HL Deb 18 April 1923 vol 53 cc714-24

THE EARL OF DNRTMOUTH had given Notice to ask the representative of the Ministry of Health what is the position of the Prince of Wales's National Relief Fund; what were the terms of original appeal; what was the total amount subscribed; what is the present balance, if any; whether the fund has been wound up; and whether it is intended to issue a statement of the manner in which the money has been spent, for the information of the subscribers; and to move for a Return.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have given Notice of this little budget of Questions because I have never yet found anyone who knows what has happened to this Fund. According to the best of my recollection the duty of making the appeal was first given to the county councils. It has always seemed to me that a great mistake was made when this duty was entrusted to the county councils. They are a very admirable body, and I have been a member of one almost from the beginning; but a county council is so associated in the mind of the public with local taxation that it hardly seems a suitable body to make a great appeal. The proper person to have made such an appeal was the Lord Lieutenant of the county, the representative of His Majesty, who has a good deal of experience in raising funds for public purposes. As to the original terms of the appeal, my recollection is that it was for the purpose of alleviating civil distress caused by the war.

I should like to thank my noble friend for sending me the Report of the National Relief Fund. It certainly answers several of my questions. As to the total amount subscribed, I see by the Report that it is, practically, £7,000,000. I also ask whether the Fund has been wound up, and I find from the Report that it has been wound up, and that there is no balance remaining. I do, however, attach importance to the actual terms of the original appeal and I hope my noble friend will give me the information. When I put this Question on the Paper the Birmingham Post, a paper which is prominent in the Midland Counties, commented on it. I should like to read an extract from that paper. It said: There are many who keenly desire to know what at this moment is being done with the money, beyond paying the salaries of the staff engaged in its distribution. Here let me say that I think the most attractive part of the Report lies in the fact that the cost of the administration of the £7,000,000 was under one per cent. That answers that part of the Birmingham Post's criticism.

The paper goes on to say: Immediately the war broke out the Heir Apparent issued an appeal as treasurer of this National Relief Fund, which was so readily and liberally responded to that more than three millions flowed in within six weeks, a sum subsequently well-nigh doubled. A portion was used to assist the relief of such distress as came from the relatively small amount of unemployment caused by the war, but, to the surprise and chagrin of many of the subscribers, a very large sum was employed, without reference to the givers, in defraying the plain obligations of the nation by supplementing to a subsistence point allowances to wives and dependents of men called to the colours That accurately describes the view most people hold.

I do not wish to lay too much stress on the personal side, but I should like to say a word or two about our experience in Staffordshire, which I think is similar to that of other counties. Between September 10, 1914, and September 18, 1915, Staffordshire subscribed £35,000. From September 17, 1914, when we had our first contribution of £200 from the Central Office, to June 17, 1919, we got altogether £1,200 out of the £35,000 we raised. On June 2, 1919, the Clerk to the Staffordshire County Council applied for a further sum of £200, and we received in reply what, under the circumstances, was a somewhat offensive letter.

It was signed by H. W. S. France, and stated: I am directed by the Government Committee on the Prevention and Relief of Distress to inform you that they have had under consideration the application made by the Local Representative Committee For the County of Stafford, and have decided to recommend that an additional grant of £100 be made from the National Relief Fund to the Local Committee to enable them to afford direct assistance in cases of 'civilian' distress. This recommendation has been forwarded to the Committee of the Fund. I am to add that the Government Committee would be glad to receive at an early date a report showing, as regards each case then receiving assistance, the period for which assistance has been given, the action taken by the Local Representative Committee (apart from the supply of assistance in cash) to assist the recipient to become self-supporting, and the views of the Local Representative Committee with regard to the future prospects of the case. I do not know what the experience of other noble Lords may be, but my impression is that in order to make a man self-supporting £100 does not go very far. What I lay Stress upon is the fact that while we in Staffordshire raised £35,000 we only got £1,100 back, and when we asked for a further £200 we only received £100. When we received the above letter the Clerk to the County Council wrote in reply that he was rather surprised they should have treated us like that. That was the end of our communications.

