§ SECOND READING.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ *LORD ELPHINSTONE
My Lords, this is a very short Bill which I think I can explain in a very few words. It appears that in 1724 a Mr. Travers left a sum of money in aid of superannuated or disabled lieutenants of English men-of-war; he left a property of 1,140 acres in Essex, but coupled with certain conditions. The Knights were to be single, they were to have no children, they were to be inclined to lead a virtuous, studious, and a devout life, they were to live in a collegiate manner, they were to keep their mess together in the Common Hall, and were to attend divine service daily in St. George's Chapel. This bequest was some time after supplemented by Lieutenant Brathwaite, R.N., who left £18,000 for the same object, but the conditions imposed have been proved by the experience of over three-quarters of a century to be entirely inconsistent with and unsuited to the habits and wants of naval officers at the present day. My Lords, I think that the Memorandum at the beginning of the Bill will explain as simply as possible what the object of the Bill is. Owing to these conditions we have experienced great difficulty in finding officers eligible to fill the vacancies, which is shown by the fact that at present we have only four Knights 1222 instead of seven. Under those circumstances, as the Memorandum states, it has been decided to dissolve the Corporation of the Naval Knights of Windsor, and to appropriate the funds in a more useful manner, for the direct benefit of a large class of deserving naval officers in whose interest the Trust was originally founded. The income of the property thus transferred will be granted in the form of pensions to naval officers of the rank of lieutenant of the Navy or who have retired from that rank, and the arrangement so made by the Admiralty will be submitted for approval to Her Majesty in Council. That is really the whole Bill. I will only add that it passed through the House of Commons without comment or amendment; and under those circumstances I trust your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Elphinstone.)
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
I wish to ask the noble Lord whether the Papers containing the Regulations will be laid upon the Table of the House?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to the Bill, the principal object of which is very much to be commended. The bequest of Mr. Travers, with the conditions that he imposed by the terms of his will, has been found very difficult to administer, especially of late year's, and the Admiralty are I think taking a very wise step in proposing new conditions for its administration. But I would like to call the attention of the noble Lord to the terms of the Bill, which I think do not carry out the object of the bequest in so strict a manner as they ought to do. These funds, whatever they are, belong absolutely and solely to the officers of the Royal Navy of the rank of lieutenant, or of the rank of lieutenant with the retired rank of commander; they ought not to be granted in the way of pensions to officers of any other rank, or to any other persons 1223 than lieutenants who are in the Royal Navy. My Lords, under Clause 2 I do not think that the Admiralty are bound, as the words now stand, to apply the whole of the property in the manner in which they wish to apply it. The words are that the Admiralty may out of this property grant pensions to retired officers of the rank of lieutenant; but it does not necessarily follow that they must do it. The word "may" I know is supposed very often to mean the same thing as "shall," but "shall" is a much better word than "may," and the noble Lord will see that the word "shall" is used in Sub-section 4 of the same clause; and therefore I think it had much better be used here. I would suggest to the noble Lord that Sub-section 20 of that clause should be altered in something like the following form: "That the Admiralty shall after deducting the necessary or proper expenses of management, expend the income of the said property in pensions to officers of the rank of lieutenant"; then the Admiralty will be bound to expend this money in that particular way and in that particular way alone. My Lords, I have a practical reason for making these remarks because there is reference made in the Bill to the property of Greenwich Hospital. I happen to have had some knowledge of the administration of that property at the time when very great changes were being made in its application, and in the conditions in which it was applied; and I know that there are occasionally claims put forward by persons who have no right whatsoever to these bequests, and that in any Bill which deals with a bequest of this kind, which is limited to a particular rank of officers, the most clear terms ought to be used so as to leave the Admiralty no discretion in the matter. The bequest ought to be applied to officers of that rank, of course on conditions which approve themselves to the Admiralty and to Her Majesty in Council. I would suggest to the noble Lord to consider the making of an alteration of that kind. It interferes neither with the principle of the Bill, nor with the objects of the Admiralty, but it carries out the proposal in a way which leaves no room for mistake. But there is one point further in Clause 2—the rents and profits of the lands vested in the Admiralty by virtue of the Green- 1224 wich Hospital Act are to be paid in a particular way. Now there is no reference in the Preamble to this Bill to the property of Greenwich Hospital. This Bill professes to deal only with the bequest of Mr. Travers and the Naval Knights of Windsor, and I do not think any person, interested in the property of Greenwich Hospital, could possibly have guessed that he would find that a regulation is laid down in a Bill relating to the Naval Knights of Windsor which is to apply to the whole property of Greenwich Hospital. I think those words ought to be struck out. I think all reference to Greenwich Hospital quâ Greenwich Hospital is quite inappropriate to a Bill which refers solely to the Naval Knights of Windsor.
§ *LORD ELPHINSTONE
Under Clause 2 the Admiralty are empowered to grant pensions to retired officers of the rank of lieutenant only.
§ *LORD ELPHINSTONE
Or to lieutenants who have retired with the rank of commander. The noble Earl knows that lieutenants on being retired are very often lieutenants with superior rank.
