HC Deb 11 February 1887 vol 310 cc1231-3
MR. HANBURY (Preston)

asked the Surveyor General of the Ordnance, Whether Messrs. Latimer Clark, Muirhead, and Company, Limited, of Northumberland Works, Millwall, to whom a contract has been given for 500,000 cartridges, are not, as described in the Post Office London Commercial Directory for 1887— Telegraph engineers and contractors, manufacturers of electrical instruments, iron poles, insulators, insulated wires, and all descriptions of telegraph, electric light, and torpedo apparatus; what appliances they possess, and how many mechanics they employ, for the special manufacture of the cartridges described in their contract; whether they have over manufactured these or any other cartridges; whether they are not a commission house, and act as agents for Herr Lorenz, the cartridge manufacturer, of Carlsruhe; whether, in giving such contracts, the Department merely accepts the lowest tender, or takes into consideration the nature of the firm to which they are given; and, who is responsible for the contract in question?


Messrs. Latimer Clark, Muirhead, and Co. are engineers who, as my hon. Friend states, have chiefly devoted their attention to telegraphic apparatus and torpedoes. They are, and have been for some years, contractors to the War Department. In 1886 they purchased the English rights in Lorenz's patents connected with solid-base cartridges, and the machinery for producing them, and applied to be placed upon the War Office list of contractors for cartridges. Here I may, perhaps, be permitted to correct a misapprehen- sion which I am told has arisen from my former answer on this subject. The cartridges ordered for Queensland are of the Government pattern for Martini-Henry rifles, and there is no German patent involved in them. The patents to which I referred are in connection with the machinery for their production. In replying to the heads of the hon. Member's Question, which had specific reference to Messrs. Latimer Clark, Muirhead, and Co., the House will understand that for the facts I give I have, in a large degree, to rely upon statements furnished by the contractors themselves, the accuracy of which I have no reason to doubt. Several of the appliances which will be used were in situ in December; others will, it is stated, be set in motion very shortly. These appliances have been purchased from Herr Lorenz, the patentee, who has sent over three experts to superintend their erection. Immediately the machinery is ready these workmen will return to Germany. The contract provides that 120,000 cartridges are to be delivered by February 25; and the same number weekly until the whole are completed. The brass sheet has not arrived from Birmingham. As soon as it does, sufficient hands will be employed to insure the due execution of the contract. It is not a Government factory; and I have not felt it necessary to ask for a fuller assurance, as the contract contains a penalty clause. I am informed that Herr Lorenz has no interest in the firm of Latimer Clark, Muirhead, and Co., and that they are not in any sense his agents. The correspondence with the firm had been going on for some weeks before this particular demand arose. The premises, when empty, had been inspected by officers of the Royal Laboratory, and reported suitable for the manufacture of ammunition. With regard to the general system of making contracts, it is not the practice of the War Department to accept the lowest tender without inquiry. It is the duty of the Director of Contracts to develop competition; but new contractors, or contractors who take up a new line, are required to fulfil a trial order before they are trusted with an important contract. This contract for 500,000 rounds was a trial order, and was decided on in the ordinary course by the Director of Contracts.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

asked the hon. Gentleman, whether his attention had been called to the statement made by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Kynoch); and whether it was true, as stated by the hon. Member, that he sent in a tender for the contract which was given to this other firm?


Yes; a firm with which I believe the hon. Member has some connection did send in a tender. But this tender, which was accepted, was one sent in at a lower rate.


I desire, Sir, to ask the Attorney General, whether a Member of the House, in seeking a contract from the Government, did not thereby forfeit his seat?


I decline to answer that Question.