HL Deb 28 April 1987 vol 486 cc1422-33

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this short Bill is simple. It is, first, to give effect to proposals allowing for the disposal of surplus funds now held by the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, together with any surpluses which accumulate in the future. Secondly, the Bill allows for the eventual winding-up of the trust on the direction of the Secretary of State and for its dissolution by statutory instrument.

It may be helpful if I set out briefly the historical background to this Bill. During the First World War, Lord Ypres, formerly Sir John French, and himself an Irishman, travelled through Ireland calling on Irishmen to volunteer for the British armed forces. In doing so he gave a pledge that those who volunteered would he provided with housing after the war had ended. As noble Lords may know, over 130,000 Irishmen did in fact volunteer. They fought With conspicuous gallantry in many of the major actions of the war. Irish soldiers won 30 Victoria Crosses and 49,000 Irishmen lost their lives. Though many years have now passed. I do not think it would be out of place to pay tribute again today to the bravery of those men.

When the Great War ended, the whole of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. As Lord Ypres had promised, the Government built cottages for Irish ex-servicemen throughout the island. After the Irish Free State had been established in 1922, the governments in Westminster, Belfast and Dublin agreed that responsibility for providing and maintaining the housing for ex-servicemen should be devolved upon a body to be known as the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust. They also agreed that the trust should be a non-political body with members appointed by the United Kingdom Government of the day and the Government of the Irish Free State. The latter Government made over to the trust the stock of houses already built or still under construction in the Irish Free State. The Government of Northern Ireland did likewise with houses in Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom Government provided the trust with an endowment in the form of a grant of money.

The trust was formally established under a United Kingdom statute—the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act 1922, Section 3. That Act also made various provisions to allow for the partition of Ireland. The trust's establishment was made subject to ratification by the legislature of the Irish Free State and also by the Parliament of Northern Ireland. This was duly completed and the trust came into operation on 1st January 1924. The Government of the Republic of Ireland (as the sucessor to the Irish Free State Government) and the Government of Northern Ireland were thus party to the establishment of the trust and have been fully consulted about the terms of the arrangements now proposed.

The legislation setting up the trust made no provision for it to use its funds for purposes other than those stipulated. Nor did it make any provision for the trust to be wound up. It is easy enough to understand why those drafting the legislation just after the Great War did not spell out the fact that time would inevitably make the trust redundant. But for these reasons the present Bill has become necessary. We need to make special provision for the trust's funds and to provide for its eventual dissolution.

Over the years the trust has continued to provide and maintain accommodation for the ex-service beneficiaries and their widows at very low or, in the Republic, no rent. In recent years, where the sitting tenants have been prepared to buy, the trust has been selling houses to them for a small sum. Where houses have fallen vacant upon the departure or death of sitting tenants or their widows, the trust has disposed of houses on the open market. The trust's stock of houses has now been reduced to 21 in the Irish Republic and 92 in Northern Ireland. As a result of this policy, the trust has accumulated considerable surplus funds which are held in United Kingdom government stocks and Treasury bills. The total disposable amount of surplus funds now stands at approximately £4.5 million.

In 1983 the trustees put forward detailed proposals for the future of the trust and the handling of the surplus funds. These provided the basis for discussions between the Government and the trustees. They also took very full account of views expressed by a number of ex-service charities. I think it fair to claim that the Bill as it now stands commands the support of all those who were involved in the process of consultation. To avoid the risk of any misunderstanding, it may be helpful if I remind noble Lords that the trust was set up only to provide housing for the veterans of the First World War or their dependants and for no other purpose. The veterans of other wars therefore cannot benefit from it.

I now turn to the details of the Bill. The primary problem is to determine how to make use of the surplus moneys which have accumulated and those which are likely to accumulate in the future. The Bill proposes that the outstanding surplus and any future surpluses should be divided up and returned to the original contributors in proportion to their original donations, whether in money or in kind. Accordingly, 68 per cent. of any surplus moneys should be returned to the United Kingdom and 32 per cent. to the Republic of Ireland. Of the existing surplus of £4.5 million, £3.06 million would therefore be returned to the United Kingdom and £1.44 million to the Republic of Ireland. I am not in a position to say at this stage what further surpluses may arise. However, they will be on a comparatively small scale.

Your Lordships will no doubt be interested in the purposes to which the two Governments intend to put this money. I cannot speak for the Government of the Republic of Ireland but I believe that they intend to use the bulk of any money they may receive to help finance cross-border or Anglo-Irish projects.

