenue Department. He, apparently, has advised this rent of £19,050 as the reasonable rent the Admiralty should pay to the trustees for this particular piece of property.

I hesitate to disagree with such a highly skilled professional man as the Chief Valuer of the Inland Revenue Department, but I think I must draw attention to a valuation which has been given to this property by fee Treasury Valuer. It so happens with Government property of this nature that when it comes to valuing it for rating purposes it becomes a matter for the Treasury Valuer. So we have got a direct comparison between the valuations by two Government valuers as to what is the rental value of this piece of property. One Government Valuer has said that the fair rental value is £19,050. The Treasury Valuer fixed last year a rateable value of £12,857 for the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

I think all hon. Members are aware that on 1st April this year new valuation lists came into operation. We have debated that a number of times. They take effect on all property except Government property. Government property will be revalued during this current year.So the Treasury valuer will have to fix another value for rating purposes for the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, and I would suggest, looking at what has happened to the rateable values elsewhere, considering the annual rental, the tenant responsible for all repairs, the payment of rates—the normal type of agreement which exists between the Board of Admiralty and the Board of Admiralty sitting as trustees for the Greenwich charity—that the value for rating purposes of this property, in common with the values of universities, schools, technical colleges, will be two and a half times what it was last year.

I would bet here and now that the new figure will be £30,000, plus or minus 5 per cent., and that that will be the valuation the Treasury valuer will put on this piece of property. So we have one Government valuer advising a figure of £19,050 and another advising £30,000, or round about £30,000. The Civil Lord says,"We shall see." I am pretty certain from my experience of rating and valuation and of what has happened to colleges in London and elsewhere that this will be the case here. I am certain that, even on the basis of the rateable assessment of the property, the rent at present being paid to the Foundation is well below what in fact it ought to be, and the people who are suffering from that are the people who expect to benefit from the income which derives to this Foundation.

One cannot really tell the true rental value of such a property unless one looks at what is there. One can then get some idea of the sort of rent the Foundation should be obtaining. Supposing the trustees were able to advertise this desirable property to see what tenants they could get. The advertisement would be brilliant. It would take up a lot of space in a paper like the Observer or the Sunday Times. It would start by saying that this was a desirable piece of property only 20 minutes by train from Central London, situated in spacious parkland, overlooking the Thames, and designed, in large part, by Sir Christopher Wren. It could point out that the present tenants would probably be moving only because they had duplicate facilities, recently erected at Plymouth, to which they were moving.

The advertisement would also say that this desirable property included some 20 private residences. I suggest that they would be worth at least £750 each in rent, let alone the other facilities available. The admiral's residence has now been rebuilt with war damage payments, and I suggest that the trustees could obtain over £2,000 a year for that alone. It is a magnificent building, vying almost in pomp with the premises occupied by Mr. Speaker. The captain's residence is also very large, and some of the other places are quite big.

The property contains, among other things, 15 tennis courts, 4 squash courts, a gymnasium and a badminton court. There are also croquet and bowls lawns within the precincts, together with a rifle range, two skittle alleys and a cinema. There is also a sports equipment shop and residential accommodation for at least 500 people within the precincts of the building. There are well-equipped laboratories suitable for degree and postgraduate work of all kinds. There are extensive office and administrative buildings, including drawing offices. There is an engineering department. There are large lounges, one of them big enough to hold 10 billiard tables, which will give an idea of the size of the recreational facilities. Other facilities have been created out of some redundant rooms in the mechanical department, which suggests that recreation is considered as more important than education. There is also one of the best equipped dining rooms in the Greater London area.

In addition to all this, there are sports grounds, including football pitches and a pavilion, ample car-parking facilities and extensive lawns and gardens. The new tenants would have the use also of a wide range of useful assets, including such things as two digital computers, two analogue computers and a nuclear reactor.

To let all this for £19,050 a year really is not doing justice to the people who are supposed to be benefiting from the income of this charity. I do not think that the Civil Lord can say that this is anything like the sort of rent one would genuinely expect if the charity were really trying to obtain the maximum benefit for the beneficiaries instead of subsidising Navy Votes by providing accommodation fairly cheaply for the Government 20 minutes from the centre of London.

Mr. Hay

I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is very ingeniously making, but under Section 7 of the Greenwich Hospital Act, 1869, the Admiralty may occupy these buildings with or without requiring a rent. So the Admiralty is paying a pretty substantial sum of money for a building for which it could, if it chose, not pay any rent at all.

Mr. Reynolds

I should not have told the Civil Lord that I intended to raise this point and then he could not have had it looked up against me. Nevertheless, a rent is fixed in the Estimates. I tried to find out by a Question how it was fixed, but all I was told was who fixed it and not how. A rent is paid. If anything like an Act of Parliament is in the way, there is nothing that I can do about it, but there is something that the Civil Lord can do if he so decides and if he can persuade his right hon. Friends to give him time to do so.

I still maintain that more money can be obtained from this property if the trustees wish to obtain it. The present tenants do not need the building and they are paying only this ridiculously low rent of £19,050 a year. I doubt whether they could be persuaded to pay more. The building has a rather deserted air about it on any day of the week, and after lunchtime on Fridays it is a terrific job to find anybody there. The number using the buildings is decreasing almost every year.

The Navy would not want to pay a great deal more for this building, because it is not necessary for the Navy to pay expensive London rents in order to get a staff college and a war college near the centre of London, because such a college could be almost anywhere in the country where there are four walls and a roof for lecture rooms and living accommodation. In addition to that, electrical and other engineering degree work for officers can now be done at the new college which the Navy has built at Marylebone. Very few are using the degree facilities at Greenwich, and it is time that the trustees considered the future use of this building.

While there is a long tradition of naval use of this building, it is not essential that the Navy should physically use these departments and these buildings if it has, as I think it has, sufficient accommodation elsewhere. If the trustees were to approach the University Grants Committee, they could probably get more than £19,050 rent, because the University Grants Committee and the Government are always looking for better university accommodation. In effect, this is an existing university being under-used.

The existing staff and the existing facilities at Greenwich are not being fully used and virtually, by a stroke of the pen, a new university could be created at Greenwich which could take about 600 or 700 pupils at the beginning of the academic year following its creation and be expanded to take up to 5,000 students in four or five years. There is no other part of the country where a university could be created as quickly, only a few miles from this Palace.

It has an atmosphere better than that which exists at any provincial university at present. In the equipment available, it is surpassed probably only by Cambridge University itself, but its facilities are not being fully used. There will be only four students for the degree course in electrical engineering which starts in September, a complete professorial staff for four students while dozens and dozens of young men in this country are unable to obtain a university place.

For some unknown reason, the Admiralty does not want to bring civilians into this school to make use of these facilities. I suggest that the Admiralty itself backs out of Greenwich College and that the trustees get in touch with local personalities and the University Grants Committee to see whether they cannot get a greater rent by turning this building into a university which would obviously retain strong naval connections. The naval constructors department there could obviously remain as a department of the university. It was a department in London University until about eighty years ago when it transferred to Greenwich, and I do not see why it should not be a department of a new university at Greenwich.

