HC Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc524-7

said, he rose to call the attention to the House to the reasons why the Royal Commissioners for inquiry into the state of the Books and Stores at Weedon, Woolwich, and the Tower are unable at present satisfactorily to make their Report. He was aware that Mr. Selfe had unfortunately been confined to his bed almost from the conclusion of the inquiry, but that circumstance alone would not have prevented the Commission reporting. There were other circumstances, however, which would, he was afraid, prevent the Report being made for some considerable period. It was with reluctance that he trespassed on the time of the House, but he felt it necessary to make a short statement. On visiting Weedon the Commissioners found that the hooks there were in a state of hopeless confusion, that no day-books had been kept, that the store ledgers had not been entered up, and that, in fact, the only vouchers which there were were represented by loose documents of a most unsatisfactory character, many of which were out of place and some missing. Commissary-General Adams, who was there with eight commissaries and twenty clerks endeavouring to unravel the mystery, stated to them that there had been no keeping of accounts at all at Weedon that he could see; that he had to depend entirely upon vouchers, many of which were not valid, and to some of which there were no signatures; that 700 or 800 of them were objectionable from various causes, and such as he, as a public officer, could not give in as correct and proper vouchers. Soon after the return of the Commissioners to London they took the liberty of suggesting to the War Office that, as they should insist upon Mr. Jay, of the firm of Quitter, Ball, and Jay, whom they had appointed their accountant, going through the accounts for their satisfaction, it would be a saving of expense if Commissary-General Adams and his staff were withdrawn, and Mr. Jay was allowed to complete the investigation. The War Office very properly, as he (Mr. Turner) conceived, acceded to their request; Commissary-General Adams and his staff ceased their labours, and the accounts and books had since been in the hands of Messrs. Quilter, Ball, and Jay, who were now engaged in a fatiguing, and, he was afraid, almost hopeless attempt to balance them, On the 9th of February they said, We do not think it possible to bring the investigation in which we are engaged to a conclusion in a less period than from two to three mouths. The extent of the object of the inquiry, together with the very immethodical and confused character of the materials on which we have to work forbid the expectation that by any amount of labour and exertion on our part an earlier result can be arrived at. He thought the House would agree with him that before the Commissioners could satisfactorily present any Report it was necessary for them to have the report of their accountant upon these matters, and the want of it was one reason why they had not reported. There were also three other accounts which they wanted, and which depended upon the War Office itself. They found that the store ledger at the Tower had been balanced in the month of October, 1857, and that at the same time an account had been taken of the stock in hand, which was a very laborious operation, as there were in the Tower from 13,000 to 15,000 different articles. That stocktaking, or "taking of remains," as it was called, at the War Office, was an operation which had not been performed for some considerable period prior to 1857, and the Commissioners had thought it their duty to insist upon having a comparison between the state of the ledgers as balanced by the clerks in the Tower and the survey or account of the articles themselves as made out by a different set of officers who were sent down for the purpose. That account was completed in October, 1857; but, although the Commissioners had repeatedly applied to the War Office for such a comparison as he had described in parallel columns, they had not yet obtained it. Probably his giving notice yesterday that he should call attention to this subject had produced some effect, because he had that day received a communication to the following effect:— I am directed by Secretary Major-General Peel to acquaint you that the store ledger of the 6th October, 1857, has now been examined, and that on comparison of its remains or balance with the remains taken at the Tower by actual survey differences are found to exist between the quantities of most of the stores as shown by the ledger and survey respectively. Some exhibit a surplus and others a deficiency. This will be made the subject of questions to the accountant forthwith. He presumed that that last sentence referred to some accountant of the War Office. The Commissioners had also ventured to ask for another account from the Tower—namely, a list of all the stores in that fortress which were called obsolete. In thecourse of their investigations, they found that there actually existed there at the present time 50,000 old flint and steel muskets, and a vast variety of other articles which could be put to no use, and had much better be disposed of for what they would fetch. The Commissioners had requested that a list of these articles, which he believed would be a very long one, might be sent in to them, showing the original cost of each article, and an intimation of any purpose to which, in the opinion of the authorities it might be applied. They wanted a similar account from Woolwich; and when they had received these accounts, and when Messrs. Quilter, Ball, and Jay had rendered a statement of the balance at Weedon, or had said that they could not balance the books of that establishment, he had no doubt that the Commissioners would make their report.


said, he rose to bear testimony to the value of the services rendered by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Turner) and the public spirit with which, even to the injury of his health, he had sacrificed the leisure of the recess to this inquiry. He wished to know how many clerks Messrs. Quilter, Ball, and Jay had in their employment at Weedon and at what cost per month, and also to inquire whether the Commissioners could not report upon the evidence which they had already received, reserving the accounts which the hon. Gentleman had mentioned for the appendix.


said, that on the part of the War Office he was quite as anxious for the production of this Report as the hon. Member for Manchester could be; and he was sure the hon. Gentleman would do him the justice to admit that during the course of the inquiry he had done all he could,—as in the case of the Weedon accounts—to meet the wishes of the Commissioners. The delay in furnishing the statement to which the hon. Gentleman had referred had probably arisen from the illness of the storekeeper at the Tower; but he could only say that he had not been absent from the War Office for a single day, and that if the hon. Member had called upon him and asked him for any returns he should have been most happy to forward his views.