As far as the United Kingdom's share is concerned, the position is set out in the Bill. We propose that three-fifths of the United Kingdom's share—£1.836 million—should be paid into the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Consolidated Funds and that the remaining two-fifths—£1.224 million—should be paid to a distributory agency appointed by the Secretary of State. The proposal that two-fifths should be paid to the distributory agency has been agreed between Her Majesty's Government and representatives both of the trust itself and the Royal British Legion as the principal ex-service charity. It reflects what we believe to be a fair balance between the interests of the Government, who provided the source of the trust's surpluses, and those of former members of the armed services and their dependants. The same division betwen the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and between Her Majesty's Government and the distributory agency will apply to subsequent surpluses as they arise.

As Clause 2 of the Bill makes clear, the distributory agency would have the duty of administering the moneys it received and of applying them for the benefit of people resident in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland who are former members of Her Majesty's armed forces, their widows or widowers or their children. The distributory agency would therefore continue to exercise functions broadly consistent with the original aims of the trust.

The Secretary of State has it in mind to appoint the Royal British Legion as distributory agency should the Bill be passed. The legion is the principal charity catering for the interests of ex-servicemen and operates in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic. The Royal British Legion would, however, be subject to directions from the Secretary of State which would be binding on its administration of the funds. A principal feature of the directions would be the establishment of an advisory committee to help the distributory agency in its work. The composition of this committee is now under discussion. We envisage that it would include a representative cross-section of charitable organisations dedicated to serving the interests of former members of the armed services.

Subject to those directions it will be for the distributory agency to decide how to dispose of any money which it may receive. It might use the money itself or pass it on to other ex-service charities for uses consistent with the Bill. The Government have no preconceived ideas about whether the money should be made available to individuals or to projects or activities benefiting eligible ex-service persons or their dependants as a group. We are already involved in discussions with the Royal British Legion about the form of an initial set of directions.

So much for the distribution of surpluses. The Bill also provides for the eventual winding-up of the trust's affairs at the direction of the Secretary of State. I should like to take this opportunity to reassure existing tenants of the trust that their present interests are and will continue to be fully safeguarded. Should the trust be wound up while there continue to be houses in occupation by trust tenants, the responsibilities of the trust would be transferred to other bodies together with funding to ensure their proper discharge. But this is in the future. Full details of when and how the trust might eventually be wound up would be for discussion when the trustees advised that the appropriate time had come. It is too early to say when this time might be.

In concluding I should like to express the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government for the invaluable work which the trustees have performed over the last sixty or more years. I know that one of their trustees, the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, is down to speak later in this debate. He is the nominee of the Taoiseach to the trust. The selfless dedication and hard work of the trustees have been the key to its successful operation. In particular, I should like to pay a tribute to Sir Edmund Compton, who retired on 17th May 1986 from the post of chairman of the trust. His involvement with the trust went back over 40 years. I am sure that his fellow trustees would not demur if I were to say that he deserves great credit for the efficient and sensitive way in which it has discharged its functions.

I have not spoken at greater length because this Bill is itself short and simple. I have no hesitation in commending it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Young.)

7.48 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation of the Bill and for giving us this brief but interesting history of the trust to which it relates. It is indeed a unique trust. The Minister went out of her way to underline the fact that its specific purpose is the provision of homes in the North and South of Ireland for Irishmen who served in the First World War. It honoured the pledge given by Field Marshal Sir John French. She also pointed out that the 1922 Act, which established the trust and which is therefore a trust instrument, contains no provision for the disposal of its surplus funds or for its eventual dissolution. Indeed, the need to extend the powers of the trustees has been before Parliament in 1952 and again in 1967. However, this Bill is very different from the earlier amending legislation because it provides for the distribution of the surplus funds and it also provides for the eventual winding up of the trust.

I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Killanin, who is one of the trustees, will forgive me when I say that most of us have very little information about the affairs of' this unique trust. That is not meant as a criticism of the trust, and indeed I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the contribution of the trustees over the years. However, I think that the fact remains that we do not know a great deal about the trust. I do not know how many people are currently receiving benefit under its terms. Until this evening when I was listening to the noble Baroness, I did not know how many houses still remained in the ownership of the trust. I should be interested to know whether there has been a study of the requirements of the Irish veterans of the 1914–18 war. For example, are there any Irish veterans of the First World War among the 128 ex-servicemen who are today on the waiting list of the Housing Executive for Northern Ireland? Are there any Irish First World War veterans in receipt of a war pension payable from the DHSS offices in Blackpool who are not in receipt of help from the trust? Those are some of the questions which come to mind when reading the background to the trust.

