HC Deb 31 May 1870 vol 201 cc1715-40

, in rising to move that— A Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances and causes which have led to the large increase in the cost of the works for the extension of the Dockyards at Chatham and Portsmouth beyond the amounts set forth in the Act 28 & 29 Vic. c. 51, and what variations, if any, have been made or ordered from the works described in the said Act; also, whether the works included in the contracts made by authority of that Act, and laid before Parliament, are being executed in accordance with the drawings attached to such contracts, and as to the authority under which alterations have been made, and what has been or will be the effect on the cost of the works by such alterations; also, into the circumstances which have led to the disposal of Deptford Dockyard for an amount so much below the value thereof stated in the Stock Valuation Account, said, he did not make this Motion in any hostile spirit to the present Board of Admiralty, nor for the purpose of attacking any individual Member of the Government. The evil to which his Resolution pointed was due to a system which it behoved every Board of Admiralty to sift and investigate. In the Estimates laid before them they found that, for the dockyards of Chatham and Portsmouth, there was an increase of £1,157,000 beyond the amount which was fixed by the Act of Parliament under which those extensive works had been carried on. An attempted explanation of this increase had been given; but that statement contained a fallacy, and did not give a satisfactory reason for this extraordinary difference. He should prove his case from official documents on the Table of the House, to which every Member had access. In respect to the origin of these works, a Commission sat upon the subject in 1861, and a Committee in 1864. In their Report the Committee directed attention to the evidence of two eminent engineers, which went to show that a great saving of expense would result from diminishing as far as practicable the time which it was proposed to occupy in the extension of the dockyards, as experience had proved that the saving effected by convict labour was nearly absorbed by the additional time required; it had been also recommended that contracts for the works should to a considerable extent be entered into and spread over several years. Acting on that view, the Secretary to the Admiralty of the day, Lord Clarence Paget, in introducing the Estimates on the 6th of March, 1865, asked for an additional sum of money, which was to be expended on carrying out contract works, and which he said would greatly expedite their completion. The noble Lord also stated that if the House would not sanction the proposed Estimates he could no longer answer for the works being executed for the sum named. The original estimate was alleged to have been based on the supposition that 2,000 convicts would be employed at Chatham and 2,500 at Portsmouth, whereas the number available had proved far short of those numbers. The next step after the introduction of the Estimates was the passing of the Extension Act of 1865, the Preamble of which recited that it would conduce to economy if the Admiralty were empowered, to accept contracts extending over a series of years for portions of the works. But whether it would conduce to economy would depend altogether on the nature of the contracts and the persons employed to carry them out. He would confine his remarks almost entirely to the case of Chatham, leaving it to be understood that they would to a great extent apply to Portsmouth also. In the 2nd Schedule of the Act the maximum time for the completion of the contracts was set down as five years. At this time, therefore, the works should have been very nearly completed, whereas at Chatham some of the most important, and certainly the most difficult, had not been yet commenced. The question as to the employment of convicts could not be satisfactorily answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty or any one connected with the Department, because there were matters connected with the subject which could be ascertained only by the examination of the parties in charge of the works. Any statement made in reply, therefore, must be necessarily a repetition of the reports made to the heads of the Department, and he was afraid there was as much concealment used in these matters as in those to which the Secretary to the Admiralty had just referred. He was not quite ignorant how these things were carried on, because he was professionally engaged against the Admiralty in reference to works that were carried on at Malta; but he would say no further than this, with respect to them, that they were carried on in a way discreditable to every person concerned. Not a single thing had been carried out in the manner prescribed in the original drawings and contracts, and he was afraid the same would be found to apply to Chatham. The first question that presented itself was this—whether the original Estimate was really based upon the supposition that 2,000 convicts would be constantly employed in one place, and 2,500 in the other. He should be sorry to think that a deliberate misstatement had been made by the Director of Works; but from the evidence before the House it would appear that such an estimate was entirely without justification. From a Return of the amount of accommodation at both places, it appeared that before the 1st of I March last the number of convicts that could be accommodated at Chatham, including invalids, was only 1,637, the total of effective men being only 1,182; at Portsmouth there was accommodation for 1,289 only, the number of effectives being 877. From the Returns before the House it also appeared that in the spring of last year it was agreed that a portion of the contract work should be taken out of the hands of the contractors, because they had not work for the convicts to do, notwithstanding that the convicts who had from the first been engaged on the works were not one-third of the number at first proposed to be employed. If the Director of Works had been a man of experience, or had been long connected with such works, he would not only have looked to the number of men he could place on the works, but whether the convicts were likely to be had, because upon that depended the economy that was to be effected; and it was clear from the Returns that the numbers alleged could not be obtained. As to the manner in which the contracts were entered into, they were merely contracts at a schedule of prices, and very like the schedules which the Secretary of the Admiralty had described in connection with the purchase of stores. They had attached to them, no doubt, perfect and elaborate plans and sections, but no quantities. It might be true that the works, had they been executed precisely according to the drawings, would have cost what the Director of Works stated; but the question was not whether they were executed according to the drawings alone, but whether the drawings represented all the works that were absolutely necessary for the completion of that which was included in the contract. Having boon once commenced, extras came in, and they had not only extra quantities, but an increase in the work of a very expensive character. Works were very frequently estimated on the supposition that the earth was of a certain quality, and it afterwards turned out to be very different. No doubt it was not an uncommon thing for estimates for public works, even when framed by eminent engineers, to be exceeded; but a very easy answer could be given to the latter fact—namely, that in the majority of such cases contracts were made on estimates prepared for Parliamentary purposes, and often necessarily made on a very imperfect knowledge of much that would have to be done, and that frequently men were desired not to look too narrowly into matters lest the estimates should be swelled too high. That, however, was not the mode in which works for a public Department ought to be prepared. The particular works in question, moreover, were no new idea; they had been long in contemplation; it was in the power of the Director of Works to make himself perfectly master of the nature of the soil and the stratification with which he had to deal. He ought to have made himself master of all these things before submitting an estimate to a Government Department to be laid on the Table of that House; and he was equally blameable whether it was want of judgment or want of foresight that had been shown. The hon. Member then described the works undertaken under the Act of Parliament for the enclosing of St. Mary's Island, the erection of a river wall, an embankment, and the construction of three basins, with two docks, one lock, and factory buildings; and he said that of the three large basins projected, only one was nearly completed, the second was in course of construction, and the third—the fitting-out basin—was not yet commenced, although the five years fixed for their completion would expire within a month. Subsequent Acts extended the time fixed for their completion to 1872, although the original intention was, for the sake of economy, to complete them in five years from 1865. He found from the Return of 1868 that Colonel Clarke's alternative estimate was £1,250,000, assuming that at least 2,000 convicts would be available. A Return had also been made a few weeks ago, from which it appeared that a portion of the work as to the river wall was completed previous to the Act of 1865; and that accounted for the difference between the estimate of £1,250,000 and the sum mentioned in the Schedule. The Director of Works stated in 1868, that the works had been constructed in great part by convict labour; but in his Report just laid before the House, in explaining the quantity of work that had been done, he stated that the number of convict labourers in the early part of the contract did not exceed 700, and he added that the sanguine expectations formerly entertained of convict labour, and that works of an elaborate and difficult character might be executed by them, had not been realized, but that experience showed that forced labour was not so inexpensive as it was supposed to be. He also said that the services most urgently required from the convicts was for the completion of the river wall and the formation of bricks; but the former work proved to be so unsuited to them that their employment on it had in a great measure to be abandoned. In that opinion he (Mr. Cawley) entirely agreed; but he contended such a result ought to have been foreseen. There were several contracts besides those he had mentioned which had not been laid on the Table of the House, including one for a wharf at Gillingham, estimated to cost £40,000, but on which a largely increased sum had been expended, in consequence, as Colonel Clarke explained, of various unexpected circumstances. One reason assigned was that, to obviate opposition from the local authorities, a clause was introduced in an Extension Act; but no Act containing such a clause was to be found in the Library, and he was inclined to think that the explanation was a suppositious one, based on a dreamy remembrance of a dispute with the local authorities. Speaking generally, Colonel Clarke had shown conclusively the impropriety of employing convict labour in works connected with docks; but if the original estimate were made on the supposition that convicts were not what they were afterwards described to be, blame must be attached to those who made it for want of forethought and consideration. That penal discipline could not be adapted to tidal variations, and that paid labour would, therefore, have to be resorted to, were matters which ought to have been known beforehand. Some explanation was required of the fact stated in the Return, that contracts agreed to be entered into in March, 1869, were not signed and laid on the Table on the last day of May, 1870. Another point of serious import was, that works which had been contracted for as a matter of economy had been taken out of the hands of the contractor for the purpose of executing them with convict and hired labour. The information given in the Papers was enough to satisfy anybody accustomed to large works that these would not be carried out for anything like the sum set down. He should like to have a distinct statement whether it was intended to act in the teeth of the recommendation of the Committee and of Lord Clarence Paget, and to execute these most difficult works with convict and hired labour instead of by contract. What did Colonel Clarke mean by saying now that the factory buildings were not included in the original estimate when they were recited in the Schedule of the Act of Parliament? Surely they were not inserted in the Schedule without a full knowledge of whether or not they were included in the estimate. The statement that they were not included in the original estimate was one which must be received with great jealousy. There were contracts connected with the supply of machinery and boilers to the dockyards which had never been laid before that House. There was abundant matter in the Reports to justify him in the course he had pursued. It was well known that the contractor for the Chatham Works was in financial difficulties, although the contractors for the Portsmouth Works were not only persons of ability, but were possessed of ample means. The subject of these contracts, however, required a careful investigation. He had included in his Motion a question relating to the sale of Deptford Dockyard; but as the hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) had given Notice of a Motion upon that subject, he did not propose to enter into that matter further than to say that he had himself failed to reconcile at least two discrepancies. According to the Valuation Return of Admiralty property Deptford Dockyard was worth £387,740, exclusive of movable plant, yet this very property had actually been sold to two persons for a little over £100,000, being only one-fourth of the estimated value. The matter certainly demanded some explanation. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Motion.