I was rather surprised to find that the final Report on the administration of the National Belief Fund was issued in March, 1921. It appears that ten Reports altogether were issued, none of which I have seen. It is possible that I did not recognise the Prince of Wales's Fund under its new name of the National Relief Fund. I should like to know whether the Reports were circulated, and what steps were taken to acquaint subscribers with the proceedings of the Committee. The persons who raised the Fund have a right to know how the money was spent. I should like also to know whether these particular Reports which were issued from time to time were sent round to the county councils and borough councils which raised the original Fund.

With regard to the Reports of the Executive Committee, there are one or two little points with which will deal at no great length, because there are some 103 different directions in which the activities of the Committee were extended. In the first paragraph of the final Report it is stated that the total issues for naval and military relief amounted to £3,978,102, and for civil relief £2,668,019. If my original assumption is correct, and this Fund was raised for the relief of civil distress, there seems to be something disproportionate in that distribution. In paragraph 3 it is pointed out that one of the directions in which relief was given was to men belonging to overseas contingents and to French and Italian soldiers. That seems to me to be a very curious way of disposing of contributions to a fund that had been raised from private sources. Again, some of the money was devoted to war pensions. Surely the duty of providing war pensions devolves upon the Government and not upon a privately subscribed fund.

The Lusitania Relief Fund is another case is point. The Report states: It was represented to the Committee that the fund which had been inaugurated by the Lord Mayor of London for the relief of dependants of those who were lost in the disaster of the s.s. "Lusitania" in May, 1915, had proved inadequate to deal with all the necessitous cases which had arisen. The Committee accordingly made a grant of £6,125, the amount estimated on an actuarial calculation to be required to enable the allowances paid by the Lusitania Fund to be brought up to a reasonable level of subsistence. I maintain that the appeal which we made was not for the purpose of supplementing a Lord Mayor's Fund for the sufferers in the Lusitania disaster which did not materalise. A little explanation of how the money went in that direction will be advisable.

I do not propose to weary your Lordships with too many of these extracts, but with regard to the final grants, I understand that the Fund has now practically been wound up, and what little balance there may be has been divided between two or three very exemplary institutions. Paragraph 32 says: The wise distribution of a sum not far short of £7,000,000 is a task of extraordinary difficulty, and the Committee's powers were necessarily limited by the terms upon which subscriptions to the Fund had been invited. That is what I regard as the important point. The Report goes on to say: As it was, circumstances arose which could not have been present to the minds of the subscribers, and the Committee had to interpret, as best they might, what would have been the wishes and intentions of their subscribers in the light of developments which could not have been anticipated when the Fund was started. With regard to that point, there would have been no difficulty whatever had the Committee desired to find out the wishes of the subscribers. They had only to give an opportunity to the bodies which had raised the money, and which, in the first instance, were the county councils and the borough councils, to consult with the committee administering the fund in order to ascertain the wishes of the subscribers. There ought to have been no difficulty about that, and if the Committee had only taken the councils into their confidence I think that a great many of their difficulties would not have arisen.

The last paragraph of this Report contains a recognition of the services rendered by various bodies and individuals in the administration of the Fund. They are, no doubt, fully entitled to this recognition. I have not a word to say about that. But I regard it as an extraordinary thing that from first to last, from the beginning to the end of that long paragraph, there is not a word of recognition or appreciation of the services of those who raised the Fund. They are absolutely ignored. The various bodies who raised the sum of £7,000,000 do not receive a word of recognition or of thanks. I can only hope, as the result of our experience with the Prince of Wales's Fund, that never again will counties be invited to collect subscriptions to be administered by a committee in London, because I am certain that the result of any such appeal would be very small indeed.

I hope the noble Earl will be able to give the House an explanation of some of these points, and to suggest the best way for making the results known to the individuals who have subscribed. A very large number of people who subscribed have felt very keenly the fact that they have had no idea of the manner in which the amount they subscribed has been distributed. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell us. I attached to my Question Notice of a Motion for a Return. I am not sure that the Report which I have received does not do away with the necessity for any further Return. I had intended to include in my Motion for a Return a further Motion for the return of the money that Staffordshire subscribed, but as I understand that all the money has been spent, while a Motion for a Return may be unnecessary, any Motion for the return of the money would certainly be quite useless.


My Lords, in the first place I should say in reply to the Question of my noble friend that the administration of the National Relief Fund, as it has been officially designated, was entrusted to an Executive Committee for whose decisions neither the present Government nor any of its predecessors had any responsibility. I think I should make that clear in the first instance. The Local Government Board, as it was in those days, co-operated with the Executive Committee of the Fund by inviting local authorities to establish local representative bodies to deal with the relief of civil distress, and to that extent the Government had undertaken a certain amount of responsibility.