When we come to read the balance sheet and the income and expenditure account for the trust for the years ending March 1985 and March 1986, we see that the accounts imply very clearly that by now the trustees are faced with practical difficulties in carrying out the terms of the trust instrument. No doubt that is because the number of veterans are dwindling.

The accounts for the year ending March 1986 show a balance of £6.85 million, of which £6.36 million is in listed investments or on deposit with local authorities. The accounts show the excess of income over expenditure during the year 1985–86 to be £588,000 which is a lot of money. Had the trust been a charity subject to the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners for England and Wales, I have little doubt that the trustees would have been under a duty imposed by law to take steps to enable the assets to be more effectively used for charitable purposes, having regard to the spirit of the gift and the circumstances of today. Therefore, it appears to me that the main question presented by the Bill is whether the scheme it embodies is a satisfactory way of resolving the real difficulties faced by the trustees.

We will have the benefit of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Killanin. But the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already assured the House that the scheme is welcomed not only by the trustees but by all the organisations with a special interest in ex-servicemen who have been consulted. That is reassuring because it could be argued—and I have to make the point—that the objects of the trust should at this stage be widened or extended so as to include the provision of homes for Irish men and women who served in the armed forces during the Second World War and that the decision to distribute the trust funds—and we are talking about a substantial sum—may be premature. That is a matter on which people may have conflicting views.

I noticed that during the debates in 1952 and 1967 it was suggested by some Members of both Houses of Parliament that the main purpose of the trust should be so widened. However, the extension was considered by the Government of the day to be inappropriate. I merely record that point. I am not aware of any objection to the Bill. Given the support to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has drawn our attention, I am content not to pursue that point.

We have heard that an essential part of the scheme is that 68 per cent. of the surplus money should be paid to the United Kingdom Government, and the remaining 32 per cent. should be paid to the Government of the Republic. This suggestion has been agreed by the two governments and we are in no position to question that division.

I should like to move to another essential part of the scheme; namely, that two-fifths of the United Kingdom share of the surplus money will be paid direct to a distributory agency and applied for the benefit of ex-servicemen resident in the north or south of Ireland. We have been told that the first instalment will amount to no less than £ 1.224 million. As I have said, that is quite a lot of money. As the Treasury could claim the United Kingdom's entire share of the surplus funds, we welcome very much the decision to pay a two-fifths portion of the share to the distributory agency.

The Bill gives the distributory agency very wide discretion in discharging its functions subject only to directions to be given by the Secretary of State. I am not sure whether the noble Baroness can tell us any more about the directions which the Secretary of State is likely, or unlikely, to issue to the agency, at least during the initial stages. Are such directions likely to spell out the general principles which will determine how the money is to be applied by the agency? Will such directions require the agency to submit periodical reports to the Secretary of State?

We are pleased that it is intended that the Royal British Legion will be appointed to be the distributory agency. I am sure that there is no need for me to pay any tribute to the Royal British Legion. Given its splendid record of service to ex-servicemen and women and also the bank of experience which it has built up over many years, there will be general support for, and confidence in this appointment.

The Minister explained that the agency will set about its work with the support of an advisory committee whose members will be drawn from other organisations which have a special interest in the welfare of ex-servicemen and women. It is not clear to me why the Bill contains no reference to such an advisory committee. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I ask a few uncomplicated questions concerning the representation on this advisory committee. If, in Northern Ireland, there is based an association such as the Royal British Legion of Scotland, with which the noble Earl, Lord Haig, has connections, which has special interests in the welfare of ex-servicemen and women, will it be a candidate for representation on the committee? Is that a matter which may be considered by the Secretary of State? Will the members be appointed by the Secretary of State or will the interested organisations to be named by the Secretary of State be responsible for the appointments to the committee? Is it intended that the nominating bodies will be equally represented on the committee? If so, then clearly the Royal British Legion could be in a minority. In that event, can the Minister say whether the advisory committee itself will be entitled to make representations to the Secretary of State if it is in disagreement with any decisions made by the agency?

Although it has been the basis of wide consultation, I understand that the scheme embodied in the Act has not been advertised. However, we have been given the assurance that it has been well supported. Can the Minister go further and also assure us that the Department is not aware of any opposition to the principles of the scheme embodied in the Bill? Can she also say whether or not it is intended to give publicity to the scheme if the Bill is enacted?

