§ MR. CREMER ( Shoreditch, Haggerston)
asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether he is aware that in 1885 Mr. Briggs obtained a contract for 20,000 valises, for which Briggs and Ross, of Bermondsey, provided the material, and which a sub-contractor named Patten got made on the sweating system; whether the valises were passed into the Government stores by Inspector Spice, and, having been found too bad to be supplied to the Regular troops, were issued to the Militia; whether any Report has been made by the Bedfordshire and Worcestershire Regiment of Militia that the valises supplied to them were defective; and, if so, what was the nature of the defects; whether the articles complained of are called the French canvas valise; what number of valises were purchased by the War Office, and passed into the Government stores at Woolwich, and what proportion of the number supplied were declared to be defective; what is the name of the Inspector who passed the valises; and, whether the same Inspector will be allowed to again inspect and report upon the defective valises?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
I hope that in such a case hon. Members will give me rather longer Notice of a Question. Twenty thousand valises were ordered in 1885 of Mr. Briggs. They were, as a special issue, to be made of "French canvas," a material only to be obtained in France; and as Mr. Ross was the sole agent for it in England, Mr. Briggs had to obtain his material through him. Nothing is known in the War Office of the employment of a sub-contractor. The history of these valises is as follows:—These valises are made of coloured (not painted) waterproof material, which was first brought to the notice of the War Department in April, 1883. Very favourable accounts of it were received at that time from the Military Attaché at Paris; and it was decided to have six valises made of the material sent to Aldershot for trial. Instructions were given for 884 these valises to undergo a 12 months' test, and to be worn on guard duty as continuously as possible. The Reports were most favourable; and it was decided that 2,000 sets of equipment then about to be made should have valises of the material, in order that a more extended trial might be made of it. The result of this trial was also satisfactory. Six of the valises were then sent to Hong Kong and tested, with equally favourable results; the General Officer commanding reporting, however, that after constant exposure to rain and sun the valises had lost colour. In April, 1885, 20,000 sets of accoutrements were urgently required, and it was thought desirable that the valises for these should also be made of this material. Complaints have been received as to loss of colour after wear; and trials are now being made of a waxy composition for dressing the valise, which it is hoped will prevent the loss of virtue of the waterproofing composition, and the liability to fade consequent upon wear and exposure to weather.