, in rising to second the Motion, said, that after the speech which they had just listened to, he would not trouble the House with any remarks on the general subject. He wished to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether a part of Deptford Dockyard was sold to Mr. Austin by private bargain for £71,800; if he will lay upon the Table the Correspondence on the subject, and any Papers relating to any other and higher offers that have been made; and further, if he will state the reasons for departing in this instance from the usual practice of a puble sale? In consequence of its being desired to secure a portion of Deptford Dockyard for a new cattle market, inquiries had been made, and it was ascertained that Mr. Austin had recently purchased 22 acres of that dockyard for about £71,000. He had received a letter from a gentleman, on whose authority he could safely rely, stating that the purchaser had refused an offer which would have secured to him a profit of £15,000. This information led him to believe that the nation had lost by the transaction. The official Return, in 1865, set down the value of the land at £134,270, the buildings at £253,470, and the fixed and moveable plant at £24,300, making a total value of I £412,040. He had likewise ascertained that an acre of land contiguous to the dockyard, and used simply for storing timber, was sold the other day for £15,000. At this rate the 22 acres purchased by Mr. Austin would amount to £330,000. He had also been informed that a person who was prepared to give from £100,000 to £125,000 for the dockyard had not the least hope of such an offer being accepted, because in his belief the property, if sold in lots, would realize more than £200,000 when it came to be offered for public competition. The House might remember that, at a time of great commercial distress, a Mr. Baxter Langley desired to become the purchaser of Deptford Dockyard, in order that employment might be provided for some of the thousands of men then out of work, and that Mr. Langley was asked £450,000 for the property. [Mr. BAXTER dissented.] The hon. Member for Montrose shook his head. If what he said was not correct, he hoped the matter would be satisfactorily cleared up. It was not improbable that the House would be told that the valuation given was not a very sound one; but it had been based upon the price which had been paid for the surrounding land. He was aware that a part of the dockyard had been retained with something like a thousand feet frontage, and a portion of it—he believed over five acres out of 27—had been sold to the ground landlord, Mr. Evelyn, for £27,200. If this was the value of the land, £4,800 per acre would be the full value. But, instead of the £71,800 which represented the money received, for the 22 acres, the country ought to have received £105,600. If these statements were inaccurate, it was right the country should be informed in what respect they were so. There was another point upon which he would touch. A statement had been made in The United Service Gazette of an extraordinary kind, referring to Chatham and the sale of Deptford Dockyard, and when a statement of such a character appeared in a paper of such authority uncontradicted, it was incumbent on the Government to meet it. The statement, among other things, set forth that the purchaser of the Deptford Dockyard was a Mr. Austin, who was said to be formerly the landlord of a tavern at St. George's Road, Lambeth, afterwards of Peel's Coffee House, Fetter Lane, then joint proprietor with Mr. Henry Essex Bristow (brother of the Solicitor to the Admiralty), of the Beulah Spa Hotel, Norwood, and now a wine merchant in Billiter Street. Having this question brought before him, he felt himself bound, as a Member of Parliament, to bring it before the House, in order that the Government might have an opportunity of stating to the House what were the real facts of the case.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances and causes which have led to the large increase in the cost of the works for the extension of the Dockyards at Chatham and Portsmouth beyond the amounts set forth in the Act 28 and 29 Vic c. 51, and what variations, if any, have been made or ordered from the works described in the said Act; also, whether the works included in the contracts made by authority of that Act, and laid before Parliament, are being executed in accordance with the drawings attached to such contracts, and as to the authority under which alterations have been made, and what has been or will be the effect on the cost of the works by such alterations; also, into the circumstances which have led to the disposal of Deptford Dockyard for an amount so much below the value thereof stated in the Stock Valuation Account,"—(Mr. Cawley,)

