§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF PUBLIC BUILDING AND WORKS (LORD WINTERBOTTOM)
My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is twofold, and both purposes are to remove anachronisms. The first clause of the Bill in effect removes the requirement that Greenwich Hospital should seek the approval of the Treasury in each instance when making certain investments of its capital. Some years ago the Treasury, in line with modern practice, agreed the terms of reference and composition of an Advisory Committee of experts in the field of finance and property. The Comptroller and Auditor-General noted on the Hospital's Accounts for the year 1962–63 that the Treasury had agreed for a trial period that their approval need not be sought for individual investment transactions, and that in doing so they had regard to the Department's intention to seek amendment of Section 40 of the 1865 Act at the next convenient opportunity. Thus the first purpose of the Bill before the House is, instead of the provisions of Section 40, to put a new provision that the Treasury, for these investments, shall prescribe the source from which the Hospital and the Secretary of State shall take advice, rather than give the advice in each instance themselves.
I am certain that noble Lords will agree that this is a much more sensible procedure. It has, in fact, been working since 1962, and from my own personal experience I believe it has worked well. 832 I should like to take this opportunity of repeating the tribute paid in another place to the Advisory Committee, which has advised the charity so wisely for no other reward than an occasional lunch. We are grateful to them.
The purpose of Clause 2 of the Bill is to remove another anachronism. This is the waste of Parliamentary time occasioned by the enactment in 1885 of a requirement that the Estimates for the current year shall be laid before Parliament and be submitted for approval by Resolution of the House of Commons. When moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy claimed for Her Majesty's Government that they were finding time in 1967 to stop wasting time.
The case for repealing Section 3 of the Act of 1885 is based entirely on saving Parliamentary time. No money is voted by Parliament when these Estimates are presented. The Hospital is required by the Act of 1865 (Sections 47 and 49) to place the accounts of the Hospital before both Houses of Parliament within 14 days after completion of the audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the accounts will continue to be presented. Parliament would not, of course, be deprived of its right to exercise supervision over the affairs of Greenwich Hospital. Ministers would answer questions in both Houses as required.
In the course of the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy gave an undertaking that a copy of the Hospital's current estimates in future years would be made available in the Library of the House of Commons. A copy will similarly be made available to the Library of the House of Lords. The bulk of the Hospital's income is expended on the Royal Hospital School, and the present arrangement whereby Members of the House of Commons, from the Government and Opposition Parties, serve on the School's management committee will continue.
The possibility of Greenwich Hospital producing an annual report on its activities has been examined. The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, under the provision of its 1903 Act, makes an annual report to Her Majesty, but the Treasury Solicitor's advice is that it 833 would be inappropriate for the Hospital (which is not required by its Acts to produce any such report) to do so. This is because Ministers of the Crown do not produce annual reports on the exercise of their statutory or prerogative functions, and the government of Greenwich Hospital is vested in the Secretary of State for Defence.
The Greenwich Hospital Acts lay down the specific objects on which the funds of the Hospital may be expended, and in each case provide that regulations made under the Acts shall not take effect unless and until they are approved by Her Majesty in Council. Nothing proposed in this Bill alters in any way the legal obligation of the Secretary of State to obtain the approval of Her Majesty in Council to regulations established from time to time under the Greenwich Hospital Acts, which are amended in minor degree by this Bill which is before this House to-day. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Winterbottom.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the purposes of this Bill, which seem to be entirely acceptable and entirely helpful. I understand, in the first place, that it will give statutory form to what is already the present procedure with regard to the disposition of funds. May I join with him in thanking the advisers who have given their advice in such an honorary capacity? Secondly, I understand that this is going to save Parliamentary time, in that no longer will it be necessary to place annually before Parliament the accounts of the Hospital. Thirdly, I understand that questions can still be asked both in this House and in the other place about the affairs of the Hospital, and therefore the Bill seems to be entirely satisfactory to Parliament in every way and an advantage to everybody. I have much pleasure in giving it my support.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 14), House in Committee (according to Order).
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received; Bill read 3a, and passed.