If the noble Baroness is in a position to answer those few questions, it would be helpful. However, let me make it clear that on all the information available to us we believe that this is a Bill which can and should be supported by your Lordships' House.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I speak on behalf of that ageing and diminishing group, the veterans of the First World War. Indeed, I should like to say that I remember Sir John French. Even before that war, he came to our little village and I saw him on manoeuvres. I speak also for another older veteran; namely my brother who fought at Ypres, as Lord Ypres did afterwards. General Denning served in Ireland in 1922 in times of troubles and he was later Commander-in-Chief in Northern Ireland. In a way we speak from knowledge.

It is true that the trust as originally framed was very narrow. The two governments put up £1.5 million for this special purpose. It is given in Section 3 of the 1922 Act which reads: For the purpose of providing in Ireland cottages, with or without plots or gardens, for the accommodation of men who served in any of His Majesty's naval, military or air forces in the late war". That is the trust. It is very limited. It is only for the men who served in that late war. It is for the provision of cottages for those men and, presumably, their wives. That was the sole purpose of the scheme.

As I read the facts, over 4,000 cottages or homes were provided for those men who fought in the war. Indeed, it was at no rent in the Irish Free State and very little rent in Northern Ireland. What has happened of course is that the men have died and the cottages have become vacant and sold. Indeed, there are now only 20 or so in the Republic of Ireland and 100 or so in Northern Ireland. Out of the 4,000 that is all there are left.

Meanwhile, as those houses became empty they were sold, and the money—now some millions of pounds—has accumulated over the years in this trust. What is to be done with that money? As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, being a charity, for charitable purposes, in law it strictly ought to be applied under a scheme—a cy-pres scheme—for charitable purposes as nearly as possible to the original intention. That cannot be done.

What has been arranged, fortunately with the agreement of all concerned, is a division of these surplus funds with 68 per cent. coming to England and 32 per cent. going to the Republic of Ireland. What is to be done with that 68 per cent.? Three-fifths of it will go to the Government and two-fifths will be applied by the distributory agency. I should like to say how pleased I am to see that the distributory agency is to be the Royal British Legion which was founded immediately after the First War and with which my brother and I are closely connected. The Royal British Legion is to he the distributory agency and its duty is given in Clause 2(2) of the Bill. It is to apply the moneys, for the benefit of persons resident in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland who are former members of Her Majesty's armed forces, their widows or widowers or their children. It is no longer confined to veterans of the First World War. This application will apply to any members of Her Majesty's armed forces, their wives, widowers, widows and their children. It is a much wider trust than originally formed and is not confined to homes or houses but for the benefit of all the people stated.

The distributory agency will consult with all the service charities. I remember the British Legion when I was the pensions appeal judge. The British Legion took up all the cases of the wives, widows, and so on, and how well it did that. I am sure that everyone can be confident that the British Legion, in consultation with the other service charities, will distribute this money exceedingly well and in accordance with the trust.

Therefore, this money is being put to good purpose in what could have been a difficult situation which has been resolved by the agreement of all concerned. I should like, on behalf of all those ex-servicemen and on behalf of the British Legion, to thank the Government and all concerned for this very wise solution of a difficult problem. I greatly welcome the Bill.

8.6 p.m.

Earl Haig

My Lords, I too welcome this Bill and thank my noble friend the Minister for her explanation. As she said, this Bill ensures the disposal of surplus funds in the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust. It proposes that 32 per cent. of the whole be distributed through an agency for the benefit of Irish ex-servicemen and women, their families and dependants.

As most of the property and housing made available under the terms of the trust for the First War generation is now redundant a financial surplus has accrued. The main principle behind the Bill is that the bulk of the money will not be allowed to lie idle at a time when it is badly needed to help ex-service people now, while they are still alive.

The length of qualifying service has been defined in a flexible way to include all former members of Her Majesty's forces; and I know that its wording has the full support of the Royal British Legion which I believe will act as the distributory agency. On behalf of the Legion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, for their kind words about the work of the British Legion.

The word "distributor" has a healthy, moving, non-stagnating sound which I hope implies that it will bring benefit in the immediate future to all who suffer as a result of their service. The Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust was set up at a time when promises were made by my godfather, the first Lord Ypres, to accommodate in Ireland the Irish ex-servicemen who had fought in the First War among an overall figure of some 3 million British casualties who had been either wounded, gassed, lost limbs, blinded or ruined in health for their country.