The noble Earl referred to a letter which he had received from what was designated the Government Committee, and for the constitution of that body I would venture to refer your Lordships to the first of the ten Reports which were issued by the Executive Committee of the National Relief Fund. It was issued on March 31, 1915, and in paragraph 6 it states that at the outbreak of the war the Government appointed a Committee on the Prevention and Relief of Distress, and it gives the constitution of that Committee, the Chairman of which was Mr. Herbert Samuel. To assist that Committee the Local Government Board set up local machinery, and allowed their inspectors to be used to ascertain local needs. The scales of relief were settled, of course, by the Executive Committee of the Fund, after consultation with this Government Committee under Mr. Herbert Samuel. The responsibility rested with the Fund, since the executive were not bound to accept recommendations made to them. I should say that the post-war grants for civil relief were settled without reference to the Ministry of Health, which succeeded the Local Government Board, but after consultation in certain cases with the Ministry of Labour. That was the procedure in regard to the Government Committee which was set up at the beginning of the war. To this extent only, as I have explained, did the Government co-operate with the Committee of the Fund.

As regards the question of procedure and what has happened about the Fund, as the noble Earl said he has seen in the Report which I sent him that the Fund has now been wound up and the final Report circulated to Parliament. The noble Earl asked a Question as to the issue of these Reports, and he referred to the fact that some ten were issued as Command Papers. I believe that is correct. As I have said, the first Report was issued on March 31, 1915, and the last on March 1, 1921. They were issued in the ordinary way as Command Papers, and I think that the reason they escaped the notice of the noble Earl is that they are described as Reports on the Administration of the National Relief Fund, and not, as the Fund was popularly known at the beginning, of the Prince of Wales's Fund.

In this last Report, published in 1921, it was explained that in order to dispose of any small local balances received after the final apportionment of the Fund the Committee had decided to make the Central Committee on Women's Employment, the Officers' Association, and the Unity Relief Fund, their residuary legatees. It appears that the balances which remained over proved to be somewhat larger than was anticipated, and Mr. Brock, who acted as Secretary of the Committee, has informed me that the amount paid to the Central Committee on Women's Employment was £22,429 5s. 11d., while the Unity Relief Fund and the Officers' Association each received half this amount. The final figures, I believe, are now with the honorary auditor, and I am told that the Executive Committee, or the Secretary of the Committee, hopes to circulate them at a very early date. The noble Earl has asked me a Question as to the terms of the original appeal. This is set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the First Report in 1915 of the Executive Committee. I do not know whether your Lordships would wish me to read the whole of those paragraphs.


Can the noble Earl tell me whether the word "civil" appeared in the original appeal or not?


I do not think the word "civil" actually did appear, but I will give the noble Earl my copy afterwards.


Perhaps, as a member of the Committee, I might explain that all these Reports were published in the Press at the time they were issued. The First Report was published verbatim and I cannot understand how it is that, the noble Earl did not see the documents at the time they appeared.


Were they sent to the county councils?


They were published in the Press, and so far as I know were sent to subscribers.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his intervention and explanation. As I have said, the Government are not responsible. I understand that the noble Earl will be content if I give him a copy of the paper. I should say, in conclusion, that the total receipts of the Fund amounted to £7,013,361 16s. 5d. This sum was made up as follows:—

£ s. d.
Subscriptions and donations 6,083,660 1 0
Her Majesty the Queen's Work for Women Fund 171,309 4 1
Interest on balance temporarily invested 758,392 11 4

As I have said, the whole of this amount has now been distributed.


My Lords, on behalf of the Committee, I should like to say that this was a long and anxious business. The results of their work were published at the time, and, if I may say so, it is highly inconvenient that practically two years after the Fund has been wound up this question should have been raised. Most of the administrative work was done seven or eight years ago, and it does seem surprising that we should now be asked to hold a post-mortem on the Fund, seeing that practically the whole amount has been distributed and no good can result from holding such an inquiry. The noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, seems to move with much deliberation. He has delayed bringing the matter before the House for several years, and he also seems to have been dilatory in supplying himself with the Reports, which were published in the Press, and also could have been obtained in the, ordinary way at the Stationery Office or at the Office of the Fund. I may say that the Committee acted in close co-operation with the Government, and with the Committee which was set up to deal with civil distress. Practically no action was taken by the Committee which did not commend itself to the Government of the day. I have never had a previous opportunity of saying this, and I am therefore obliged to the noble Earl for giving me the opportunity.

