HC Deb 15 July 1964 vol 698 cc1345-82

10.21 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (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, 1965, which was laid before this House on 2nd June, be approved. The House will note that for the first time this hallowed Motion is in the name of the Secretary of State for Defence. The reason is that the property of Greenwich Hospital, by virtue of the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Act, 1964, is now vested in him. Hon. Members will recall, however, that on 21st November last year my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to Parliament that the day-to-day management and affairs of Greenwich Hospital would be discharged in future by the new Admiralty Board although the Board of Admiralty was, by the reorganisation of the defence Departments being wound up. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend's undertaking is being honoured in practice.

To turn to the financial estimates, we expect that for the current financial year our estimated income at a figure of £440,850 will be £11,395 more than last year. The difference is made up principally of higher revenue from our estates and property and £2,300 more in receipts from the Royal Hospital School, that is, mainly fees. The estimated expenditure in the current year, £439,850, will be about £5,000 less than revenue, which is very satisfactory, and we propose to carry the surplus to capital account in accordance with our customary policy of providing something in the nature of a sinking fund for major repairs and material commitments at the Royal Hospital School. We do not propose—this appears at pages 3 and 5 of the estimate—to increase the amounts which we earmark for pensions to officers and seamen. In fact, there will be a very slight reduction if we take account of the rounding down adjustment shown against the Rotely Bequest.

The reason why we do not propose any increase for pensions is that there is very little likelihood that the existing provision we are making will be fully spent. For some time, as my predecessors have told the House, expenditure has been about one-third on pensions and benefits and two-thirds on the Royal Hospital School. I think that the time might well be approaching when we should have a reappraisal in this field. In education expenditure, costs do not stand still and we must expect that if the school is to remain one of which we can be proud it will need more money.

There are two ways of getting more money for the school. One is to divert more of the Hospital's income to it. The other is to raise the income received from fees. There is obviously a limit to what can be done by each of these methods. It may be that they should be used in combination. But what is clear is that with the very high level of prosperity in this country, and with the Welfare State extended as far as it is today, the demands which are made on the funds which we allocate for pensions and allowances tend to become much less strong. There is comparatively little real poverty, and I think that it is quite possible that the ratio of one-third to two-thirds which I have mentioned may have to be adjusted.

On the other hand, the school fees, which have now been fixed at a level of £100 a year for over three years, must be bringing in a smaller proportion of contributions to the increasing costs of running the school as the wider range of educational facilities is developed. As I think hon. Members know, we charge fees only to those who can afford them.

Before I pass to some comments on the principal activities of the Hospital and the Foundation, the House will be interested to know that there has recently been a change in the Director of Greenwich Hospital. Mr. H. D. Samuel retired earlier this year from this post, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing him a happy retirement and in expressing our appreciation of his services to Greenwich Hospital over a number of years during a period which has seen the introduction of many improvements at the Royal Hospital School.

No doubt the interest of the House is centred mainly on the school to which, as I have said, the bulk of the Hospital's income is now devoted. I therefore wish to talk about the school. I know that the small group of Members of the House who recently took advantage of the opportunity offered to pay a visit to the school were impressed by what they saw, and I think quite rightly. In the course of the last three or four years we have been carrying through a modernisation programme at Holbrook at a cost of £150,000. Much of the work has now been completed and facilities at the school have been very greatly improved.

Among the major jobs which have been undertaken have been the modification of the stage in the assembly hall, including the improvement of the defective acoustics; improvement of the cinema equipment and redecoration of the hall; a new boathouse has been built; a group of additional classrooms have been provided—and very fine ones they are—and a new games pavilion has been brought into use this summer. Part of the cost of that building was subscribed by parents, old boys and friends of the school, and we benefited from the very handsome donation from Lloyds.

But one of the most important ambitions of the improvements which we are making at Holbrook is the scheme for providing new housemasters' flats and adapting the outdated flats to be vacated to provide studies for the older boys whose numbers are now increasing. At the same time, this will provide much needed improved accommodation for the house matron and a room for the use of the assistant housemaster. In view of the success of the pilot scheme and the importance of the conversions to the life of the school, we have now decided to proceed at once with the conversion of the remaining houses.

Other work which is in hand or projected includes provision of a new physics laboratory and modernisation of the chemistry laboratory. Earlier this year it was discovered that the swimming bath roof was very badly in need of repair, and work to put it right will be starting this summer. I am afraid that it will be a rather expensive undertaking, but it is undoubtedly necessary, and we should take the opportunity of ensuring that the condensation, which has been the principal cause of the present defects, is avoided as much as possible in future according to the best technical advice that we can get.

If I may now turn to the boys at the school, the high academic record has been maintained in the past year. During the last year no fewer than 38 boys who took the G.C.E. passed at A level, and many of them were highly graded. Eight boys gained places at universities or colleges of advanced technology and five gained Service cadetships, four in the Royal Navy and one in the Royal Air Force. Eleven boys in the school hold either cadetships, Royal Navy scholarships or Reserve cadetships. Of the boys who left the school last year to take up careers, 31 per cent. joined the Royal Navy and another 11 per cent. joined the Merchant Navy. Seven per cent. went to Her Majesty's Dockyards and 15 per cent. to the Army and the Royal Air Force.

We have every reason to be satisfied—indeed, more than satisfied—with the academic record that is maintained at the school, and I should like to pay a tribute to the talented and enthusiastic staff that we have at Holbrook. I think that all hon. Members who have visited the school recently will agree with me that such a tribute is well deserved.

At the beginning of the present summer term, the number of boys at the school was 681. An interesting thing to note is that heights and weights bear highly favouable comparison, I am told, with those of boys at other schools. All who have visited the school will agree that the boys are in very good heart.

Before I pass from the boys, I should say a word or two about their athletic and games prowess. At both rugby and soccer, we have had very good seasons. The first teams were defeated only twice at rugby and once at soccer. The under-17 and under-16 teams both won the Suffolk Schools Championships for cross-country running and the under-16 team also won the Eastern Counties Championship. Boxing has always been a feature of the school and two boys won National Schoolboy Championships in their age and weight groups. In shooting, which is also a major activity at the school, the first team won the East Anglian District Ozanne Shield. The school team won the Country Life "B" competition for schools' second eights. The House will, I am sure, be delighted to know that three of the boys of the school have won gold awards under the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. They will be going to the Palace next week to receive them.

I must now tell the House of a change that was decided by the Board of Admiralty in the closing days of its corporate existence relating to the admission policy to the school. Since 1949, when the sons of officers were first admitted to the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, the proportion of sons of officers has inevitably increased as knowledge of eligibility has spread. Fears have sometimes been expressed in some quarters that the school might be catering for sons of officers at the expense of sons of ratings. Hon. Members will wish to know that this question has been the subject of extremely careful examination, first, by the committee of management of the school, which includes two or three hon. Members of this House, and, later, by the Board of Admiralty.

