HC Deb 17 March 1819 vol 39 cc1029-32
Mr. Alderman Wood

observed, that he had so shaped his motion on the present subject, as to allow him to hope that the information he sought from the board of ordnance would not be refused. And he begged to premise, that in seeking for that information, he had no intention of urging any charge against the ordnance department or the Treasury for their conduct in the transaction. Sales had been made of articles principally consist- ing of iron, brass, sulphur and muskets to the amount of 200,000l. It was on commercial grounds that he wished to know the precise prices at which these respective articles were sold. He therefore moved, "That there be laid before this House, an Account of all Stores sold to Mr. Samuels, by the Board of Ordnance, from the 1st of January 1818 to the first of March 1819; specifying the different articles, dates of sale, and total amount paid for the same."

Mr. Robert Ward

said, that the particulars and sales of such stores had already been minutely inquired into and reported upon. It would be in the recollection of the House, that that report stated, that there was a great quantity of stores on hand, which it was the duty of the board of ordnance to dispose of as soon as possible; not only because they were of a perishable nature, but because of the expense which would be incurred by the buildings necessary for their deposit; and it was also their duty, in a financial point of view, because of the money to be raised by their sale. The committee on the peace-establishment desired to know to what extent they might depend on the proceeds of Ordnance stores during three years. It was found impossible to raise any considerable sum, by the regular sales at the Tower, and by other tenders—say 100,000l. for three years together. The stores were of various kinds, viz. brass, iron, sulphur, gunpowder, and saltpetre; but of these gunpowder was the principal, both in point of value and quantity. By the usual course of proceeding, the board of ordnance would have been six or seven years in raising the sum which had now been procured. He must contend, therefore, that so far from any blame attaching to the board, they had acted like good stewards. The purchaser, a Mr. Samuels, had speculated in gunpowder and other articles, to an immense amount—220,000l. for which he had given the Treasury the most unquestionable security, that of Mr. Rothschild.

Mr. Grenfell

said, he should like to know why the board of Ordnance had de-parted from the principle usually observed by all other public boards, of giving an opportunity of fair and general competition? The hon. gentleman had stated, that that departure was in concurrence with the suggestion of a finance committee; but that was no reason for the adoption of a course so directly country to all former usage. The sale night be very proper, if the stores were directed to be sold; but why did it take place in that clandestine manner? It was well known that the purchaser Samuels, was the brother-in-law of Mr. Rothschild, who was also known to have large money dealings with government. What had been the result? Why, that the country had not gained so large a sum for the stores by this private dealing, as they would have done by inviting competition. He must therefore suppose that some reason existed, for the keeping back of this contract. The hon. gentleman had said, that the articles sold were of a perishable nature; why, among them he observed 500 tons of old brass cannon! He should like to know what part they formed of the sum of 220,000l. If they had been sold for less than 50,000l., they had not been sold for as much as persons whom he himself knew were disposed to have offered for them. He should therefore move, as an amendment to the motion, that the dates and prices at which the several stores were sold should be also specified.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the proposed amendment increased his objection to the motion. The contract Was still going on, and it was proper to have a scrupulous regard for the interest of the person with whom the con-tract had been made.

Mr. Baring

could not help thinking, that; no sufficient reason had been as signed for departing from the principle of public competition. He knew little of the nature of the contract in question; but he could not conceive what harm could possibly accrue to the gentleman Who Had contracted, by making public life terms of his contract.

Mr. R. Ward

said, that the hon. mover Was too intimately connected with the interests concerned, not to be biassed in his views of the matter. As for the hon. gentleman who had spoken so much of fair honest, and open competition, there was one other word which might have been very properly substituted among individuals combination; for the effects of a proceeding as he recommended was always rather a combination among was, than a public competition. The average prices obtained for the articles in question, by means of the contract with Mr. Samuels, were as good as would have obtained for a much smaller part of them, had they been publicly disposed of. The hon. gentleman opposite had stated, that a certain? house would have given 50,000l. for 500 tons of old brass. He could only say that last year the offer made to government for that article by the house with which the hon. gentleman was known to be connected, was the lowest of all viz. 59l. per cwt.; whereas 72l. was the price actually obtained. Had they closed with the hon. gentleman's offer, would the House ever have heard a single syllable from him about competition? No. He would have said that the sale was perfectly justifiable, having been sold after fair and public competition.

Mr. Grenfell

said, the hon. gentleman was not justified in attributing to him any motives of personal interest.

The amendment was withdrawn, and the original motion agreed to.