§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
(1.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,410,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Supply and Repair of Warlike and other Stores, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889.
said, he had placed a Motion on the Paper to reduce the Vote by the sum of £1,000 in respect of Inspection and Proof of Stores, and the best authority which he had for the action which he was taking in the matter was the very able Report which had been presented by the Judge Advocate General himself. Another reason for bringing forward the matter was that amidst the glut of Commissions inquiring into every possible subject, the value of the information obtained was not even noticed by Ministers themselves. They had evidence of that the other day, when Lord Wolseley gave 830 evidence before a Commission presided over by Sir James Stephen on the subject of the defences of the country, and yet the evidence given by Lord Wolseley did not appear to have been seen by the Prime Minister himself. A further reason was that while the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General brought forward some astounding facts, he had sugared them over so carefully with excuses and apologies for the misdemeanance that he (Mr. Hanbury) hoped even the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) would not object to his pressing the subject upon his notice. Seeing that the Judge Advocate General found that acts of the gravest character committed by the officials in the Store Department at Woolwich were done from the purest motives, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be glad if he were to press upon him that the public also had some little interest in the matter. It was well known that even the high officials carefully abstained from granting the stores which the public required, and yet had cleverly succeeded in obtaining rewards and pensions for themselves. What was it that the Judge Advocate General was obliged to report? He reported that the ordinary accoutrements, especially equipments for war and the saddlery supplied to the Army, were literally in a rotten state; go wherever they might in the great purchasing Department they would find the same grave scandals going on, and the officials prepared to make the same stale excuses. He would read to the House the character of some of the bad stores on which the Judge Advocate General reported. There were bad traces, bad saddle flaps, bad wallets, bad valises, bad saddlery of all kinds, and leather laces for sea service. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the leather was bad, and the stitching a great deal worse, unwaxed thread having been used, or, being waxed, the thread was bad. It must be recollected that these were stores which meant not only loss of money, but, if war were to happen, a much greater disaster—namely, loss of life in the Army and Navy. In addition to the stores he had mentioned there were many others, such as pack-saddles, most of which had straw in the place of hair, and what hair there was in them 831 was bad. Indeed, it was admitted that the hair in the pack-saddles was only worth half the price of the hair they ought to contain. These things were passed into Woolwich Store Department on an enormous scale. He was told there were 18,000 of these packsaddles at one time or another; and of Cavalry saddles of one pattern—that of 1884—there were over 3,500. What was found worse than that was the fact that it was clearly brought out in the Report of the Judge Advocate General that the Government standard itself was very low for these things, and that they did not require for the Public Service the good article they ought to get. Not only was the supply bad, but the samples were bad also, because, bad as the samples were, the articles passed into Woolwich were not adequate to fulfil the low requirements specified. He had spoken hitherto of manufactured articles; but he would turn now to unmanufactured articles. Surely it was easy enough for the Government to procure unmanufactured articles of good quality. Nevertheless, the Judge Advocate General reported in regard to the hides passed into Woolwich—In the beginning of 1886, 11 specimens were selected. Having looked at a great many of the hides in the stores, I think the 11 taken were a fair sample, if not of the whole delivery, of a very large portion of it.That was of all he had seen. What was the report of the Government as to the condition of those hides? In fact, the price of glucose had gone up lately in consequence of the quantity put into the Government stores. The best specimen showed 7.20 per cent of glucose, while eight showed over 20 per cent, and the two worst 25.20 per cent. The question arose—"How did such things find their way into the Government stores at all?" He was not dealing with a small amount of stores, but with stores passed in in large numbers, the badness of which in a case of war would involve a serious loss of life of our troops. But he would go further than that. He wanted to place the matter on the fairest possible ground, and, therefore, he would take the Government's own pet firm—the best firm on the list—and show how that firm did the work. He would take, too, not only the best firm dealing with the War Office, but the firm which dealt largely with other Departments of the 832 Government—namely, Ross and Company, of Bermondsey. These were the words of the Judge Advocate General—They are now by far the largest contractors for supplying accoutrements to the Government. During the five years ending March,1887, they have had 56 contracts and supplied 1,687,274 articles. The firm of Messrs. Ross get by far the largest share of business from the Government—in fact, three times more than any other firm.This was only in regard to some portion of the contracts sent in, and referred simply to accoutrements. Messrs. Ross sent in an enormous amount of saddlery and other articles, and the contracts obtained by other firms were largely supplied by Messrs. Ross. The next largest contractors were the firm of Messrs Pulman, and it was in evidence that a large portion of the articles sent in by Messrs. Pulman were really supplied by Messrs. Ross. These two firms together supplied the Government at Woolwich with two-thirds of the whole of their requirements, and they did work not only for the War Office, but for the Post Office, the Colonies, and India. In regard to the Admiralty, a representative of Messrs. Ross was asked—Are they more particular at the Admiralty than they are here? No; the inspection is just the same.—They do not reject more there? No; the inspection is just about the same.They had the fact that this large firm sent in to Woolwich a large quantity of goods for the Public Service; and yet, in regard to many of those goods, they were furnished by middlemen, notwithstanding that there was a distinct rule at the War Office that the articles supplied ought to be only bought from the manufacturers, and not from the middlemen. He could not see why that rule had not been observed in this case, and he thought the facts he had mentioned proved that there was no great reason why the Government should go out of their way to select middlemen. But, while they were middlemen in regard to all manufactured articles, they were also sweaters, and sweaters of the very worst kind. There had been startling evidence recently given before a Committee in "another place." Evidence had been given in regard to the accoutrements supplied to the Army by three firms, and every one of the witnesses singled out Ross and Co. as the very worst sweaters in Bermondsey. 833 John Thomas Morris, Army smith, said—The accoutrement business had come under his notice for the last 15 years. As secretary of the Saddlery Trade Society, he had seen the miserable results of the lowering of wages. He referred particularly to Ross and Co., of Grange Road, Bermondsey. The net result was bad work for the Government, hard work for the workers, and riches for the sweaters.John Correy, harness-maker, stated that the practice was for Government contractors to get estimates from sub-contractors, and then give out the work to those who made the lowest tender. Ross and Co. began to employ girls in their place, to whom they paid less than the sweaters received. Arnold Whight pointed out that Bermondsey, the headquarters of Messrs. Ross, the hours were from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. He also declared that Messrs. Ross were the worst sweaters he was acquainted with. Other sweaters paid men 3s. 3d. for blocking and sewing 12 cartridge pouches for the Navy. It took three and a-half hours to make one. Ross had them made in his workshops for 1s. 9d. a dozen by women. The thread was inferior, because the workpeople had to buy it. The Government, as a rule, ought to be very careful how they gave out these contracts, and should make them only with the men who did the work. The Director of Contracts knew very well what he was doing, and that Government official himself said in his evidence—The specifications describe the very best sort of leather, and I think there is no doubt whatever that such a kind could not be purchased for the prices the Government pay.It came out in the evidence of Mr. Southey that at the time of the Crimean War the best kind of leather was supplied to the Government. Now, the Ordnance Department, in their specifications, describe the very best class of leather, but take it at a price at which no manufacturer could possibly sell it at a profit. Even sweaters would not oblige the Government out of pure patriotism.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, he understood the hon. Member intended to confine his remarks to the hides.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he was referring to the hides. The Government official called it leather, whether it was 834 hides or not; but even the sweaters did not send articles in at a low price in order to oblige the Government. Nor were they passed in by the Government viewers out of the highest and purest motive. All this was a question, as the Judge Advocate General said, not of motives, but of facts. The best course was to judge by the facts, and when the facts were ascertained, to see whether the motives wore of the true and high character which the Judge Advocate General maintained they were. How was it possible for goods such as these to be passed in wholesale from such a firm as this? He would show how some of the firms were treated by the Director of Contracts. One of the witnesses said they got special orders; whenever anything was wanted in a hurry, they went to Ross's. That meant that for anything that could not be carefully inspected, they were to go to Ross and Company. Of course competition was sometimes necessary. The job would be far too great if these things were always got in a hurry. But, then, Ross and Company were placed upon a limited list of firms. He protested against such an arrangement, and he hoped that in future the House would insist that there should be no such I thing. But Ross and Company were something more than put upon a favoured and limited list of contractors. They had special knowledge; and in dealing with a Government Department, knowledge was power. They knew the fashion in which the Government work was conducted. They were acquainted with some of the peculiarities in the work, and they were well aware of the strength and unbusiness-like fashion in which the Government did this work. Moreover, they were acquainted with their own special manner of passing into the Government Establishments their own bad articles. He would give an instance to show some of the special knowledge they had. As old contractors, they were acquainted with the fact that the specifications, according to which articles were ordered, the sale pattern, and the sample according to which they were to be tested, were very different things in these wonderful Government Establishments. They also knew the fact, which outsiders did not know, that though these specifications were excellent, they were in many cases 835 obsolete; they were never taken notice of, and never came before the men who had to pass in and test the articles. He would take a case—the case of hides, which was quoted by the Judge Advocate General himself—which was the question the Secretary of State for War was anxious he should lay stress upon. In the case of hides the Judge Advocate General said:—Prime, sound, English-dressed leather, oak bark tannage, clean, level, of good colour, well shaven, dressed, and in a perfectly dry state.That was the kind of thing we had to pay for, or rather ought to pay for; but what, as a matter of fact, was the thing passed in at the Government Establishments? Two experts pronounced a sealed pattern as "shocking and could not be worse; wretched, and as bad as anything could be." What did the Judge Advocate General himself say in regard to a particular sample? He said—It had been in use since 1872, and had evidently received rough handling. There were a good many of what were called butcher's cuts in it, and also warble holes—that was holes made by grubs in the cattle.That was the kind of article sent in as saddlery to the Government Establishments and tested by viewers. There was a sealed pattern kept by the Government; but he was told that, as a matter of fact, in many cases, where Ross and Company passed in their goods, the sealed pattern had not been taken at all, but that the sample was taken from the list supplied by the contractors themselves. Even that was not enough, and outsiders were altogether unable to know that the rules were being broken. There was one thing upon which the Judge Advocate General had reported strongly. In some instances the Government viewer had to plod wearily through every single article. It was not sufficient to examine one, and if it was bad to decline to take the rest; but if the viewer found that the first 20 were bad, he had still to go through the whole, before he would be justified in rejecting a single one. In the case of hides, there was a rule that every one of them should weigh from 22 lbs. to 23 lbs., that was to be the average weight; but, as a matter of fact, the hides were weighed in a lump, with the result that some of them only weighed one-half what they ought to have weighed. What did the test of 836 weight mean? It meant that their quality and condition should be properly ascertained; but one quarter of them had the weight made up to a large extent of glucose. The only test of that glucose in the Government Establishment was its weight. There was no chemical or scientific test whatever at the contractor's own works, nor was there any scientific test at the Store Department of the Government. The Government officials were not even allowed to put a practical test to the hides when delivered, in order to ascertain the quantity of glucose, although some were as full of glucose as they could well be, as was plainly observable from the sweet smell of the sugar. When tasted, some of these hides were as sweet as sugar; but the officials of the Ordnance Department maintained that they should not be so tested, and the hides were continued to be tested by weight, instead of any more scientific test. He thought that showed pretty well the system under which these articles were passed in. He would now show the way in which the system was administered. Everything depended upon whom the people were who tested and viewed the articles whenever the contractors endeavoured to pass them in. The Inspector who was responsible for these things was a man who had been brought from the office of the contractors themselves. He had been in the employment of the contractors ever since he was a boy, his father had been in the same employment for 30 years, and he had a brother-in-law also connected with the firm. And that was the man brought in as Head of the Department to inspect the goods passed in by Ross and Co. Not content in making him Inspector of the articles sent in by Ross and Co., contrary to all precedent he had a double appointment given to him, and was made Inspector of Saddlery, so that he had to inspect the saddlery sent in by the same firm of which he had been so long a servant. It might be thought that this man had been brought in to inspect the contractor's work on account of great knowledge and technical skill in that direction; but, on the contrary, as a matter of fact, the man, to begin with, was of no education at all. The Directors of Contracts, Mr. Nepean, said he thought that this man, Mr. Spice, was not sufficiently educated for the appointment. Then, possibly, he was a 837 man of technical knowledge and had a large acquaintance with the kind of articles he had to inspect. As a matter of fact, the Judge Advocate General himself had an opportunity of speaking of Mr. Spice's merits, and Spice himself had carefully passed over and had refused to appoint as viewers, two men who were responsible for bringing these scandals to light. He had passed them over, on the ground that they were not fit for the work, and had made them deputy viewers. But the Judge Advocate General said that the opinion of the men he had refused to appoint was worth a great deal more than the opinion of the Inspector himself. They were told that it was necessary to go for an Inspector to Messrs. Ross, because buff articles were brought in under the head of accoutrements, and, therefore, it was necessary to go to one of the five firms which supplied buff articles, in order to get a knowledge of buff. But, unfortunately for that contention, while Spice was at Messrs. Ross's, he had nothing to do with buff at all, but had only been foreman of the men who cut out black leather—a totally different thing in every possible respect. Then, how came such a man as this to be appointed? because he thought it was a matter the Secretary of State ought to follow up. It was a matter of importance to ascertain who was responsible in a Government Establishment for appointing a man to test articles who came from the contractors who supplied the articles, and who was proved not to have the special knowledge that was absolutely necessary for the discharge of that duty. It was highly desirable that they should trace home the responsibility to the man who had appointed him. The Judge Advocate General in his Report, too, carefully screened the head man of all, the Director of Contracts. The Director said that he did not recommend this man. Now, he (Mr. Hanbury) did not wish to put his own gloss upon the matter, but he would read two answers which had been given in the evidence. It would appear that, when the appointment was decided upon, there were 47 or 48 applicants. This was Question 4,207—Forty-seven or 48 is what has been stated in evidence; you say 48?—About that number.4,208. What happened next?—The replies to the advertisement were then sent by me the War Office and were passed by the 838 Director of Artillery and Stores to Mr. Nepean, the Director of Contracts. From the names submitted, he selected five, Spice being one; but he did not recommend Spice; he thought that he was not sufficiently educated for the appointment. The five names were then sent to me for my report, and I have brought here with me a little memorandum, which, perhaps, I might refer to, showing why these different people were rejected. (The witness referred to the memorandum.) The five names which were selected and sent to me were Spice, Thompson, Mayne, First Class Staff Sergeant Hawkins, Army Service Corps, and R. May. Then Mr. Nepean reported that, failing the four latter names, he saw no alternative but to fall back upon Spice, but he did not altogether concur in the appointment. Then Thompson we knew nothing about at all.Now, Mr. Nepean was Director of Contracts, and he wanted to know why on earth the Director of Contracts, whose duty was simply to give out contracts, should interfere, either directly or indirectly, in the appointment of an Inspector, whose duty it was to ascertain whether the articles were good? The man who gave out the contracts ought to score the discharge of his duties there, and should have nothing more to do with the matter. Certainly, it was improper that he should interfere in the appointment of a man in the position which Mr. Spice held, and especially that he should appoint a man who had long been in the employment of the firm which supplied the contracts. This was how the appointment was made. From the 48 names, Mr. Nepean selected five; one of them was Mr. May, who was working at Messrs. Ross at that moment; another man was Mr. Mayne, in the employment of Almond, who had the Indian contract; the third was a man named Thompson, of whom Mr. Nepean said he knew nothing whatever; the fourth was Hawkins, of whom the Judge Advocate General had very unsatisfactorily spoken. Spice was the fifth. Having selected these five, the Director of Contracts said that he had no other choice than to fall back upon Spice, because none of the rest were good for anything. Therefore, he reluctantly felt bound to appoint Spice, although he did come from the contractors who supplied the articles. That was how the matter was worked. It was not sufficient, however, to have an Inspector who came from Messrs. Ross. It was also necessary that a great number of viewers who worked under him should also come from the same firm of contractors. No sooner had Spice 839 received the double appointment of Inspector of Contracts and Inspector of Saddlery, than he set about to get active viewers brought in from the firm of Ross and Co. The first man of those whom he appointed as viewer was a man named Hawkins, who had been dismissed from Government employment some years before for having, while in their employment, taken subcontracts with a man named Curtis from Ross and Co., and carefully arranged that his own goods should be passed into the Government Departments. It was upon that ground that he was dismissed, and the Judge Advocate General mentioned the extraordinary inability of Hawkins to tell the truth, and declared that his evidence was extremely unsatisfactory. Hawkins was described by a quartermaster as a man whom he would not trust a snap of the fingers. Now, Sergeant Hawkins was the only man dismissed by the Government in consequence of these scandals; and he was told, although it was hardly credible, that the man had appealed to the Secretary of State, who had sent him back again. Was that the fact?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was not prepared to interrupt the hon. Gentleman until he rose to reply to the whole of his speech.
§ MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (, &c.) Falkirk
asked, would the hon. Member for Preston inform the House when the first appointment of Spice had been made?
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he had been in the employment of the Government for some years, commencing about 1880. In addition to Hawkins, there was a man working under Messrs. Ross as a sub-director and assistant to the Commissary General, Colonel Rawnsley, who had himself described this man as a sweater of the very lowest type. In addition, there was a man named Biden, whose father was working at Messrs. Ross's at the time of his appointment, and who himself came from the same firm. Not content with the appointment of these men as viewers, other persons were brought in to act as temporary viewers—such as Lawson, Pipe, and Woodbridge, one of whom was a nephew of Spice, and knew nothing of the work he had to inspect. Even that was not enough. It was not sufficient to have these men passing in the Government goods, but the rule which was 840 observed in all other Government Establishments in order to provide a check was broken in this instance. In other Government Establishments the viewer was required to put his mark upon the goods which he passed, so that if bad things were passed in there would be some responsibility, and it would be known who passed them in. But in this blissful Establishment there was nothing of that kind; no viewer was required to put a mark upon the goods, and the result was that bad things were passed in, and there was no responsibility whatever. But that was not all. It was not sufficient even to do business in that way, and he should have to go a little further than that. As a rule, he was told that manufactured articles, such as collars, should be sent in half-made, so that the authorities should be able to see whether they were stuffed with straw or hair, and in that way ascertain whether the Government got the things for which they paid their money. That rule was invariably broken in this Establishment. One of the witnesses named Chase said that the specification required the contractor to submit collars in a half-finished state, without hair, facings, and cream-coloured duck lining. These were not submitted, because women took them away to sew the cream drill linings on, and returned them to be stuffed. Things were therefore passed in without any opportunity being afforded to judge of anything except the outside, and in that way collars stuffed with straw instead of hair were sent in. The ingenuity manifested by the Government contractor and the officials working together was positively marvellous. In many instances, the viewers actually went to the contractor's own yards in order to pass the things in. Of the 3,500 saddles of the pattern of 1884, 1,000 were passed at Ross's own works. One of the witnesses was asked to pass them, and his reply was that Mr. Plunkett went down to pass them; but Mr. Plunkett was not an Inspector of Leather at the time. Captain Plunkett had been Inspector of Saddlery, but had been superseded because he was not up to the work, and for other reasons. But when it became necessary to pass 100 of these 3,500 now saddles, Captain Plunkett was found good enough to be called back and sent to the contractor's own works, and Captain Plunkett, a superseded official, actually passed 841 them in. But the story did not end there. It was not sufficient to have the contractor's own men in the Establishment, but it was necessary to have a contractor himself present in the Department. One of the witnesses, Dunn, said that Mr. Tomlin, the principal partner in the firm of Messrs. Ross and Company, was continually there. Chase, another witness, was asked whether Spice sent for him to show what was rejected, and his reply was—Very likely; he has been in three or four times a-week, and up in Spice's office; we generally used to leave him in the office with him.
The same witness was asked—
Used he to watch you viewing?—He used to come round the shop.
When things were being viewed?—Yes.
His own articles?—Yes.
Did you condemn them a third time?—Yes. I condemned them till I did not see any more of them; we had heaps of them each side of us. Mr. Tomlin came to Embledon's board, and he said: 'If you go on in this way you will ruin us.'
That is to say, if you went on rejecting the bed straps?—Yes.
Who did he say that to?—He said it for all of us to hear.
Did you hear it?—Yes; I could not be off hearing it.
So much for the relations between the contractors and the Government officials. The Judge Advocate General very innocently said there could have been no jobbery possible, because when he came to look at the Return he found that Messrs. Ross had almost as many articles rejected by the viewers as other contractors. Now, that statement required a little examination, and he thought it would be found that it told in a different direction. In the first place, it was apparent, even to the meanest intelligence, that it was necessary to have a fair proportion of goods rejected, or else even the authorities in the Government Establishment might get suspicious. In addition to this note, he might mention that Ross and Company were not the only firm who load viewers from their own works inside the Government Establishments passing in their own goods. At the moment the Judge Advocate General was holding his inquiry down at Woolwich, Colonel Barrington said that Messrs. Masons had been written to, by the permission of the Secretary for War, for a viewer, and they had sent a viewer from their own
establishment. This was the firm who had supplied 400 of the very worst Indian pack-saddles. When the Judge Advocate General said that the rejections took place in almost equal quantities, whether they came from Ross and Co. or any other firm, he forgot to mention that they were primary rejections only. It by no means followed that goods rejected the first time were not again sent in and passed into the Government Establishments within a very few days of their rejection. If there was one thing to be gathered from the Report it was that the inspection was so carefully arranged that the primary rejections in hardly any case became final rejections. What happened? How was it possible to prevent these articles from coming in again? The rule of the Establishment was to mark them with chalk. He should have considered it better to have marked them with something more durable than chalk, and something that was not so liable to be so easily rubbed off. Question 991 was this—
Mr. Spice used to come round with Mr Tomlin; he used to come down the shop and look at us. This note (invoice) of bed straps, for instance, he came down and actually told us not to mark them—it would be such a job to get the chalk mark out.
Who told you that?—Mr. Tomlin, one of the partners at Ross's.
Do you mean that he comes to the shop?—
He has come down to the board where we are sitting.
What did he say to you?—He told us not to chalk them too much, it would be such a job to get the chalk marks out.
Did he mean you not to mark things that had been rejected too much, so that the chalk marks would not come out?—Yes.
Mr. Tomlin came and requested you not to put too much chalk on?—Yes.
What did you understand by that?—Because they were apt to come in again; these notes have been in over and over again with our own chalk marks on these bed straps. Even if rejected they were done up in the Department itself at the Government cost.
Are there any other matters that you would like to draw my attention to?—There is one thing which I wish to mention, to show that there is a little favouritism with regard to Ross's firm. On three Saturday afternoons we were put on overtime.
What year are you speaking of?—1885.
What month?—About March. On three Saturday afternoons we were altering a lot of pouches; we were doing this for Ross's firm; they had been passed in by somebody else before we we went there.
Let me understand; they had been passed in by somebody else, you say?—Yes.
You were altering them in the Government collar-maker's shop?—In the inspection branch.
Do they work in the inspection branch?—Yes, we did anything we were told to do; we were sent over there to assist; we did not know whether it was our duty or not.
Is it the rule that anybody should be there to alter things that had been sent in?—No.
But it is done?—Yes. There is a class of men picked out for those jobs.
Who picks them out?—I suppose the Inspector.
Mr. Spice?—Mr. Spice; he was in charge at the time. Whether he has ever asked them to do it, or whether they do it themselves, I cannot say.
Things come in which are not up to sample, or would not be passed, and which would require some alteration, and a man in the Government employ is there to alter them?—He is not there to alter them; but he does alter them.
Can you tell me the name of any people who do that?—I have seen Woodbridge do that.
Any other?—No. I have done a few myself when I have been told.
But even that was not sufficient to insure that the primary rejections were ultimately passed in. If articles were rejected by one viewer, they were carefully passed over to someone who came from Messrs. Ross's firm, or who had got a father or a brother or some connection there. Here was some evidence in regard to frogs—
Question 710. Then the next is 'Frogs, sword bayonet;' the number at the side is 7,690 (No. 1 book) 'Ross' (at the top) '125 defective, bad work and material'?—Yes; those were frogs. I called Spice's attention to it, and he told us to reject them. We did so, and when we went to breakfast he had them given to Biden; he is an ordinary viewer; they were given to him, and he passed them.
Are those the 125?—Yes.
Those 125 you rejected?—Yes.
Did you do it by yourself?—No; Chase was with me.
Did Chase agree with you?—Yes.
That they should be rejected?—Yes.
Why did you reject them?—Because they were badly stitched. I told Spice that it was some youngster that was half-time at school had done the work, that no man could have done it.
Colonel BARRINGTON: These were frogs?—Yes.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL: You called Spice's attention to that?—Yes.
Did he agree with you?—He told us to condemn them, and when he went out to breakfast he gave them to Biden, and Biden passed them.
You have no doubt about it?—Not a bit. Chase will say the same.
That was how the inspection was managed. But there was another way also in which it was done. Sometimes goods were sent in and rejected, and subse-
quently taken in at reduced price. He maintained that that ought not to be the case. If they were not good enough to come up to the Government standard, which was bad enough in itself, do not let them have these shoddy things taken in at reduced prices. He was told that not long ago at Pimlico a number of helmets were taken in at reduced prices because there was a quantity of brown paper in them. If they were not passed, they were sent to the contractor to be re-dressed. What did that mean? It simply meant that part of the glucose was taken out, they were never re-weighed, and consequently the full price was paid for that which was half the weight it ought to be. If it were not found safe to send in things within a short time, they were put by for a year or two, and sent in under a new contract. That might sound incredible; but it was, nevertheless, the fact. In Question 415 the Judge Advocate General asked—
Was anything else passed which you say ought not to have been passed?—Yes; a lot of things. For instance, there were 500 pouches sent in.
Can we identify those pouches?—It would be very hard to do so.
Colonel MILLS: In what year were they sent in?—January, 1886, I think. I was told that the contract was given out on the 16th of January, and the things were sent in about a fortnight after; they were very bad when sent in; but they had been laid by in the store a couple of years; in fact, they were old rejections just done up a bit, and sent in again. Biden was senior to me, and I drew his attention to them; I said they were not fit to be passed in, and he drew Spice's attention to them, and he said, 'There is an order from the War Office that they are to be inspected.'
The way in which these facts became known was, that in a subsequent year, when a fresh contract was being made, these things were sent in bearing the mark of 1884, and showing that they had been sent in at that time. This was not the mere evidence of one or two viewers, or discontented men at Woolwich, but it was borne out literally, and year after year, by the Assistant Commissary General (Colonel Rawnsley), who complained of the way in which rejected goods were sent in. In question 2,825, he was asked by the Judge Advocate General—
I understand you wish to add something to what you have said before?—I wanted to bring to your notice a matter we have to contend with sometimes in the inspection branch, and I think
it is pertinent to the subject of this inquiry. We find at times that when articles have been rejected they are sent in over again. They are sent in under two different circumstances; one is when they are rejected for certain faults which can be remedied; the other is when they are rejected for faults which cannot be remedied. I divide them into two classes. I take, first, rejections for faults which can be remedied. We find sometimes we get those articles sent in over again without any attempt being made to rectify them; that is bad enough; but we find what is worse than that, that sometimes when we reject articles for faults which cannot be remedied we get those articles in over again. We have known that that has actually taken place by private marks which have been placed upon those which we have rejected, because we have had a suspicion that they might perhaps come in to us again; and I think you will see that it places the inspection branch and all the inspecting staff in a most invidious position, because if by any oversight or anything unforeseen, any one of those articles should be passed, an unscrupulous contractor might at once say that the inspection branch was most inconsistent, that we accepted one day what we rejected a week or two before; and not only that, but the whole staff have to waste their time going over all those articles again, which, in fact, have already been rejected. I submit with all respect that it is a question for the consideration of the authorities which have to deal with these matters, whether some drastic measures should not be adopted to put a stop to this on the part of contractors by the infliction of some punishment which might be decided upon by the authorities who have to deal with these matters, either by removing them for a time from the list of contractors, or striking them off altogether, according to the magnitude of the offence.
He had two remarks to make upon that matter. The first was that the punishment suggested by Colonel Rawnsley would by no means satisfy him, because he held that when people sent such stores to a Government, upon which the lives of the troops, and even the safety of the country, depended, it was not enough to strike them off the list of contractors, or even to dismiss them, but a Bill ought to be brought in by the Government inflicting on them a very heavy penalty indeed. Colonel Rawnsley deserved little credit for giving this evidence before the Judge Advocate General; he ought to have given it before, and brought the whole of the facts. Why did they not have punishments of this kind inflicted? Because it was a high official of the War Office himself who was largely responsible for these things. The high official who gave out the contracts was himself the man who appointed as Inspector a person who came from the contractors them-
selves. Why was it that even Colonel Rawnsley was not able to prevent these articles from being sent in again? He would not put his own gloss upon the matter, but would give the evidence of Mr. Tomlin, the contractor. The witness Chase said—
There are other things I have seen passed in. I saw Mr. Tomlin, Ross's manager, come down there and complain about the things we rejected—rifle pouches. He was allowed to take them back and rub dubbin into them to soften them. They were rejected as being hard and heavy, and he sent them in again.
What do you say to that?—That if Mr. Spice had not allowed me to do that, I should have appealed to the Director of Contracts?
On what ground?—I should have taken them away, dubbined them, sent them back again, and asked for them to be re-inspected, and I should have beaten the department.
Supposing that you send in articles at first which are not up to sample, is it not right to reject them?—Certainly.
Were not these up to sample?—They were hard. They, were up to sample when they came back again.
That is not the point. Were they up to sample at first? I say that if he had not allowed me to re-deliver them, I should have appealed to the Director of Contracts.