There is no reason why preference should not be given to naval officers to take places in the new university at Greenwich. It is obviously better if abuilding of this nature, which is owned by a charitable foundation, is put to some use rather than allowed to become just another monument which people tour on Sunday afternoons, or take their children to see as part of a general tour of the older and unused buildings in the London area. The trouble is that the building is deteriorating to a state where it is becoming a monument. It is empty every weekend, and is little used during the week. We can bring life back to the college and provide more income for the foundation if the trustees will have another look at this matter and think again about the use to which the building is being put.

I notice on reading the history of the college that, in 1759, when these buildings were being used in a similar way to the Chelsea Hospital, but for naval pensioners, James Moncrieff said: Part of that superb building I would dignify with a use not dreamed of by the contrivers. From the couch and sepulchre of age, I would change it into the cradle and, as it were, the forge of youthful merit. The Navy did that by turning it into the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. I suggest that the time has come for the Navy and the Board of Admiralty, wearing both hats, to have another look at the use to which this building is put. Local interest would be aroused, the building itself would benefit, the young people of this country would benefit, and the foundation would get more income if the use to which the building is put were changed as quickly as possible.

10.36 p.m.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)

We had better get this lunch cleared up. The Civil Lord has his bush telegraph to which he can refer, but both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) are obviously wrong. The first thing the Civil Lord did was to distribute the prizes. Then we had lunch, and following that we went to the cricket match. The other sequence does not fit in at all, but we might as well get the record clear. I was interested in the Civil Lord's reference to the 1863 event, but why not tell us what happened then? I have here the Admiralty's detailed memorandum of 1909 which gives far more information than is contained in any other document, and, an looking at it quickly, I cannot see a reference to 1863, certainly not one affecting the school, which seems to tie up with the pensions racket where the Admiralty first offered the pensioners who were living in Greenwich Hospital—just as the Chelsea pensioners today live in Chelsea Hospital—a pension of 5d. a day at the age of 60 or 65 to evacuate, but they would not go. The Admiralty then had a second go, and offered them another 4d. at a different age, perhaps 65 or 70. Having got a few out for 5d. the Admiralty got a few out for 4d.

The buildings were then free, and it was at that stage that the Admiralty started to use Greenwich Hospital as a naval college. When the Civil Lord says that the idea at that time was that they should pay nothing for it, it must be remembered that they were not prepared to go on under those conditions for very long, because, after all, that was the main building which was started by William and Mary for the benefit of the pensioners, and if they were to be bought out, there was then the question of something else being done, not only for 5d. a day for the few that were there, and 4d. a day for some others, but for all the pensioners, and I need not discuss that any further. That 4d. and 5d. a day is still being paid to a limited number of naval pensioners.

Another important statement by the Civil Lord—I hope I have these three words right—is that there had been a reduction in pensions—I am not arguing the pros and cons at the moment—because need and compassion were the deciding factors. I do not object to that. I refer to it because I shall call it in aid for another purpose.

These Estimates contained in H.C. 249 have been referred to in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). I will not employ the same argument as he advanced. The Civil Lord said that these annual Estimates have two main objects. I agree. Originally they were pensions and the school. The Civil Lord now puts the school first and pensions second. I do not complain about that. The pensions are paid out of part of an income from no less than £4 million capital assets. The only difficulty is that there are two documents. I know I shall not get very far on this with the Chair. I have no wish to, except to refer to the second one. The first document contains the accounts, which are passed by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The second document, which we are dealing with tonight, contains the Estimates.

There was a time when the Estimates gave us a lot of information. They gave us the salaries of the captain superintendent, the headmaster, and everybody else, so that we could discuss them. We knew the number of staff. Today the document contains practically nothing. If it is a question of finding out, it must be done by question and answer. I asked one or two questions last week, and the Civil Lord can rest assured that I shall be asking a few more, if not in this Session at any rate next Session.

The Royal Hospital School is the Navy's orphanage. It is no good the Civil Lord shaking his head. It has been so through the ages. My grandfather fought in the Crimean War and had a Greenwich Hospital pension. My father was in the Navy. So was I. There were three generations of us, who knew the Service. It was always referred to in the Press as the Navy's orphanage. That was its purpose.

Mr. Hay

I have looked very carefully at all the documents on this point, because it is not the first time that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made this observation. I can find no trace whatever of this institution ever having been set up as an orphanage. Whatever the practice may have been and no matter what people called it, the fact is that it was never an orphanage—that is, an institution devoted solely to orphans and their maintenance—and it is not now.

Commander Pursey

Admittedly it was always referred to officially as a school. I do not dispute that. From the first it was stated that the object of the school was the education, and also the maintenance—this is important, because maintenance was provided—of the sons of poor seamen and preferably orphans. I do not want there to be any back-chat from the Civil Lord at this stage, because in a moment I shall quote the 1836 Regulations and the 1939 Regulations so that we get them on the record and have no nonsense about it.

The Navy's orphanage is paid for partly by—[Interruption.] Would the Civil Lord care to argue that the idea is that from now onwards no more orphans will be sent there and, therefore, it will no longer be an orphanage?

Mr. Hay


Commander Pursey

If the Civil Lord makes that argument, I shall begin to understand him.

Mr. Hay

I am not pretending anything of the kind. All I am saying is that it is highly wrong and inaccurate to call this an orphanage when it has never been solely for orphans. Today the majority of the boys there are not orphans. A number of boys have lost one parent. There is, I believe one boy who has lost both parents, but it is wrong to call it an orphanage, and it does the school a disservice to call it such. It makes people believe that it is a type of institution which it is not.

Commander Pursey

No, and because it is not the school it should be. It is not being conducted within the terms of its charter and in line with all the regulations that have been passed over the years. This orphanage is paid for partly by the Reade Foundation and, probably, partly out of Greenwich Hospital funds.

I intend to spend my time tonight speaking about this orphanage, at which I spent more than three years; that is, when it was the old school at Greenwich and not this new white elephant. The school was founded in 1712 with the object of educating and maintaining the sons of poor seamen of both the Navy and the Merchant Service, preferably orphans. How many boys at the orphanage today are the sons of ratings of the Mercantile Marine? For more than a century, until 1933, 1,000 sons of ratings, petty officers and warrant officers were educated free of charge at Greenwich, in the building now occupied by the National Maritime Museum. Despite the windfall of a free 800-acre site and about £1 million for the benefit of the sons of poor seamen, preferably orphans, the number has been reduced by nearly half—and officers' sons are entered to the exclusion of ratings' sons and, as I have said, free of charge.

Do I see the Civil Lord shaking his head? If so, I will give him the facts and figures. The school has become so posh that contemporaries of mine, including myself, could not now get into it. In other words, my type is no longer persona grata. However, four people of my period of attending the school, after service on the lower deck, became admirals. Of the present complement of 680, 190, or more than a quarter, are the sons of officers. Only 75 are orphans, less than 10 per cent. There are 12 sons of officers and 63 of ratings.

