§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, this is a short Bill and it is noncontroversial. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the powers of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation in two details affecting the dependants of deceased soldiers and airmen. The first clause amends existing law to extend the classes of persons eligible to receive assistance from the Soldiers' Effects Fund, which is one of the Funds administered by the Corporation. The second clause remedies with retrospective effect a deficiency in the legal powers of the Corporation in relation to the dependants of deceased airmen: its purpose, is to bring dependants of airinen within the scope of benefits from certain of the other Funds administered by the Corporation, and places on a regular footing what has in fact been the past practice of the Corporation in this matter.
Your Lordships will no doubt like me to outline briefly the history of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. The Corporation was created by Act of Parliament in 1903, but its origins can be traced as far back as 1854. In that latter year the Royal Patriotic Fund was created as a result of a public appeal for 766 funds for the benefit of the widows and orphans in necessitous circumstances of all ranks of the Royal Navy and Army who lost their lives in the Crimean War.. A Roy al Commission was appointed in the same year to administer the money subscribed, and H.R.H. The Prince Consort became the first President. The Royal Commissioners continued to administer the Royal Patriotic Fund until the end of 1903, by which time they had been entrusted with seventeen other funds for the benefit of widows and orphans of sailors and soldiers. Included among these was the Soldiers' Effects Fund, which was set up by the Regimental Debts Act, 1893. The Soldiers' Effects Fund is made up of unclaimed balances in the estates of soldiers and airmen who die while serving, and assistance from the Fund is given to dependants of soldiers and airmen only. The unclaimed residues of members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines are dealt with under another enactment.
Under the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation Act of 1903, the property and the duties of the Commissioners of the Royal Patriotic Fund were handed over to the Corporation.
Clause 1 of the Bill deals entirely with the Soldiers' Effects Fund. The effect of this Clause is to remove the present statutory restriction that the beneficiaries from the Fund must be dependants of soldiers, and airmen who died within six months after discharge. The amendment made by Clause 1 will extend the field of possible beneficiaries, and a new Royal Warrant will be issued defining the classes to be given preferential consideration, as was done by the Royal Warrant of 1893. Clause 1 (1) of the Bill will carry out the required amendment under the statutory definition of the soldiers' dependants eligible to benefit from the Fund, and Clause 1 (2) provides a corresponding definition of the dependants of airmen eligible to benefit. In order to obviate any misunderstanding. I should like to make it clear that we are not by this clause increasing the number of persons who may make claims upon the Royal Patriotic Fund as a whole; what we are widening here is not the scope of the Royal Patriotic Fund altogether but the scope of the Soldiers' Effects Fund within the work of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. One effect of abolishing 767 the six months' rule will be to bring in that class of widow who at present falls between the two stools of the War Pensions administration and the National Insurance administration.
As I have briefly indicated, the purpose of Clause 2, which is entirely unrelated to Clause 1, is to bring widows and orphans of Air Force personnel legally within the scope of those benefits administered by the Corporation. It does no more than validate the long-standing practice of the Corporation, both as regards the past and for the future, by remedying a deficiency in its legal powers.
Finally, I should like to give your Lordships some idea of the scope of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. The Corporation's report for 1948 showed that the Corporation then administered eighteen different Funds—the number is now fourteen—and the total of invested money at the Corporation's disposal amounted at the end of that year to more than £1,100,000. Of this total, the Soldiers' Effects Fund accounted for about £290,000. The total expenditure from the latter Fund for the year 1948–49 is about £8,000; for 1949–50 it was up to £8,400. The income of the Fund amounts to about £10,000 per annum.
My Lords, conditions to-day are very different from those of 1893, and there are two important respects in which the application of the Fund has been affected. First, the Ministry of Pensions issue pensions to widows and dependants in all cases where death is attributable to service, so that widows and dependants in the preferential classes prescribed in the Royal Warrant are now all in receipt of such pensions—which was not the case in 1893. It follows that there is no longer as much need for relief by way of regular allowances among the preferential classes as there was in 1893. Secondly, the first resort to-day for persons in need of financial relief is to the National Assistance Board; and one effect of this is that such regular allowances as are paid from the Soldiers' Effects Fund are normally limited to 10s. 6d. a week, because any higher payment than that would result in a corresponding reduction of the amount of assistance under the National Assistance Scheme.
768 Other modifications have, of course, been made to keep the administration of the Funds entrusted to the stewardship of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation in line with present-day conditions, but it is only the particular aspects dealt with in the present Bill that have required legislation. There is complete agreement that the two changes asked for in this Bill are desirable. After it has been passed, the necessary regulations will he made in the manner which I have described. I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, we shall all be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for the clear way in which he has explained the meaning of this Bill and its provisions. I think that those who read his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT will agree that the Bill was presented much more clearly and forcibly in this House than it was in another place —and it is not the first time that that sort of thing has happened. I think the noble Viscount was right when he pointed out that any charity of this kind, which was started as long ago as the 1850's, must require a certain amount of attention, if only because of the fact that so many improvements have been made in our social services between then and now. Therefore it follows that if a charity was formed before the days of national insurance, old-age pensions, national health services, and so on, it needs looking at very carefully in order to make sure that it has been geared in such a way as to deal with present needs. The point mentioned by the noble Viscount just now about the effect of national assistance on the scales of relief given by the Fund is an indication of how necessary it is that this matter should be examined.