Earlier this year, the Board, after taking account of all the factors involved, decided that the time had come to modify past practice somewhat to ensure that account should be taken of the changes which have taken place over the years in officer entry arrangements to the Royal Navy. Up to now, we have made an attempt to impose a somewhat arbitrary limit of 25 per cent. on the number of sons of officers admitted to the school. Experience has, however, shown that this restriction is quite unwarranted and, indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to operate.

The reason for this, which I will put as clearly and simply as I can, is that today the proportion of commissioned officers in the Royal Navy who have been promoted from rating is around 33 per cent. The figure is rising every year and we plan to increase the proportion materially. The effect is that the present system of admission to Holbrook penalises the rating who has been promoted to officer, and he is often no more able than the senior rating to put his son into a boarding school other than the Royal Hospital School.

Taking account of these and other factors, the Board decided that with effect from the September entry this year, there should be equality of opportunity as between ratings, on the one hand, and officers who have four years' service as ratings, on the other hand. Sons of officers who have less than four years' service as ratings—and this includes the direct-entry officers—will be admitted only within a maximum of 10 per cent. of the entry. I have to stress that these arrangements will in no way interfere with the other arrangements which we have whereby separate and special consideration is given to orphans No orphan who has the physical and mental capability of benefiting from a boarding school education would fail to get a place.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by equality of opportunity?

Mr. Hay

Words mean, I hope, what they say. When I said that there is equality of opportunity I meant that we want to make sure that everyone has an equal chance of going to the school.

I was going to say that in recent years there has been no shortage of applicants for places at the school, but competition is always extremely healthy, and any publicity which hon. Members are able to give will, of course, be very greatly appreciated.

At this time of night I do not want to take too long a time introducing these estimates because we customarily have a short debate—I say "short": but we do have a debate—and it is customary also for the Minister who moves the Motion to have the opportunity of replying at the end of the debate.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Is the Admiralty authorised to make this change off its own bat, so to speak, or should this come before the House by Order in Council subject to the usual Prayer for annulment?

Mr. Hay

No. I looked at this, and we are entitled to make this change without the necessity of coming to Parliament about it. If it had been necessary to come to Parliament about it we should have done so.

All I want to say in conclusion is that I think that; we have had a very good year at Holbrook and the Hospital as a whole is going on with the work which it has been doing so long, even better, I think, in these rather more enlightened days. I hope the House will give us these estimates tonight. I will try to answer any questions and points which hon. Members wish to raise if I am allowed to do so, but I hope they will agree with me that the work which is being done by the Foundation and the Hospital warmly deserves commendation and praise.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Two years ago when I opened from this side of the House the debate on the Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation it was at five o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Hay

We are doing better tonight.

Mr. Willis

We are doing better tonight, but it is a usual feature of this debate that it nearly always takes place round about midnight, and I would lodge a protest against this practice of having this debate always at midnight. I do not know why the Government do this, unless, despite their protestations, they are cowed by the heavy broadsides which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) fires against them.

I should like to associate myself and my hon. Friends with the appreciation which has been expressed by the hon. Gentleman of Mr. Samuel and the services he has rendered to the Greenwich Hospital Trust, and I am sure that everybody will wish him well in his retirement and hope that he has many happy years.

I wish to raise one or two points before speaking about the school. The first concerns the statement of income and the revenue from the estates in the north of England. I understand that some of those estates are at present being sold. I wonder whether this is allowed for in this estimate. Why are they being sold? Do they include the forestry estates which some years ago we were told by the then Civil Lord were estates which, as the years went by, would give us an increasing income? I forget the exact amounts, but we were told of substantial sums which we could expect from the sale of timber. In the 1962–63 accounts for the Hospital, sales of timber increased from about £3,500 to almost £6,000 in one year, and I should have thought that that amount would have steadily increased to £8,000, £10,000, or even £20,000 as the years went by. It would be interesting to know exactly what is happening to these estates and why they are being sold.

The revenue from the property in Greenwich shows an increase of about £2,000. In a very interesting speech last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) suggested that the income from the buildings lent to the Royal Naval College should be about £30,000 rather than the £18,000 in the Estimates and he expected the figure to go up rather than down. Why has it gone down? Has the Admiralty played fair with the Hospital, or has it used its powers to get these premises for what it likes? My hon. Friend said that the Admiralty could pay nothing if it liked. What my hon. Friend said last year merits the suggestion that the figures should be higher than they are.

The hon. Gentleman confirmed that pensions have not increased. Two years ago, in a speech in which he praised what had been done under the pensions scheme, a former Civil Lord went to some length to show what had been done since 1951—a favourite theme song for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. But they have not increased at all since that famous speech and the hon. Gentleman said that they are now to be decreased.

The Government have emphasised the pensions of the widows as against the others. For widows these pensions can make a considerable difference and we should be told more about why there has been a decrease. Is it simply to provide more for the Royal Hospital School, or are there fewer widows? The hon. Gentleman suggested the proportion paid in pensions, roughly one-third, should be decreased. What are his grounds for that suggestion? If there is money to spare as a result of improvements, I should have thought that there was a case for giving rather more to the widows.

I was one of those who visited Holbrook School, for the second time, last week. On behalf of those who had the opportunity to do so, I should like to say how much we appreciated the kindness and generous hospitality shown to us by Mr. and Mrs. York in particular. We should also like to express our appreciation of the kindness of the other people who went to considerable pains to make our visit both enjoyable and interesting. I was pleased to see the many changes which had taken place since I visited the place on a former occasion, together with other hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman knows our fears about Holbrook School. We do not hide them. We are quite frank about the matter. We fear that this school will go the way of many other schools which have been started to help those in lower circumstances in life. In the old days people talked about poor students. This school was started for that reason, in the main, so let us not make any bones about it. In spite of the academic arguments that take place between Ministers at the Dispatch Box and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, the fact is that in the main this school was started for the children of lower deck ratings. It was started to meet the needs of seamen and others in that category.

We fear that as a result of the developments which have taken place since the war this school will become a pucka public school, with very few of those for whom it was originally intended receiving the benefits of it. My fears are strengthened by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He said that the 25 per cent. limit on the number of officers' children entering the school is to be removed.

I had some doubts about what this 25 per cent. limit meant, because in the classification of applicants for admission that I was sent I noticed that the term "seamen" included officers with four years' service as ratings. It seems, therefore, that when we talk about seamen, and about the classification for entrance to Holbrook, we are dealing not only with ratings, but with officers with four years' service as ratings. Since receiving this classification, I have wondered whether some of the previous figures have been based on this definition of seamen as against officers. If so, the number of officers' children at the school must already be considerable.

The hon. Gentleman says that there will be equality of opportunity. What this really means is that there is nothing to prevent this school from becoming the preserve of officers' children. That is what it means in practice. There is nothing to prevent that happening. On the other hand, of course, there is nothing to prevent it from becoming the preserve of ratings' children. I appreciate that that is the other side of the coin, but, so far as I can see, there is no limit on the children coming to the school, or on the families from which they come, and it means that we have removed a barrier, not laid down by this House, but fixed by the Board, as to the number of children who should be allowed to enter the school. This seems to be a rather dangerous innovation.