In the last entry of 39 boys, eight—or one-fifth—were the sons of officers, but none of them were orphans. Thirty-one were the sons of ratings and only eight of them were orphans. The ranks of the fathers of the eight were the following: one commander and lieutenant-commander, four lieutenants and one sub-lieutenant and second officer from the Merchant Navy.

Mr. Hay

And all promoted from the lower deck.

Commander Pursey

I am quite happy to take up that point about their being promoted from the lower deck. That does not write the racket off. Let us have it clear. I have not got it in my notes, but let us make no mistake about this. This school today is the greatest charity scandal of the century. I want to have no misunderstanding about the wicket I am batting on. The Civil Lord has got that by taunting me with arguments which I am quite prepared to debate with him.

For 25 of the new entrants, the full fee was met by the local education authority or by Navy Votes. So the question arises: why were not all the fees paid by Navy Votes? In seven cases, the local education authority gave assistance and the parents paid from £2 to £13 a term. In seven other cases, however, the full fee of £33 6s. 8d. a term is being paid by the parents.

The people originally responsible for the running of the school would turn in their graves if they thought that poor ratings who wanted their sons to go there were being asked to pay £100 to get them into the Navy's main charity and the Navy's orphanage.

I hope that the Civil Lord will answer this question. Were the seven boys for whom the full fees were paid the sons of officers or not? If the answer is that they were, it means that officers who are well able to pay, and whose sons are not orphans, are getting their sons into this orphanage to the exclusion of the orphan sons of ratings and petty officers by whom the fees cannot be paid. In fact, we have commanders' sons there and one captain's son, if not more. Was that captain an ex-rating? Let the Civil Lord answer that. I know that he was not.

A commander's pay today is £2,000 a year, that is, £40 a week. His pension is £1,000 a year, or £20 a week. A captain's pay and pension are higher still. On the other hand, an able seaman's 1919 pension is £1 2s. 9d. a week. and his 1945 pension is £1 6s. 4d. A petty officer's pension is about 30s. a week, after, possibly, 25 years' service. Surely, these are the men who should be getting their sons into the Navy's orphanage at Holbrook. They are the ones in distress in the Tory so-called affluent society, not those who are affluent. Moreover, the entry of such officers' sons is quite contrary to the original charter and the regulations for over 200 years.

One of the Tory Party's main arguments about council tenants is that a council tenant who can afford to buy his own house should not be in a council house. The tory argument about the Navy's orphanage should be that, if an officer with £2,000 a year can pay the fees for Holbrook, his son should be not there but at some other school. Last week the Civil Lord answered my supplementary question, which was whether the position is that for every officer's son entering there is one less rating's son". I am taking him up on his own point. He replies, No. I am sorry, but I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has grossly distorted the facts.

Mr. Hay

Hear, hear.

Commander Pursey

I will give the hon. Member some more facts. He cannot alter these facts. These are lock, stock and barrel correct—100 per cent. official figures and statements. He continued, The position is not that officers' sons are being preferred for entry to those of ratings and that ratings' sons are being kept out."—[Official Report, 3rd July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 361.] What nonsense! During the first 16 years of this new school at Holbrook, 1933–49, all the entries were the sons of ratings, petty officers, or warrant officers and the like. Obviously every commissioned officer's son entered since 1949 has kept out the son of a rating. There can be no doubt about that. There are a limited number of places, and previously these were filled by ratings. If an officer's son is accepted it is to the exclusion of a rating's son.

Mr. Hay

That argument would be absolutely right if it were the case that there were far more applicants for rating's sons and that these had been kept out. The truth is that the total number of applications per term, whether the sons of officers or the sons of ratings, is just about enough to fill the places which are available. It does not matter whether the boy is the son of an officer or the son of a rating. A place is usually available for him.

Commander Pursey

That, again, is nonsense. No applications should be received from officers. They were not received for 100 years. The school was a school for the sons of ratings, petty officers and warrant officers, and officers' sons were not entitled to go there. There were never any applications from commissioned officers. The question whether enough ratings' sons are available as candidates will be dealt with separately in a moment.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

This is an important social matter. Is the hon. and gallant Member saying that from the time of the ancient charter only ratings and the sons of ratings and petty officers were allowed into this great school and that since 1949 officers' sons have been getting entry?

Commander Pursey


Mr. Yates

That is a very important argument and relevant to what the hon. and gallant Member is saying.

Commander Pursey

I am glad that I am able to make clear to the hon. Member what I cannot make clear to the Civil Lord, who ought to know what I am talking about. I will make the position 100 per cent. clear to the hon. Member in a moment. I do not want to mislead him. There was a period when officers' sons were admitted, but it was very short. I will give the years in a moment. I do not want to mislead the House, and certainly not an hon. Member whom I am glad to have supporting me.

I will deal with the relative ranks in a moment, but the crux of the matter is that every commissioned officer's son entered since 1949 has kept out the son of a rating. The school was originally intended for the sons of ratings and it was used by them for centuries. What would other hon. Members say if in a school for the orphans of other ranks they decided to put in the sons of generals and majors? Obviously, this is incredible.

Mr. W. Yates

The hon. and gallant Member is correct. It would be inadmissible by the charter.

Commander Pursey

I must inform the Civil Lord that as a result of his inaccurate replies tomy supplementary question last week I have received several letters from two of the main naval ports, Chatham and Portsmouth, also disputing his replies. I quote: Well done, Sir. Of course, you are completely right in your question on the Royal Hospital School and, as usual, you were fobbed off with half-truths. Another quote: The present aim, believe me, is to enhance the school's snob value and to turn it into a sort of public school. Originally, it had the same status as the ordinary State schools for education from the age of 11 to 15½, not the present extension up to the age of 18, which means that one individual is there for about seven years, whereas two boys could be there for three and a half or four years. That is another bad stage in the development.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

Can the hon. and gallant Member tell us why his correspondent referred to the institution as a school when he asserted earlier that it is known popularly as an orphanage?

Commander Pursey

How clever of the hon. Member. At 11 o'clock at night, that kind of intervention helps the debate considerably. It so happens —and naval Members will be interested in this—that today is Thursday and I have had a"make and mend." Therefore, I am good not only for the first watch, from 8 to 12, but also for the middle watch, from 12 to 4, and it will not be the first time that we have had a midnight innings on this matter. Whether I refer to the school sometimes as a school and sometimes as an orphanage is quite irrelevant. It is simply a matter of journalistic licence with a variation of terms. So that there is no question about it, I will repeat for the ninety-ninth time that the Royal Naval Hospital was for two centuries the Navy's orphanage for the sons of poor ratings and, preferably, orphans. I wonder whether I have made that clear to the hon. Member.

To pick up the quotation again: The present aim, believe me, is to enhance the school's snob value and to turn it into a sort of public school. [Laughter.] There is laughter about this, but if I do not make these references to other people's opinions it would appear that I am wrong, whereas everybody on the lower deck knows that this"racket" is going on.

Another quote: The lads who get a raw deal are the sons of pensioners and retired ratings, who haven't a hope against the officers' sons. That is not what the school was intended for. Another quote: Whoever, like you, tries to get at the truth is met with assurances that all is well. It is time there was a full inquiry into the whole place. On previous occasions, we have had Select Committees to deal with Greenwich Hospital and the school. Since the opening of the School in 1933—I think, in about 1935—the Estimates Committee had some trenchant remarks to make about it.