Viscount Long is aware of the serious condition of affairs which obtained at the beginning of the war. Had it not been for the relief afforded by this Committee to the wives and children of soldiers, for whom no provision had been made, there would have been mutinies in a number of regiments. In fact, trouble did occur in several places. Viscount Long and Mr. Hayes Fisher performed a great public service in urging the Committee to distribute a certain amount of money to people for whom no provision had been made. If the affairs of the Fund be inquired into, I can assure the noble Earl that he will find that the Committee did nothing which it was not entitled to do, and that it did a large amount of beneficent work. If the claim of the Committee to gratitude rests only upon what they did for the thousands, the hundreds of thousands, of what are called unmarried wives, who had been left desti- tute and unprovided for, the Committee would be fully entitled to national gratitude. I regret that the noble Earl did not bring this Motion forward at an earlier date, when it would have been possible to consider the matter in more detail.


My Lords, I do not quite understand the object of the Motion put down by the noble Earl, and I honestly confess that I have not now an accurate recollection of what took place a good many years ago. My noble friend, however, asked whether this was a civil fund. In regard to that, I recollect perfectly well that in 1914, immediately on the formation of the Committee, this was the first question of magnitude which we discussed in the Committee. We discussed it at great length, as Lord Riddell will remember, and we came quite definitely to the conclusion that the Committee were entitled to employ their funds for the relief of those who were exposed to suffering in consequence of the war.

I can endorse what Lord Riddell has said as to the wives, the unmarried wives, and the immediate dependants of soldiers. The conditions were awful. I am speaking of facts which came within my own knowledge, for I made a personal inspection in the camps round Aldershot and elsewhere, and discussed these matters with the soldiers. Many men told me that if they could not get immediate relief they would return to their homes to look after their wives and children, even at the risk of being taken up for desertion. I cannot say now what our general methods were. It was a big Committee, and we gave an immense amount of time to it.

The noble Earl who spoke for the Government disowned any responsibility on their behalf. Well, there have been several Governments since that day, and I do not desire to say that they are in any way responsible, but I would remind the noble Earl that the Chairman of that Committee was appointed by the Government; it was not left to the Committee to select their own Chairman. The Chairman was Mr. Wedgwood Benn, and the second Chairman was Sir George Murray, who was appointed a member of the Committee by the Government with a view of his becoming Chairman. Mr. Arthur Balfour, now Lord Balfour, and two or three other members were also appointed by the Government. The invitation extended to me to join the Committee came from Mr. Wedgwood Benn, who was one of the Government Whips. We had members of the Government on the Committee, and we were in close touch with the Government as long as I was a member of the Committee.

I do not remember now what was the cause of my ceasing to be a member of it, but I do not think the Committee has sat for a long time. All the money was honestly spent, and spent in relief of distress, and I think it was spent in accordance with promises given to the local authorities—about which I remember we had a conflict of opinion with Wolverhampton. I can assure my noble friend that none of the money stuck to the palms of our hands, and I must say that to have an inquiry now, after all these years, would be pure waste of time.


I am extremely sorry that I did not raise this Question sooner. I endeavoured to explain, however, that, having for five years been engaged in looking for a Report on the Prince of Wales's Fund, I have never seen it. I do not know whether the first Report was called the Report of the Prince of Wales's Fund.


No, it is called the Report on the Administration of the National Relief Fund up to March 31, 1915.


I can only express my regret that I was not able to bring it forward sooner, but, having been unable to find anybody who knew anything about a Report of the Prince of Wales's Fund I ventured to bring it forward, and it was only on the Notice of my Question that I received a copy of the Report. That accounts for the delay; I did not intend to make any attack on the Committee. What I did feel, and still feel, is that when the counties raised large sums they ought to have been taken into consultation before the money was distributed in ways which were certainly not realised when the appeal was first made. The only matter in this Report to which I referred is the fact of the assistance given to French and Italians, which, I am sure, was never contemplated by those who made the appeal, or by those who responded to it.