I cannot help thinking that much more ought to have been done to attract ratings' children. I do not know what has been done. The hon. Gentleman did not say anything about that. I have been told of certain talks which have been given in certain places to inform men on the lower deck of the opportunities available at this school. Other forms of publicity are used by the Admiralty in order to spread knowledge about this school. But I cannot help wondering whether we have done all that we can to publicise the facilities available here. It seems passing strange that with a Vote A of 100,000—and that means about 90,000 ratings—we cannot get a sufficient number of boys for entrance to this very fine school.

There must be reasons for this. I should have thought that the Admiralty would have gone to rather more trouble than it seemingly has done first to find out what some of these reasons were and then to see whether it was possible to remove them. As the school improves in character, and as the fees increase—as I understood from the hon. Gentlman's speech might be the case—many men on the lower deck will think to themselves, "This is one of those pucka public schools. This is not for my boy. He would not be happy there". That is quite understandable.

Further, many of them do not know sufficient about it. They do not know the opportunities that exist. What steps have the Admiralty taken to try to find out why the facilities are not used by between 80,000 and 90,000 lower deck men? I appreciate the arguments about officers and the fact that the families of men being commissioned from the lower deck and serving in the Navy probably form a larger proportion than is at first apparent, but I am still not satisfied that everything possible has been done to try to run this school on the lines on which it was originally intended it should be run.

At the school itself I was greatly impressed by what had been done in the past few years. I was greatly impressed with the kitchens, the assembly hall, the new boat house, and all the other new buildings and alterations. It was most satisfying to see the boys sailing their boats and canoeing on the Stour. I was impressed by practically all the improvements. I was impressed by the reconstruction work and the new building taking place in most of the residential blocks, the provision of studies for the elder boys and the construction of houses for housemasters. I congratulate the Board of Management on the work that it is doing in this respect. I hope that the work done at the science laboratories will also produce some excellent results.

There appeared to be one or two things upon which I should make a few remarks. As I talked to the boys it seemed to me that the number who were staying until the age of 17 or 18 had increased. That is a good thing. But if the general age of the boys is to increase and we are to get a far higher proportion of older boys there. I wonder whether sufficient is being done to meet what must be rather different needs. Boys of 16, 17 and 18 have rather different needs from those of 12, 13 and 14. As the balance between them changes, attention should be given to the needs of the older boys. Studies are being provided. I think there are about two in each block. I wonder if that is sufficient. I think that this matter should be receiving a great deal more attention.

Associated with that was the feeling that the infirmary, as it is called—a proper Victorian word—seems quite out of date. The purpose for which it was intended seemed long past. I cannot imagine any great call being made on it for the purpose of accommodating the sick. It also seemed a badly designed building where one has to walk along very long corridors before getting anywhere. It seemed wasteful both in space and design and did not seem to serve a particularly useful purpose. There is a small church, but that does not occupy much space.

Apart from this, I was greatly impressed by the improvements and I congratulate all concerned. I am sure that my hon. Friends would wish to congratulate the headmaster and staff on the way in which the school is run. They would like to congratulate the staff and the boys themselves on the achievements of the school. The boys do exceedingly well and are to be congratulated. I wish them well. With those few remarks about the school, I return to the doubt I have about the course followed at the school at present. Fears about this will be expressed, no doubt far more forcibly, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. There is necessity to watch this process very carefully. It is a process which I think would be deplored by anyone who has had connection with the school and been concerned about its welfare.

10.58 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) in this debate. I agree with him in thinking it a mistake to debate this question so late at night, because this is an organisation of which we are justly proud.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave the percentages very clearly and concisely and they should have reassured the hon. Member. He should be particularly proud that so many ratings now become officers in a comparatively short time and that their sons have a special opportunity to attend the school. One of the main difficulties in getting people to go to this type of school has been that families have not been in the habit of sending children to boarding school. It takes a long time to get over that prejudice. Now they have greater opportunities of going to good local schools and grammar schools, which they did not have before. There is a temptation for mothers to prefer to keep their children at home when they have not been accustomed to sending them away to school. This is a question of further propaganda and understanding of the great benefits of the school.

One of those great benefits, as I hope the hon. Member will agree, is that officers and ratings sons can mix together as their fathers do on board ship. I would follow what the hon. Gentleman said about improvements. I said in a debate a few years ago that I was particularly anxious that the dormitories should be improved, and that there should be more privacy for the older boys. If the boys are to be kept at the school longer, they should be granted this extra privacy—

Mr. Willis

The boys are staying there themselves. As far as I can gather, there is a greater wish amongst the boys themselves to stay longer at the school.

Miss Vickers

They are to be congratulated on that but, as they grow, so they need more privacy.

I think it advisable that the infirmary should be at the end of a passage, and away from the rest of the school. We got rid of the operating theatre, but I still think that it is entirely desirable to keep the infirmary away from the main building.

I want to ask my hon. Friend about the future of this school. I notice that in last year's debate it was stated that the school was originally built for 860 boys. It was then decided to fix the number at 600. I understand that the figure is now about 664, and that it has been up to 681. Are we to finalise the figure at 600, or are we to increase the number? Is there need to enlarge the school and take in the number for which it was, I understand, originally built?

Commander Pursey

Is not the hon Lady aware that the original plan for this school was for 1,200 boys, but that instead of building the two missing hostels, those in charge built a lavish church or chapel, and spent the money in other ways? Over £1 million was spent originally.

Miss Vickers

That is why I should like to know about the future of the school as regards numbers. If the boys are to stay there longer it means that there will be fewer boys coming into the school over a period of time. Is it the intention to enlarge the school to take the 860 boys previously mentioned? I should also like to know the average number of boys in a class; one wants to know whether there are sufficient classrooms and teachers for the numbers being taught.

There is also the question of pensions. I notice that income is up by over £11,000. Last year it was said that a lot of money was being put into a sinking fund, particularly for the purchase of expensive machinery. What is happening to this estimated £11,000 this year? It is also said that pensions were awarded on the basis of need and compassion, and I should very much like to know what is the difference. I believe that last year there were 510 widows in receipt of a pension—are the same number receiving pensions now?

I have written to my hon. Friend on a number of occasions on this subject and have been told that people are not eligible because there is a waiting list and they have to wait their turn. Apparently, they are not so much in need, or the amount of compassion felt for them is not as great as it is for the others. What machinery is there for deciding whether these widows qualify? Is there a committee? Is a welfare officer sent round to get details of need, or is the work done through the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust? I am sure that some of the cases I have put forward could have been helped, particularly since they concerned some widows who are not eligible for the retirement pension because they did not come under the scheme. That will not happen in future and, for this reason, the more we can do to help these widows the better.

In view of the excellent report which the Under-Secretary of State has been able to give us tonight, I hope that when this document is presented to hon. Members next year, we might also be supplied with a sort of school report—a report about the number of boys with A levels, the matches they have won and other details—because if we are to publicise this school and get it better known among the people we are anxious to attract to it, we must be given more facts.

Commander Pursey

We want the right type of boy there.

