HL Deb 21 November 1946 vol 144 cc279-83

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill which is now before your Lordships' House is a short measure and one which is not, I think, likely to cause any contention. But before I come to the detailed provisions of the Bill your Lordships may like to have a short account of the history of the benefits provided by the Royal Hospital of Greenwich. The hospital was founded by Charter of William and Mary in 1694. The objects of the foundation, briefly, were the relief and support of seamen serving in the Royal Navy who, by reason of age, wounds or other disabilities, were incapable of further service at sea and were unable to maintain themselves; the sustentation of the widows and the maintenance and education of the children of seamen killed or disabled in sea service; the further relief and encouragement of seamen; and the improvement of navigation. For these purposes Queen Mary declared, in her husband's name, that the building begun by King Charles II on the site of the ancient Royal Palace of Placentia at Greenwich should be completed as a retreat for seamen disabled in the service of their country and as a noble and lasting monument of the gratitude which Britain felt for the courage and patriotism of her sailors.

In the early part of the nineteenth century the hospital buildings housed 2,710 men, but the numbers gradually decreased until in 1865 the number was only 1,400. The Greenwich Hospital Act of 1865 was then passed authorizing the payment of out-pensions as an inducement to men to leave the Hospital. It was decided to continue this policy and in 1869 the Greenwich Hospital Special Pensions were instituted and the Hospital was closed. For many years the buildings have been occupied by the Royal Naval College. In 1712 the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, was established for the purpose of clothing and educating the sons of pensioners. In 1933 the School removed from Greenwich to new buildings at Holbrook in Suffolk. Apart from the benefits provided by this School, Greenwich Hospital provides pensions for Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers; grants for the education and the maintenance of sons and daughters of deceased or distressed officers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines; special pensions to seamen and marines and for the education and maintenance of their children; the maintenance of seamen and marines in naval hospitals, etc.; pensions to widows and gratuities to parents of seamen and marines killed or drowned in the service of the Crown before 1914.

The object of the present Bill is, broadly, to amend certain of the conditions governing some of these benefits which are laid down in various Greenwich Hospital Acts from 1865 to 1942, in order to make them appropriate to modern conditions. The Bill first proposes to repeal the present maximum limit of Greenwich Hospital Special Pensions. These pensions were instituted in 1869, and the present maximum of 17s. 6d. a week was prescribed nearly fifty years ago in the Act of 1898. The fall in the value of money during this period has made this maximum no longer appropriate and if the limit is removed it is intended to make new regulations to provide for the award of these pensions on a basis more in keeping with present day needs. The present maximum award of 17s. 6d. a week includes any naval pension which may be in force, with the result that almost all naval life pensioners are excluded from this Greenwich Hospital benefit. Section 1 (2) of the draft Bill would remove the obligation to disregard any pension increase awarded under Pension (Increases) Acts but such increases would be taken into account only in fixing the maxima in the new higher scales of Greenwich Hospital Special Pensions.

Secondly, the Bill would remove the existing restrictions on the total number of daughters of seamen and marines educated and maintained at any one time at the expense of Greenwich Hospital funds. The present limit is 200 and was prescribed in the Greenwich Hospital Act of 1872. This limit has not, in fact, been reached in recent years, but the late war has brought an abnormal number of applications for the daughters of seamen and marines to be educated and maintained at the expense of Greenwich Hospital funds. It is therefore desirable to remove the restriction laid down in the 1872 Act. Thirdly, it is proposed to abolish the present limit of £20 a year for the expenditure from Greenwich Hospital funds on the education and maintenance of sons and daughters of deceased or distressed commissioned officers of the Royal Navy or Royal Marines. Although the maximum of £20 for this purpose may have been regarded as adequate seventy years ago, it is not appropriate at the present time. For example, grants awarded by the Ministry of Pensions for the education of children may be as high as £80 a year.

Fourthly, the Bill proposes to widen the scope of the conditions governing the award of Greenwich Hospital Pensions to widows and allowances to children and gratuities to parents or dependent relatives of non-commissioned officers, Petty Officers and men of the Royal Navy or Royal Marines, or any Naval Reserve force. The Act of 1883 authorizes the award of pensions, allowances and gratuities to the widows, children, parents and dependent relatives of those killed or drowned in the service of the Crown. No new Greenwich Hospital awards in these respects have been made for many years. The Ministry of Pensions provides for such cases when they arise from warlike operations, and those occurring in peace-time are provided for from Navy Votes. The Bill will enable financial assistance from Greenwich Hospital funds in the form of pensions to widows and allowances to children and gratuities to parents or dependent relatives of non-commissioned officers, Petty Officers and men of the Royal Navy or Royal Marines or of any Naval Reserve force who die or have died from natural causes.

Thus it will be seen that the Bill will extend the field of eligibility for awards as well as remove the present restrictions on the amounts of awards. The Bill would not in any way diminish the benefits payable under existing powers, but would enable deserving cases, hitherto excluded by the regulations, to be covered so far as the funds available permit. Lest it should be thought that by the removal of certain of the restrictions which at present govern the administration of Greenwich Hospital funds, these funds would cease to be under proper control and that their expenditure might be open to abuse, I must emphasize that before we could bring in any new classes not eligible for benefit under present arrangements, the Admiralty would be required to formulate specific regulations which would themselves require to receive the authority of an Order in Council. This procedure would limit the benefits payable in future in accordance with the funds available, and the needs of the times.

It may also be asked why the benefits provided by Greenwich Hospital funds should be necessary at all in view of the comprehensive provision for social needs which is made by the State under the social security scheme. On this point, I would say first that the social legislation that has been passed since the present conditions governing awards from Greenwich Hospital funds were laid down is itself one of the reasons why those conditions now require to be amended and brought to date. Secondly, however comprehensive the provision made by the State may be, there may always arise special, hard cases which are not fully met by social legislation. It is cases of this kind that the funds of Greenwich Hospital can relieve and assist. I should also explain that the funds of Greenwich Hospital are derived in the main from the bequests of many benefactors who have wished in the past to make gifts for the purposes stated in the Charter of 1694. The funds are not in any sense dependent upon provision made by the State.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)


My Lords, on this occasion we are in the happy position of having an entirely non-controversial measure. I am quite certain that there are no noble Lords in any part of this House who do not approve the object of this Bill, and I merely rise to say that we give it our full support.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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