In previous years there has been criticism of the Greenwich Hospital and school from both sides of the House. Sir Herbert Williams and other Conservative Members used to get their teeth into these things and took a considerable interest in these Estimates and took part in lengthy discussions.

A petty officer with excellent service and of high repute made an application for his son and was informed that he would have to pay the full fees of £100 per annum. Where, I ask the Civil Lord, does a petty officer on a pension of 30s. a week find £100 to get his son into the Navy's orphanage?

Mr. Hay

Either from the Navy Votes, or, more usually, from local education authority grant.

Commander Pursey

All right. Of course, he could not pay this and he had to drop the idea.

I will go on with it. Apparently, this petty officer was not informed that the local education authority may help, or given any encouragement, or information as to how to get the money.

Mr. W. Yates

Who is his Member of Parliament?

Commander Pursey

How will he—

Mr. Yates

From his Member of Parliament. His Member of Parliament, interested in the Navy, could have told him.

Commander Pursey

This is quite incredible. Everybody does not go to his Member of Parliament with his personal affairs. It would be a good thing if everybody did, but do not let us start off in this House by assuming everybody goes to his Member of Parliament with problems like this.

This petty officer made application. He was told he would have to pay £100. He was told nothing else. No other information was given. That is the point I am dealing with now.

Mr. Yates

This is important. The petty officer was told he should pay this money and was not told by the local authority he could get a grant from the local education authority? I think it is scandalous.

Commander Pursey

Look, this man is living in London. I have discussed this with him. This is not correspondence from Chatham or Portsmouth. This is an actual case.

Why is not every assistance given by the Greenwich Hospital to ratings, and especially petty officers, who are the mainstay of the Navy, to explore every avenue to get the money necessary for entry into the Navy's orphanage—pre- viously the Lads' School? I have changed it for the benefit of the hon. Members.

The place for this petty officer's son was taken by an officer's son, whose father could pay.

Mr. Hay

Who was he?

Commander Pursey

So we get another man crying"Stinking fish" about Holbrook, whereas Greenwich was always referred to in the best terms and had the highest reputation. One reason why sufficient applications are not coming from ratings' sons is because Holbrook stinks in the nostrils of the lower deck and, in particular, of ex-Service men.

An example of that is the attempt to get the money to replace the two missing hostels I shall refer to in a minute. A full scale national appeal was launched by the biggest organisation in the country to ask for subscriptions from officers and men, ex-officers and men and anyone else interested, to a fund to help build the missing hostels as a memorial to the two great admirals of the First World War, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jellicoe and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty. And to show the opinion of officers, ratings and everybody else, they would not touch it with a barge pole. All they got was a couple of hundred pounds, and nothing has been done about building these two missing hostels. Surely if they need this orphanage at Holbrook and if it has the reputation which the Civil Lord tries to tell us it has there should be no difficulty. The man who ran the appeal was a man of the power of the man who runs the British Legion Poppy Day appeal, which, as everyone knows, brings in the largest amount of money in the country.

The previous Civil Lord used two arguments to justify the present entry of officers' sons. The first was that officers' sons were entered in earlier times. I will make this clear for the hon. Member. The second argument was—andthe Civil Lord made the point earlier in the debate—that present officers who have their sons there were ex-ratings. But this is straining at the leash.

Admittedly officers' sons were entered over a century ago—[Interruption.] Well, just wait for it, because, believe me, the cards are falling my way, not the hon. Gentleman's.

Mr. W. Yates

At any rate, some officers' sons were able to go to this orphanage.

Commander Pursey

Admittedly officers' sons were admitted over a century ago, but for how long and under what conditions? That is the important point. I will fortify the Civil Lord before I have finished. In fact he will be so fortified that he will be taking off like the Lee-on-Solent helicopter did. The position as regards commissioned officers' sons is quite clear to me, and I hope that I shall make it clear to the House, if not to the Civil lord.

The School was established in 1712 in a small way. Apparently no commissioned officers' sons were entered for over a century. In 1828 the Duke of Clarence, who was then the Lord High Admiral, suggested that 100 sons of distressed commissioned and wardroom officers should be entered. I quote that from the Admiralty's 1909 Memorandum, so that if the Civil Lord wants to question it let him question it now. That Memorandum has more information in it than anything else, more information than is in this illustrated thing which does not give half the picture. To facilitate reference, it is at the bottom of page 18 of the Memorandum on Greenwich Hospital, May, 1909.

It should be noted that even at this stage and earlier, in fact in 1821, the number of places was 1,000, 800 for boys and 200 for girls. There was a time when the boys slept in hammocks, but I have not yet found anything in the records to show whether the girls slept in hammocks or not. So at that time the officers' sons were to be one in 10.

What are of importance are the conditions of entry for officers' sons. I have here a copy of the 1836 Regulations. I have not it in mind to quote a lot of them, unless challenged by the Civil Lord. [Hon. Members:"Go on."] The officers' sons came in from 1828 onwards. The first requirement is …a certificate declaring the boy to be a proper object for the Charity. The following page says that the certificate must read: These are to certify that…son of this parish, is a proper object for this Charity. That certificate had to be signed by the minister and churchwardens of the parish.

Those regulations, with minor amendments, lasted until 1939.

The following conditions were laid down. First, the children had to be those …whose fathers have been killed or drowned in His Majesty's Service and who are destitute of mothers. Presumably the Civil Lord will still argue that these are not orphans. Secondly, they were to be those …whose fathers have been killed or drowned in His Majesty's Service and whose mothers are living. If the Civil Lord wants to argue that an orphan is only a child who has lost both parents, then the figures he gave me last week are not correct.

Mr. Hay

indicated assent.

Commander Pursey

The hon. Member nods his head. He accepts that. These two categories are orphans. The rest of the categories are:

  1. "3. Those whose fathers have died in His Majesty's Service and who have lost their mothers.
  2. 4. Those whose fathers have died in His Majesty's Service and have mothers living.
  3. 5. Those whose fathers have been wounded or maimed in His Majesty's Service or are, after long service, incapable of further service.
  4. 6. Those whose fathers are actually employed on board any of His Majesty's ships and whose mothers have died.
  5. 7. Those whose fathers are actually serving on board any of His Majesty's ships and whose families are numerous and in need."
Surely five out of those seven categories are orphans. The sixth covers the children of a disabled man, and the fourth covers the children of a man actually serving but who are in need. The three main factors are orphans, distress and disablement. What other name accurately described that School at that time than"orphanage"? I hope I have stopped the nonsense talked about what the School was intended for originally.

The question which follows is whether these are the criteria today—being an orphan, having a father disabled in the service of the Crown, being in dire need. How many officers with sons now at the orphanage can be considered as being in distress or in need? The pay of these officers is now £2,000 a year and their pensions are more than £1,000 a year. The thing is incredible and people will not believe it. Even the Civil Lord does not believe it, although he knows that these are facts.