Miss Vickers

Indeed we do, but most people do not read HANSARD and do not know what the Under-Secretary of State said about the record of the school. For this reason, I hope that next year we will be supplied with the sort of school report I have described so that we will have something concrete to take round to people in local education authorities to show them what is being done by this school, thereby encouraging more people to go there.

I, too, wish to pay tribute to the retiring head, Mr. Samuel, and to wish the new principal every success. I hope that the school will continue to provide for the boys for whom it was originally established.

11.7 p.m.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Of all the statements made by various Ministers this century, none will have been received with greater consternation than the statement to the effect that the original objects of this orphanage, the Royal Hospital School, are to be thrown overboard by a half, but I will come to that later.

The Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and of Travers' Foundation provides hon. Members with an annual exercise. This year we must consider two matters of great importance for the welfare of naval personnel, particularly ratings; first, the payment of extra, special pensions to the disabled, widows and orphans from the Greenwich Hospital charitable funds and, secondly, the education and maintenance of the sons of naval personnel, preferably of ratings—and preferably orphans—at the Navy's orphanage, the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook. I do not think that the Under-Secretary of State will disagree that this is a fair summary of the main objectives.

Before proceeding, I should like to join in the tribute which has been paid to Mr. Samuel, the retiring Director of Greenwich Hospital. Whatever I have had to say in criticism of the school over the years, I have never attacked any of the civil servants concerned with it or any of the staff of the hospital. I have attacked policy only.

Over the years there have been House of Commons Motions, inquiries and, from time to time, we have debated the Greenwich Hospital. This has been going on for over two centuries. In 1763, for example, an application was made by Greenwich Hospital for the Government to pay pensions to "worn out" seamen. The Admiralty did not become responsible for the Hospital until later. It was originally the Chelsea Hospital of the Navy. Indeed, naval pensioners should still be there. However, a century later, when seamen pensioners were removed from the Hospital, it became the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, under the Greenwich Hospital Act, 1865.

Perhaps the Minister in his reply will state the first occasion on which this Greenwich Hospital estimate was laid before the House of Commons. Presumably it was 100 years ago. That should be a simple question for him to answer; these documents have a number on them and it is only a question of checking the reference number. The reason I ask is that last year the Minister toyed with the idea of abolishing this annual debate and so presumably making secret what was over the centuries an open book to public information about both pensions and the orphanage. The details of pensions and of the orphanage were always carried either in the Navy List or in the Appendix to the Navy List and the award of pensions to officers was given as a Press hand-out in the Press publicity. Everybody knew what was happening. Now nobody knows. Everybody thinks that it is a first-class racket and they are not far short in their thinking.

The Admiralty administration is governed by Act of Parliament and the procedure is by Order in Council. As long as that is so, it behoves hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that public accounts and public debates continue, and there should be no question of a Tory Government deciding that there should be no more public accounts and no more debates.

In this connection I would ask about the sentence The Admiralty's intention is to seek amendment of Section 40 of the 1865 Act at the next convenient opportunity. That is stated by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his Report dated 18th March, 1964—in other words, quite recently. What is this amendment? How is it to be dealt with and when? Is it to be by Order in Council, with a Prayer for annulment, or not? Presumably the Minister can also give that answer when he replies. We on this side of the House will be very concerned about this and any other Amendment made to the Regulations now that the Minister has stated that the Admiralty have authority to act without coming to the House to get approval by Order in Council.

My intention this evening is to limit my time—"Hear, hear", and I say that myself to save anybody else saying it—and to deal with the Navy's Orphanage, the Royal Hospital School. Last year, mistakenly supposing that the debate would be the last in this Parliament and his last opportunity of thrashing about in shallow water like a whale, as this debate will be, in his reply the Minister violently attacked me personally by putting up skittles which I had never used in order to knock them down to his own self-satisfaction. He flagrantly took advantage of the fact that I could not reply and he thought that he had scored a bullpoint in saying: I take notice, as I think the House does, that the hon. and gallant Member retires in a cloud of smoke on this point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1595.] The Minister was quite wrong in his argument, and also I did not retire. Anyhow, I am here tonight in the forefront of the battle, if there is to be one, and I would not like to miss it for all the tea in China.

I am the son of a seaman and, as an orphan, was educated at this orphanage. But it was the old school at Greenwich with its 200 years of good record and not this new school at Holbrook with only a 30 years' record of dealing in the wrong entrants, namely, the sons of well-to-do people instead of taking in orphans and the sons of poor fathers. I am in a much stronger position than the Under-Secretary of State who has to rely on a prepared brief, because I have my own actual experience at the orphanage and half a century's knowledge—and doucments—of its development as well as of 20 annual debates in this House.

My concern has been, is and will continue to be the sons of seamen and, particularly, orphans for whom this orphanage was intended to provide free—and I emphasise free—education and maintenance as it did for over 200 years, Where we differ is that most of the hon. Members who take part in these debates, certainly hon. Members opposite—the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) just did it—including the Minister, argue for the school to be a fee-paying one and to take in, as the Admiralty is taking in, officers' sons, and more and more of them.

This is contrary to the original charter of 1694 and the history of the orphanage until only 15 years ago. The object is patently obvious. What the Admiralty wishes to do is to produce another early entry cadet system and a closed preserve for boys from private preparatory schools, as at Dartmouth College until after the last war.

In order to have a more tidy and, if I may suggest to the Minister, sensible debate than last year, and possibly to prevent him from starting more false hares and drawing more red herrings across the tracks, I will state briefly (1) what I have not said and (2) where we are on common ground on the facts of the case. I have not argued that this orphanage is not a good school. It ought to be when over £1 million was spent on it for 1,200 boys. It has the largest swimming bath—now in trouble like everything down there—church and organ of any school in Britain if not in the world. Yet it accommodates less than 700 boys, or only half the originally intended number. So it is largely a white elephant, because the main buildings are not fully used.

The explanation is mismanagement from the first. It is lousy with money and always short of money because of spending it in the wrong directions and thinking that it can get it like cherries from a tree.

I have not argued that the education is not good. It should be, seeing the money that is spent on it. There have been several large windfalls from the donor of the free site, the late Mr. G. S Reid, from the Naval Prize Fund and from other sources. I have argued that the school was and should now be the Navy's orphanage with firstly consideration for the orphans and, secondly, for the free education and maintenance of the sons of seamen.

Unfortunately, although this was the accepted position for two centuries at the old school, until 1933, during the last 30 years the Admiralty has made the new school so "posh" and has taken in such posh boys as the sons of officers that boys of my standing cannot now enter. Will the Under-Secretary please inform me how many of the boys now at the school are the sons of able seamen, are there by virtue of being sons of Royal Naval Reserve able seamen, or thirdly because they are the sons of fishermen? All these are categories which have entitlement to enter.

