I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".
The House is seldom troubled with matters concerning Greenwich Hospital, and as the Bill does not raise any matters of controversy, I trust that little time will be required to get it through all its stages. The Bill is concerned, not with the main functions of Greenwich Hospital or its resources, but with the removal of certain administrative difficulties, some of which have recently come to light. The difficulties in themselves do not appear to be of much importance, but if they are not removed, they will cause hardship to the employees of Greenwich Hospital and its working and they cannot be removed except by legislation.
The Bill proposes to amend the Greenwich Hospital Acts of 1865 and 1821 in four respects. The first of these is to extend to the staff of Greenwich Hospital certain benefits conferred upon Civil servants by the Superannuation Acts of 1887 and 1935. The Superannuation Act, 1935, among other provisions, granted to retiring Civil servants the option of allocating part of their pensions to their wives or dependants, and the Superannuation Act, 1887, had previously authorised the payment without probate to the representatives of deceased Civil servants of sums not exceeding £100 due to the latter in respect of salaries, wages, pensions or other pecuniary benefits. The Board of Admiralty have been advised that the wording of the Greenwich Hospital Acts precludes the Admiralty from extending to the staff of Greenwich Hospital these rights and privileges. No case of the kind has yet arisen, but soon various employees of the Hospital will reach the retiring age, and as it is the policy and practice of the Admiralty to assimilate the conditions of employment in the Hospital to those in force in the Civil Service and other Government staffs, we are anxious to bring in the legislation which is now proposed.
The second object aims at removing any doubt as to the powers of the Board of Admiralty, as trustees of Greenwich Hospital, to contribute towards the payment by other authorities or persons of pensions or pecuniary benefits to certain classes of former employees of Greenwich Hospital Department, such as teachers or nurses, or to their legal representatives the rates of benefit in accordance with the special superannunation schemes under which they serve. The third object is to enable the Board of Admiralty at their discretion to grant superannuation benefits, not merely as at present to officers and clerks of Greenwich Hospital, but to any other persons employed by Greenwich Hospital, such as industrial workpeople. The fourth object is to abolish the procedure under which an Order in Council must be obtained before a new scale of salary for an officer of the Department can be authorised or an existing scale altered.
It will be observed that the powers which this Bill seeks to confer on the Admiralty are couched in very general terms; that is in accordance with the previous Greenwich Hospital Acts. It is, however, the intention of the Board of Admiralty to administer these in strict accordance with the provisions of the Superannuation Acts, the Teachers' Superannuation Acts, or the relevant superannuation schemes, and their general practice in dealing with employees performing similar duties in other Departments and establishments under their control. The Bill imposes no charge on public funds and relatively few persons are involved.
Such little anxiety as I have about this proper Bill is only concerned with the fact that by the changes which are proposed it may possibly compromise or imperil the allocation of funds to the original purposes for which the funds were set up. The original purposes were for the officers, seamen and marines of the Royal Navy. I am anxious that this shall be carefully considered. I notice that the Admiralty are asking that they may make necessary changes in future without an Order in Council. I have always understood that an Order in Council was a check and a means by which publicity could be directed upon any alterations that were to be made, and I am sorry that it is to be eliminated in future. I desire to ask a few questions on the Committee stage.