Mr. W. Yates

What the hon. Member is saying is that at this school are the sons of naval officers, now serving in the Navy, who could amply afford to send their sons to other schools. Is that correct?

Commander Pursey

I am very grateful to the hon. Member. Under the terms of the charter and the regulations, which go back for centuries, how can the Admiralty justify the school accepting the son of a naval captain or commander, irrespective of whether he is on the active or retired list, whose pay is £2,000 a year and whose pension is £1,000? These boys are pushing out the sons of able seamen who are getting only £1 2s. 9d., if it is a 1919 pension, £1 6s. 4d., if it is a 1945 pension, and only £1 10s. if the man is a petty officer. Whose boys should be going to this orphanage today, the sons of ratings and petty officers in distress, even in this affluent society, or those of officers sharing in the affluence of the increased rates of pay which are now being paid in the Service?

The former and present Civil Lords have argued that the sons of these officers are there because the officers concerned are ex-ratings. As an argument to justify the presence of the sons of officers, that is equally far-fetched. How many officers who are ex-ratings have sons there? Even so, in the Navy there has always been a distinct line, and there stillis, between pukka commissioned officers, to use a term everybody understands, those who received their commissions at an early age, and those ratings who become warrant officers and long-service lieutenants at a later age, the salt beef squires. Moreover, an officer commissioned from the lower deck loses a lot of"perks". He loses his free tot of grog, his free kit allowance and his rail warrants and so on [Laughter.] The Civil Lord laughs, but these are facts. Until 1949, when the entry of sons of commissioned officers was started, it was always appreciated that there were numerous other schools with concession for pukka officers and that the Navy's orphanage was a school for the sons of ratings.

Mr. Yates

This is a very important argument, for it deals with a social problem. I was in the Army. What is the difference in the Navy between a pukka officer and an officer?

Commander Pursey

I used a term which we know in the Navy. I thought that I had made it clear. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a direct entry officer who gets a commission early in his career.

Mr. Yates

At Dartmouth.

Commander Pursey

Yes. He gets an early entry commission, and he is known in the Navy as a"pukka" officer. This is the officer whose son ought not to go into the Navy's orphanage.

The other type of officer to whom I have referred is the man who enters the Navy and serves on the lower deck. After some service on the lower deck, in the old days he became a leading seaman, than a petty officer, and then a warrant officer. Until 1904 that was the limit of his promotion. In 1904, there were created 50 lieutenancies, known as the"bar of soap" lieutenancies. They were called that because the holder of such a commission had one foot on the retired list and the other on a bar of soap.

I did not bring a copy of the Navy List, but the interesting thing, from the hon. Gentleman's point of view—and it is a matter of social importance too—is that on the advertisement pages of the Navy List there are listed several important schools which give concessions to the sons of naval officers both for early entry and for late entry.

But what is of even greater importance is the fact that the Admiralty has authority, and uses it, to pay the education fees of the sons and daughters of officers in the schools of their choice. To me this is extremely important, because the officers have all the opportunities of sending their children to almost any school in the country with financial aid from Greenwich Hospital, and yet they cash in on the Navy's orphanage at the expense of ratings.

If I am wrong about that, perhaps the Civil Lord will correct me. If he does not, we can assume that I am correct in saying that Greenwich Hospital has authority to pay fees to assist the sons and daughters of officers in certain schools in the country, and the number of such schools is by no means small.

I have dealt with the point about the orphanage, and I have dealt with the point about these officers being ex-ratings.

Mr. Hay

There is one point with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not dealt. What happens when a rating's son is entered to the school and during the time that he is there his father becomes an officer?

Commander Pursey

In reply to that, I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell me the number of ratings who have sons at Holbrook and who get commissions and we shall be able to deal with that point. If the hon. Gentleman cannot give me an answer offhand, I shall leave him to deal with it later. The number is so small that it does not affect my argument. I have not argued that if the father of a boy at Holbrook is a rating and then gets a commission the boy should have to leave Holbrook. I have never in my wildest dreams had that crazy idea. That is a totally different proposition. This is as clear as a wedding bell to me. The son has gone there because he was the son of a rating. There is no question of him leaving. That is a totally different proposition from my main argument. I shall go on using the word"pukka" because we now know what we are talking about. It is a totally different proposition from a pukka officer of the rank of captain or commander, with the emoluments I have stated, putting his son into Holbrook at the expense of a rating's son. It is a national disgrace, and every son of a pukka officer should be ashamed of being in the Navy's orphanage at the expense of a rating's son, particularly if he is an orphan.

What has gone wrong with this School, this long-established seamen's orphanage? When and why? For two centuries Greenwich fulfilled its task according to the charter. It provided education and maintenance between 11 and 15 or 15½ for the sons of ratings, particularly orphans, for entry into the Navy on the lower deck. They were without doubt the Navy's best entrants. Consequently, it is to the Navy's detriment to cut off the supply of a good rating entry to get an officer entry, or alternatively to train them at the expense of this charity for long periods to get higher education and go into civil life.

Mr. W. Yates


Commander Pursey

I do not want to restrict people going into the Navy. Education of individuals going into civil life is part of the requirement of our national education system. The question whether this education at Greenwich was good or bad can be debated on another occasion. It was an industrial school. There may be much to be said against an industrial school, but it could have been changed from an industrial school to a more modern school without standing it on its head. At 14 I was taught to use a treadle sewing machine, perhaps with the idea of a future destiny. I had to make check shirts. I took the first check shirt I made to the instructor. The main thing was to make certain that the collar was put on right. The instructor, a naval pensioner, held the shirt up. I thought it looked fine. He pulled slightly at the sleeves and the body fell on the floor. I had not been taught the elementary difference between a selvage edge and a non-selvage edge and I had not allowed sufficient freeboard. I was also taught to make lovely white frocks with the blue jean collars and tapes, and also the blue jean collars. I assure hon. Members that it was no easy matter for a youngster in those days. Look at me now. Imagine me at the age of 14 having to get three white tapes exactly right on a blue jean collar.

My story moves on until the middle of the first World War when a New Zealand sheep owner, a Mr. Reade, was travelling in a ship which was torpedoed and who was saved by the Royal Navy. That man eventually left an 850-acre estate to the orphanage and, by instalments, £1 million. The money came, and that was when the real trouble started. Plans were put in hand to accommodate 1,120 boys at Holbrook. It was also a question of building two houses or a church. A church was decided upon and it was built. The result was that the number went down to 860 boys.

In 1932 the number of entrants was being reduced and deserving boys were being refused entry. Widows and mothers were crying in distress, knowing that previously their boys would have been accepted. The Civil Lord used the phrase"need and compassion." It was at that time that the process of taking the cream of the entrants began so that the greatest achievement would result, while the most deserving boys, who were in need of compassion, were refused admission.

In 1933 Holbrook opened, but under the same organisation, with a captain superintendent in charge and under regulations similar to those which existed until the Second World War. After the Second World War the real damage was done. I made my maiden speech on this subject at one o'clock one mornng, after which I was congratulated on it by an hon. Member opposite who had been born in Queen's House at Greenwich. He said,"I thought I recognised some of the things you said." The then Civil Lord—our late lamented colleague Jim Dugdale—discussed the matter and later appointed two hon. Members to the Board of Governors, the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu).