Mr. Hay

I cannot give detailed figures at the moment, but I will try to obtain them before the end of the debate. It might help if I give the termly intake. In January, 1963, there were 19 sons of officers, 26 sons of ratings and four sons of lifeboatmen officers, and one merchant seaman, making a total of 50. In May the figures respectively were seven, 31, and one. In September there were 17 sons of Royal Navy officers, 55 sons of Royal Navy ratings, two sons of merchant navy officers and one son of a merchant navy rating, making a total of 75.

Commander Pursey

I am grateful for those figures. In earlier years it has been possible to obtain these but in recent years Questions put down have received the reply that these figures are not available. But even now the hon. Gentleman has not taken the categories about which I asked him. How many of the boys now at the Navy's orphanage were the sons of able seamen, the sons of Royal Naval Reserve able seamen, or the sons of fishermen, all of which categories are entitled to enter the orphanage?

Last year the hon. Gentleman agreed with me about the 1694 Charter when he said: … 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'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1593.] What were the sons of the slain but orphans?

I can now jump 245 years to bring us nearly up to date, to the last Navy List published before the war, in 1939. This official document stated: cases are considered by a Committee of Selection according to the length, nature and merit of the father's services in the following order: There were seven categories, but, as I gave them in detail from an earlier record last year—the passage is to be found in HANSARD at column 1578—I need not repeat them now.

The short point is that the first four of the seven categories were as follows: (1) total orphans; (2) orphans, with father killed on duty and mother living; (3) orphans, with father dead and mother living; (4) orphans, with mother dead and father living. Those were the regulations six years after this new orphanage was opened at Holbrook and for many years afterwards, and they are supposed to be in force today. Unfortunately, as part of the secrecy plot, these regulations are no longer printed in the Navy List. Why not print them in the Navy List so that people can get further information about the school and know who are entitled to enter?

In the face of those regulations, how can the Admiralty and the Minister attempt to disown the school as the Navy's orphanage for practically its 250 years of history? Does the hon. Gentleman now accept that the school has always been, and still is, the Navy's orphanage, or does he still wish to argue to the contrary, as he did last year?

Mr. Hay indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

He shakes his head. If he wishes to make a statement, I will give way.

Mr. Hay

I can say very little more than I did last year. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has quoted extensively from HANSARD. If he will look at the foot of column 1594—

Commander Pursey

I have got it in my notes.

Mr. Hay

—he will see that I explained that, whatever had been the position up to 1948, on 22nd December of that year the Board of Admiralty brought in fresh regulations changing the policy of admission to the school, making clear that officers' sons could be admitted. If up to that time it had been correct—I do not believe that it really was—to call this continuously an orphanage, from that time onwards it was no longer right to call it exclusively an orphanage. It has not been an orphanage since the last war and it certainly is not an orphanage today.

Commander Pursey

I am very grateful for that. The Minister has fallen for my hook. It was very good bait for me to carry on with. Last year, the hon. Gentleman took me up on this argument in an intervention. He argued in this way: 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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c 1568.] I assume that he wishes to stand by that statement. Indeed, he has confirmed it. All right. He has access to all the documents and he has a staff to help him. The House would, therefore, expect to be able to accept his statement as fact. In truth, it is nonsense. I ask the House to listen to this. I shall give it at dictation speed in the hope that it will register with the Minister. The heading is "Royal Hospital School". I assume that this is the school we are talking about and there is not another one. The document goes on: The buildings now forming the east and west wings of this National Maritime Museum were begun in 1807 to accommodate the Naval Orphanage founded in 1798. The Greenwich Hospital School established in 1712"— I believe that this is the same school— for sons of seamen was joined to this in 1821 to form the Royal Hospital School, which remained there until 1933. If there is any doubt about the school, it is now confirmed, because it goes on to say when it moved to its present home at Holbrook, in Suffolk. So, presumably, this is the orphanage which we are discussing on the estimate tonight.

Where did this quotation come from? It is not from one of my documents or one of my speeches. It is an official statement issued as Admiralty Press release No. 156/62 and dated 17th December of that year. That was only seven months before the Minister's last year's speech, so it is bang up to date. Here it is. I show it to the Minister. It is on Admiralty blue paper, with the Admiralty sign of the foul anchor. Will the Minister accept that evidence as concluding this argument that the Royal Hospital School was, and is, an orphanage?

Mr. Hay


Commander Pursey

What can one do with a man like that? I produce a quotation and a statement to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, issued on his own paper, with the Admiralty crest of the foul anchor, but he obviously has his wires crossed and he does not accept it.

This is more interesting as time goes on. This statement is on a tablet erected at the old school at Greenwich as part of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the new school at Holbrook. Moreover, it refers to its present home at Holbrook. This tablet was unveiled by the headmaster in the presence of the late Director, Mr. Samuel. So, presumably, it was an official ceremony.

What does the Under-Secretary do now? Does he apologise to me for his uncalled-for and false attack last year, or does he go down to Greenwich and take down the tablet at the National Maritime Museum to alter it to suit his argument and falsify history? It is incredible that the hon. Gentleman should go on with this nonsense that the school was never an orphanage when there is the tablet for everyone who visits the old school to view. So much for that argument about orphanage.

Now, as regards the orphanage being for the sons of seamen and not officers. Again, I take the Under-Secretary a long way with me. I have given his last year's extract from the original Charter, "sons of seamen". Actually, the school started with the sons of pensioners in the Hospital—that is, the present Royal Naval College, Greenwich. I could rest my case on the 1962 Admiralty Press release and the tablet at the old school, which, I repeat, states "sons of seamen".

Last year, however, the Under-Secretary tried to blast me out of court and to silence me for all time. He said, "Oh, no, some."

He said: I hope I have got on record in the Official Report what is the truth. But it was not true at all. He said: 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 frequently been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman are completely unfounded."— what utter nonsense— And I hope that he will think again before he inflicts a further speech of that length and inaccuracy upon the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1596.] The inaccuracy was not mine. The inaccuracy was the Minister's. It is therefore necessary for me to get the facts on the record. There can be little doubt that for over a century, from 1712 to 1828, only the sons of seamen were admitted, because in that year it was necessary to have an Order in Council—and there is a copy of it in the Library—for approval to enter officers' sons. Obviously, if officers' sons had been entitled, there would have been no reason for the Order in Council, but their sons had to be certified as proper objects for the charity. Are the present officers who are getting their sons into Holbrook being certified as proper objects for the charity in this affluent age of high rates of pay and high pensions for officers? Of course not.

After the school had been transferred to the orphanage, at present the National Maritime Museum, for some years entry of officers' sons may have gone on in the early days of the century, for some two or three decades, but then it stopped for another century. The hon. Gentleman last year quoted Section 20 of the 1865 Act, which is the authority for the Admiralty today, under which the Admiralty became responsible for Greenwich Hospital and the orphanage and had the authority to make regulations by Order in Council. This change has not been done by Order in Council, and that is a matter for some investigation.

The hon. Gentleman said: There is not a word in the Act about sons of officers being excluded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1593.] Presumably there was nothing in the Act about officers' sons being included. Otherwise he would have said so. So what was there in that argument? He should have known, with his Parliamentary experience, that this was only a slick debating point, because the Act does not carry regulations: they are dealt with separately. In this case of the Order in Council, he mentioned no Order in Council. One would assume that either he or his staff had done their homework. Therefore, it can be assumed there was no Order in Council at that time, and that some of the Regulations for entry continued as before, namely, for the sons of seamen.