Here they had this remarkable mention of Mr. Nepean, the Director of Contracts at the War Office, who found that was not sufficient. In order to prevent the possibility of tracing bad things from such a firm as that, when they once came into the Government Establishment, what happened? He took the case of hides, for instance. After they had been for two months in a Government Establishment, they were so badly stored that it was utterly impossible to tell the condition in which they were sent in, and, therefore, it was impossible to trace any defects home. The Judge Advocate General reported as follows:—
In considering the case of these hides, it transpired that those in charge of them keep them in store in a way that is universally condemned by everyone acquainted with leather. Properly, hides in store should be laid flat upon one another. In the stores at Woolwich the hides are rolled up in a round form, and then stand on one end. All the expert witnesses expressed their strong disapproval of keeping hides in store in this fashion, and it is singular that, though Mr. Crutchley told us that he had complained about it lots of times to the Inspectors, it had continued the practice for 20 years.
It would, therefore, be seen pretty clearly that even if bad things were passed in, and a disturbance was made
about them, it was afterwards impossible to find out whether at the time they were passed in the articles were good or bad. There the story ended; but he thought the Committee would be anxious to learn what view the War Office took in the matter. It was not ancient history, but the system was going on at Woolwich to this very day; nor was it the case of a few things having been delivered in. The Secretary for War might tell him that some of the things were sent in at the time of the last panic in 1885. Some of them might have been, but many of them were not. Take the case of the hides. They did not buy unmanufactured articles in a time of panic, but manufactured articles. Therefore that argument went for nothing. What had been going on at Woolwich with regard to these transactions, and how had the facts come out at all? It was because two men named Dunn and Moody, workmen in humble positions, could not stand by and see such scandals going on. They, therefore, disclosed them to their superiors, who had not the patriotism to bring them before the public; and how did the Government officials treat these two men who were honestly trying to do their duty towards this Government Department. He had already shown how the Director of Contracts had treated them, and he would now show how they were treated in the Department itself. What did Commissary General Moloney say to them when they went to him to complain? He told them—"It is no business of yours; I am responsible and not you." However, these two honest men persisted, and what happened? One of those Departmental Committees, of which they heard so much, and which, he was sorry to say, the Government paid more attention to than to all the independent Commissions and Committees which ever sat—a Departmental Committee was appointed to inquire into these articles, and Spice, who was one of the men against whom the complaint was made, was one of the first persons appointed to test them. The report sent to London was that the two workmen had made frivolous complaints, and they were reprimanded accordingly. When the Judge Advocate General held his inquiry, the original complaint was examined into, and the Judge Advocate General himself said, that so far from
being a frivolous complaint the articles in question were disgraceful, and he was astonished that the Woolwich officials had not taken up the matter sooner, as they ought to have done. But that was not nearly all. The contractors must have their little spite against these men. The first thing they did was to send down two detectives belonging, he was told, to a Government Department itself—two men named Kendle and Stammers—who made false charges against these men—a charge of drunkenness against Dunn and embezzlement against Moody. The Judge Advocate General inquired into those charges, and found that there was not a particle of justification for them. But the contractors were not satisfied; they knew that there was another inquiry to be held, and they got their lawyers to send threatening letters to the men, threatening them with a law suit and an action for libel. He was thankful to say that the men were brave enough to face any inquiry. This was the letter that was sent to Dunn and Moody—
§ "4, Bloomsbury Square,
§ 7th July, 1887.
§ We have been consulted by our clients, Messrs. Ross and Co., of Grange Mills, Bermondsey, with regard to the following matter. They have been informed that you have in league with others maliciously damaged certain of their goods after they have passed official inspection, your object being to fabricate evidence that our clients have supplied inferior goods to the War Office, and that the inspector in collusion with them has improperly passed such goods. We have, therefore, to demand from you, in the course of to-morrow, a full explanation of the matter, or in default, we shall commence criminal proceedings against you for conspiracy, or such other proceedings as we may be advised.
§ Yours obediently,
§ FORD, LLOYD, BARTLETT, and MICKLEMORE."
§ No notice was taken of that, and up to March of the present year the same contractors went on supplying goods to the Government Department at Woolwich. But it was not only the contractors who punished the men; they were charged with having acted against official etiquette and official rules. The Judge Advocate General said in his Report that the men Dunn and Moody, who acted as viewers, were men of intelligence, who thoroughly understood their work, and that it was a grievance to them that they had men put over their heads as overseers who had no idea of 849 the work, and who had been brought in from Messrs. Ross's. And as distinctly as any man could recommend promotion, the Judge Advocate General recommended that they should be appointed permanent viewers, because they knew their duty and had done their work well. Yet every means had been taken, and the regulations had been strained by the Woolwich Department, to prevent these men being viewers; and, in spite of the recommendations of the Judge Advocate General, they were doing exactly the same work at the same pay as when they disclosed these scandals. He did not know who was responsible for it, but he was about to speak of the shabbiest and meanest trick that was ever played by a Government Department, and he devoutly hoped that the Secretary of State in his reply would be able to repudiate all responsibility for it. Here were two men who had done their duty boldly and at great risk to themselves; one of them was called as a witness before a Committee sitting in "another place"; he gave valuable evidence as to the way in which accoutrements were supplied to the Service; on that Committee there sat a Government official, Lord Onslow; and what did he say? In this matter the noble Lord could have no official information of his own, because he was attached to the Board of Trade as Under Secretary, and he must have derived his information from other sources. Lord Onslow asked this man if he had ever been subjected to the ordeal of a court-martial and punished for having refused to obey orders and telling a lie. In the first place he (Mr. Hanbury) said it was a dirty thing to rake up that incident in the career of a man because he had been the means of bringing to light scandals which had reflected so badly on his superiors. But it did not lie in the mouth of the War Office to bring a charge of the kind against that witness. He was a man who had served in the Army 22 years; he had served his country for six years after the charge was brought against him, and not only that, but he had left the Army with as good a character as any man could have, and with a pension which he had drawn up to the present time. He had also been taken on at Woolwich because he was a good workman, and had been through the furnace. He said, even if there had 850 been anything in that charge it would have been a shabby and dirty trick to rake it up after such a lapse of time. But there was nothing in the charge. In the first place, all that this man had been charged with was having neglected to obey the order of a certain riding master. When he was charged with neglect of duty in that respect, he said that he had never received the order—that was the charge and that was the lie alleged against him. The riding master soon after left the regiment, and that man had since undergone one month's imprisonment in one of Her Majesty's gaols. Therefore he did not think the charge was one which the Government ought to have brought forward to try to punish him for having done his duty to the public—because doing one's duty to official superiors and doing one's duty to the public was not always the same thing. How had the Government dealt with the men who were responsible for this state of things? Had they dismissed anyone? Was Mr. Spice, the head of the Inspection Department, dismissed? No, he was there at the present moment. Were the men who were his superiors, and who were responsible for the specifications and samples, and who knew all that was going on, dismissed? On the contrary; no change had taken place. Yes, one change had taken place. The veracious Sergeant Hawkins had been dismissed. But what had happened? This person had appealed to the Secretary of State for War, and had gone back to the Department in another capacity. The contractors, he was told, had been struck off the list; but contractors had a bad habit of getting their work passed in under another name, and he was told that Messrs. Ross were doing exactly the same work as before, although their name had been struck off the Government list. It was true that another punishment was to have been put upon them; the bad hides were to have been sent back. But there were only 169 in stock, and it was stated that some which were at out-stations had not been sent back, but used for fenders in the Navy. Only 169 hides were sent back, and he was told that the pack saddles, ordinary saddles, valises, wallets, and straps which the Judge Advocate General condemned as being so bad, were, with the exception of those which were gradually 851 being supplied to the Army when wanted, at Woolwich at the present hour. But they were kept so carelessly that it was somewhat difficult to distinguish them from other stores, and he had no doubt that if a war or panic were to arise they would be served out to the troops, and that some great disaster would result. But it was not only that the men had not been dismissed; they had been actually promoted. They had seen how the humble workman was punished for doing his duty, and they now saw that those who had not done their duty were promoted. Colonel Barrington, who was responsible for the bad articles being sent in, had been promoted to a higher salary, and not only that, but two assistants had been created to help him in doing his work. Then, again, there had been other appointments. There had been complaints with regard to the Inspector of Saddlery that he did not know his work; he was told that this official being unable to judge of the quality of leather, there had been advertisements in the newspapers for a new officer to be appointed under the name of Inspector of Leather. This was the way in which the Government dealt with the scandals in the Department in question. Colonel Rawnsley and Commissary General Moloney were men who ought to have been dismissed. But their time was up, and the only notice that had been taken of them was that they had been allowed to retire on large pensions. He said that all these things constituted a very bad case. It was of no use for the Government to tell him that these things occurred one, two, or three years ago; because he had shown what had been done by the War Office recently, and what was going on at that moment. Until the Government could show that the money asked to be voted was to be well spent, and that the Department was properly organized, he said, in the interests of the Army itself, it was incumbent upon the House of Commons to insist that the Army, although small, should be well equipped, not only in respect of weapons, but of accoutrements on which very often the lives of our soldiers depended. They should see that the lives of our soldiers and the safety of the country were not imperilled either to please the Director of Contracts, the viewers, or the Commissary General, 852 and, least of all, the contractors who sent in these shoddy articles. Instead of being rewarded, they should be punished, and as the only means the House had of punishing them was by reducing the Vote, he moved its reduction by the sum of £1,000.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Item A, £90,763, Pay of Establishments and for Inspection and Proof of Stores, be reduced by the sum of £1,000."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, he would remind the Committee that the facts dealt with by the hon. Member (Mr. Hanbury) occurred in 1885 and 1886, and that neither he (Mr. E. Stanhope) nor the Government were in the smallest degree responsible for any one of them. How did those facts come to light at all? If the evidence was to be trusted, the facts must have reached over a considerable number of years. It was a Commission appointed by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), and presided over by Sir James Stephen, which, in the first place, put its finger on the evils now complained of. But that Commission was appointed to inquire into warlike stores passed into the Service. The Commissioners did not think it was their duty to make any investigation into the matters now brought under the notice of the Committee, but recommended that a special and separate inquiry should take place. As soon as he saw that paragraph in the Report he came to the conclusion that there ought to be a special and separate inquiry, and, looking to the contradictory nature of the evidence going to be brought forward, he determined that something in the nature of a judicial inquiry should be instituted, and that someone should be appointed, accustomed to weigh and present conclusions founded on careful investigation of the facts on one side and the other. Accordingly, he requested the Judge Advocate General to undertake that inquiry. His right hon. and learned Friend did so, and he was bound to say that the Government and the country owed a considerable debt of gratitude to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the time and trouble expended on the inquiry. He did not think that it would for a moment be disputed that 853 this inquiry was not only conducted in an impartial spirit, but in such a manner as, as far as possible, to exhaust the whole subject. He did not propose to follow the hon. Member into all the particulars which he had brought forward; but he admitted at once that the Report of the Judge Advocate General contained facts of a most lamentable kind, and disclosed a state of things which urgently called for improvement in the administration of the departments concerned. Now, the two questions raised were, first of all, that defective articles had been passed into the Service; and, in the second place, the question of the whole system of inspection. Before proceeding to discuss these two questions, he should like, at the outset, to put before the Committee two things which it was right hon. Members should bear in mind in considering the facts as a whole. Of these, the first was that a great portion of the articles passed into the Service as defective were passed at a time when there was an enormous strain on the Department. A large number of men connected with it were taken off to Egypt at the time of the war; and also, in connection with the Expedition to Bechuanaland, the Department had to get a large number of articles in a great hurry. Secondly, a difficulty had arisen with regard to leather goods owing to the complete alteration which had taken place in the system of tanning. Under the old system, six months were required to complete the hides. We moved too fast in these days to allow six months to finish the process of tanning, and, accordingly, new methods were devised which made it very difficult for any Inspector of leather goods, however skilful and desirous of doing his work properly, to detect adulteration by mere handling. Dealing, then, first with the individuals concerned, he admitted in the fullest way that the evils were very serious evils. There could not be the least doubt that the number of defective articles passed into the Service was very large, and that they were passed by more than one man into the Service. When they came to examine who were the individuals responsible for this state of matters, it must not be forgotten that the Judge Advocate General examined the witnesses himself, and that he could form an estimate for himself what reliance to place upon them, and there- 854 fore the conclusion at which he arrived, on hearing all the evidence as regards individuals, even more than as regards the system, was entitled to great weight and consideration. Now, to take the case of the contractors. He thought it showed the animus with which the hon. Member had spoken, that he described Ross and Co. as the pet firm of the Government.