—instead thereof.


said, that no person could be more interested in the Deptford Dockyard than his constituents. He was able to speak of the conduct of the Admiralty with regard to this dockyard. It was impossible for any person to behave in a more open and straightforward manner with regard to the sale of that dockyard than the hon. Member who was the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Baxter). The moment it was found that the Admiralty had decided to sell the Deptford Dockyard, he (Sir David Salomons) called at the Admiralty and ventured to ask the Secretary of the Admiralty if they had fixed a price, and the Secretary gave him the price which the Admiralty would take. He (Sir David Salomons) told him that he hoped to be able to restore the trade of Deptford by the Corporation of London purchasing the dockyard in connection with the proposed market for foreign cattle. He was told that the Government had fixed the price at £80,000, but that probably £75,000 would be taken, and that, as several persons were about the land, he had better bestir himself. The Corporation of London, on being consulted, did not think it expedient to enter into the negotiation. Being anxious, however, that his constituents should have the advantage of the dockyard, being occupied, he consulted almost every person he met connected with shipping to influence them to establish commercial docks on the south side of the river and the advantage which they would be to the trade of London. But he did not succeed. He at length gathered from the local papers that a buyer for the docks had been found. He was, however, astonished to find that while £75,000 was the price at which the docks could be bought; the docks had been purchased for a firm of American shipwrights at £140,000, and this story struck him as savoring strongly of the dealings of the year 1866. But the whole story was a fable. He made this statement to show that the Admiralty had acted fairly as regards the price at which they offered the property. At the same time, he thought the Committee would not be undesirable.