The hon. Gentleman then attempted to make another bull point but again he missed. He referred to the 1883 Order in Council and claimed that it made a breach in the tradition that the school was for the sons of ratings and, on approval, the sons of warrant officers. Again he was wrong, as he was all along the line, because warrant officers' sons had been eligible from the earliest times. Way down to 1850 warrant officers who desired to enjoy the benefits of the Hospital were compelled to abrogate their rank and enter as seamen only. So the sons of warrant officers were already eligible for some 150 years before the hon. Gentleman said. What nonsense!

I now jump 60 years to modern times and the Bruntisfield Committee of 1943, by which the hon. Gentleman set such store. He quoted the Committee's 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. These officers were rating entries and so that recommendation would not have breached the sons of seamen entry.

Nothing was done until 1948—I am getting up to date—only 16 years ago, when the Admiralty decided to exceed the Bruntisfield Report and approve the entry of sons of commissioned officers. That was when the citadel of sons of seamen was breached—after another 100 years—because the entry of sons of cadet officers was then approved. Admittedly, the Admiralty made this breach under a Labour Government, but the main period of this development has been during the 13 years of Tory Government, and the latest development, as we have heard today, is that the proportion of officers' sons entries is to be increased from one-third to 50 per cent.

What is my argument? The old school at Greenwich for many decades provided for 1,000 boys, the sons of seamen entries, and there was never any difficulty about keeping the school full. There was always a surplus of applications. The new school at Holbrook was intended to provide for 1,200 boys—and the original plans were based on that and on the sons of seamen entries—and would have done so but for mismanagement, which I will not detail tonight.

The Admiralty found that it did not have £1 million in the kitty and so it was a question of cutting down the plans. It cut out two hostels and the church. More money then became available and the Admiralty had the option of building two hostels for another couple of hundred boys, but it wanted not the hostels, but the church, even though church services were being conducted quite admirably in the gymnasium.

The present number at Holbrook, as the hon. Gentleman said, is 681. He also gave me that figure in reply to a Question. This is not many more than half the intended number and of the 681 nearly one-third—206—are the sons of officers. This means that 206 sons of seamen have been kept out to enable 206 sons of officers to enter.

Mr. Hay indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

If the hon. Gentleman wants to dispute that, I will way and allow him to interrupt now.

Mr. Hay

If the hon. Gentleman wants me to dispute what he is saying it may be easier if I do so when I speak again, rather than that I should be constantly jumping up and interrupting his speech.

Commander Pursey

It will not put me off, but the hon. Gentleman keeps shaking his head like a flashing windmill in a storm.

The hon. Gentleman's argument is that there is an even number of applications from officers and seamen and that no seamen's sons entry is being refused admission if he reaches certain medical and educational standards.

Of course that does not end the argument. The Admiralty does not want the sons of seamen, and consequently it does not go out of its way to get them. The standard has been increased continually so that now the school is open to those who have obtained a standard of education which bears no relation to that required for the old school.

I shall probably be told that I do not want to improve the standard of education at the school. Of course I do, but the first requirement is to provide opportunities for the sons of poor seamen who cannot find opportunities elsewhere, instead of taking in officers' sons for whom Greenwich Hospital has fee-paying facilities. They should leave this orphanage to be used by the sons of seamen.

Only 76 out of this figure of 681, or about one-ninth, are orphans, namely, 13 officers' sons and 63 ratings' sons. We then heard the argument that orphans are not available, candidates are not available, and applicants are not available. How were the applications obtained for 1,000 to be continually accommodated at Greenwich? Obviously that argument does not make sense.

At the beginning of the summer term, 27 new boys were entered. Of these, nine were the sons of officers, and 18 were the sons of ratings. There we see the ratio of one-third to two-thirds, which has now been thrown overboard. Only four of the new entrants were orphans—two officers' sons and two ratings' sons.

As regards the fees of £100 per annum, 25 had their fees fully paid from naval funds, presumably as serving ratings, or by the local education authority, presumably as they were retired. One parent has to pay £12 per quarter, and one a reduced fee of £5. What pettifogging nonsense this is when this charitable institution at Greenwich has a capital of £4 million, and an income to which the Minister referred.

Admittedly the officers whose sons were entered were promoted ratings, but what were their ranks? In answer to a Question the Minister said that one was a commander, retired, two were lieutenant - commanders, four were lieutenants, one was a sub-lieutenant, deceased, and one was a first officer, Merchant Navy, and he added that in all nine cases the officers were promoted ratings. But surely when officers reach the rank of lieutenant-commander and commander they do not expect to be pinching places in the Navy's orphanage at the expense of sons of able-seamen? This is the greatest charitable scandal of the century, but it will never dawn on a Tory Government that that is so.

Last year the Minister asked me whether I objected to an officer's son at Holbrook if he was a rating when his son entered. Of course I do not. I did not say anything about that. If a rating gets his son into Holbrook, and then becomes an officer, that is a different story.

How many officers of cadet entry have been able to get their sons in there on the nod? I am informed, rightly or wrongly, that one of the captains of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich was able to get his son in there. That officer's salary is £2,500. He will receive a pension of £1,500. Is his son an object of charity who should be at the orphanage at the expense of the son of a seaman?

The Minister paid tribute to the achievements of the boys. Everyone agrees with that, but it is the wrong boy that is taken in at the beginning. It is the posh boy, well educated, instead of the poor boy, ill-educated. I know that the argument will be put forward, "Do you want to keep the school down to the standards of 150 or 200 years ago?" That is arrant nonsense. Of the poor boys who were my contemporaries no fewer than four became admirals, and two of them flew their flags at sea as vice-admirals. The present boys cannot do any better than that, with all this vast expenditure, and with all the question of taking the cream of the applicants and of refusing bona fide applicants who should be in the orphanage.

Now I take up a point made by the Minister that the proportion of one-third will be increased to 25 per cent. There is no question: if the Admiralty wanted the applications from seamen entrants for their sons they could get them. How long will it be before there are no ratings at all? The Minister has said that the Admiralty is free to decide. How long will it be before this becomes the new Dartmouth entry? Why not have more rating entries?

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) pointed out that the sons of all naval ratings are eligible. I would add that the sons of all merchant navy ratings are eligible, because, in the old days, charity was started by sixpences taken from merchant seamen, who were in the majority, and naval ratings, for the Chatham Chest, which is in the maritime museum at Greenwich. In addition, all the fishermen round the country are eligible, as are members of the lifeboat service. In other words, the son of every father who comes within the category of seafarer is eligible.

What has the Minister done—what have the two hon. Members who are on the board of governors done—to get seamen ratings to apply? Can they say, "Oh. yes, I am responsible for six", or "I found two in my constituency"? Not on your life ! They talk nonsense. They are in favour of increasing the officer entry in order to produce another class preserve, which we thought we had thrown out with the abolition of the old Dartmouth entry since the war. Yet we were able to get 1,000 at Greenwich.