§ MR. HANBURY
I simply called them the pet firm of the Government, because they got nearly two-thirds of the whole Government contracts.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
went on to say that Ross and Co. were, if not the largest, certainly in some departments the chief manufacturers of these goods in the country. They had been employed for a great number of years after competition with other firms, not only by the War Office, but by other Departments in connection with various large contracts. They supplied a great number of articles which were rejected, and with respect to which the Judge Advocate General had made a Report. On looking carefully into that Report, he came to the conclusion that the circumstances under which some of these articles had been supplied were such that it was impossible to retain Messrs. Ross on the list of contractors of the War Office, and accordingly he struck their name off. He wrote to the Admiralty and asked them to take the same step, and the Admiralty also struck Messrs. Ross off the list of Admiralty contractors.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I do not know the date. To take the other people mentioned in the course of the discussion, there was the case of Sergeant Hawkins, who was condemned for being an untruthful witness. Although Hawkins had always been a good workman, and had been constantly commended as such, he felt after what had been said by the Judge Advocate General that he could not allow the man to remain in the responsible post of viewer, and he directed his name to be struck off at once. After this there came to him from Hawkins a humble petition, representing that after the number of years in which he had served the Department and had done thoroughly good service, it would be absolute ruin to him if he was absolutely excluded from employ- 855 ment. In reply, he declined to allow Hawkins to hold any responsible position, but said he might be allowed to do some work in one of the Establishments in order that he might not be absolutely deprived of bread.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
Is that not the Establishment where a great deal of the adulteration has taken place?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I take it that the viewers are thoroughly competent to discharge their duty, and Hawkins is not one of them. There was next the case of Mr. Spice, and he came to the conclusion that the Judge Advocate General was entirely right in his contention that Spice ought not originally to have been appointed. Spice, it was true, had some connection with the contractors Ross; but if they wanted to get a practical man, they must have one who had been employed by some firm or another in this country. But Spice's connection with the firm of Ross was certainly too intimate to make the choice a proper one. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) put it all on Mr. Nepean, and said that gentleman appointed him, but that was absolutely not the fact. Originally, it was proposed by Commissary General Young that a man should be selected to fill the office; but Mr. Nepean objected, and insisted on advertising in order to get the best man for the post. Five candidates were selected, and Commissary General Young recommended that Spice was the best man; so that, at any rate, he was selected in the fairest way that could possibly be conceived, and was chosen honestly as being the best man.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
asked, whether it was to be understood that Mr. Nepean was overruled?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
Practically, Commissary General Young over-ruled Mr. Nepean. Mr. Spice was appointed Inspector of Accoutrements. There was an enormous amount of work to be done in the Department, and Mr. Spice was thoroughly well qualified to attend to his own proper work. But it was impossible for him during the last few weeks of 1885 personally to superintend all the work which it was his duty to inspect. 856 He had therefore come to the conclusion that, although Mr. Spice did his best, he was physically incapable of doing all the work which he was called upon to do. He knew it had been said that Mr. Spice did not make sufficient complaint to the higher authorities that he was overtasked, and in that he was wrong. But, in his opinion, the main blame attached to those who imposed all these duties on Mr. Spice. One of the gravest errors in the whole business was the appointment of Captain Plunkett, who was absolutely unfitted in every way for the appointment.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
He was appointed in 1883 by General Reilly. Mr. Spice had now been eight years in the service of the Department, and it had been proved that, so far as his physical powers allowed, he had done his work exceedingly well; and it could not be shown that Mr. Spice had used his position to favour any person, even including the Messrs. Ross. He came, therefore, to the conclusion that the justice of the case would be met by employing Mr. Spice at the work to which he was originally appointed, that of inspecting accoutrements. The next case was that of Colonel Rawnsley. The hon. Member had done quite right in tracing out the various people connected with this matter, and it was only proper that the House should know the steps which the Government had taken. He found nothing in the evidence to justify the condemnation of Colonel Rawnsley. No doubt, he was responsible for the inspection; but he had asked for additional viewers, and there was no evidence whatever that he had shown any partiality towards any particular contractors, or that he was personally responsible in the matters complained of. Commissary General Moloney was, no doubt, also a man as to whom inquiry should be made. He was closely examined before the Commission by Mr. Justice Stephen, but he was unable to discover that the Commission formed an unfavourable opinion of the manner in which he had discharged his duties. The extraordinary pressure made it very difficult for a proper view to be made; and Commissary General Moloney, when he recognized this, authorized the employment of 23 additional 857 viewers according to Mr. Spice's request. There was, indeed, one point on which he had felt bound to ask for additional explanations from Colonel Moloney. This was as to the discrepancy between the specifications, patterns, and samples, which was quite indefensible. But the explanation given to him was this. There were 3,700 specifications to be examined, and when Colonel Moloney came to the Office in 1883, he found that there was an enormous amount of this work to be done, and he was obliged to put aside the work on which he was engaged in order to attend to it, and the evidence fully proved that he did do a great deal, during his term of office, to improve the state of things. According to Mr. Dunn, the men against whom the grave charge was made of passing unsound work were employés of Ross and Co. These men appeared to be respectable working men of a good class, and they had excellent characters. Every opportunity was given for making out a case against these men, but no case was established against them. With respect to the information furnished by Dunn and Moody, he was fully satisfied that their statement of insufficiency of inspection was well founded, and on this point he fully accepted the statement of the Judge Advocate General. Particular instructions had been issued that Messrs. Dunn and Moody should be dealt with with the utmost fairness; but the question of their promotion could only lie with those who were competent to say what they were qualified for. In a matter like this he, of course, could not interfere. How could he hold others to be responsible to himself if he insisted on the appointment by them of particular men? Adverting next to the other branch of the subject, he remarked that he was not going to say a word in defence of the system as it had existed. In times past it had resulted in a large number of inferior articles being introduced into the Service, and he admitted that it required a good deal of overhauling. He would try to point out the main defects which appeared to exist. The first defect in the system was the Rule requiring all articles to pass in order that they might be paid for before the 31st of March in each year. That had been complained of over and over again, and especially by Lord Morley's Committee and Sir James Stephen's Commission, and the Go- 858 vernment had taken the Rule into serious consideration. He had been in come munication with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he believed that before the time arrived next year, an arrangement would be arrived at which would put an end to the evil. The second point, and one of the gravest problems in his judgment, was the difference between the specifications and the sealed samples. There was a terrible discrepancy there, and one which nobody could justify for a moment. The present Commissary General of Ordnance had taken up the matter earnestly, and in the short time he had devoted to the work he had satisfied himself that the samples brought in were in accordance with the specifications, and he himself was quite certain that the attention which that officer had given to the subject would afford a good guarantee that the former state of things would not be allowed to recur. As to the inefficiency of the tests for weapons, he might say our tests were much more severe than the tests by Foreign Governments. As an instance of that he might mention that some years ago a large contractor for a very important article sent in goods several of which were rejected; and on his being asked whether it was worth while to go on opening the parcels, he replied—"No; I will take them back, and they shall go to the French Government." The contractor evidently thought that the French Government would accept them—which they actually did—and this circumstance showed that our test was more severe than that employed by Foreign Governments. He now came to the system of inspection, which had undoubtedly been very defective. Some hon. Members had suggested that, instead of this system of inspection, we should try to enforce the responsibility of contractors. He thought the War Department would be well advised if they struck contractors off the list when there were many rejections; but that was not enough, because warlike stores stood upon a special footing. If the Department were to rely on the responsibility of the contractors for warlike stores sent abroad the country would be put in a terrible difficulty, as the defects would not be found out until an expedition had started or the troops were engaged. It was, therefore, impossible to do without 859 a system of inspection; but the inspection must be as thorough as it could be made.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
, interposing, said, that was what happened in the Egyptian Campaign. The articles were inspected here, and were afterwards found to be altogether inefficient.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he fully admitted that in the past the inspection had been lamentably deficient. All these goods had been inspected under the responsibility of the Commissary General of Ordnance; but the responsibility of that official had been altogether nominal. He had now been relieved of this nominal responsibility, and a competent officer had been appointed to act as Superintendent, directly responsible to the Military Heads of the War Office. He had been chosen as a man of undoubted experience, and he would be responsible for the whole conduct of the inspecting branch for these articles.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
replied, that it was Colonel Barrington. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) had made an attack on this officer; but he (Mr. E. Stanhope) challenged him to find any ground for the imputation. There was to be a special inspection of leather, which, in consequence of the system of adulteration and the new methods of tanning, had been very difficult to deal with. The manner of storing leather would like wise be improved. The hon. Gentleman had also alluded to the system of viewing and the difficulty of tracing who passed defective articles. It was now intended that each viewer when he inspected an article should put a special mark upon it, so as to bring home the responsibility for its acceptance to him. The hon. Member had attacked Mr. Nepean, a public servant of many years' standing; but he (Mr. E. Stanhope) might mention that neither Lord Morley's Committee nor Sir James Stephen's Commission found anything adverse to Mr. Nepean, nor had the Judge Advocate General said a word against him. The hon. Member attacked Mr. Nepean because he said he gave a number of contracts to Messrs. Ross, who employed sweaters. Messrs. Ross obtained the contracts in the ordinary way because they tendered at a lower price than others; and it was not 860 until the recent evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords that he had any idea that such an accusation was made against them. He felt bound to say, in justice to that firm, that their side of the case had not yet been heard before the Committee. He could say, however, that the War Office never sanctioned the giving of contracts to sweaters, and great care was taken in the Clothing Department that the clothing needed should be specially ordered from factories in order to prevent the work getting into the hands of the sweaters. As to the charge made by the hon. Member that Mr. Nepean had allowed contractors to take articles away after they had been condemned, in order to alter them, if the hon. Member had referred to the Answer to Question 3,364 he would have seen that the answer to that charge was that goods were frequently rejected for a defective stitch or two, but that the contractors always had an opportunity given them of putting those stitches right. So it was in this case. What the hon. Member alleged against Mr. Nepean amounted to nothing less than criminal conspiracy.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman was the contractor's own explanation. Mr. Ross distinctly stated, with regard to the hides, that if he had been allowed to take them back and re-dress them he would have appealed to the Director of Contracts and beaten the Department.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he could not offer any personal opinion on the subject, but if the hides were re-dressed in such a manner as to satisfy the proper tests, he could see no objection to their reception. Therefore, he could not help feeling that it was a little hard upon a public servant like Mr. Nepean that he should be attacked in the way the hon. Member had attacked him. He thought that if his hon. Friend had thought a little more, he would hardly have attacked a gentleman who had done such good service without basing his attack upon a little better case. He himself was not responsible for particular transactions, but he was responsible for the system now being established at the War Office, and he was perfectly prepared to accept that responsibility. If nothing else could be said to have been done during the time he 861 had fulfilled the duties of his present Office, he should, at any rate, have the satisfaction in his own mind of knowing that he had done his utmost to make the inspection of all war-like stores in all Departments of the Army independent and real.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, he believed the Committee would agree that the hon. Member for Preston had, in a perfectly fair manner, laid his statement before them, and, if he might be allowed to say so, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had spoken with great fairness, and explained with great facility and ability the steps he had taken to guard against the repetition of a state of things which could not but be regarded as constituting a great public danger. He was bound, however, to remark that the Committee must still be left in a state of some bewilderment and almost astonishment, at the remarkable evidence laid before them as to the system which had prevailed, and was still prevailing, in the Department. His right hon. Friend has stated that there could be no doubt whatever that the system in past years had been extremely bad, and that under that system a very large number of defective articles had been passed into the Public Service, that very large number representing, he (Lord Randolph Churchill) supposed, a very large sum of public money wasted. But it was most extraordinary that even the Secretary of State, with all his desire to re-organize the Department and assist the public, had not been able under the peculiar system prevailing to place his finger on one single person as being responsible for that great public crime. He was not going to argue against the conclusion at which the right hon. Gentleman had arrived, when he said that Sergeant Hawkins was an untrustworthy witness, and he agreed with the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman that he was perfectly unreliable. But still he remained in his position. Colonel Rawnsley apparently had held a position of some control, and would in a private capacity, no doubt, have prevented what had occurred to some extent, yet it was not in the power of the Secretary of State to bring the smallest accusation against Colonel Rawnsley. Then, as to Commissary General Molo- 862 ney, the Secretary of State said that, although, perhaps he did not do all that he ought to have done with regard to the articles supplied being equal to the specifications, yet Colonel Moloney had a great deal of work to perform, that he did all he could that, on the whole, he was doing good work for the State, and that he could not get rid of Colonel Moloney. Then there was Mr. Spice. His conduct was reviewed, but the right hon. Gentleman had come to the conclusion that no blame could legitimately be attached to him. Then they came to the case of Colonel Barrington, who also occupied a position of high control in this Department, and might be held in some way responsible for what had occurred. But no, It appeared there was not a particle of evidence in the Report of the Judge Advocate General to show that any responsibility attached to him or that there was anything that reflected upon him in the slightest degree, so that Colonel Barrington was now in a more responsible position than before. Of course, this might all be very right, and he did not think the Committee was in a position to dispute the conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman. But what he was most concerned about was this—he wanted to draw the attention of the Committee to the state of things under which an immense sum of money for many years past had been utterly wasted and thrown away. The occurrences had been brought to light, and yet the Secretary of State, with all the machinery at his disposal, and the House of Commons with all the great powers at its command, were unable to visit a single individual with the smallest penalty. That was the moral to be drawn from what had transpired. He had only one further remark to make, and it was in reference to it, that he made a strong and special appeal to his hon. Friend not to divide the Committee on his Amendment. If his hon. Friend divided one of two things would happen, either he would put the Government in a minority which would be attended by much inconvenience, and that after the explanation of the Secretary of State would certainly be a course of some injustice. On the other hand, his hon. Friend might be put in a minority, and if that were so, the public, instead of drawing the conclusion they wished 863 them to draw, would come to the conclusion that there was not much in the complaint of the hon. Member for Preston, and that the Secretary of State had completely disposed of it. And there was this further consideration—that if the Committee adopted the Motion by a large majority it might be understood outside that the Committee had condemned the changes that had been made by the Secretary of State with a view to guarding against a repetition of these occurrences. That was what he hoped the Committee would do. The Committee upstairs had guarded itself from expressing the slightest opinion on the various changes the Secretary of State had made with a view to the better organization of our military affairs. No opinion could be properly expressed until those changes had been tried. The right hon. Gentleman had constituted, and, for all he (Lord Randolph Churchill) knew, properly constituted, at very considerable cost, a large Department charged with the independent inspection of the articles manufactured for the use of Her Majesty's troops. The changes might or might not work well, and they might or might not preserve us in the future from the grave scandals which had up to now occurred. But, if the Committee divided on the Motion, and carried the Vote by a large majority, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in the future, should the arrangements turn out badly, would be perfectly able to turn round on the House of Commons, and say—"Well, I told you of the changes I had made, and you approved them by a large majority." Under all the circumstances of the case, and, as the only motive of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) was the good of the Public Service, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would rest satisfied with the debate he had originated, and with the assurance that the Committee was grateful to him for the great attention he had bestowed upon this matter, and not seek to press his Motion further, because, if the Division was hostile to him, the result would be that, instead of doing good, he would be doing a positive evil to the public interest.
