§ Commons Message considered (according to Order).
*THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD RAGLAN)
My Lords, I beg to move the motion standing in my name.
Moved, "That this House do concur in the following resolution communicated by the Commons—namely, 'That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider the various charitable agencies now in operation, and the funds available for relieving widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors, with a view to insuring that the funds subscribed by local and private benevolence are applied to the best advantage in supplementing a scheme of Government Pensions for widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors who have lost their lives in war.'" —(Lord Raglan.)
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is pursuing rather an unusual course in moving this motion without giving the House the slightest explanation. I want to know what is the object of this Committee. This matter has been before the public for a 173 great many years, particularly in connection with the Patriotic Fund, though since the Transvaal War it has come more into prominence as a result of the generous contributions which have been made to various funds in various parts of the country. Almost all the benevolent funds for the relief of those connected with the war have had large sums of money to distribute, and there has been a very strong feeling as to whether or not overlapping and abuse have followed in consequence. Though, of course, I may make some conjectures, I am quite at a loss to know what the object of this Committee is. I am not going to say a word in condemnation of the way the Patriotic Fund has been administered. All I will say is that I know it has not inspired confidence in the country; but at the same time I believe there has been a great deal of misrepresentation. As far as I can make out, there have been six or seven inquiries already of this kind. There was a Committee, over which my lamented friend the late Lord Herschell presided, in 1895; there was a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1896; there was a Committee of the Commissioners themselves, presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord Davey, who I regret to see is not in his place to-day; there was the Committee appointed by His Majesty the King, then Prince of Wales; and the last Committee was the one held lately under the able chairmanship of Lord Justice Collins, and on which my noble friend Lord North-brook served. These Committees all made Reports, and finally there was a conference in the City, under the presidency of the ex-Lord Mayor (Sir Alfred Newton), when some important resolutions were carried in order to give effect to the different recommendations that were made by Lord Justice Collins's Committee. Is this Committee to go over all the old ground again? We have heard a great deal recently of committees and commissions, and I confess I am rather shy of them, for they often delay action which it is necessary should be taken. It was only a few nights ago that the noble Marquess at the head of the Government protested that, if a Committee was granted to my noble friend Lord Avebury on the subject of hours in shops, it must not be thought that the Government would be bound to follow the advice of any committee, although that 174 advice would have a considerable amount of weight. With regard to the Patriotic Fund, inquiry has been made ad nauseam; but possibly it is not for that purpose that this Committee is to meet. I notice that the terms of reference speak of a scheme which I should hail with great satisfaction—namely, a scheme of Government pensions for widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors who have lost their lives in war. We have not heard anything of that in this House, but it was one of the recommendations of Lord Justice Collins's Committee, and I suppose the Government have accepted it. It does not seem to me at all necessary to have a Committee to decide how the different funds are to be applied in supplementing such a scheme. The Government have already all the necessary information; and therefore, without wishing to oppose the noble Lord's motion, I think the House is entitled to some explanation with regard to it.
My Lords, I can only refer the noble Earl to what has been said on this subject in another place. It is proposed by the Government to start a scheme under which the widows and orphans of men who have lost their lives in the service of the country shall receive pensions out of public funds. That being so, the position of these funds, which have hitherto been the means of supporting them, will be changed, and they will become auxiliary. It is therefore necessary to devise some scheme for dealing with them. I am afraid that is all the information I can give the noble Earl on the subject.
§ *THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, I was a member of Lord Justice Collins's Committee, and I concur in what has fallen from the noble Earl (Lord Spencer) on this subject. I cannot understand how the Government should think it necessary to appoint a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to deal with a matter on which every single piece of information that can possibly be produced is before them. I also agree with my noble friend that, the House of Commons having asked for the appointment of a Committee, it would be ungracious to decline. But I wish that the noble Lord who represents the War Office in this House had been able to inform us what the scheme of pensions is which the Government are going to pro- 175 pose for the widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors who lose their lives in the service. Unless that scheme is notified beforehand, it would be perfectly useless for this Committee to undertake its labours. The whole of the future arrangements must depend upon what the amount of the pensions to be given by the Government is, and how far those pensions will extend; and unless that information is before the Joint Committee, I hold that the Joint Committee had very much better not meet. However, while associating myself with the observations made by the noble Earl with respect to the want of necessity for appointing this Committee, I am not prepared to oppose the appointment of the Committee.
§ *LORD WELBY
My Lords, as an individual member of the Patriotic Fund Commission, I should like to say that I have heard with great interest and satisfaction the statement made by the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War with regard to the scheme of Government pensions for the widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors. That is an entirely new departure, and, as the noble Lord said, it makes the voluntary funds upon which we have hitherto relied supplementary. The noble Lord's motion has the assent of the Patriotic Fund Commissioners, and I trust that the appointment of this Joint Committee will lead to a satisfactory arrangement. But I think it would assist the Committee very much if the Government were able to indicate in some form or other the lines on which they think that arrangement should be based.
§ On Question, agreed to; and message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Five of the clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven of the clock.