said, he was one of the Committee on Dockyards, which recommended that the dockyards of Deptford and Woolwich should be abolished. He meant so much of each as could be rendered available for building purposes. The Deptford Dockyard comprised 27 acres 1 rood and 23 perches; the length of quay accommodation, 2,000 feet. The Committee recommended the execution of extensive works at Chatham; and Mr. Scamp, who at that time was the engineer of the Admiralty, drew plans and prepared specifications of the works, which were approved of. An Act of Parliament was passed; contracts were entered into for the purpose of carrying out the works. But these plans had been entirely departed from. Not only had the Admiralty contractor fallen into difficulties, and been relieved from his contract, but the whole undertaking had been boulversed, and the country was in entire ignorance of what the works were to be. He would not dwell upon the various rumours afloat respecting individuals, as these might possibly be investigated by the Committee if the Government would assent, as he sincerely trusted they would, to its appointment. The Committee ought to direct its attention, first, to the sufficiency of Mr. Scamp's plans, which, in his opinion would be established; secondly, to the circumstances which led to Colonel Clarke not carrying out those plans; thirdly, to the question of convict labour; and, lastly, what was the position of those works at present—how far they were authorized by the Acts of that House, and how far they were the mere dictates of the Admiralty. Taking this opportunity of making a few remarks on Deptford Dockyard, the hon. and gallant Baronet referred to the fact of its value, according to the valuation of the Admiralty, being £412,040, and it was understood that the men would be transferred to Chatham. The stories that were going abroad with respect to the sale of the dockyard were of a very serious description. For instance, it was said that Mr. Austin, who at one time kept Peel's Coffeehouse, came forward and purchased the property from the Admiralty for £73,000. Of course, he pronounced no opinion as to the truth or falsehood of this, or of similar stories; but he strongly urged that the whole of the facts ought to be thoroughly investigated.


said, that before his hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) replied to the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley), he desired to say a few words on the Deptford part of the question, because he was primarily responsible for advising his right hon. Friend at the head of the Board of Admiralty to accept the offer which was made for the purchase of that dockyard. He admitted that the hon. and gallant Baronet, as a Member of that House, was entitled to know all the facts of the case. When the present Board of Admiralty came into Office they found that dockyard shut up, and they resolved that it should be disposed of—either sold or let as speedily as possible, with a view of giving employment to the large number of labourers thrown out of work by the shutting up. This was more than a year and a-half ago, and the Board were most deliberate in their action. The hon. Baronet, he might remark, was mistaken when he said that Admiralty property was generally sold by auction. It was made known throughout the country by advertisement and by a paragraph in the money article of The Times that Deptford Dockyard was in the market. Moreover, experienced valuators, legal gentlemen, and merchants in the City were consulted as to the best course to be pursued, and they unanimously advised the Board on no account to put up the dockyard to public sale, as the inevitable consequence would be what was termed a "knock-out," which would depreciate the value of the property in the market. Acting on this advice the Government resolved to seek an offer for Deptford Dockyard. He had seen it stated that the property was sold for £71,500, whereas it was valued in the Admiralty books at £412,000; but it was impossible for him to endeavour to refute all the statements and imputations—some of them supremely ridiculous, which had been made in the naval and military newspapers. Mr. Evelyn had the right of pre-emption with regard to a portion of the dockyard, and a portion was bought by him at a former period for £29,000. After the advertisements were inserted, tenders were received at £48,000, £50,000, £55,000, £58,000, and £60,000 respectively. All these offers he thought proper to decline, as being of insufficient value. A long period then elapsed, and no offers came in, and the Government, eventually, took other measures to let the public know that the land was for sale. Meanwhile, he received many visits from his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Sir David Salomons), who treated, on behalf of the Corporation of the City of London, for the purchase of the yard. At that time the Admiralty were not prepared to state what was the value of the land, as they had not received the report of the gentleman appointed to estimate it; but at a subsequent interview he told the hon. Baronet that if the Corporation made an offer of £80,000 for the remainder of the ground, that offer would be favourably entertained by the Admiralty, and, probably, by the Treasury also. The hon. Gentleman intimated to him that that was out of the question, and for a considerable time no further offer was made. At last the Admiralty received an offer from Mr. Marsh, the well known auctioneer, of £71,500, and with the full consent of the Treasury, and the Woods and Forests, the Admiralty accepted that sum, which, was within £5,000 of the valuation furnished to them by very competent parties. These negotiations, he might remark, occupied many months, and the Admiralty did not hastily jump to a conclusion. He must give a most unqualified contradiction to the statement referred to by the hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that Mr. Baxter Langley offered anything like £450,000 for the purchase of the dockyard, in order to give employment to the men out of work. If the dockyard had been wanted for such a purpose, he should not have hesitated to recommend his right hon. Friend to sell it at less than its market value. The valuation of £412,000 included not only the value of the land but the value of stores, buildings, docks, and many other things which were now of little use, and most of which had been sold. He had only to add that he knew nothing about Mr. Austin until the last moment. His dealings were with Mr. Marsh. They had sold a portion of the yard to Mr. Evelyn, a portion to Mr. Marsh for Mr. Austin; they had thrown a portion into the victualling yard, and they had sold a quantity of stores. Taking all these points together they hadobtained for Deptford Dockyard £140,000 instead of £70,000. All he had to state further was that if he had made any mistake he was very sorry for it; but the affair had been conducted with great deliberation and care.