§ COLONEL DUNCAN (Finsbury, Holborn)
said, that the Secretary of State for War stated in the course of his speech, that oral testimony was more im- 864 pressive than written testimony. Perhaps as he was a member of Lord Morley's Committee, and also of the Special Committee on Saddlery, he might be permitted to detail his experiences. The impression, which was left on the minds of Lord Morley's Committee was that, while there had been a great deal of incompetency among the Government officials, there had been no corruption; and the result of the inquiry conducted by the Judge Advocate General generally tallied with that of the former Committee. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had said that the Government ought to be loyal to the country as well as loyal to its officials; he (Colonel Duncan) maintained that the Government ought to be loyal to its officials when they were good, but not loyal to them when they were bad. Two or three men who had been so severely attacked were, to the best of their ability, doing the work for which they were engaged, and certainly they were absolutely free from corruption as far as the Committee could ascertain. The name of the Director of Contracts had been mentioned; that gentleman was examined by the Committee on Saddlery; the whole system at work was put before the Committee in the most open way; no question was left unanswered; and he thought that a more worthy and excellent public servant did not exist in the country. The Secretary of State for War had omitted to mention one thing. The right hon. Gentleman said that among the discoveries he had made was the great difficulty of getting specifications to agree with the sealed pattern. The difficulty the Committee experienced was to get the article manufactured to agree with the sealed pattern, and that was a much more important thing. They found that some thousands of certain articles had been accepted by the viewers which were of a totally different pattern to the sealed pattern which was given to the viewers to follow. That showed incompetency on the part of the viewers. Although great temptations had been thrown in the way of viewers in their dealings with wealthy contractors, no corruption on their part had ever been shown. As one who had sat on the Special Committees, and heard the evidence given, and, as one quite conscious of the great 865 weakness of our system, he rejoiced to find that now efforts were being made to improve that system.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, he quite understood the advice given to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) not to divide the Committee by the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill). The noble Lord was an independent supporter of Her Majesty's Government; and although, no doubt, he liked them to get a lesson now and then, he thought that, as they had been beaten twice last week, it was hardly fair to beat them on the present occasion. He (Colonel Nolan) believed that if the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) were to go to a Division it was very likely that he would get a majority; certainly he would if there were any Conservatives who really valued the efficiency of the Service more than the interests of their own Party. The Committee to which the hon. Member for Preston referred was not one on which he (Colonel Nolan) served; but he could quite understand, from his experience on other Committees, that the speech of the hon. Member for Preston was very much within the facts. Now, he took a much broader view of this question than the hon. Member for Preston. The defective supply of saddles and accoutrements was only a small part of this question. Again, saddles and accoutrements were put out to some sort of competition. Would the Committee believe that out of the £1,500,000 worth of stores there was hardly a single item put out to competition, but that the lists were drawn up by Mr. Nepean? Mr. Nepean was a man who had a great fancy for a restricted list of contractors; certainly he had declared he would like to retain the list, but he had never gone in for open competition. Pressure, too, was put on him by the Superintendents of the different departments in Woolwich to have restricted lists. It was only proper that all the stores should be bought in the open market, and until that was done the country would spend 20 or 30 or 40 per cent more than the value of the articles it received. Frequently, if they bought in the open market, they would get goods at 20, 30, or 40 per cent below cost price, because manufacturers must manufacture, must keep their establishments going, hoping to make something 866 out of the country in time of war or of great pressure. An enormous saving on this Vote would be effected if the principle of open competition were adopted. Of course, in the case of machine guns, there ought to be some reward given to the inventor, and such things he would exempt from the principle of open competition by order of the Secretary of State. But take the case of such a rough article as coal. It was proved to Lord Morley's Committee that a large part of the coal in the Arsenal was not bought in the open market; there was one kind which was submitted to open contract, while there was another kind which was not. Pig iron, steel, and other rough articles supplied in the factory were never put up to open competition. Sometimes there was a long list of contractors, and sometimes a very short one; it was a notorious fact that a number of contractors argued that it was no use to get on the list; certainly there would be no economy until they adopted the simple plan of having open contracts in all cases, except where a reason could be given by the Secretary of State why it should not be adopted. There was a tremendous tendency on the part of the War Office to narrow the contracts in every way. Take the case of steel. The manufacture of steel had been set up in the Royal Arsenal almost surreptitiously—that was to say, the War Office did not exactly forbid the authorities to set it up, but simply closed its eyes to their action. But the moment they succeeded in manufacturing steel in the Royal Gun Factory they were met with the objection—"We have promised eight or 10 contractors to give them for the future the greater portion of the steel supply for the Royal Arsenal." He (Colonel Nolan) believed that a sort of promise had been given to some steel manufacturers. It was said in the House that there was encouragement to be given to certain manufacturers to set up steel works, and that this encouragement would take the shape of giving them the orders of the future. He (Colonel Nolan) remembered rising in the House, and saying that what was proposed would lead to a tremendous monopoly and tremendous profits to the manufacturers of steel. The War Office now contended that they had only given a half promise to six or eight people, and 867 that there was another list to whom they had not given a promise at all. There was not the slightest doubt, however, that the War Office had gone out of its way to create a monopoly in steel, which was to be the chief material used in the manufacture of the guns of the future. There was only one remedy for that state of things, and it was for this reason that he wished the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) would ignore the advice of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), and go to a Division. The whole system of contract in this country required thorough overhauling; and until the country was more awake to the fact that stores were not put out to open contract, but were given to different people as a sort of favour, the War Office would be strong enough to enforce itself against the principle of open contract. It was not that the men concerned got any advantage out of the present system, the most they got was a little power or influence in being able to distribute these contracts. Mr. Nepean, the Director of Contracts, assigned the contracts, but the Superintendents were able to recommend contractors. A Superintendent certainly could not safely recommend anybody during his first two years of Office; and, therefore, what he had to do was to go to the manager—the manager was very often advised by the foreman, and, consequently, the manager and foreman had really the giving of the contracts. The Superintendents, although they got no pecuniary advantage out of the present system, incurred enormous responsibility. Certainly, if the country paid 20 or 30 per cent more for an article than it was worth, it was pretty certain they would get a good article, though they would not get value for their money, and there would not be the same trouble in inspecting it as if they went into the open market for it. Superintendents argued that they did not like the system of open contracts, because they were not sure of a good article. It seemed to him, however, that they did not care to take the trouble or to incur the responsibility of inspecting the articles, or else their contention meant that they could not tell a good article from a bad one. Now, Lord Morley's Committee recommended certain economies; they recommended 868 there should be an inspecting Staff, and the Secretary of State had gone so far as to appoint an inspecting Staff at a cost of £8,000 a-year. Surely, if they were to have such a Staff, they ought to get some value out of it. He had not the slightest doubt that if they threw upon that Staff the responsibility of judging whether materials supplied were good or bad they would certainly save more than £8,000 a-year. If this responsibility were not cast upon them, then £8,000 would simply be added to the other expenses of the country. As Lord Morley's Committee had been more than once referred to, he desired to ask one or two questions in respect to its recommendations. That Committee reported in favour of civilian heads at the Arsenal. He (Colonel Nolan) signed the Minority Report which was opposed to that recommendation, because he thought the Secretary of State ought to appoint the best men he could get, whether military or civilian. The Committee also thought there should be one mechanical engineer at the Arsenal, and that struck him as being a very good suggestion. He would like to know whether that portion of the Report had been carried out; indeed, there was nothing to which the Committee attached such importance as that there should be one first-class mechanical engineer at the Royal Arsenal to advise. He saw that in the Vote £3,000 was to be taken for new buildings. As he said, Lord Morley's Committee were very anxious to secure economy, and they made recommendations which he thought, on the whole, tended greatly to economy. Yet the very first thing they saw, notwithstanding those recommendations, was that new buildings were to be put up. He (Colonel Nolan) had a very good knowledge of Woolwich Arsenal, and it struck him that many of the old buildings could be utilized for the accommodation of the clerks and Commandant. If they wanted to spend money in putting tramways in the workshops, or in building new and improved workshops, well and good; but he scarcely saw the necessity of expending the £3,000 in the way now proposed. The Secretary of State (Mr. E. Stanhope) seemed to think he had instituted a good many reforms during his comparatively short tenure of Office. On the 869 whole, he (Colonel Nolan) really thought the right hon. Gentleman had done good work in the cause of economy; certainly, the right hon. Gentleman was about to effect a change which was of the greatest importance. He was going to take power to carry on the money over the financial year. Now, that was of importance, because, to a great extent, matters of finance in that House were managed by men who were at the Treasury. A great many hon. Members had passed through the Treasury, so that it might really be said that one-half of the men who voted on this question were connected with the Treasury, and that they looked at these matters from a Treasury point of view. They consequently wished all money that was left over on the different Votes to be surrendered into the Treasury, and to go to the Sinking Fund. Now, in the opinion of many people, all the money which was left over at the end of the financial year was wasted, so that pressure was brought to bear on the Superintendents and managers at the Arsenal to spend all the money which was noted just before the end of the financial year. Lord Morley's Committee received a large amount of evidence upon the point, it was shown that the Arsenal Authorities used to go into the market and get articles; whereas, if they had waited a few months longer, they could have got them much cheaper. The plan suggested by the Secretary of State, by which the money could be carried over the 31st of March, was one of great practical importance, and, in his (Colonel Nolan's) opinion, would lead to considerable saving. Some of the officers who gave evidence were in favour of a settlement every four or five years, but that was not assented to by the Committee, because it was felt that in that case Parliament would virtually surrender control over military matters. He was glad to see the right hon. Gentleman had decided to carry over the money for three or four months. There always must be, at the end of the financial year, an accumulation of money in the hands of the Department, and for the very good reason that if the Department spent its money at the beginning of the year, and the Secretary of State came down towards the close of the year with some urgent demand, they would have no money out of 870 which to defray the cost. They, therefore, must have some money in hand to meet any sudden requirement of the Secretary of State. As the year came to a close, however, they were anxious to spend the money, and frequently they did spend it almost recklessly. He was exceedingly glad the Secretary of State had taken some steps to remedy that state of things, by which remedy he (Colonel Nolan) did not hesitate to say the country would gain £40,000 or £50,000 a-year.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, he could not help thinking that if the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) accepted the advice offered to him by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) the Committee would stand in a very lame and impotent fashion before the country to-morrow. The charges made were very specific; they had been dealt with, he quite agreed, with perfect frankness by the Secretary of State (Mr. E. Stanhope); still he reminded the Committee that when the present First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) was Secretary of State for War it was his (Mr. Bradlaugh's) duty to submit to him some similar charges in relation to similar matters, and yet, although the same things were constantly recurring, no one had been punished. The contractors, in some of these cases which had been mentioned, must have been guilty of fraud; if the statements alleged were true, they must have been guilty of deliberate and intentional dishonesty. Although it was perfectly true that to press this matter to a Division would put a number of Members who sat on the Government side of the House in an unpleasant position, because they would then have to vote against the Government they supported, yet he ventured to suggest that there was another view of the matter to be taken. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) said that if there were a majority in favour of the Vote they would endorse the arrangements the Secretary of State had stated he had made in order to prevent these things happening in the future. But, on the contrary, he (Mr. Bradlaugh) submitted they would be putting on record a very distinct protest against people being allowed to escape who ought to have been punished, against, 871 in fact, people absolutely being rewarded, not withstanding their neglect of duty. He certainly was of opinion that upon this question the Committee ought to go to a Division. He knew that they were largely in the hands of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment and those who co-operated with him as to what kind of expression of opinion there should be; but the country would read the names given in the Division List, and would understand how far Members carried their adhesion to the true interests of the country as against their allegiance to the Government. He maintained that there ought to be no allegiance to men in the position of Messrs. Ross. One could not be sure that the adulteration of leather was not going on at the present moment. He did not pretend to say the Government were not taking steps to check it, but he did allege that when Motions of this kind were brought before the House, time after time, only to be withdrawn, the country would regard them as simply trifling with matters of this character. The adulterations were so skilfully contrived that the contractors must have paid skilled people to effect them. Poor people who defrauded the nation were sent to the place where fraudulent persons received punishment, but not so with wealthy contractors. He maintained that the Government, in not taking proceedings against the contractors, and punishing all those upon whom responsibility fell, while they admitted the chief counts of the indictment, were merely stultifying themselves. As far as he was concerned, he was certainly strongly disposed to challenge a Division when the Question was put from the Chair. He thought that everyone ought to vote for the Motion, as a protest against the system which allowed, year after year, these things to go on, because these things were the same in 1882, when our soldiers' lives were lost by them, and they were the same even before then. As long as no example was made, as long as Motions of this kind were simply introduced to be withdrawn, so long would these things be repeated.
§ MR. LAFONE (Southwark, Bermondsey)
said, that if the Committee would bear with him he would like to make a few comments upon this matter, especially as he had some practical 872 knowledge of the subject. He was rather surprised at the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), practical man as he was, taking such a strong view with only one side of the evidence before him. It was not like the hon. Gentleman, upon such insufficient evidence, to say that there had been shameful and disgraceful fraud on the part of the contractors. He (Mr. Lafone) thought that he would be able to show that there was not the slightest justification for any such statement. It must be borne in mind, in the first place, that Messrs. Ross and their immediate predecessors had been contractors for the Government for the last 40 years, and that, without exception, they had, before the present charges were made, carried out their contracts in the most admirable manner. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had made statements founded upon evidence contained in the Blue Book; he had taken the evidence corroborating the charges he had made; but if the hon. Gentleman would take the trouble to look at the Blue Book, he would see that the statements he relied upon were not made on oath. Those statements were made by Messrs. Dunn and Moody, and other people who gave evidence. In the first place, there was a charge made before the Royal Commission of gross and wilful corruption in the Department at Woolwich. For that there was not the slightest foundation; there was no evidence whatever in support of it; indeed, all the evidence was in a contrary direction. One or two witnesses, in giving their evidence, stated that it was utterly impossible that the corruption such as was spoken of could pass at Woolwich without detection. There were 50 viewers and 6 overlookers, and the viewers examined the goods in pairs, so that it would be absolutely necessary to bribe two, if not more, of the viewers. Then, again, the question was, whether certain viewers were not so interested by previous knowledge of certain contractors that they passed goods they should not have done simply to favour such contractors? Reference had been made to the appointment of Mr. Spice. He was not going into the question whether the appointments were judicious or not, but all the evidence tended to prove one thing, and that was that Mr. Spice was a thoroughly 873 competent person for the position to which he was appointed. But it was almost impossible for Mr. Spice to do the whole of his work in a proper and satisfactory manner. What were the real facts of the case relating to what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hanbury) called collar-hides, but which were really collar-backs? The goods were delivered hurriedly, and it was stated that they were not properly examined. There were 1,120 hides to be delivered for the purpose of completing the contracts. Of these 240, not 159, as the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) stated, were rejected as not being up to the standard; 120 of the hides sent back to the contractor, after, of course, being injured in the process of examination, were sold at the rate of 1s. 7d. per pound. The fact of the matter was that the Government got good value for their money. They could not expect to get hides of the value of 2s. per pound for 1s. 6¼d. per pound. The best collar-backs were sold at 2s. 3d. per pound, and those of the second quality were sold at 1s. 10d. per pound. But the Government wanted the contractors to deliver such goods at 1s. 6¼d. per pound. At the same time, they did not give either the contractors or the viewers a fair chance, for the specifications, sealed pattern, and the contract pattern were all different. The question therefore was, whether the viewer or the contractor should take the specification, or the sealed pattern, or the working pattern to guide him as to the delivery? He (Mr. Lafone) did not hesitate to say, as an old leather manufacturer, that no one could possibly deliver such goods as those described in the specification under 2s. or 1s. 11d. per pound. As he had said, the Government expected the hides to be delivered at ls. 6¼d. per pound. Unquestionably they got value for their money, and the best proof of that was that the hides which were rejected by the Government were sold afterwards in the open market at 1s. 7d. per pound. What was the process to which they were subjected? Instead of being laid in bulk, with grease put between them to keep them in proper order, they were all rolled up, and exposed to the air. The result of treating leather in this way, more particularly leather of this description, was that the quality was deteriorated. The grease became ab- 874 sorbed, and the leather became quite hard. That was the appearance of the goods when they were seen by the Judge Advocate General nearly two years after they were delivered. Now he came to the question of glucose. The hon. Member for Preston used the term very glibly. The Judge Advocate General gave at the end of his Report the result of an exhaustive analysis made by Mr. Wright on the subject of glucose: Mr. Wright very properly said that it was a new field of investigation for him, and that he was not at all certain of the results. He carefully guarded himself, and very properly so, because his results were entirely fallacious, and that he (Mr. Lafone) could prove to demonstration, for he had in his possession an analysis made by men who knew all about the subject. It had been said that it was very easy to detect glucose in leather; but he could take hon. Members to a warehouse with 5,000 hides, and defy them to say whether there was glucose in the leather or not. It was very difficult to detect the presence of any foreign material in leather, for the purpose of giving weight, without a chemical analysis. No such analysis was made at Woolwich, neither was it expedient that there should be. But it would be easy in the future to prevent differences between the specifications and the sealed samples. Reference had been made to the pack saddles which were made for Egypt. The contractors had not time to make the saddles according to the specifications, and the result was they were obliged to make them as near to the pattern as they possibly could. The person who supplied the hair, supplied it on condition that it passed Government inspection, and it was proved in evidence that the proper quantity had been sent in, delivered, and paid for. The Government had not time to pass the saddles; they were obliged to ship them on a certain day, and to take them as they were delivered. One of the misfortunes of the time and of the system which now existed was that this House and the country had hot and cold fevers. At one time they had a fit of economy, and would not keep the stores up to a proper height. In the time of the Crimean War his firm had to go into the market and buy 40,000 or 50,000 hides, at an extra cost of between £8,000 and £10,000, to supply the denuded stores of 875 the Government. It was utterly impossible, when men were working day and night manufacturing stores, that the stores could be of the very best description. The question of sweating had been introduced. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had made a great use of certain wild statements made before a Committee of the other House by Mr. Dunn and Mr. Wright. Mr. Wright had, fortunately for himself, put the sea between him and this country. He had made statements it was utterly impossible for him to substantiate. When he (Mr. Lafone) spoke of what took place at Bermondsey, he spoke of a place with which he was most intimately acquainted, and he did not hesitate to say that, instead of sweating going on there, there was nothing whatever of the kind. He had been in the so-called sweating rooms. They were large and lofty rooms; 15 or 20 young women and girls worked there with machines and by hand. He asked them, one after another, what wages they were earning. One young woman, who had just commenced the business, said she earned 8s. a-week. There were people there who had been 12 and 15 years in the trade, and they would not take any other employment when there were no contracts out, because they were continually hoping that the work would return. The oldest hands were making 12s. and 14s. a-week. Having regard to the allegation made in the Committee that these people worked excessively long hours, he asked them what their hours of labour were. They told him they came to work at 8 o'clock in the morning and left at half-past 5 in the evening, an hour being allowed for dinner. Therefore, he said there was no foundation whatever for the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Hanbury), at least so far as Bermondsey was concerned. He could not help thinking that the contractors had been hardly dealt with. The Secretary of State for War had scarcely done them justice. They had had to labour under great difficulties, for they had been required to deliver the goods under great stress.