Members of the public realised the debt that they owed to these men—that there were gaps to fill between what was available from the two government sources and what had to be provided by voluntary effort. The Government still have their share in the responsibility for caring for the victims of war at a time of another less numerous generation but among whom there are still sad cases needing help. I hope that many of these cases will be looked after as a result of this Bill.

I do not know the situation in Ireland and I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Killanin. However, if it compares, as it may well do, with conditions in Scotland, there is much hardship to alleviate. In Scotland we find that the Poppy Appeal is not covering the cost of benevolence, particularly in Glasgow and the West where there is severe unemployment and because benevolence is becoming expensive.

The amount of money in this Irish trust is not large and if it is to be distributed through several ex-service charities, such as the naval, army and RAF benevolent funds, the income from it could be somewhat meagre. I should hope that it can be spent in reasonable amounts at a time, not in penny packets, so that worthwhile projects may receive support. Legion authorities will know of many cases where modern orthopaedic equipment, wheelchairs and beds for men in permanent care are needed.

The noble Baroness has indicated that projects as well as individuals may be catered for from the point of view of grants. The practice of accumulating large capital sums given to benefit men and women in great distress after the First War now, when so many of them have passed on, must be wrong and particularly so when there will be an increase in the numbers of the over-65-year-old ex-servicemen from the Second War between now and the year 2000. So let the money be made available to charities for spending now without bureaucratic delay.

With regard to the eventual liquidation of the trust, it is sensible that under the terms of the Bill powers are provided for the trust to wind itself up on receipt of a directive given by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs with the agreement of the Irish Government. For the foreseeable future, the distributing authority should be able to use the money as it thinks fit for the benefit of those who are in distress. In this way, the money donated by the people of Ireland and the United Kingdom at the time of the foundation of the trust will go on being used for the benefit of those who suffered in the service of their country.

I should add thanks on behalf of my noble friend Lord Cathcart and myself to the noble Baroness and to the British and Irish Governments for their generous attitude and for understanding the continuing needs and the continuing requirement to fulfil the original intentions of the trust. By making these provisions they will earn the thanks of all those who help in ex-service charity work, but more significantly the thanks of those who still suffer pain as the aftermath of war.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Killanin

My Lords, I have suddenly realised that it is 52 years since I took my seat in your Lordships' Chamber and 50 years since I made a maiden speech. It was about Ireland, about the ports, and it was very contentious. I spoke again in 1947 and 1948 at the time of the Ireland Act and that was very contentious, very acrimonious. But today we are discussing something with which all parties on all sides are, I hope, in complete agreement and which will not be contentious.

I speak with a certain amount of feeling, because my father was killed commanding the Irish Guards in 1914 the first time he went into action and I inherited from an uncle. I served as a volunteer during the last war in His Majesty's forces and it so happened that in 1947 Mr. Costello, who was then the Taoiseach, asked me to be the Irish nominee on the Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, so I have had 40 years' service on the land trust.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked me to elaborate a little more on the work of the land trust. It is one of those organisations on which it is very difficult to elaborate. When I first went there we had a large number of houses, a very long waiting list and there were a lot of people pulling to get to the top of the waiting list for houses. There were people with whom we had problems. Under the Bill if it is enacted in the future children are to be looked after, but we had to evict children. Widows could remain in the houses but children could not. It was very difficult.

On this occasion I should also like to pay a tremendous tribute to Sir Edmund Compton who was appointed chairman the year before I was nominated as a trustee. As all your Lordships know, he was the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He had a very distinguished career in the Treasury. He was also the first what is commonly called ombudsman. But the way in which he presided over our trust meetings with the five trustees was remarkable. He kept them together, he understood all the problems which faced us and he did it with great humanity. I feel that for what we have done we owe him a great debt of gratitude.

It must have been some 20 years ago that talking to him we said, "It is coming to an end". With all due deference to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, there were a certain number of widows. Some of the First World War veterans managed to marry very young girls and therefore we had a plethora of widows. Many of them are still in the 22 houses, I think, or 21. One is an illegal tenant with whom we always have trouble, and again pressure was brought to bear. We as trustees thought of various ways to do what should be done. We were rather worried when we saw this large sum of money being accumulated and we could do nothing with it. We built in the Republic, or purchased, single room accommodation for older people who could not look after themselves. We tried our best to move with the times but slowly this vast amount of money was collected.

I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness and Her Majesty's Government on the very good agreements which they have come to between the two Governments and I hope they will be implemented. As I was nominated by the Taoiseach, I always felt I had a right to consult the various Taoiseachs of the time and I suppose 15 or 20 years ago I dealt with four governments and two Taoiseachs. They were of the view that the money should be spent and they obviously have to have enabling legislation in Ireland on absolutely apolitical matters.