It is obvious that the Admiralty do not want the sons of ratings. It is also obvious that the greater the proportion of officers' sons the fewer will be the number of ratings' sons making application to go there. The son of an able seaman does not want to be next door to the son of a captain. This argument that it is a good thing to mix officers' sons and ratings' sons is stupid. The hon. Member for Devonport said that they do it in the Navy. Is she trying to tell us that the officers in the Navy mess with the lower deck ratings and eat their food with them? Of course not. It is a case of the lower deck and the quarter deck. The only time they are together is when they are in action or in a boat together, with an officer coxswain and ratings pulling the oars—in other words, doing the donkey work. That is just sheer baloney and eyewash.

As to limited pocket money, the able seaman's son has practically no pocket money and the captain's son has a ton-up motor bike and everything he wants. Of course they do not want to be at an orphanage like that. In my time we were all poor together and understood one another. When we got a parcel from home we shared it with one another. There were boys with no parents and no home. Will the Under-Secretary tell the House how many sons of seamen there are there now with no parents and no home? In those days the school sent boys with no parents and no home to the seaside homes for their holidays. Do Greenwich Hospital and the Admiralty still do that? I very much doubt it.

The Admiralty has thrown down the challenge; 50 per cent. of the entries are to be officers' sons instead of ratings' sons. We must take up the challenge and fight it whenever and wherever possible. The main object of William and Mary when they started this charity and eventually gave the Queen's House to the orphanage was for the sons of seamen and particularly orphans to be educated there. This has been thrown overboard by a half. We must fight to the end for the other half before a notice is put up on the school saying "No ratings' entries; no orphans. The Charter of William and Mary has been scrubbed out never to be used again

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Hay

I speak again by leave of the House. I should like to reply, somewhat briefly, at this late hour, to many of the comments and requests for further information which have been made during the debate.

Perhaps I may begin with an apology. I understand that the three boys who received the Duke of Edinburgh's Award went to Buckingham Palace today; they are not going next week. I thought I should put that right on the record. I am much obliged to most hon. Members who have spoken for the friendly way in which they have discussed the problems—

Commander Pursey

I was not unfriendly.

Mr. Hay

I should hate to hear the the hon. and gallant Member when he was really hostile.

I am much obliged to most hon. Members—I will say all hon. Members if that will please the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey)—for the friendly way in which they have discussed the problems of the school. It is right that we should devote a great deal of time to the debate on the school because, important though the pensions and benefits are, as I explained in opening the debate, the fact is that with the general increase in prosperity throughout the country the type of person for whom those pensions and benefits were originally designed—I will not say no longer exists—is in far fewer numbers than used to be the case.

That is the answer to the question which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) asked, why we are apparently decreasing the pensions? We are not actually decreasing pensions—the amount being spent is much the same, but the numbers who are eligible and measure up to the test of need and compassion are now comparatively small.

There have been complaints from time to time about the fact that we take this debate in July and often it has to be at the end of a Parliamentary day. There are a number of reasons why this should be so. It always happens that the earlier part of the year is full of national financial business and it has been felt for some time that it might be desirable to have our debate on Greenwich Hospital at a time of the year when there is a little more leisure and perhaps a little more opportunity for hon. Members to spread themselves in debate. It is not very often that we have the chance of debating the affairs of an individual school. This is often given as a reason why we should continue to have these debates. I think that it is a good idea to have the debate at the end of the parliamentary day when, perhaps, the Standing Order is suspended and there is not the same pressure on Parliamentary time as there otherwise would be.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East said that he had heard that, of the estates in the north of England, our Alston estate is being sold, and asked why. I have to confirm that it is our plan to sell this estate. I would prefer not to go into details at the moment, as the matter is not yet in a completed form. As to the revenue, these estimates were drawn up and presented before the end of the last financial year, when the prospect of this estate being sold—for what we consider to be a very satisfactory price, in all the circumstances—was not current. So the answer is that the revenue shown in the Estimates does not reflect the fact that we are selling this estate.

I turn particularly to what the hon. Gentleman said about the school. I realise that he, and perhaps other hon. Members, might have some fear about its future, having regard to the change in admission policy that I mentioned. I would, however, like to make it absolutely clear, lest there be any misunderstanding about what that change is, that we have said that it is quite wrong in these modern days, and with the type of person we have in the Navy very different from what they were many years ago, to maintain a quite arbitrary proportion as between the sons of ratings and the sons of officers. The main link that should join the men who are able to send their sons to the school should be the sea; it should not be whether they are ratings or officers.

We believe that the best education we can provide should be made available, irrespective of whether the boy concerned happens to have a rating as a father, or an officer. With all due respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, the distinction in the Navy nowadays is very different from what it used to be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the quarterdeck and the lower deck. In his day—indeed, with all respect, in my day when, for a temporary period, I served in the Navy—there was a substantial distinction, but the more I have seen of the Royal Navy of today the more I have become convinced that this distinction between quarterdeck and lower deck is changing very rapidly. This is bound to be so when we have at least one-third of the officers in the Navy now starting their careers as ratings—a process which, as I have said, we intend to develop and intensify.

For this reason we eliminate this arbitrary distinction, and we get rid of proportions. The only restriction we place is that the son of a man who is a naval officer cannot go there unless that officer has already served four years as a rating; in other words, that he has been promoted from the lower deck. That is the principle we now intend to adopt. I do not think that it would justify the fears and anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East that this will, in the course of time, become, as he put it, a "pucka public school." There is something quite distinctive about Holbrook. It has in many ways the advantages of a public school, but, I am glad to say, it has, or appears to me, at any rate, to have avoided a great many, if not all, of the disadvantages that public schools sometimes have.

The hon. Member also asked about the publicity we give to the school, and how many men in the naval service know about Holbrook. I can only say, as I have said on a number of occasions, that we do our best to publicise the school, and make it as widely known as possible throughout the Service that it exists, and that sons of serving naval personnel can go to it provided that they qualify under the conditions that we make relative to educational and physical standards, and so on.

Commander Pursey

And pensioners.

Mr. Hay

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to dot the i's and cross the t's—and pensioners.

On publicity, we concentrate a great deal on letting the Fleet itself know about it. There is an Admiralty Fleet Order in existence, copies of which are circulated regularly to the lower deck. Navy News frequently contains references to Holbrook and explains to those who may be interested what the conditions of entry are and who is eligible.

The Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association is an important means of advertising Holbrook and we particularly inform wives of naval personnel of the facts. The headmaster and his wife have started a series of visits to commands, which, I hope, will be useful, and local education authorities are made fully aware of Holbrook and who can go there.

We find that we can take up all the places which are available and there is no question of boys being kept out; that is, unless they do not measure up to the intelligence and physical standards we lay down.

Mr. Willis

To what extent are efforts made to publicise the school in the merchant navy.