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Sir WILLIAM MARRIOTT) (Brighton)
said, he had no intention of detaining the Committee at any length; but it would be hardly right, considering the part he had played in the matter, if he did not 876 offer a few observations. Perhaps it was as well that he should say what was the origin of this matter. The Committee of Inquiry went down to Woolwich, and, by mere accident, saw some hides. They asked a man casually concerning them, and his answer was so unsatisfactory that their suspicions were at once aroused. Sergeant Hawkins' name had been mentioned; but it was right to say that he was in no way responsible for these hides. He (Sir William Marriott) examined the man, and formed the opinion that he was a person who under no possibility could tell the truth, or perhaps he ought to say give satisfactory answers. That seemed to be the character the man possessed at Woolwich. At the same time, he was an excellent worker, and that was the reason why his services were retained. The Secretary of State for War, however, was quite right in keeping him out of any position of responsibility. It had been said that goods had been received which ought never to have been received, and that therefore the money paid for them had been wasted. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) went further, and stated that officials had been rewarded who had been guilty of negligence, and who ought to have been punished. He (Sir William Marriott) was not aware that any officials who ought to have been punished had been rewarded. He knew there were many people who always thought that someone must be hanged. This reminded him of a common practice in the East. If a crime was committed there, half-a-dozen people must be punished, it being quite a matter of detail whether the right man was punished. But we could not do here what was done in the East. If a person was found to be really guilty, then he ought to be punished; but it was very improper to lay blame on the wrong person. Now, corruption had been charged against the Establishment, and against certain manufacturers. That was the main charge which brought about the inquiry. But throughout the inquiry, however, there was not one word of corruption uttered against the Establishment or the manufacturers. The very accusers themselves—Mr. Dunn and Mr. Moody—were asked if they had any proof. Mr. Moody said that he never said that 877 there was any corruption, and Mr. Dunn said it was only a suspicion upon his part. The charge of corruption certainly failed, both against the manufacturers and against the Department. Then came the question whether any individuals were to blame. The evidence undoubtedly went to prove that it was the system which was at fault. The system was extremely bad; but if they asked him who was responsible for the system he should say it was the House of Commons. It was very well for hon. Members to say they were not to blame. They were responsible. They were responsible for the Government, and the Government were responsible for the system. Take the case of these hides. In 1885 there was a panic, and there was a great demand for public money. Up to that time the stores had been kept very low, far lower than they were ever kept. Who was responsible for them? In his opinion, the House and the Government of the day were responsible. All at once a large number of goods were ordered. The Establishment at Woolwich had a sufficient number of viewers for ordinary times; but upon this occasion so many goods were coming in that they had to put on extra men; that was why Mr. Dunn was put on. As a matter of fact, these hides never were inspected. The officials said they had not time to inspect them, and not even time to count them. There were certain rules of the Treasury which necessitated some pressure. Millions of money were voted by that House, and the Departments felt that they must spend the money before the 31st of March, whether they wanted goods or not. They felt that, whether they could get good or bad articles, the money must be spent. It would be seen, therefore, that it was the system which was to blame, and not individuals. They must not expect men to do impossibilities. If they put upon them more than they could do, they must not blame them; they must blame the Government and Parliament. The contractors themselves complained, in writing, of the hurry; and that ought to be borne in mind by an impartial Assembly. Then, with regard to Mr. Spice. Mr. Spice had done his work well. He had had extra duties put upon him without extra pay, and it was only fair to him to bear in mind that when those 878 extra duties were put upon him he had asked for extra assistance to enable him to cope with the work and did not get it. He (Sir William Marriott) did not know who was to blame individually for this state of things, but to speak generally it was the War Department of 1883 that was responsible. If the House chose to pass a Vote of Censure upon the Administration of that year well and good; but they must always bear in mind that such Vote of Censure could have nothing at all to do with the present Administration. As to the charge that Mr. Spice had appointed as viewers men who were connected with Messrs. Ross and Company the contractors it had broken down entirely at the inquiry, and it was there shown that though they had worked for half-a-dozen different firms, and though they might have been employed by the subcontractors under Messrs. Ross and Company, that they had never been in the employ of that firm at all. As to Messrs. Dunn and Moody, they had unquestionably done good service by calling attention to these matters. Dunn, for himself, did not claim that high inspiration which the hon. Member who had moved this Amendment (Mr. Hanbury) had suggested. The cause of Mr. Dunn's action was unquestionably disappointment, and Mr. Dunn himself had admitted it. What happened was this—in 1885, when all this extra work was put upon the Department, several people were taken out of the collar shop, where they received £1 2s. 6d. a-week, and made viewers at wages of £1 13s. rising to £2 a-week. Amongst the men taken out of the collar shop and made viewers by Mr. Spice were Messrs. Dunn and Moody. These men viewed for a whole year, and no doubt they had done there work very well. They were very good men and very intelligent, as he (Sir William Marriott) could vouch, having had to examine them. No doubt, they were very excellent viewers; but when new viewers had to be appointed as permanent officials, Mr. Spice, instead of appointing Mr. Dunn or any of the others who were taken out of the collar shop, brought in men from outside. Mr. Dunn and the other men were naturally very much disappointed, and had said so. They had thought that if new viewers were to be permanently appointed they ought to have had the ap- 879 pointments. Personally, he (Sir William Marriott) thought that Mr. Dunn ought to have had one of the appointments, and that the fact of passing him over was a great error of judgment on the part of Mr. Spice. Moody was a much older servant, he had seen a great deal of service, and soon after retired from the Department, so that the mistake was not so great in his case, although both of them had a fellow-motive, and there was no evidence whatever of corruption in what Mr. Spice had done. He (Sir William Marriott) certainly thought that those men ought not to be punished, but rather rewarded in some way consistent with the well-being of the Department, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was of that opinion also. That was all he had to say on the matter. There were, no doubt, great evils in the system which had been in existence at Woolwich, but, in his (Sir William Marriott's) opinion, the Secretary of State had taken every possible step to remedy them.
§ SIR WILLIAM PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton W.)
said, he should like to call the attention of the War Office to a matter to which their attention had already been directed, but with regard to which he thought the Committee had a right to ask for some further assurance from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. The subject to which he referred was this—it had been admitted by the Secretary of State that there had been disagreement between the specifications, sealed patterns, and samples. The Secretary of State stated that he was so much struck by these remarkable differences that he had called the attention of the late Commissary General to the matter, and had obtained from him some explanation of what was going on. With reference to some remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), he (Sir William Plowden) trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would allow the inquiry to go somewhat further. It was quite clear, from the evidence which was taken at the inquiry, that they ought to be able tolay their hands on the various officers in the Department who were responsible for what had occurred. It was admitted in the evidence— 880 which he had very carefully read—by the Commissary General and others that the responsibility rested upon them; but though the Commissary General, on page 82, remarked that he himself was responsible, yet he pointed distinctly to subordinate officers who had the immediate charge of this duty. It seemed to him (Sir William Plowden) that in late years immediately preceding those in which these unfortunate circumstances occurred, there must have been instance after instance where specifications, sealed patterns, and samples were made use of, and that there must have been some responsible officer capable of acting with authority in the event of there being any serious discrepancies in these things. He (Sir William Plowden) sincerely trusted that before that discussion closed the Committee would have an assurance from the War Office that they would not allow this matter to drop, but would attempt to bring home to all those who were responsible the errors which it was admitted that somebody in the Department had been guilty of.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
said, he desired to supply what appeared to him to be an omission in an observation which had been made with regard to the chemical test. He had listened with great interest to the debate on this point, as it very closely affected some of his constituents, and the point to which he would draw attention was that on the inquiry an analyst was called upon to give a certificate as to the quantity of glucose that had been put in the leather for the purpose of increasing the weight. He had been told that it was hardly fair to expect the viewers to judge by the mere appearance of the leather, or even by the face upon it, of the amount of glucose which was in it, and that viewers were not furnished with any chemicals in order to make an efficient test. Now, he thought that the Government might learn two lessons from the inquiry which had been held. One of these lessons was that the present method of testing was not sufficient in order to detect the presence of glucose in leather, and that unless a chemical test were adopted the same evil which was discovered at the inquiry would happen again; and the next lesson the Government should learn was that they ought not to adhere to the foolish system of insisting upon a lot of orders being executed at the latter end 881 of March. The orders should be given earlier. If the goods were wanted they might just as well be ordered earlier, and if they were not wanted they should not be ordered at all. At the end of the financial year it did not matter the "remain" were goods or money, so that in the latter case, at least, another three months were allowed for its expenditure. He entirely concurred with the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He felt sure that the men had been thoroughly exonerated, and that it was the system—although he did not know under what Government, perhaps under many Governments—which was a responsible. The reduction of the present Vote would only prevent improvements which had been already initiated from being carried out. Therefore, the Amendment was illogical, and he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) would withdraw it, considering the interesting discussion they had had.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
said, that he held a contrary view to that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down, and hoped that the hon. Member for Preston would not withdraw his Amendment. If the hon. Member should withdraw his Amendment observations he had made and the cases he had substantiated would be utterly futile. He (Mr. Molloy) thought it was desirable that the House of Commons should give some expression of its opinion with regard to the management of some of these public Departments. Now, for some years past—and this was his only excuse for intervening—he had taken considerable interest in these questions, and he would point out to those who were inclined to think that it was was not desirable to take a Division upon the Amendment, and that any defence which might be set up was sufficient, that he and one of his Friends some time ago had drawn attention to the evils existing in one of the Departments, and had been met with constant denials on the part of the Government, and yet, during the following Session, an examination having been made into certain matters in the Department in question, the result was that everything he had stated was absolutely proved, and certain gentlemen in the Department were turned out of the Service. 882 He had listened to the defence made by the Judge Advocate General, and he was bound to say that anything weaker he had never heard. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's interesting story on Untruthful Tommy, who was turned out of the Service for his questionable veracity and then admitted into the Service again because he was a competent workman, might be altogether put aside. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had said that he had judged men by looking at them, and in that way had come to the conclusion that there was no corruption in the Department—a most extraordinary thing for a Member of the Government to say in the face of the overwhelming evidence referred to by the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment. To get up and offer such a statement as that it was possible to judge of the corruption of officials by looking at them, in the face of the declaration of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), was utterly unworthy of one holding the high position of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General. Not to detain the Committee too long, he (Mr. Molloy) would draw attention to what appeared to him to be the only defence raised that night as against the charges made by the hon. Member for Preston, and that was by a Gentleman sitting on the Government side of the House, who, as far as he (Mr. Molloy) could understand, had spoken on behalf of a certain contractor. He (Mr. Molloy) had no particular charge to make against the contractors by name; but what did the evidence amount to? Here was one fact—it was notorious in the trade, and in commercial circles—that leather, like linen goods and many other materials, was loaded when it was sold by weight. Glucose was largely used for this purpose, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke in defence of the contractors said—"No; there is no glucose in the leather; but some chemical reaction takes place in the leather itself and forms sugar—5 or 10 per cent." So that it practically came to this—that anyone desirous of exercising economy in his demestic arrangements had only got to take a piece of leather and stir his tea with it to obviate the necessity of buying sugar. Could anything more ridiculous be imagined? It was said that the only 883 chemical used upon the leather was used for the purpose of washing it and obtaining a surface, that chemical being sulphuric acid, one part in ten, they were told, being used.
