§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether, in the year 1881, the contract for the supply of sponges to the Army was put up to competition, and the price of sponges was, under that contract, 11d. and 6d. each for Cavalry and Infantry respectively for three years; whether, on the termination of this contract by the contractors, the same contract was in 1882 given, without competition, at the price of 2s. 3d. and 9d. respectively, and for the unusual term of six years; whether it is the fact that the present contractors have received intimation that their contract will be renewed for a further period; whether the sealed patterns, according to which sponges are supplied under the present contract, are the same, and bear the same numbers, as those which supplied the standard for preceding contracts, including that of 1881; and, what is the justification for placing this and other contracts without allowing competition?
THE SURVEYOR GENERAL OF ORDNANCE (Mr. NORTHCOTE) () (who replied) Exeter
said: The case of the sponge contract is peculiar. The facts are substantially as stated in the hon. 1344 Member's Question; but I should say that the contractor of 1881 was a heavy loser by his contract—although the War Department only partially enforced it— and he terminated his contract at the end of the first year. In 1882 competition was deliberately dispensed with, with the full consent of the then Secretary of State, as a means of breaking down a ring which practically constituted a monopoly against the War Office and deprived competition of all real value. The price agreed upon with Messrs. Cohen in 1882 was somewhat below the average paid to the one firm which had held the contract for 14 years, from 1860 to 1880.
§ MR. HANBURY
asked, whether it was not a fact that this contract, which was originally granted for the unusual period of six years without any competition whatever, was about to be renewed for a further term, also without any competition?
§ MR. NORTHCOTE
Yes; I told my hon. Friend that the facts quoted by him in his Question were substantially correct. The contracts have been renewed on the responsibility of the Director of Contracts.