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

He first appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), not me.

Commander Pursey

All right; I accept that correction. But the discussion started before my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East took over.

But the appointment of those two hon. Members had the reverse of the desired result. Prevously, there had been hon. Members on both sides who had criticised Greenwich Hospital and the school, and it was hoped that the main interest of the two hon. Gentlemen would be in the orphans. But the result has been to swamp criticism rather than to produce it.

There is no party political argument in this. Under the Labour Government it was decided to extend admission to officers' sons, but only to a limited number. I put this question to the Civil Lord: what was the limit then decided, and has it been increased? Under the Tory Government, fee paying was introduced.

I expected, as the debate started at 10 o'clock instead of 4 o'clock in the morning as it did last year, that we should have the benefit of the presence of the hon. Member for Horn castle, particularly as he tried to get in on my Question last week. But I shall not be inhibited from asking my questions. How many ratings' sons have the two hon. Members on the board of governors been successful in getting into Holbrook?

I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East—I told him that I would deal with this point tonight—would take as many officers' sons as he could get. Certainly, his argument is not the other way. I could understand him, as a democrat, trying to get ratings' sons into an officers' college, as the Labour Party wanted to do in trying to make entry at 13 years of age to Dartmouth College open to boys from all the schools of the country, but I cannot understand anyone on this side of the House wanting to sacrifice places for ratings' sons for the benefit of officers' sons. To me, that is anti-democratisation.

The two hon. Members on the board of governors usually ask in the debate why I make this speech each year. First, I did not speak last year. Second, it is not the same speech. There is plenty of variation, particularly in the figures each year.

The Civil Lord and the governors argue that this is a fine school. I have never said that it is not. Of course, it should be. It is the most expensive school ever built. This is where the money has gone. The main buildings were intended for 1,120 boys, and only 690 are now accommodated. So all the large buildings are carrying excessive overheads. As an example, it has the largest swimming pool of any school in the country, if not in the world. That is typical of the lavish expenditure and the money thrown away.

It is also claimed that a fine education is given there. I have never said that it is not a fine education, but it is amongst the most expensive in the country. My argument is that the school is being conducted with the wrong object for the wrong entrants, whereas it should be conducted for the sons and orphans of ratings for education from eleven to sixteen, or whatever age one may suggest, and then entry to the lower deck and a free-for-all to get as far as they can in the service of the State—and I would not restrict them from entry into civil life. But it is not the job of the Admiralty, and it is not the job of Greenwich Hospital, to be training officers' sons who, as I have said, are in a position to pay for this sort of training if they wish to have it. They also have the other national system of education open to them and also Greenwich Hospital where they will pay for officers' sons and daughters to be educated in the schools of the country. The Civil Lord gave a list of achievements—but of the wrong schools. I will not debate that. I will sum up—but, no; there is one other point.

Mr. W. Yates

Hear, hear.

Commander Pursey

The hon. Member drew my attention to this. I will deal with the argument about not being able to get sufficient applications from the sons of ratings, petty officers and warrant officers. I have given one reason—the fact that Holbrook stinks and that people who would have gone to Greenwich are not keen to get their sons into Holbrook. Picture the son of an able seaman or rating with little or no pocket money competing with a captain's son with unlimited pocket money and all the other facilities which go with it. He would be the odd boy out of court.

The argument is that 18 years after the war the Admiralty cannot get enough sons and orphans of ratings to fill 690 places. That is nonsense. In 1914, 60 years after the Crimean War, the previous major war, they could get 1,000, and there was a long waiting list. I know the argument about the advantages of Labour's social security schemes and I will not discuss that. Parents do not want their sons to leave home and the sons do not want to leave home. The odd thing is that the wrong ones will leave and not the right ones, because Greenwich do not go the right way about it.

One reason for the shortage of applicants from ratings' sons and orphans is that the school is in the wrong place in the country. The Admiralty should have traded the Holbrook Estate for an estate in the south of England, for reasons which I will give. Tribute was paid to the sale and purchase department, which is doing the estate agents' job for the Admiralty in buying and selling and which should have been able to do this.

At Greenwich the boys were handy to the main ports of Chatham and Portsmouth and could get up and down at not too much expense in railway fares. This also applied to parents on their visits. Now we have high fares, and to get from those two naval ports, to say nothing about Devonport, to Holbrook means first of all getting to London and crossing London, and then getting down to Ipswich, or near there, and getting some local transport to Holbrook. Unless a party charters a bus or coach, it cannot be done in a day.

It follows from this that the buildings and money are not being used to the best effect, from the point of view either of accommodation or of finance. They are being used for the wrong purpose, for the education of officers' sons instead of ratings' sons. The money would be better used for fees for other education—that is, to make provision for the ratings' boys in the schools of the country.

The School, therefore, as such, should be closed. We do not seem to have a close-down policy on this side tonight. I did not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North would argue that the Royal Naval College at Greenwich should be closed, and he did not know I would argue that Holbrook should be closed.

Holbrook has some good buildings on a good site. What is wanted is an expert on sites to investigate the place and suggest the best use for it. Two obvious uses come to mind. It could be the nucleus of a county or similar college, or it could be the nucleus of a county hospital. Then, the Admiralty could either sell and get the advantage of the capital, or let it and get the advantage of the income. There is, however, no question that the money now being spent on the Navy's orphanage at Holbrook could be used for better purposes in the interests of parents and of the sons who are now being educated there.

11.52 p.m.

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

Before I touch on the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, which is my primary concern tonight, I want to mention again a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) from the Front Bench about the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Is it really true that the college is now under-used? If that is true, is that state of affairs likely to continue for long? If it is true, would it be possible for the Navy to transfer the college to other places?

If the answer to all three questions is"Yes", the point made by my hon. Friend is extremely valid. Obviously, the site at Greenwich is of immense value and if the Admiralty decided that it no longer had a use for it or could find alternative premises elsewhere, the charity with which we are concerned tonight derive enormous financial benefit.

Now, I turn to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). We are used to the sound and fury of his speeches, although their significance sometimes escapes us. His argument tonight seemed mainly to be that what was said to be right 250 years ago must automatically be right today. I thought for a long time that one needed a diamond drill to insert any new idea into my hon. and gallant Friend's head. I am now convinced that we need an atomic explosion to get an old idea out of it. I understand that the party opposite in the next few months will be looking for a new leader. On the basis of my hon. and gallant Friend's performance tonight I think that he would make an admirable candidate.

He mentioned, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North the question of officers' sons being educated at Holbrook, and he gave a version of a conversation with me which I at any rate could not recognise at all. No doubt, he was thinking of some other fellow. I would never say that in any circumstances I wanted all the officers' sons I could get for that school to the exclusion of the sons of ratings, but I do say that it is a jolly good thing to have some sons of officers in that school.