§ *LORD ELPHINSTONE
In dealing with the new property the powers conferred on the Admiralty by the Greenwich Hospital Acts will give the necessary authority to defray all proper expenses for management before applying any of the income towards the pensions. The noble Earl was at the Admiralty this morning and I heard the objection that he proposed raising. We therefore referred the matter to the draftsman, and I think if the noble Lord looks at the last paragraph of the Memorandum he will see how impossible it is for us now to accept any Amendment to the Bill. The last paragraph says that all the persons interested in the Travers College have signified their concurrence with those proposals. This Memorandum from the draftsman was put into my hands a very short time ago. Touching upon that very same point that all persons interested have signified their concurrence he says—This being an agreed Bill should not be altered at the last stage.1225 And then he goes on—The Amendments proposed by the noble Earl are unnecessary, and would make no real alteration. The word 'may' confers a power, but it is a power for the non-exercise of which a Public Department might be called to account in Parliament, and in that sense it is equivalent to 'shall.'Further he goes on—From an administrative point of view it would be undesirable that the hands of the Admiralty should be too closely fettered. Income derived from land is subject to fluctuation, and therefore it would be necessary to have a safe margin in reserve. The Admiralty have not finally decided upon the amount of pensions to be awarded to lieutenants of the Navy or retired from the Navy, but it has been agreed that the qualifications should be long and faithful service.My Lords, I am instructed that we cannot agree to any Amendments now in this Bill, especially as it is already, as it stands, an agreed Bill.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I am afraid I failed to convey to the noble Earl what my objection is; my objection is that there is no obligation contained in the Bill now to oblige the Admiralty to expend the total sum received, in respect of that bequest, in pensions to lieutenants of the Royal Navy. That was the intention of the bequest, and apparently that is the intention of the Admiralty; and I do not propose to make any alteration in the spirit of the Bill at all, or any alteration which can affect any of the persons who may have given their consent. All I wish is that the Admiralty should be compelled to lay out the money which will come to them. Under the Bill as it stands, and as the noble Lord has just said, there is a discretion left to the Admiralty. I say that discretion ought not to be left to them, because Mr. Travers left this money for this particular purpose. Everybody will be agreed that it is quite right that pensions should be given to officers of the rank of lieutenant of the Royal Navy. That rank is necessarily the rank from which by far the largest amount of retirements take place, owing to the impossibility of promoting all lieutenants, and therefore it is particularly undesirable that, in the case of a bequest of this sort, there should be left any loophole through which, either the lieutenants should not receive the money, or the money should be capable of being bestowed upon somebody else. My Lords, 1226 when I say this I have a reason; because in the year 1885 the Admiralty decided that officers who were active captains, and who would retire being active captains, were to count as if they were lieutenants. If I had happened to notice that at the time I should have opposed it, as this benefit is clearly intended for lieutenants, and it is intended that the money should be expended; it apparently is the wish of the Admiralty; and why the draftsman should object to words being put in to make it clear I do not understand. I assure your Lordships I have good reason for opposing this, because I have seen in practice in the Admiralty the difficulty of making it necessary to lay money out in the way in which it was originally intended; and, if your Lordships were to read the Bill as I have done, you would see that, by coupling the property of Greenwich Hospital together with this property, it is quite possible that a certain portion of the money would not be so laid out. The noble Lord says that the income arises from land and may fluctuate. My Lords, the Admiralty cannot expend money they have not got; but the net income of that property, whatever it may be, ought to be laid out in pensions for lieutenants of the Navy. And, my Lords, the second objection that I make—and I think it is a very pertinent objection—is that this Bill, which is a Bill about the Naval Knights of Windsor, contains a regulation which refers to the property of Greenwich Hospital—an entirely different matter. The noble Lord has not given me any answer upon that; and I should like to call his attention to the fact. It was merely by accident that, by looking at the Bills which he repealed, I found he was repealing the 48th and 49th Vic, cap. 42, sec. 7, and, on looking at that section, I found it was a section which had reference solely to the property of Greenwich Hospital, and had no reference whatever to this matter.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I must say that the answer given by the noble Lord opposite teems to me very unsatisfactory. He says that the Admiralty might be called to account in Parliament. We all know that that might be done; but here you are going to give the Admiralty discretion in a matter in which I do not think they ought to have discretion. The word in the Bill is 1227 "may"; it ought to be "shall." As to the amount of money, nobody expects the Admiralty will lay out money that they do not possess; but I cannot understand from the noble Lord's answer what the true reasons are. It looks as if there were something behind it which is not satisfactory. As to its being an agreed Bill, it cannot affect the persons concerned in this Charity unfavourably; because, of course, the securing positively by an Act of Parliament that the money shall be devoted to a particular class of persons cannot prejudice them. I hope the noble Lord will not object to put in the word "shall." My Lords, I do not attribute to the present Board of Admiralty any intention of doing anything otherwise than what is right; but this is an Act which is to be for all time, and it would be much better to make it clear and not to leave it to doubt. I know that "may" does sometimes mean "shall," but I am told on good authority that here it would be discretionary. I should bow to a legal opinion if I were told that it means "shall" here; but I am told that it does not; and I confess I should like to know a little more what is the reason for the Admiralty not being willing to alter it.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
A desire to do everything in its wrong place is one of the most powerful of human emotions, and the noble Earl, having the Committee coming on to-morrow or the next day, prefers to discuss now whether your Lordships should put "shall" or "may" into the clause.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I abandon my observation if that is the case. It is really a matter which must be discussed in Committee, and I have no doubt that we shall be able to give a good account of the motives of the Admiralty, which I suspect are not tinged with any such dark intentions as the noble Earl suggests; and I hope we shall have that amount of legal strength in the House which shall enable us to discuss one of the most difficult questions in the British Constitution, namely, 1228 whether "may" or "shall" should be used in a particular sentence.
§ *LORD ELPHINSTONE
I would merely say, in answer to my noble Friend, that the noble Earl seems suspicious of the Department that I represent, but there really is nothing behind this. My instructions are, as I mentioned, not to accept any Amendment. All I can undertake to do is, if this Bill is read a second time, to confer with the authorities at the Admiralty.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
And will the noble Lord at the same time point out that Clause 2 deals with the property of Greenwich Hospital? It does, I can assure him; I have looked at the Act.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.