said, the position in which Colonel Clarke stood was that he had been called upon to do a greater amount of work for £230,000 than was demanded of him under the original estimate. The total amount, he might add, which the works would cost was actually within that estimate. Any failures that had arisen in connection with them had been the result of improvident arrangements on the part of the contractor. It was said that the contract should have been finished in the month of April; but the money necessary to finish the work was not forthcoming. It had been further stated that the works had been carried out in a discreditable manner; but an examination of them would, he thought, show that that was not the fact. So far as the contractor was concerned, he believed he had done his work as a contractor extremely well; and a proof that he had not been overpaid was furnished by the circumstance that he was not now supposed to be financially in a very sound position. The advantage of the employment of convict labour had, he thought, in the present instance been over-estimated, though where no particular difficulties existed it might be employed with advantage. He was sorry that the scope of the proposed inquiry was so large, and he should, like to hear the answer of the Government before he decided which way he should vote. He could only say, on the part of a brother officer whose character was to some extent involved in the question, that there was nothing he should like better than a full inquiry. The result of such an inquiry would, he believed, be completely to exculpate Colonel Clarke.


said, he thought the House was placed in a position of some difficulty in consequence of having before it two very different subjects, both of great importance. On the second of those subjects—that relating to the sale of Deptford Dockyard he wished to say a few words. He was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Admiralty discuss the question in a very different, and much more becoming tone from that which he assumed the evening before, when an opportunity was afforded the Government of giving an explanation with regard to certain rumours which were very prevalent out-of-doors. It was extremely desirable, in his opinion, that some explanation should be given with respect to those startling statements which had appeared in the public prints, and which, up to the present time, had been allowed to remain uncontradicted. The statement of the Secretary to the Admiralty on the subject of the sale of Deptford Dockyard he could not regard as satisfactory. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be conscious that the property had been sold for a sum below its value. [Mr. BAXTER dissented.] The hon. Gentleman might shake his head; but although the statements in the public prints were almost incredible, it was hard, under the circumstances, to come to the conclusion that the property would not have brought a large sum. In that view he was strengthened by some portions of the hon. Gentleman's speech. He alluded to the common practice of selling public property by auction, and explained that that course had not been resorted to in the present instance, because it was feared an understanding might have been arrived at between the bidders, and that the full value of the property would not, as a consequence, be obtained. But there was no necessity that there should have been a forced sale and that any offer made should have been accepted. The hon. Gentleman appeared wholly to forget that he could have put a reserve bidding, and that he could thus have secured himself from the danger of seeing the property knocked down at a figure below its real value. Then the hon. Gentleman proceeded to say—and in that he was quite correct—that the estimated value of £412,000 was arrived at by including the value of certain buildings and properties which stood on the estate. That was perfectly true; but the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that the price for which the Government sold it included all those buildings and properties. He spoke under correction; but he believed all the properties were included in the sum of £71,500. The Government must feel that the country had a right to explanation. Gentleman on that (the Opposition) side, therefore, were perfectly justified in saying that the Government were bound to explain what had been done; and he could not help thinking that the most satisfactory course would be that the transaction should be calmly and dispassionately inquired into by the proposed Committee.