Mr. Hay

I cannot answer that offhand, I am sure that that is done, but I will inquire. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if there is anything we can do to improve the publicity, we will be only too glad to do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) asked about the future of the school from the point of view of numbers. The provision of proper educational facilities for the numbers we have is undoubtedly making quite heavy demands on the resources of the hospital. The content of the education provided is increasing apace and, much as I would like to tell my hon. Friend in detail what our plans about numbers will be, I can only say that she will have to wait a little longer. We try to get the numbers in direct proportion to the amount of education and the capabilities of the buildings.

In other words, we try not to have too great an intake of boys into the school and overload the teaching staff and accommodation. On the other hand, we try to see that the school has an adequate number of pupils. I can best sum the position up by saying that we like to keep what can be given in education in balance with the number of boys who can be accommodation.

My hon. Friend asked about the average number of pupils we have per class. I understand that the size of class varies according to the academic level, but a guide is the staffing ratio for the whole school, which is about one master to 15 or 16 boys.

My hon. Friend asked about pensions and the meaning of the ancient expression "need and compassion". I can only tell her that we try not to be rigid. Each case is decided on its merits but, speaking generally, a widow who has a net income—that is, after deducting an amount for rent and other essential outgoings—of about £5 a week would be outside the scope of those words and, therefore, outside the scope of the hospital's benefits.

My hon. Friend also asked how many widows were on the waiting list for pensions.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)


Mr. Hay

What does the hon. Member mean?

Mr. Howell

The people responsible should be ashamed of themselves if that is the standard they set in 1964.

Mr. Hay

I think that the hon. Member could not have understood me. I should have thought that that was a reasonable standard to set; and I trust that he will reconsider his remarks.

Commander Pursey

For the Tories.

Mr. Hay

I am trying to keep party politics out of it.

I said a widow with a net income of £5, after the payment of essential outgoings such as rent. That is reasonable. It must not be forgotten that in this country there is a vast range of social services of all kinds. We no longer have these people in acute poverty as we had many years ago, particularly when this charity was set up. These are supplements made to the National Insurance and similar benefits that people get.

Mr. Denis Howell

We see the Tory mentality here. Any woman left with £5 after she has paid her rent is in a state of affluence and prosperity, according to the Tories. This is disgraceful. I should like to see the Minister try to live on it.

Mr. Hay

I did not say that. The test is whether a person is in "need and compassion". That is the rule under which the charity has to work. I have explained how we interpret it in the light of the tremendous range of social benefits in this country today.

My hon. Friend asked me how the needs are investigated. Here, the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association comes to our assistance. It carries out these investigations with humanity and with great efficiency. My hon. Friend asked me how many widows are waiting for pensions. Our practice has been to make awards to widows of 67 years of age or over. There are about 75 applicants between the ages of 65 and 67 waiting to be considered, and we expect to deal with them all during the course of the current financial year.

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

Is the Minister serious about this?

Mr. Hay

Of course I am. I should not be standing at the Box and saying these things if I were not serious.

Mr. Reynolds

Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that he believes that widows who are over 67 years of age and who, after they have paid their rent and other things which he has mentioned but not specified, have an income of £5 should not be regarded as in need? They are not considered to be worthy of any further help from the Foundation. I can only imagine that hon. Members opposite are speechless at this. On this side of the House we find it impossible to understand.

Mr. Hay

I am sorry if the hon. Member finds it astonishing. I can only repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). We live in an entirely different age from the age when these charities were set up. It must be remembered that this is often not the sole income of these people. This is a charity which has only a certain sum of money, and we carry out the two main tasks—the provision of pensions and benefits, and the provision of the school. I think that our record of humanity and treatment of pensioners bears favourable comparison with that of any other charity in the country.

Mr. Willis

Does not what the hon. Member said suggest that when he talks of reducing the one-third of the Greenwich Fund available for pensions he is out of keeping with present-day conditions?

Mr. Hay

The trouble is that we are having increasing difficulty in disposing of the money which we have available for pensions if we keep within the terms of the charter, which is a matter always in our minds.

My hon. Friend asked whether it would be possible in future years to include in the Estimates a report on the year in the school. I will consider that. The difficulty is that we are obliged to lay the Estimates and not necessarily a report on the school. However, the matter will certainly be considered.

I turn briefly to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. He asked a number of questions and he took the opportunity of his speech this year to try to carry on the debate which he had with me last year. I have looked very carefully through what I said last year, in which I endeavoured to explain as simply and concisely as I could the historical background to many of his complaints concerning the orphans, on the one hand, and the admission of sons of officers, on the other.

I do not think that there is anything that I can really add. I thought, if I may say so, that what the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallelieu) had to say last year—I am sorry that he is not here tonight, but he apologised for not being able to be here—bears repeating. It was that he thought that a diamond drill was needed to get an idea into the hon. and gallant Gentleman's head, but he came to the conclusion that a nuclear device was necessary.

Commander Pursey

There is no question of a diamond drill or anything else. It is not a matter of my opinion or of my intelligence. I may be lacking in intelligence, but all I have done is to state the facts, read the documents and show that, by and large, last year the Minister was talking nonsense. Even when I quote his own Admiralty document to him he still refuses to accept that this school has always been an orphanage.

Mr. Hay

I am sorry, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman and I will have to differ about all this. I do not accept what he has said.

Commander Pursey

The hon. Gentleman did not accept the document.

Mr. Hay

I cannot really add anything to the long explanation which I gave last year and which I had hoped, perhaps wrongly, might have put the matter clearly.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me one or two specific questions. He asked what was the first occasion when the Estimate was laid before Parliament. My answer must be that I cannot, at short notice, tell him tonight. I will try to find out whether it is on record and, if it is, I will let him know.

Commander Pursey

I can tell the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hay

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows it, then it seems odd that he should ask me to tell him.

Commander Pursey

I ask for confirmation.

Mr. Hay

I will try to get confirmation if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell me the year.

As far as the entry of officers' sons being contrary to the charter, officers' sons have been permitted entry by Act of Parliament since the Charter was first issued. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked if we would return to the prewar practice of printing the regulations in the Navy List. I will look into this and see whether it is possible. It would again give us a marginal advantage in the publicity field to do so.

Finally, the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it was necessary to provide better facilities for the sons of poor ratings at this school because they could not find such facilities elsewhere. I must join issue with him about that. It is not the case that there is a large number of poor ratings in the Navy whose sons cannot get proper education. There is an enormous national effort in the education field. The fact is that this school provides a particular type of boarding school education which is not always terribly easy to get in some parts of the country.

I believe that our policy of admission, our policy of maintenance and our policy of grants and assistance to the cost of education are enlightened and sensible ones. It does not mean that boys are kept out because we have some class-conscious rule. I hope that in future years the hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that the world has changed a lot since the days when he went to that school. Things are different now not only in the Navy but also in the world outside. It is because we realise the difference that we take pride, justifiably, in the record of the Greenwich Hospital as we move into somewhat different but still challenging years.

I am obliged to the House for the reception that it has given to the Estimates and hope that we may now have them.

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 1965, which was laid before this House on 2nd June, be approved.