§ SIR JOHN COMMERELL (Southampton)
said, that, although he did not wish to commence a naval debate, there were one or two questions of importance as regarded naval administration to which he wished to call attention. The first was that of contract work given out by the Lords of the Admiralty, which was not at the present time, and had not been for a number of years, in a very satisfactory condition. There was a very widespread feeling of dissatisfaction among contractors and private yards generally that contracts were not given out by the Board in the fairest and most just way, and that there was no continuity in the policy according to which they were given out. An instance of this was to be seen in the case of the Nile and the Trafalgar. No doubt, there might be some special reasons; but he thought that in general they ought to know the principle upon which contracts were given out, and also that they were not called upon to tender unless they were considered capable of fulfilling the contracts. The lowest tender should be accepted, which was not the case at present. Another point was our torpedo flotilla, which had been supplied by two or three firms, no doubt very excellent ones, and who had done their work well; but he believed that if these contracts were put up to more public competition they might get quicker and cheaper work. He thought, also, that there was a great deal of money wasted at the pre- 1856 sent time in the Dockyards, and that a list of prices should be published when contracts were given out, in the same way as that in which they were published in the case of contracts for stores, which would give a good deal of satisfaction to contractors generally. He was himself very strongly of opinion that a certain class of ships resembling merchantmen in type, such, for instance, as transports and store ships, should be built in private dockyards, in order that we might be able to meet all emergencies in time of war. Another question which had been a burning one for many years was that of overtime in our Dockyards. This was a most extravagant and unsatisfactory kind of work, as a man could not possibly do his work thoroughly after working for eight or ten hours a-day. He had discussed this matter with a good many men in our Dockyards, and he considered that the system of overtime was bad for the men, not only physically, but also morally, since they were tempted to spend the extra money in the public-house on their way home late at night.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. HIBBERT) (Oldham)
said, he agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there was nothing in which greater care was necessary than the way in which contracts were given out; but he could not agree in the view the hon. and gallant Gentleman had expressed that the lowest tender should always be accepted. There were cases when it was not desirable to do so, and the Committee which had examined into the question of shipbuilding had reported against taking the lowest tender in all cases. The present policy of the Admiralty, however, was always to take the lowest tender where it was possible, except under certain circumstances where it was not considered desirable to do so. When they considered, for instance, the great importance of such vessels as the Nile and the Trafalgar, they would recognize how desirable it was that their machinery should be made by the best firms in the country. That machinery would cost something near to £200,000; and the House would see there was reason why they should act with the greatest caution in giving out work of that kind. In regard to the torpedo vessels, they were given out to three of the principal firms in the country, and 1857 at present, the Admiralty could not say which of the firms had turned out its work in the most complete manner. They intended, however, in the course of a few weeks to have a trial made of the vessels, and then they should be able to see which firm had done its duty best to the country. With respect to the question of overtime in the Dockyards, he entirely agreed with the hon. and gallant Member, and so strongly did he feel on the point that he had taken considerable trouble to reduce the sum allowed for overtime to the least possible amount, a very few thousand pounds having been taken in the Estimates of this year for that purpose, as compared with previous years; for instance, last year the sum taken was £40,000. He fully agreed that overtime was undesirable and wasteful, and should never be adopted where it was possible to avoid it.