said, the question for the House was this—whether there was anything in the transaction which required to have a greater degree of light thrown on it than could be done in Committee of Supply. For his own part, he should wait with great anxiety for an explanation as to the dockyards. At present, there were certain items with respect to which he could only express his astonishment that they had not before been brought under the notice of the House. How did the case stand with respect to Chatham? The House had departed from its usual practice of voting from year to year the sum required, and at the request of the Ministers of the Crown, represented by Lord, Clarence Paget, had placed at their disposal a fixed sum which might be spread over a series of years, the object being to secure greater economy by enabling a contract to be entered on for the en- tire works at once. Well, £1,250,000 was granted in 1865, and if the House would refer back to the Estimates for 1866–7, 1867–8, and 1868–9, they would find that sum set down for the extension of Chatham Dockyard. Then they would find, in the following column, the amount voted on account of the work; in a third column, the sum required to be taken that year; and, in a fourth, the amount which remained to be expended in future years. There was also a distinct statement of the total sum the House had given permission to expend. How, then, did the case stand? That this sum in the Estimates was now, for the first time, raised from £1,250,000 to £1,750,000. But though the estimate had been raised, the sum previously voted had not yet been exhausted. And then his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) came down to the House, and, speaking in explanation of his Estimates for a space of three hours, never stated that he had varied the sums voted for Chatham and Portsmouth, and had increased the liabilities of the nation by a sum of £1,157,000. What would have happened if the House had gone on without noticing this matter? Why, next year they should have been told that it was too late; that the increased amount was on the Estimates of the year before, and that they had not taken any exception to it. Surely, it ought to have been the primary duty of the right hon. Gentleman—who had devoted the greater portion of his statement to explaining how grateful the House ought to be to him for reducing the Estimates by £840,000—to have stated that he had, by this unreferred-to increase in the Construction Estimates, actually committed them to an increase of £350,000 on the previous year. Now either a concise and satisfactory explanation could be given of this matter, or else it was a good case for investigation by a Select Committee; at all events the House was entitled to the best explanation the First Lord could give, and it was wholly inadmissible for him to take credit for having effected a saving of £840,000, when it was clearly known to him he was committing the country to an expenditure the House had not sanctioned of nearly £1,250,000, and hence on balance practically increasing the Estimates £330,000. There was another point upon which some explanation was neces- sary, and that was the statement made by Colonel Clarke the Director of Works as to the cause of this increase. He (the Director of Works) pointed out, for the most part justly, that the attempt to employ convict labour had not answered to the expectations that had been formed of it; that, instead of 2,000, only 700 convicts had been obtained; that their labour by no means cost nothing, and that the pecuniary saving that their employment was expected to lead to had been greatly over-estimated. The result was this—that if the whole quantity of convict labour had been deficient, there would have been an increase in the cost of £200,000 in the one case, and of £270,000 in the other, or a total of £470,000; whereas the House was now asked to vote a sum of £1,200,000, or nearly three times the amount of the excess. Upon another point, he looked for a particularly explicit explanation from the Government, because it appeared to show that a great deal of favouritism had been shown to the contractor. By referring to the plan of the works, it would be seen that the contractor had to make a repairing basin at the western side; secondly, towards the east, a factory basin; and, thirdly, still further east, a fitting-out basin. Now, in the Report of the Director of Works, it was stated that a great deal of expense and difficulty were occasioned by the treacherous nature of the soil; that as they proceeded eastward those difficulties became greater and greater until, at last, the soil was a mere quicksand, on which all labour was thrown away; in short, as they went from the west to the east, the cost of the work became greater and greater. The whole work was performed by the contractor upon a schedule of prices, which meant that an average of prices was struck from the worst part of the work up to the best. But it appeared that, at a very late period of the works, a good portion of those to the west were allowed to be finished by the contractor, and the work as it went eastward, where it became more difficult, was taken off his hands, at a price upon which he intended to inquire as to how it had been arrived at. Therefore, the contractor had been relieved from doing the difficult part of the work, but had been allowed to finish the easy part. This was a matter which he thought called for explanation. There was only one other matter to which he wished to call the attention of the House. The general tenour of the Report complained, or explained, that the large excess which the country was called upon to pay for that work was mainly to be attributed to the deficiency of convicts; and it went on to show that the fitting-out basin—a very large basin—had been altogether abandoned, or, at least, could not be executed up to this time, because of the short supply of convicts. Yet, notwithstanding the shortness of the supply of convicts, the contractor had a difficult portion of the work taken from him with the view to allot it to convicts, and had some more work given to him in the good part of the ground, and given to him, too, at the schedule price. In conclusion, the whole of that scheme had been put before the country as, being connected with a wonderful measure of economy, to be effected by substituting a certain amount of expenditure, known and agreed to on the part of the nation, at Chatham, so as to enable them to shut up Woolwich and Deptford Dockyards. He would never cease to protest against the shutting up of Woolwich Dockyard. But they were told that it would be a saving of £100,000 a year to the country; but it now appeared that the excess which they were called upon to pay, beyond the expected estimate when the works were recommended and decided on, went far to do away with any saving that might have been effected. These were matters that called for explanation, and he put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not be doing good service to the Government and to those who desired to support them, if he would frankly come forward and grant the full inquiry into these matters which was due to the country, and would be satisfactory to the House.