There is first of all the point which has already been made, but which my hon. and gallant Friend completely discounts, that some officers, about a third of the whole of the officers in the Navy now, gained their commissions from the lower deck, and that it would be wrong to penalise men who have got on by the chance—not the right—the chance to go to this school. About one-third of the officers come from the lower deck. I personally hope that the percentage will become much higher, and in time to come I should like to see every officer coming through the lower deck, as I believe now happens in the other two Services. I think that the Navy is behind the other Services in this respect. It would be altogether wrong to penalise men, who come from the lower deck and get commissions and get on, by preventing their sons from going to this school.

There is another point. Leaving aside altogether those officers who come through the lower deck, think of the direct entry. I think it is a good thing to have some sons of direct entry officers in that school. I personally loathe segregation. I hate class distinctions. I should have thought my hon. and gallant Friend would have felt the same way. One way to avoid class distinctions in the future is to mix up the classes in this great naval school.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman then went on to be, I thought, cynical about the improvements which have taken place in the type of education which can now be made available in this school. It is perfectly true that since the war we have made great improvements there. We have developed a sixth form; we are developing an arts side; in a whole number of ways the educational side has been improved. But all the hon. and gallant Gentleman can say on this is that this is being done for snob reasons.

He went on to say that a person of his type was not required any more in the school. I can tell him—if he happened to be listening—that if by any conceivable chance we could find anywhere in the world an 11-year-old boy who remotely resembled my hon. and gallant Friend, we should welcome him there, because of that 11-year-old boy went through the type of education there, he would not come to this House and inflict the sort of discursive and meaningless speech the hon. and gallant Gentleman has just given us.

This idea which seems to pervade the hon. and gallant Gentleman's thinking, that there are some boys who do not deserve, who do not need, a good education, is a shocking one to me. He was complaining about the length of time we permit boys to stay in this school. He said that if we could only cut it down by half we could double the numbers who came in. That would be second-class education—an old-fashioned, pauperish idea which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has of the kind of education we should give. I am delighted to say that certainly on this side of the House generally and in the House as a whole that idea is totally unacceptable.

Goodness me, midnight. I am not going to go on, because the Civil Lord, I know, has plenty of points to deal with. Therefore, I will only say this. There has been a suggestion, usually privately made, that the House of Commons should no longer discuss the affairs of this charity, that as we in the Commons are not responsible for voting the money we have no right and no duty to discuss how it should be spent.

I very much hope that the Civil Lord will resist any such arguments as these. In this House we tend to discuss things in a general way. We talk about education in general, but here we are able to discuss one particular school, and I think it is a very good thing that the House should discuss, besides the general things, a particular instance. I wish that could be applied in industrial matters too. Of course, if we did not discuss these things in the House we should not have to listen to the sort of stuff that my hon. and gallant Friend has dished out tonight. But thank goodness that the people who are masters at Holbrook and the boys who are there and the parents of the boys who are there are reasonably intelligent people and are able to sort out the sense from the arrant nonsense, to use my hon. and gallant Friend's phrase, of the things that people like my hon. and gallant Friend sometimes say about this school.

I have seen the school at close quarters for about 16 years and I would say that it is one of the best schools in the country and that, beyond that, it is fulfilling the spirit of the aims of the people who founded this charity.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. Hay

I must confess that I have a good deal of sympathy with the re- marks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). If there is a justification for debating as we do each year the affairs of the Greenwich Hospital and Travers Foundation, and particularly the school at Holbrook, I think it incumbent upon hon. Members to try to direct the discussion to the real issues.

I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East that if it were the case that we could each year discuss in detail the affairs of one school in this way on the Floor of the House it would be an excellent thing. But, looking back over a long series of debates since 1945, one gets the impression that this debate always happens to be a sort of carnival during which the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East makes a long and highly inaccurate speech. It always goes on to goodness knows what hour of the night.

Mr. Reynolds

It started late.

Mr. Hay

If it started earlier I believe that the length of the hon. and gallant Member's remarks would be extended accordingly.

I want tonight not even to try to traverse all the various points made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman but rather to stick to the main issues that have been indicated. First, I want to say something about the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). In an intervention I said that it was ingenious. I know that, for some months now, he has been a critic of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and he has very strong views about the under-use of the buildings. He knows, too—and I am not divulging any confidences—that I have told him quite frankly that I will be shortly having a look at it myself. Because of attendance in this House and other duties, I have not yet had a chance to do so, but I should like to investigate some of the allegations he has made on the ground and go into them thoroughly. I give that assurance to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East as well, for he also expressed anxiety about under-use.

The information I have had so far does not in the least bear out their strictures. There is no evidence, that I can find, on paper at any rate, of under-use of the buildings. But this is not a debate about the Royal Naval College, which is simply a tenant. We are debating tonight Greenwich Hospital—the Foundation—which is an entirely different thing. So I hope that I need not go further into the other aspects.

I should apologise to the House first of all on a matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North, concerning the timing of the estimates and the delay this year in their publication. In their timing, we are to some extent bound by the exigencies of the Parliamentary timetable and the difficulty there always is in finding time for the Finance Bill and other financial business in the early part of the year. But I will certainly look into the question of whether it is possible in future for these estimates to be presented and debated earlier.

As I have said, I apologise for the delay this year. There was a delay in the printing for reasons connected with the pressure of work at the Stationery Office. But I think that we have at least had a few days during which hon. Members have been able to look at the estimates, which are not lengthy or complicated. I do not think that the shorter time between publication and this debate has prevented them from understanding the facts.

I come now to the two other points made by the hon. Member concerning rents. I think we have reached a very good bargain on the Trafalgar Tavern. The hon. Member also mentioned in passing the rents of the living accommodation. He did not make a big point of this because, I think, he realises that the six families in the flats into which the building was converted in the 1930s had all been offered alternative accommodation on our hospital estate at Greenwich.

Only one of these families included children, and all the tenants had received not only the maximum length of notice to quit they were strictly entitled to in law, but a good deal of advance warning: Two of the tenants took advantage of the offer of alternative accommodation. The remainder, I am told, were relatively well-to-do—in one or two cases very well-to-do—families and had no difficulty in making other arrangements.

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said about the Royal College's probable value, but on the other side of the ledger it is right to point out that this is a building which, whatever its attractions and advantages, nevertheless is limited in the kind of use that can be made of it. I am not arguing the point about its being used as an education institution of some kind. But in talking of the open market—and that is the measure of its market value in terms of the rent Greenwich Hospital could expect to get—one has to take into account that this is virtually an ancient monument and that the type of use to which it could be put is extremely limited.

I see my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in his place. I am sure that he and his right hon. Friend would get very cross if there were any suggestion that Greenwich might be used for some industrial or commercial purpose.

Mr. Reynolds

I would not suggest that it should be used for any purpose of that nature, but I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If the 20 residences were separated and put on the market, more than £19,000 could be obtained for the rest of the building. I am not advocating that but merely saying how more money could be obtained. However, more money could be obtained from the residences than is being obtained at the moment and the rest of the building could be maintained by the Ministry of Public Building and Works just as it looks after Hampton Court and the Tower of London.

Mr. Hay

As I explained to the hon. Gentleman in an intervention, the Admiralty is under no obligation to pay rent. It pays rent which has been estimated and assessed in the normal way by the Chief Valuer of the Inland Revenue Department and I do not think that we—I am now speaking with my Admiralty hat on—are being either overcharged or under-charged for these extremely important premises. As the time is late, perhaps I may now get on to two points which I want to make about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and also mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North.