§ MR. LAFONE
said, his contention was that the sulphuric acid was used for the purpose of giving a finish to the leather, and that the effect of its use was to produce a chemical change in the substance of the material, portion of this change consisting in the formation of sugar in the leather.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, that the hon. Member's interruption was perfectly unnecessary, as it had not in the least corrected anything that he (Mr. Molloy) had said. A face was put upon the leather in order to deceive the buyer. Chemicals were used, in spite of the fact that they injured the leather, in order expeditiously and cheaply to produce a face which could only be produced genuinely by a proper system of tanning. Let the hon. Gentleman go into the market, and endeavour to purchase leather cured in the old way, and not in the modern way, and let him mark the difference in price that he would have to pay for it. He would pay much less for the leather cured by chemical process, for the curing was effected much more quickly, there was a readier return, and consequently a larger profit made. The effect of this chemical process, which involved the use of sulphuric acid, was that the quality of the leather was seriously deteriorated, and that in use it was found to rot after a very few months wear. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen who disputed that had only to go into the office of the gas works and look at the leather backs of the books there. They would find to what a remarkable degree the leather rotted away owing solely to the amount of sulphuric acid in the air, combining with the moisture of the atmosphere and soaking into the leather—a solution which was much more damaging to leather than the mild wash put upon the material by the manufacturer in the old process of tanning. He trusted that the Amendment would be pressed to a Division, and looking at the weak nature of the defence which had been offered, he hoped that every Member of the Committee would consider it his duty to support it.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
said, that there was no doubt that in the past stores had been passed into the Service which should not have been passed. There was also no doubt that the examination had not been properly conducted, and that our soldiers had suffered in consequence. He himself had on several occasions called attention to this matter in the House, as the hon. Member for Preston and other independent Members had done, for they were as desirous as possible that there should be efficiency in the Army, and that our troops should have their accoutrements, arms, and equipments, and everything necessary of the best and in perfect order. But the present Secretary of State for War had inaugurated a system which he believed would conduce to that end, and much as he (General Goldsworthy) found fault with what had been done in the past, he felt it his duty to go against anything that was likely to embarrass the Secretary of State in his efforts to put matters to rights. The system of the administration of the Army had in every respect for years past been defective; but he believed that the country was now fully alive to the fact, and was determined that the Government, the Commander-in-Chief, the Adjutant General, and all other responsible authorities, should remedy the existing evils, and do their duty in regard to the Army. If a Division was taken, he should not go against the Government, and in taking up that position he believed he would have the support of his constituents, and of the people of the country generally. He was not afraid of putting the Government in a minority when he believed that circumstances demanded it. He had helped to do so before, and if the necessity should arise he would do so again. He believed, however, that there was no necessity on this occasion, and he could not think that the Government would be in a minority, as he was sure the common sense of the Members of the Committee could be depended upon. He was bound to say that when the Government was doing its best to put matters to rights, and when they had a Secretary of State for War who was unceasing in his endeavours to perfect the equipment and organization of the Army as was admitted even by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the 885 House, it would be unfair to pass any thing in the nature of a Vote of Censure on them.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY, WAR DEPARTMENT (Mr. BRODRICK) (Surrey, Guildford)
said, he quite agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend (General Goldsworthy), who had just spoken, that little was to be gained by putting into a minority a Government which was simply endeavouring to remedy defects which it had found to exist, and for which it was in no way responsible. There were one or two points which had been raised in the course of this discussion which it would not be courteous to those who had raised them altogether to ignore—points which were, perhaps, not as germane to the subject immediately before the Committee as they might be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) had spoken of the advantage of extending the system of open contracts. Well, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was fully alive to the desirability of extending the system of open contracts in every way they could. It had been mentioned that coal was now largely obtained by open tender. Hitherto, he was aware that for the three classes of best gas coal there had been limited competition, but the system of limited competition had been abandoned, and in the present year the supply was obtained by open competition. Then with regard to the inspecting Staff that had been created. It was true that it had been created at some additional cost to the country, the present Estimates bearing a charge of something like £5,000 a-year—not £8,000, as had been mentioned—for that Service. The Service would henceforward be put into a state of efficiency, and the weapons put into the hands of the troops would be properly inspected and tested. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman had said that mechanical engineers should, in accordance with the Report of the Committee, be appointed at the Arsenal. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had appointed mechanical engineers in the Ordnance Department, and that, he thought, would meet the views of the Committee. The Government were as anxious as the hon. and gallant Member could be that new buildings should be put up at the Arsenal, in consequence 886 of the new arrangements and developments which had been there effected, and he thought that they had now the means of making an increase in the Staff. If he might say a word before he sat down as to the appeals which had been made to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) to press his Amendment, by the hon. Member for the Birr Division of King's County (Mr. Molloy) and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), he would say only this—he would venture to ask the Committee to consider the remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) as to the necessity for receiving with great consideration the views put forward by the Secretary of State respecting the individual liability of those concerned, which remarks had not been rebutted by any Member of the House. If they asked the Government to make examples, and thought they would get justice by making examples, he would submit to the Committee that they would do more harm than good if they committed a gross act of injustice to any individual in condemning the system which had been set up. In regard to all the officers in question, it had been abundantly proved that they were over-laden by the task put upon them. Not only as to Mr. Spice, but as to Colonel Rawnsley and other officials, it had been shown that they, from time to time, had made reiterated demands in the Department for additional assistance, and Colonel Rawnsley pointed out in his Report that he was working until 12 o'clock at night, or 1 in the morning, and sacrificing his health in order to get through the business. The difficulty was that the Department was not sufficiently strong to cope with the strain put upon it, and at the War Office they had not men to send to supplement its strength, and he could not believe that the Committee would proceed to condemn officers because, in the face of a very great pressure and difficulty, they had struggled on to the best of their ability, and had endeavoured to perform their duty so that the Service of the country might not be brought to a standstill. He would submit that after an inquiry of a judicial character, in which fraud had been found to have been committed by none of the officials concerned, it would not only be 887 a strong thing on the part of the Committee, but also a very dangerous precedent, if they were to proceed to pass a censure, akin to a judicial censure, on those officials who had been exonerated after a fair and impartial trial.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he does not think the supply of adulterated leather by a contractor is fraud?
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he thought no one would suppose if he did not take a Division that he was swayed by other motives than those of hon. Gentlemen sitting below him. It was not from a fear of putting the Government in a minority that he should refrain from going to a Division if he thought they were in the wrong. If they only had before them, in reply to his Motion, the arguments of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he should certainly go to a Division, because he believed that the hon. Member's speech had weakened the statement made by the Secretary of State for War. As an independent Member, he did not bring the question forward to put the Government in a minority, but to put the Government officials in a proper state of mind, and he was bound to say that, as regarded the Secretary of State, he believed his Motion had had that happy effect. They did not wish to punish people for what had happened in the past, if any apology or excuse could be offered; but what they did intend by this Motion was to put Government officials into the position of admitting that what had been done in the past was wrong. No attack upon anyone was meant when Motions of this sort were brought forward. One reason which would induce him not to press the Motion, he must confess, was the very candid speech of the Secretary of State for War. Unlike some officials, the right hon. Gentleman had not thought it part of his duty to defend everything which had been done in the past. If the right hon. Gentleman had done so, he (Mr. Hanbury) should have thought it necessary to go to a Division; but the right hon. Gentleman told him, as Secretary of State, that there might have been evils, but that he was doing his best to remedy them; and, under those circumstances, he was bound to believe the right hon. Gentleman, and, therefore, 888 he did not intend to press his Motion. At the same time, he (Mr. Hanbury) was not one of those who liked to run away when he had placed a Motion before the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had not gone far enough to satisfy him; and, though he should ask the permission of the Committee to withdraw the Motion, in common honesty, were it pressed from the other side, he should feel bound to support it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, he should like to say just one word in regard to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Preston. He could make no complaint of the hon. Member for having brought forward the Motion and being desirous to vote upon it; but he (Mr. Smith) wished to say that the Government welcomed the assistance of hon. Members in any part of the House in pointing out evils that they were able and which it was their duty to remedy. That was not the first time that he had said so in the House. Last year the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) had desired the appointment of a Committee to investigate certain matters; and he (Mr. Smith), on behalf of the Government, had cordially accepted the proposal, in the confident belief that good would result from an examination of the Estimates by a Committee of the House of Commons. In the same way he had cordially welcomed from hon. Members in all parts of the House assistance in pointing out abuses which were discovered and enabling the Government to remedy them. The Government upheld the principle of personal individual responsibility on the part of servants of the State, and they were prepared to enforce that responsibility to the utmost of their ability; and he could assure the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward the Motion and the Committee at large that they desired, when a system was shown to be bad, to effect a remedy, and they accepted the full responsibility which belonged to the Government in the effort to do so. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had frankly and fully acknowledged the evils which belonged to the system they were discussing. The Government desired to cast no blame upon their Predecessors. 889 The system was one which had grown up in the course of years, and one for which Secretaries of State in the past must have been responsible, as all State servants were responsible for the condition of things which existed in their Departments. But there was a difference as to the character of the responsibility. A man was responsible for that which he had authorized or knew and had brought about; he was also responsible if he shut his eyes to the facts which were brought to his knowledge. Well, the present Government had thought it their duty to open their eyes to all the facts brought to their notice as to the defects in the Public Service, and to do all they could to remedy those defects, and to punish the people who were guilty, if guilt could be brought home to them. He thought the discussion which had taken place had been of great advantage to the Public Service. It would tend to strengthen their hands in enforcing responsibility, and he thought it would act as a valuable warning to public servants that if they were in any degree guilty of neglecting their duty by an absence of vigilance, or of absolute corruption, they would be called to account, and probably punished most severely. He was glad the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment was satisfied with the reply he had received from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) thought that a Division upon the subject would be more likely to work for evil than for good, as the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington had pointed out. If there was a majority against the Motion, it might possibly be claimed in future years on the part of someone as a sanction of a bad system by a majority of the House, The Government entirely deprecated such a conclusion or result. They acknowledged that the system was a bad one, and regretted that the evils connected with it had not been discovered before, and they would do their best to grapple with those evils now, and prevent any repetition of them in the future.
Is it your pleasure that the Motion be withdrawn? ["No, no!"] The Question is, That the Item "A," £90,763, Pay of Establishments and for Inspection and Proof of Stores, be reduced by the sum of £1,000.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 95; Noes 131: Majority 36.—(Div. List, No. 172.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he wished to ask a question as to the sum of £327,000 for the manufacture of small arms. Could the right hon. Gentleman opposite give them any approximate date when the Magazine rifle would be issued to the troops? The question was one of great importance, inasmuch as foreign Armies were becoming familiar with the use of these magazine rifles, and because they could not only fire eight or 10 shots to the minute, which was double as fast as the ordinary breech-loader, but had a trajectory which enabled them to hit twice as many men at 500 yards as the best rifle in use in the Service now, in addition to which it was said that a much better aim could be taken with the new arm. From these facts, and also from the fact that the Bell rifle was being issued in such enormous quantities, the Committee would see the importance of the subject. He was aware that it was necessary to institute experiments before it was safe to order large quantities of a new weapon, but these experiments ought not to be carried too far in point of time. Experiments had been going on for a year and a-half. When he had gone down to Enfield, he had heard that they had been on foot for a considerable period—experiments had been made, in fact, for over two years. In the United States it was a fact that after guns were ordered no less than six months elapsed before any of them were delivered, although when they did begin to arrive they poured in. He desired to know if the construction of the magazine rifle would take place at once?
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
said, he wished to ask two questions. He endorsed what had been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan); but he would like particularly to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War how many of these new Magazine rifles were now being manufactured; when it was possible that the First and Second Army Corps would be armed with them; what was the class of ammunition that was to 891 be used; would that ammunition be available for any other weapon besides the Magazine rifle; and did the right hon. Gentleman propose to arm as speedily as he was able the rest of the Army as well as the Reserve Forces with the new weapon? These subjects were at the present day matters of very great and very grave importance, because if it should happen that we should be called upon at a moment's notice to take the field, it was necessary that we should be absolutely prepared to do so. Obviously, then, it was of the greatest importance that we should know that we possessed the best arm of any Service in the world, and that we were issuing it to our troops as quickly as possible. The other question he would like to ask—because he did not like to detain either the Committee or the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for this Vote any longer than could possibly be helped—was whether the Artillery, both Horse and Field batteries, were to be armed with the new gun—that gun which was said to be the very best of all the guns which had yet been issued to any troops in the world? Even if we had a large number of batteries armed with those guns, still we were told on high authority that others were armed with the very worst arm which any troops could possibly possess. He was, therefore, specially anxious to ask his right hon. Friend how soon he thought our Horse Artillery and Field batteries would be armed with the gun which was supposed to be the best that could be produced? He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give him some satisfactory answer.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, with regard to the Artillery, six batteries of Horse Artillery were armed with the new 12-pounder gun. There were besides at the present moment 14 field batteries armed with that gun, and 14 more were armed with the 13-pounder gun, which was also an exceedingly good weapon—he believed a better arm than any in Europe, except our own 12-pounder gun. He might inform the hon. and gallant Baronet that they were pushing on with the manufacture of the 12-pounder gun as rapidly as they could, and that he was in very great hopes, if the hon. and gallant Baronet would have patience for 9 or 10 months longer, that he would sea that enormous steps had been taken 892 in advance with regard to arming all the Field batteries at home with the new 12-pounder. With regard to the new rifle which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Nolan) had inquired about, he should like to say that, upon the whole, he was satisfied with the results which had been obtained. They hoped to be able to issue a certain number of weapons for final trial on Monday next, and it was hoped that these final trials would result in their coming to a conclusion as to whether there were any details, and, if so, what they were, in which the weapon required improvement. [An hon. MEMBER: How long will the final trial last?] He could not answer that question. It might be that some alterations would be required. They expected to receive the Reports of those conducting the investigation very soon, and he had every hope that the time required for the final trial would not be a long one. [Colonel NOLAN: Two or three months?] Yes. They were making every preparation for the manufacture of the rifle as soon as the final selection was made. They had a large number of machines which they were ready to put in order, and which would be prepared to start the manufacture when the pattern was settled. The fact was that there might be many details which might require a little alteration, and it was necessary that they should adopt such alterations as were beneficial. The main details were already settled, and he was confident that they would be able to commence the manufacture of the guns within a reasonable time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knew that a certain time was required for this work. It was necessary to fit the machines to the precise kind of rifle required, and they could not get their outfit at once. They intended to manufacture not only at the Government manufactory, but they were also going to ask the trade to assist them, and they confidently expected that in that way they would have a large number of the rifles in use soon after the pattern was settled. As to the ammunition, it was proposed that at first it should not contain chemical powder. It was proposed that the first ammunition should be compressed powder, but he hoped that at a very early date, after the issue of the rifle, they would be able to see their way to 893 the use of chemical powder. As the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) knew, there were many difficulties connected with this question of ammunition. It was true that some foreign countries had succeeded in adopting chemical powder, but that powder had never yet been tested under conditions such as powder served out to the British troops would have to be subjected to. We had to send our ammunition into different climates, and the Government would not be justified in sending it out until they had thoroughly tested its keeping powers.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (, &c.) Stirlin
said, the right hon. Gentleman had spoken about the Home Artillery being supplied with the new 12-pounder gun. Could he give the Committee any information as to the extent to which it had been supplied to India?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that the necessity for having the gun was not so great in India as at home, for in all human probability our Army in India would not be called upon to operate against a European enemy. A less effective weapon, at any rate for some time to come, would meet the purposes of the Indian Army.
§ SIR WILLIAM CROSSMAN (Portsmouth)
said, he wished to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman could give the Committee any information as to the large increase which appeared in the Votes under the head of Sub-Marine Mining?
§ SIR WILLIAM PLOWDEN
asked, whether it was not the fact that the Indian Government had expressed a desire to have all its batteries rearmed?
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, that before the right hon. Gentleman answered those questions, he should like to know in what condition we were in with regard to new gunpowder for the larger guns? Many statements had been been made as to our having no means to supply ourselves with powder of that sort, and as to our being obliged to go to foreign countries for it. It would be satisfactory not only to the Committee, but to the country at large, to know that we were in a position to supply ourselves with powder of this description.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was obliged to the hon. and gallant Baronet 894 for putting this question to him, as it enabled him to assure the Committee that we were proceeding very satisfactorily indeed in regard to the manufacture of powder, and that we were able to get the supply we wanted in this country. It was quite true that some years ago there was some doubt as to whether the supply we wanted could be obtained here; but he was now happy to say that all doubt had been removed on that point. As to the question which had been put to him with reference to the increase in the Votes under the head of Sub-Marine Mining, that was entirely owing to the attempt which was being made to put our military and mercantile ports into a satisfactory condition of defence.