said, he thought no one who had survived the naval battle of last night could wonder at the observation of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington), that the tone of his hon. Friend (Mr. Baxter), in answering the accusations of that day, was very different from what it was on the previous night. On the former occasion hon. Gentlemen opposite got up and made themselves the mouth-pieces of floating rumours with regard to the Purchase department of the Admiralty, implying that his hon. Friend had practically used that department as a means of bringing about a new species of peculation and jobbery. Things had quite changed that day. Gentlemen connected with the late Board of Admiralty had stated, in an extremely moderate manner, the circumstances that had given rise to disagreeable suspicions in their minds as to the conduct not of the Government, but of people connected with it either temporarily or permanently. Therefore it was not surprising that the answer of the Government that day had been given in a very different tone. The hon. Member who spoke last asked the Government to grant a Committee of Inquiry, assigning several reasons why they should take that course. He thought I he would be able to show, in the course of a quarter of an hour, that there was no need for a Committee; but that the Government could be trusted, and that the Director of Works could be trusted. The hon. Gentleman said that his right hon. Friend—the great economist who had cut down expenditure by £860,000 in one year, and by £1,250,000 in another—had saddled them with something like £1,200,000 of excess on these works. It might have been thought that a Gentleman acquainted with the practical affairs of life like the hon. Member would have known the difference between stating an expense that had been incurred and incurring it. What had the Government done in that case? They had deemed it absolutely necessary for them—a Liberal Government, coming into Office pledged to economy—to begin with that which was the commencement of all sound economy—namely, by presenting to the House of Commons full and true accounts of all expenditure. He did not wish to throw a word of blame upon hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—all he would say was, that his opinion of the way in which Estimates should be presented to that House was very different from theirs. He would remind the House that the Members of the late Government were as much concerned in this Inquiry as the present, and he would show that the late Government knew all along what was the condition of the Chatham and Portsmouth Extension Works. That was proved by the Paper they laid before Parliament in 1868–9, carefully drawn up by the Director of Works, and stating that his estimate of January, 1865, for the execution of the works approved by Parliament in connection with the extension of Chatham, amounted to £1,750,000, to be reduced in proportion as convict labour was more or less employed. The Director of Works went on to say that he had not a sufficiency of convicts to enable him to execute them at the lower sum, and it was evident from his Paper that the £1,750,000 would be reached. So with regard to Portsmouth Dockyard; no one could read that Paper carefully without seeing that the late Government also were in possession of all the facts. Again, in the annual Estimates for 1868–9, the late Government inserted a foot-note, stating that the estimate of £1,250,000 was dependent on the number of convicts employed, and that the amount would be increased if the estimated number of convicts fell short. A smilar foot-note was given in respect of Portsmouth and Haulbowline. Those were the Estimates which they found ready prepared when they came into Office. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had been ready to claim credit for the reductions made by the Government in their first year of Office, and certainly, in the six short weeks they had to lay the Estimates before the House last year, it was impossible for the Government to concern themselves with their matter and their form. So much for the year 1868–9. But in the autumn of last year the Admiralty determined to look carefully into the subject. He did not hesitate to say—and he was proud of it, for it showed that though they were in Office they had still some sympathy with Gentlemen below the Gangway—they were determined to have a full account of the meaning of that foot-note and to lay it before the House. They knew the suspicion with which that foot-note would be regarded by every good Radical in the House. The Government consulted the Director of Works on the matter, and they had now told the House and the country the full amount of their liability. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion evidently heard from some quarter—he knew not what—certain rumours about the Director of Works, and as to his conduct with regard to the employment of convicts, which everybody who knew that valuable officer knew were not correct.


said, he had heard no rumours whatever; he had founded his statements strictly on the Reports of the Director of Works.


said, that might be so; but the hon. Gentleman must have read the article on the subject in The United Service Gazette. The hon. Gentleman stated at the beginning of his speech that he was not ignorant of the way in which the works were carried on by the Admiralty.


said, his statement was founded on experience.