The first question is that of the entry to Holbrook School of the sons of officers. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East expressed the views of the great majority of hon. Members. We do not want this school to be run as it was 200 years ago, nor as it was 50 years ago. What this school has to do, as the Board of Admiralty and I see it, is to provide for those who are the sons of serving or ex-serving men in the Navy, officers or ratings, the best type of education we can. The academic record which I mentioned when I introduced the Estimates shows that the type of education provided at this school is excellent, and this is something in which we can all take pride.

It is true that when one goes right back to the foundation of Greenwich Hospital, one finds that there was a specific reference to seamen in the Charter. The actual wording of the Charter is that one of the purposes of the Foundation is: the maintenance and education of the children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled in sea service. That, of course, was way back in 1694, but the hospital did not stand still. Whatever may have been the position after that, Parliament looked at the whole of this matter in 1865, just less than a hundred years ago, and passed the Greenwich Hospital Act. In Section 20 of that Act, clear authority was given to the Board of Admiralty to govern Greenwich Hospital and its schools—at the time there were two—in such way as it wished. I quote the opening words of that Section: The Government of Greenwich Hospital and of the Schools of the Hospital, including the Authority to establish from Time to Time Regulations for the Admission of Inmates into the Hospital and of Children into the Schools, shall be vested exclusively in the Admiralty, but any such Regulations shall not have effect unless and until they are approved by Her Majesty in Council. This is the power given by Parliament to the Board of Admiralty in 1865 to govern and regulate this school in such manner as it wished. There is no fetter whatever on the Board of Admiralty except that the power shall be exercised by Order in Council. There is not a word in the Act about sons of officers being excluded.

Commander Pursey

Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me that Admiralty regulations for entry into the school were such as I quoted, because continuously from that date onwards in every Navy List issued the categories of orphans and disabled and so on which we have mentioned were specified, even after 1945? What he has just said does not invalidate my argument, that the purposes continuously for two centuries were as I stated.

Mr. Hay

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman jumped up too quickly. He ought to have waited until I had finished. Having explained that the power was vested in the Admiralty in 1865,I point out that on 12th December 1883 an Admiralty Order in Council was passed setting out the regulations for the admission of boys to the Greenwich Hospital School. The opening words of paragraph 1 are: The complement of the school will not exceed 1,000 boys, sons of (a) warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, petty officers, and men of the Royal Navy and Marines. Thus, in 1883 there was a breach in the tradition in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have us believe of this school being exclusively for the sons of ratings.

I come down to 1943. In that year a Committee under the chairmanship of the then Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Bruntisfield reported. The Committee came to the conclusion that The Royal Hospital School should remain a School for the sons of seamen, but the sons of Commissioned Officers promoted from Warrant rank should also be eligible for entry. That was a recommendation made during the last war, in 1943. Nothing was done about it at the time because of the war, but on 22nd December, 1948, the Board of Admiralty of that day brought in fresh regulations providing that the Admission to the School will be restricted to the sons of British subjects…who are sons of (a) Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Petty Officers or men of the Royal Navy and Marines. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was a Member of this House in 1948. Perhaps I can ask him now whether he prayed against these regulations. Did he then object strongly to the executive act of the Government, which at that time he presumably supported, opening the door to commissioned officers' sons being educated at this school at Holbrook? Apparently he did not. It is a pity that he did not raise his criticisms then and not now, because all that is happening now is a continuation of that policy, because the present regulations for entry remain virtually the same as they were in 1948.

Commander Pursey

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. This Bruntisfield Committee provides the crux of the situation. The hon. Gentleman quoted some regulations earlier, but the regulations to which I referred were being issued after the date given by the hon. Gentleman, in the Admiralty document of May, 1909. I take up this point of the Bruntisfield Committee.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but we are not in Committee, and hon. Members are entitled to make only one speech.

Mr. Hay

I take notice, as I think the House does, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman retires in a cloud of smoke on this point.

Let me state the current position. The truth is that since 1933 the social and educational circumstances have altered so much that what may have been applicable in the inter-war period is inapplicable now. The school at Greenwich in those years housed 1,000 boys. All of them were sons of ratings. The buildings were not adequate for that number, and the school at Holbrook was built for a smaller number of boys—about 860. During the war the numbers fell, and after the war we fixed the complement at 660. At present the current summer term has started with a total complement of 680 boys.

After the war the school was reorganised and sons of officers were admitted for the first time. Orphans—this was another point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman—receive priority for admission and no orphan who is capable of benefiting from secondary education at a boarding school is turned down. There is no hard and fast rule about it. The truth is that orphans are given a good deal of preference in deciding who shall be able to come to the school.

There again, the fact is, as I explained in an intervention, that the number of applications we are getting from each term at this school is roughly equivalent to the number of places available. It is just not the case that orphans are not being allowed to join because we are letting in the sons of living parents. It is just not the case that the sons of ratings are being prevented from coming to the school because their places are being taken by the sons of officers. It is in balance.

The only check to a boy joining the school is either that he does not fulfil the necessary medical standards or, if I may be absolutely frank, that he does not come up to the proper intelligence quotient and is therefore not suitable for education at this type of school anyway and requires probably some kind of special schooling. That is the truth of the matter. I do not suppose for a moment that I have convinced the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but at least I hope I have got on record in the Official Report what is the truth. I sincerely hope that when we next debate the estimates of the Royal Hospital School and the Greenwich Hospital as a whole it will be realised that the allegations that have so frequently been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman are completely unfounded and I hope that he will think again before he inflicts a further speech of that length and inaccuracy upon the House.

Mr. Reynolds

There is one point made by my hon. and gallant Friend which I thought was very important but which the Civil Lord has not referred to. My hon. and gallant Friend alleged that a petty officer on pension had written applying for his son to go to the school and was told that the fees were £100 but not given any information about help.

Mr. Hay

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I had overlooked the point. Here again, I am informed and advised that the truth is very different from what is alleged.

Everybody who applies for information about whether their child is eligible or if a place can be found is given full information. If a place can be offered, the parents are informed not only of the circumstances about the fees, and so on, and that certain reductions can be made in certain circumstances, but also that assistance in the payment of the fees is available, either from Navy Votes if the father is a serving sailor or marine or from the local education authority if he is retired from the Navy.

Unless in the case mentioned there was a breakdown on the administrative side, which I rather doubt, because these things are common form and a pamphlet or some printed information is given, I cannot understand why the petty officer in question should say that he did not know that local education authority grants might be obtained. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) pointed out in an intervention, most people, and certainly anybody as intelligent as a petty officer, would be able to find this out and would promptly start making inquiries of all sorts of people to find out what aid was available from the local education authority, not only inquiries of Members of Parliament but of a local schoolmaster, or even from the S.S.A.F.A. or the W.V.S. All sorts of people could have given this information. Without knowledge of the case, the name of the man, and so on, I cannot say more than that.

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, 1964, which was laid before this House on 17th June, be approved.