Yesterday I saw the new Taoiseach and took a note. Mr. Haughey promised me, as indeed did Dr. Fitzgerald whom I had seen previously, that first of all the money would not be snapped up and put into the Treasury. It would be spent wisely. He even suggested that he would consult me as to how it should be spent. I told him that I was not very keen on that. I would probably want, as in my Olympic days, to go ex-directory because the telephone would be ringing to such an extent. I have no doubt at all from speaking to him—and I wrote it down—that the money will not be snapped up centrally. It will be used for social, cultural, recreational and other purposes. It will be used for the best but it will not be used politically or to go into the central Treasury, whatever the finances of the country may require.

It is very rare that I am able to speak in this House. The noble Baroness was succinct in her description of the history of the trust and I, like the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, feel that there is not very much I can add, except that we met three or four times a year. We had various pressure groups on us at all times and the worst thing, as I know from my Olympic life, is that if you have too much money everybody wants it. The Olympic Games were far better off when we did not have as much money as we have now.

I am deviating a little from the point. On one of the rare occasions when I speak in your Lordships' House I should like to say how much we appreciate the sensible approach and also the fact that the British Legion, which is active in the Republic, will be the authority for those who are less fortunate and who have served in the forces since then.

With that, I should like to commend the Bill. I used to be a journalist. If I were a journalist now, I should be writing about the forthcoming election, because I was a Lobby correspondent as well as being a Member of your Lordships' House. I only hope that in the course of politics the implementation of this Bill is not delayed and it goes through in an uncontentious manner and in the spirit in which the two Governments have discussed it over the years. I should therefore like in every way to support the Minister's proposal and this Bill.

8.18 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the short debate this evening. I am particularly grateful for the support that the Bill has received from all parts of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked a number of questions, and I was glad that we had had an opportunity to discuss the Bill before we came to the Second Reading and to have some idea of the points about which he was concerned. I shall try to answer all of them.

We are all very grateful to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that he has yet another side to his life, that of a First World War veteran. I think it is a remarkable achievement that he can speak in this debate today, and we pay tribute both to him and to his brother. I was particularly grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lord Haig and for the very real support which he has given.

I am sure that we were all enormously interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Killanin. I hope that he will speak in your Lordships' House more often. I was delighted to hear of the Irish Prime Minister's intentions. I think that that is the first time that we have had any idea of what the Taoiseach was thinking. That is valuable to us. It indicates once again that no matter what the subject under discussion in your Lordships' House there is always an expert to speak upon it.

I shall now try to answer some of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. He asked whether the trust's purpose should be widened. The trust itself does not wish to extend its purpose. It is not a question of establishing a new trust but of finding a way to benefit former members of the armed services. We think that the course envisaged is the best one. He also asked about the nature of the directions of the distributory agency. I am of course grateful for his endorsement of the choice of the Royal British Legion. The directions will provide for periodic reports. We shall place a copy of the directions in the Library. They are not included in the Bill so as to keep it short and simple.

The membership of the advisory committee will represent all branches of the services. They will of course outnumber the representatives of the Royal British Legion but they will be only advisory. The membership will be named in the directions. We hope that there will be no insuperable disagreement over that. The directions will also include a provision to enable the Royal British Legion to give the widest possible publicity to the availability of the funds. I am sure that is what lay behind the noble Lord's question. It is of course an important point.

The noble Lord also asked whether there were any persons receiving pensions who do not benefit from the trust. There may be persons who are not benefiting from the trust, but I am not aware of any demand for housing, which is of course the trust's only purpose.

I have already said to my noble friend Lord Haig how grateful we are to him for confirming the Royal British Legion's willingness to take on the role of distributory agency and for his endorsement of the terms of the Bill. I have of course noted what he said about the continuing need and the number and nature of ex-servicemen's requirements. Those are points that I am sure we all appreciate. We have great confidence in the legion's ability to choose wisely those projects which it feels will be most beneficial. There is no intention to impose any bureaucratic delays on the distribution of the money. We want to keep the directions as simple as is practicable.

In conclusion, I once again thank all those who have taken part in this debate on a short but important Bill which will greatly benefit a number of people. I think all of us in your Lordships' House and outside need to be reminded of the sacrifices that they made. We are grateful for what they have done in the past. I am glad that in moving the Second Reading of this Bill we can make arrangements which will help ex-servicemen.

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