But the hon. Gentleman's experience had been very unfavourable. He referred to works executed at Malta, under the control of Mr. Scamp, the late Director of Works, the estimate for which was £26,900; but the contractor obtained £44,230, or almost twice the original contract. His next experience of Admiralty work was also at Malta, in a contract which exceeded the original estimate by £11,000. But if the hon. Gentleman would watch with equal care the Admiralty works of the present day he would find that they were carried on in a different spirit. The present Director of Works had got a strong hand, and he showed it by never exceeding his estimates. It was true that there was a scheme brought forward in an Act of Parliament, by which £1,096,000 was put down to be expended on Chatham Dockyard. That Act was brought in and pushed forward by the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Admiralty, for the purpose of giving confidence to contractors in putting in tenders for works which were to extend over several years, as several circumstances had before that occurred to shake the confidence of contractors in the stability of purpose of the Government. There was a guarantee of £610,000 for Chatham Dockyard, and of £700,000 for Portsmouth, and the object of that guarantee had been fully obtained. In the case of Mr. Gabrielli, at Chatham, the works would be executed for a sum under the £610,000. In the case of Messrs. Leather and Smith, he could not say that the works at Portsmouth would be executed under the £700,000. However, the late Government had given—with great judgment and discretion, he would admit—a contract for work that would exceed £700,000, at the same time cautioning them that Parliament had only authorized the sum of £700,000 to be spent, and Messrs. Leather and Smith were very anxious now to ascertain if that sum was to be exceeded. Very hard things had been said of the present Director of Works; but his best defence was to be found in a Paper that was laid before Parliament in 1865, where he stated that the works at Portsmouth could not be executed with free labour for less than £2,250,000, and at Chatham for £1,750,000; but that, if convict labour were employed to any great extent, the expenses would be reduced at Portsmouth to £1,500,000 and at Chatham to £1,250,000. It was not the fault of the Director of Works that the Government could not obtain convict labour in sufficient quantity. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuda) had called attention to a very material charge against the Director of Works, and which might be said to contain the gist of the whole debate. The question was this—whether the Admiralty by releasing Mr. Gabrielli of his contract for the factory basin and employing him in erecting docks had enabled him to make more money than, if he had been left with the factory basin. This was said to be shown by the Report of the Director of Works, who said that as they went westward the ground got better. But that was not what the Director of Works said. What he said was, that it was now evident that as they went westward they could obtain a comparatively good foundation for the walls, which did not exist in the eastern, that part of the island which still remained to be dealt with. He said that at the west end the gravel was cemented into a natural concrete; but that at the east end it was more loamy, and unfavourable for a foundation. But that was not the same thing as saying that the soil changed gradually as they went from west to east. The fact was that the repairing basin and the factory basin stood upon exactly the same soil. The one was as good as the other. The real motive for the Government undertaking the work to which the hon. Gentleman alluded was that they had now more convicts than they had at first, and they wanted work for them. At first they had only 700 convicts; they had now 1,100. They did not wish to go on with the fitting-out basin, because that was a gigantic work, and would occupy them for a considerable time; and they preferred to have two complete basins in the course of a couple of years or so to having three unfinished ones; besides which, it was admitted that convicts could not be put to the work of making docks, although they might be employed in excavating, and to the benefit of the country. Another reason for the alteration was that the Admiralty required Docks Nos. 3 and 4 to be finished in a much shorter time than the convicts would take to do the work, because Docks Nos. 1 and 2 were already very much cramped for the newest class of vessels. Besides that, there would be a saving of £30,000, which he hoped would be as satisfactory to the House, as it was creditable to the Director of Works. The result of the experience obtained in the construction of docks was that, while the two smaller docks had cost £244,000, the two larger docks, built of finer material, would cost only £210,000; and surely it was no indication of a want of fidelity on the part of a public servant that he built two docks larger and better than two others for a less sum than they had cost. Hon. Members could not spend their Whitsuntide holidays better than by going down to Chatham to see these enormous temples of shining granite, and to satisfy themselves of the workmanlike manner in which they had boon constructed. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) desired inquiry into the rumours concerning Mr. Gabrielli, though he declined to go into them, and it was for the House to say whether a Committee should be appointed to inquire into rumours which could not be described. He would not trouble the House by examining the allegations of The United Service Gazette; but he might state that from first to last they were a tissue of slightly true statements curiously interwoven with the most utterly false ones. In one of the articles it was stated that Mr. Thomas Phipps Austin had been latterly joint proprietor in an hotel with Mr. H. Bristowe, the son of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. [Mr. CAWLEY: It should have been brother.] He was not acquainted with the facts as to the authorship of the article as others appeared to be, and naturally thought that the Mr. Bristowe referred to was a son of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. Now, however, he understood why Mr. Bristowe supplied him with a Paper about his brother. Mr. Bristowe said his only son was a partner in the Soli- citor's office, and never was a partner in an hotel or public - house, and Mr. Bristowe made a similar statement with respect to his brother, adding that he had never been in partnership with Mr. Austin. Further, Mr. Bristowe never knew Mr. Austin until he was brought by a relation of Chief Justice Bovill as one of the sureties of Mr. Gabrielli. With reference to the exchange between the docks and the repairing basin, he read a letter written to the Director of Works by the Secretary of the Admiralty, in Jury, 1868, when the Conservatives were in Office; and this letter requested the Director of Works to submit revised Estimates for the two additional docks that entrances were already provided for, as it might be more economical to proceed with their construction; so that all that was reserved to the present Government was to take from Mr. Gabrielli the repairing basin, which they did, because, with the present additional number of convicts, they could construct it more cheaply than they could the docks. He had now referred to the various reasons which had been given for a Select Committee, and he trusted the explanations he had given would be deemed satisfactory, and that they would show that the present Government was watching, in addition to the rest of the Admiralty, the Director of Works. The Government asked the House to trust them in this matter, and by the end of the year they would know whether there should be an Inquiry or not. The Director of Works stated that he had great hopes that by 1870 the repairing basin and the two docks would be finished, and then it could be seen whether the rest of the works could be completed within the contract. Until that time he thought the Government had a right to ask the House to trust it in this as it had trusted it in all other matters connected with the Admiralty.


said, he was sorry to hoar his hon. Friend say that the Government could not accede to the appointment of this Committee, because in his speech he had given sufficient reason for the appointment of the Committee. Attention had been drawn to statements which the hon. Gentleman characterized as slightly true, but curiously interwoven with falsehood. He thought that in regard to matters of such intricacy, connected as they were with professional details, the investigations of a Committee of Inquiry were preferable to casual speeches made in that House. He should be sorry to say a word either for or against the professional acquirements of his friend, Colonel Clarke, who had gained considerable experience at home and abroad; but the charges brought against him in the course of this discussion were such that they could be described only as being of a serious nature. According to the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) there were four matters for consideration—the sufficiency of the original estimate; the failure or otherwise of Colonel Clarke to carry it out; the failure of convict labour in the purpose to which it was originally applied; and the state of the works, now a considerable time after that fixed for the completion of the contract. It appeared to him that these were fitting matters for a Committee to decide. The question was important as one of precedent, and also as affecting the manner in which the estimates were prepared. It would be remembered that when Lord Clarence Paget proposed a departure from the course previously pursued, and asked Parliament to extend the period for the expenditure by whatever Government might be in power, the principle was criticized by many competent Members, and it was only after considerable discussion, and not without some hesitation, that it was adopted. One principal argument in favour of the course was that, by extending the operations over a series of years, a great economy would be effected, and that, by spreading the cost over the Estimates of several years, the work would be carried forward with the least pressure in respect of public taxation. Here, again, two points were involved—first, whether the expected economy had been realized; and, second, whether there was any objection to the course taken in binding by Act of Parliament successive Governments to prosecute the works, irrespective of their own approval of them. Without expressing any opinion on these questions, he held that they might fairly be inquired into by a Committee, and it was to be regretted that the Government did not accede to the proposal to appoint one. In his opinion the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) had shown good grounds for the appointment of a Committee, and he hoped hon. Members on that side of the House would be able to support his Motion.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 83: Majority 59.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Debate arising.

Debate adjourned till this day.

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