My first impression of this rather curious little Bill was that if it had been a Private Member's Bill, and had been placed in the hands of a firm of Parliamentary agents, a good many other things might have been found which needed clearing up at the present time. Usually, a corporation of this sort, which works under an Act of Parliament, finds itself under the disability that it cannot alter its rules nearly as often as it would like 769 to do, because of the difficulty of finding Parliamentary time. When that long-hoped-for time does come, it is apparent how many things need to be included and cleared up. One would have thought that now this opportunity has come there would have been a thorough spring-cleaning of the whole set-up, but I am not sure whether full use has been made of this opportunity. It looks more like a "lick and a promise."
To give one instance, it surprised me that it was not thought fit to change the procedure under Royal Warrant. This is obsolete by now—:it is surely not necessary to take the affairs of the Corporation to the Privy Council. We were rather looking at this Bill from that point of view, and that led us to examine some of the affairs of the Corporation which are not dealt with in this Bill. As Lord Hall said, there are many desirable changes which do not require legislation and, therefore, we were glad to hear from the Corporation that they were in touch with the Charity Commissioners for certain improvements which fall within the orbit of the Charity Commissioners, and that they were preparing evidence to go before the Nathan Committee. We also had a look at the cost of the management of the Corporation and of administering this relief; and we were very glad to see that, based on ordinary standards, the cost of relief was not high. The only comment I wish to make is that perhaps the light of the Corporation has been rather hidden under a bushel, and they might have presented their accounts for 1949 in such a way as to show their administration in a rather more favourable light than in fact they did.
We were also glad to find that in administering their relief "in the field" they have made full use of such organisations as the Family Welfare Association, and the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families' Association. I am sure that that method of administration is not only economic but is likely to get the best results and to achieve the best contacts with the families of those people who require relief. Whether in years to come it may not be desirable to amalgamate the distribution of these Funds and of other similar Funds, I am not quire sure: I think it should be kept in mind as a long-term objective. The 770 secretariat is fully capable of dealing with the administration of a good deal more money than is coming through the coffers of the Fund just now.
The only other thing we looked at, and looked at rather carefully, was the so-called school—I say "so-called" as it turns out to be a school where no education is given, because at present the children are educated at local schools near the boarding-house, as I might call it, in Hertfordshire. The present cost per child for board and lodging is, I am told, £165 per year. One must draw attention to that figure, because it seems very high. I have some figures which I have obtained privately, and which I will give to the noble Viscount opposite. I shall also he glad to provide them to the Corporation if they wish. Those figures show that the cost per head at two girls' schools where tuition is giver as well as board and lodging provided, is £175 a year and £150 a year, respectively, of which about £30 a year represents the cost of teaching, if you assume the Burnham scale. I know there are difficulties, but I feel that it is incumbent upon the Corporation to tackle those difficulties as soon as they can, because to spend £165 a year on merely maintaining the girls is wasting about £30 or £40 a year. I think the Corporation should seek the solution of those difficulties either by increasing their numbers or, possibly, by amalgamation with another school ol! the same sort. I hope that steps will be taken to that end, and that the Government will give the Corporation every possible help in finding a sensible solution.
If we may come shortly to the clauses of the Bill, I have very little to say. I am certain, from what I have found out, that it is right to enlarge the scope of the Soldiers' Effects Fund, and I am equally certain that His Majesty's Government were right to give on behalf of the Corporation an assurance that priority will be given to those children who are now eligible for relief from the Soldiers' Effects Fund and that present recipients will not suffer. It was right to "whitewash" the Corporation for what they have been doing, perhaps illegally but certainly rightly. That is all I have to say about the Bill. The fishing fleet will be sailing in in a moment. I conclude by saying that we shall support the Bill, and we hope that 771 the matters to which I have ventured to refer will receive attention at the earliest possible moment.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, I will take just a few seconds to deal with the two points which were raised by the noble Viscount. I am grateful to him for the reception he has given to this Bill. He referred to the Nathan Committee whose terms of reference are sufficiently wide to deal with charities such as this charity. Indeed, before the Secretary of State for War in another place stated that he would direct the attention of the Nathan Committee to this charity, the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation themselves had been in touch with the Nathan Committee and had furnished certain information to them. I have no doubt that, as a result of inquiries, steps will be taken on the lines suggested by the noble Viscount.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
In relation to the school the noble Viscount realises the difficulties which the trustees of this Corporation have had in regard to the changing of the building, which has reduced the numbers at the school from about 300 to about sixty-one. I have no doubt that in the future the trustees will be fully seized of the need for increasing their numbers or amalgamating with another school. They have that in mind, and negotiations have already commenced. They will take further note of what has been said by the noble Viscount.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.