§ MR. WOODALL (Hanley)
said, he had heard with great satisfaction the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War with reference to the new Magazine rifle. He trusted that the Government would not be precipitate in determining upon a pattern before they were perfectly satisfied that they had obtained the most satisfactory weapon they could get. He very much questioned the wisdom of the precipitate resolve which was come to some time ago with regard to the Enfield-Martini rifle. Enormous expenditure had been incurred in consequence of the decision to adopt the Enfield-Martini pattern, as machinery had to be altered for its production, and had to be re-altered when it was decided to re-convert the weapon to the old pattern. He trusted that we should not have a repetition of this experience. He believed the responsibility of the hasty determination in the case he referred to was due to the action of the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman had jumped at the conclusion that we had arrived at a satisfactory arm, and had caused a great expenditure to take place all to no purpose. He (Mr. Woodall) trusted that in the selection of a new rifle now the Government would act with deliberation, so that when they had made a final selection it would prove satisfactory and they could rest content with it.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he must deny the accuracy of the statement of the hon. Member (Mr. Woodall) that the expense in connection with the Enfield Martini had been to no purpose. 895 It was true that the Enfield-Martini had been abandoned as the weapon for the defence of the country; but all the weapons had been utilized at a small cost. They were in use by the troops until the Magazine rifle was introduced.
§ MR. WOODALL
asked, whether it was not true, that all the small-arm machines at Enfield had to be altered to produce the new gun, and then had to be altered back again, when the pattern was changed?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that was so; but he wished to correct the hon. Member when he said that the expenditure was to no purpose. The 100,000 rifles which had been converted were most useful.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, they had been re-bored from 04 to 045. The essential point was to decide the boring of the new rifle. If they found it was necessary that some modifications would have to be made, that would determine the character of the machinery; but so long as they had the same boring as that for which the machines were filled, there would be no difficulty or delay in turning out the weapons.
§ MR. WOODALL
said, that as they were about to adopt what would be comparatively speaking a permanent arm his hope was that the right hon. Gentleman would carry out the policy intimated to the Committee, and would be sure of his pattern before incurring large costs in the alteration of the machines in the Government factories.
§ SIR HENRY HAVELOCK-ALLAN (Durham, S.E.)
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would disregard the suggestion of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Woodall). They should decide first the boring and then proceed to the manufacture of the guns, and the case cited by the hon. Gentleman had not the slightest analogy to the changes which might be thought necessary to introduce into the arm about to be adopted in the Service. Whatever the decision arrived at as to the use of chemical powder might be, it did not bear upon the question of the arm; and, a pattern once decided upon, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would allow nothing 896 to stand in his way in putting as large a number of these rifles, which were undoubtedly the best in the world, in the hands of our troops, With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's answer as to the use by the Artillery in India of the new 12-pounder, it did not seem to him (Sir Henry Havelock-Allan) to be as satisfactory as it might have been. He did not think anyone could say whether the new gun was likely to be required first in India, or in any other part of Her Majesty's Possessions. It seemed to him, indeed, far more likely that the necessity for a large supply of the new arm would arise in India before it could arise in this country. He doubted whether Sir Frederick Roberts and other Indian experts would agree with the view of the right hon. Gentleman in the statement he had made.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that if India should order the guns and pay for them there would be no difficulty in supplying them.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)
said, he believed that if we had had the Magazine rifle long ago our history in Egypt and South Africa would have been a totally different one. However, all European nations had hesitated considerably in adopting the new rifles, and he did not think the Government were to blame for the delay which had taken place in changing from the Martini-Henry. It was a serious step to take; but he trusted that now that it had been decided upon the work of manufacturing the new arm would be pushed on with all possible rapidity, and that not only the Army but the Reserve Forces would be armed with it.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ (2.) £58,300, Chaplain's Department.
§ (3.) £32,400, Staff of Military Prisons.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £30,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Ordnance Factories, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1389.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
said, he rose for the purpose of moving a reduction of £500 on this Vote, and his only object in doing so was to call attention to a matter on which he had questioned the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War in April 897 of the present year, and which had relation to the discharge of an engineer artizan in the Royal Arsenal in January. The engineer in question was engaged in making very delicate machinery in connection with gun boring. The complaint of this engineer was that he was discharged because he would not work in company, or take shifts bout and bout, with a man who worked this machinery, who was not an artizan and not an engineer; but who was, in fact, an unskilled labourer imported into the workshop through the influence of some of the leading men there, foremen or managers, in order to teach him the trade. The engineer concerned was wanted to spend his time imparting his knowledge to this labourer. Now, that was a matter which might appear to the Secretary of State one of not very great importance; but, as a matter of fact, it was a question of very great importance indeed. This man refused to do the work under the circumstances. He was discharged from his employment because he refused, and not only discharged from that Department in the Royal Arsenal, but prevented from being employed in any other part of the works. Now, that was a matter which he must ask the Secretary of State to pay some attention to, and, if possible, to give him some further assurance that investigation would be made more than that which had been conveyed to him (Mr. Broadhurst) in April last. The right hon. Gentleman had told him that this engineer was discharged for disobeying orders, or for refusing to obey orders; and in some correspondence which the right hon. Gentleman had permitted him (Mr. Broadhurst) to have with him on this question, he reiterated the reply which the right hon. Gentleman had made to these serious allegations. Well, no one had denied that for a moment—that was not his (Mr. Broadhurst's) point. The man undoubtedly was discharged for disobeying orders; but the point was, whether those orders were not orders which he was justified, amply justified, in disobeying. He (Mr. Broadhurst) contended that they were. This case was only one of a series of cases where men in certain positions in the Arsenal, and in other places of the kind, had imported non-skilled relatives and friends into the Government Service, using Government mechanics, Government time, 898 and Government wages to teach poor unskilled relatives a skilled trade, if it was possible to do so. Now, that was rather a serious statement to make; and he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would admit that after what they heard that night in the earlier part of the proceedings, this case should obtain a larger share of sympathy and attention from him than it otherwise would have received. He (Mr. Broadhurst) had with him three distinct statements. The first was the case of a man named Joseph Vaughan, who was brought into the Government employment to do the work of an engineer—an engine artificer. The former employment of Joseph Vaughan was that of a house painter, but he was brought in to assist in the delicate and difficult process of gun manufacture. Here was another case—and he trusted the Secretary of State would listen to these cases, because it was impossible for the Committee to be satisfied with a mere denial of these things from the right hon. Gentleman. The next case was that of a man named Walter Copeland, who appeared to be a nephew of Henry Gardner, a principal foreman. Well, up to the time of Walter Copeland being employed in the Public Service, his business was that of a Thames waterman. A Thames waterman employed in boring guns and in setting this important work in motion! The next case was that of George Green, who was alleged to be brother of Henry Green, a foreman, and who, up to the time of his apprenticeship, was a general labourer. The next case was that of Thomas Jennings, also a general labourer. These were a sample of the cases where men had been taken into the Royal Arsenal workshops at Woolwich, through the influence of relatives who were formerly managers in the works, and put amongst the engineers to learn the trade. He wanted the Secretary of State for War to remember that the work of a skilled artizan engineer was very important; it was work to which he had devoted the whole of his life from boyhood, his parents in all probability having paid a very high premium for him to be taught the trade; he had probably devoted five, six, or seven years to his apprenticeship, and he (Mr. Broadhurst) asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought it rea- 899 sonable that such a man should be placed in the position he had described—that skilled artizans should, at the sweet will of the manager of the Gun Factory, be required to teach unskilled men their trade. He had put a question to the right hon. Gentleman in April last on this subject, and he was bound to say that he had not been at all civil not only in regard to the text of his reply, but with regard to the manner in which he delivered it. The letter also which the right hon. Gentleman had written on the subject was very curt; he simply contented himself with the declaration that orders must be obeyed. Of course, they knew that discipline must be enforced; but the orders in this case were such that no man with a spark of self-respect, or respect for his trade, would for one moment obey, and anyone who did obey them would render himself unworthy to associate with his fellow-craftsmen. The case in point was where the labourer had been brought in to assist in the boring of guns. They had heard a good deal about gun explosions; that guns burst at various parts, and no one could tell how it came about; he would not be surprised if some of the Thames watermen, labourers, and others who were employed in the Gun Factory were the origin of these accidents. He hoped the Secretary of State for War would be able to give him an assurance that there would be further investigation into this matter. It was a serious allegation, as affecting the safety of the men in the Service of the nation and of the enormously expensive guns for which the taxpayers of the country had to pay heavily, and he said they ought to have some assurance that no men should be employed in the manufacture of these expensive weapons who were not capable of doing the work of manufacture and especially the work of finishing. He had in his hand a record of the whole proceedings. The statement was one that could be very well vouched for, and the right hon. Gentleman would see that it bore the stamp of an authority which would not permit its stamp to be affixed unless the facts stated therein had been thoroughly verified. He asked at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman a proper consideration of the grave injustice and wrong done to the skilled artizans at Woolwich in the circum- 900 stances which he had stated, and in order that the Committee might mark its sense of the proceedings he would move that the Vote be reduced by a sum of £500.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £29,500, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Broadhurst.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, he was extremely sorry that the hon. Member should have thought him in any way discourteous, because that was far from his intention. In his reply to the hon. Member, he had aimed at brevity, because he thought there was not much to be said in the case; but, as he had stated, he offered his apology to the hon. Member, if he thought that he had been in any way discourteous. It seemed to him that the hon. Gentleman's contention was that they ought not to employ unskilled workmen to do work which, in the opinion of the manager of the Factory, might be done by unskilled workmen. If, in the opinion of the head of the Factory, certain work could be done by men who were not specialists, he thought they were bound to employ unskilled and not highly skilled labour. He had said before that in a factory orders must be obeyed. He did not think he was going too far in saying that the Committee would agree with him that it was utterly impossible to carry on the work of a factory, and much more so when in competition with private manufacturing establishments, unless the authorities were left a perfectly free hand with regard to labour. That being so, they would be obliged to insist that in the future, as in the past, the orders of the managers should be carried out. The hon. Member had handed to him a table of certain cases which, he said, ought to be inquired into. He would readily assure the hon. Member that he would inquire into the circumstances, with a view to seeing if there was anything in them to induce him to alter the decision at which he had arrived, and he would give the hon. Gentleman an answer on a future occasion.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton E.)
said, he rose to move that the Chairman do now report Pro- 901 gress. He did so on the ground of the understanding which had been come to by the First Lord of the Treasury and himself at the commencement of the proceedings, and which had not been adhered to. He had then stated that the evidence taken before the Royal Commission, presided over by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, on Votes 2 and 3 and some of the other Votes put down for that evening, had not been circulated. The First Lord promised that these votes should not be taken until the evidence was in the hands of hon. Members. Relying on this assurance he left the House for two hours, and on his return he found that the Committee had passed Votes 2 and 3, in regard to which important evidence had been taken, but not circulated—more especially Vote 3, involving the whole of the cost of military prisons. Yet, in the absence of many Members who were known to take an interest in this question, the Government had obtained the Votes under circumstances which he had described. He therefore felt it his duty to move that Progress be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Henry H. Fowler.)
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that there had been no intentional breach of any understanding arrived at. He was not present when the engagement was made. That, however, did not absolve him from any responsibility; but he might point out with regard to Vote 2 that all the evidence had been given.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to correct him. The last evidence reported was Question 1,327, and in the marginal note to the Report on this Vote reference was made to Question 1,370 up to 1,486, or more than 100 Questions in advance. Reference was also made to Questions 1,415, 1,399, and 1,495. Upon Vote 3, the whole of the evidence, beginning with Question 2,500, was referred to in the Report. The last number circulated was 1,372.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was fully under the belief that the evidence in regard to Vote 2, which they con- 902 sidered important, had been circulated; but it was not so with regard to Vote 3. Under the circumstances, the Government would undertake that an opportunity should be afforded on Report for a discussion of the Vote; and he, therefore, hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consent to withdraw his Motion.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, it was much to be regretted that the statement as to the course of Public Business made by the First Lord of the Treasury at half-past 4 should be departed from in any way; because hon. Members had regulated the whole course of their attendance during the night on that statement. There were many hon. Members who had gone away on the understanding that certain Business would not come on for discussion. He could not too strongly express his regret on the subject of the agreement entered on by the First Lord of the Treasury in a very solemn manner; but he would say that if there were no further discussion on Vote 3, he should look upon it as a great public misfortune, and to some extent he blamed hon. Members for not having remained in the House and trusted to their eyes, rather than relying on the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury. However, the mischief had been done, and it was not his own intention or that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to interfere with the course of Business. It was obvious from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, that there had been an unfortunate omission when the Vote was taken, in not abiding by the precise words used by the First Lord of the Treasury. But the right hon. Gentleman had offered to give an opportunity hereafter of discussing the matter, which promise he hoped would be carried out, and, in these circumstances, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman opposite, though perfectly justified in calling attention to the matter, would not press his Motion, but trust to the good faith of the Government to remedy the mistake and, to some extent, their own short-sightedness.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire S.W., Ince)
said, the First Lord of the Treasury stated that he would not bring forward any vote which was objected to, but when the Vote was put from the 903 Chair, no objection had been raised on the front Opposition Bench.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, if he were guided by the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member opposite, he would certainly divide the Committee on his Motion. But he apprehended that he was the only Member on the opposite Benches who would take that view of the case. If it had been denied that a distinct pledge had been given, he should have been obliged to take the sense of the Committee on the Motion for Progress. But as he took it to be the admission of the right hon. Gentleman that a mistake had been made, and as he understood that an opportunity would be given for discussing Vote 2, and also the very grave questions connected with Vote 3, he would ask leave to withdraw.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, as he understood that the right hon. Gentleman undertook that further inquiries should be made into the matters of which he had complained, he was not desirous of pressing his Motion for the reduction of the Vote. But he might point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he and his hon. Friends did not complain of unskilled labour in unskilled work. It was their deliberate statement that unskilled labour had been imported into skilled work. They complained that skilled artizans had been compelled by the managers at the Arsenal to teach unskilled men and to make them skilled workmen.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question proposed.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
said, he had taken great interest in the purchase of Sparkbrook at Birmingham a short time ago, and at the time he had asked the First Lord of the Treasury, then Secretary of State for War, what he intended to do at the works. He had impressed on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that having got so central and advantageous a position, they had a good opportunity of making in the locality in question a central Arsenal. He had pointed out that skilled labour could be obtained close to the factory, and also that in case of difficulty and danger a central 904 Arsenal, in the position he recommended, would be less liable to attack than either Woolwich or Enfield. In reply, the First Lord of the Treasury had stated reasons why Sparkbrook had been purchased, and had indicated that a certain amount of work was to be done there. He saw by a Notice on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) that he thought an injustice had been done to Sparkbrook, the injustice being that some machinery had been taken away from that place and sent to Enfield. He asked the right hon. Gentleman for information on this subject.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, it was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had placed a Notice on the Paper, and that he had also communicated with him (Mr. E. Stanhope) on that subject. He was very anxious to press forward the manufacture of the new rifle as quickly as possible in the interests of the country; and, that being so, the Government had decided that it was desirable to manufacture a certain number of the rifles at Sparkbrook.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, he thought the Secretary of State for War had come to a wise decision. The Committee knew that Enfield prided itself upon being able to make a rifle cheaper than Birmingham. The National Small Arms Factory succeeded, after some years of acute contest with the Sparkbrook establishment, in extinguishing it as a private concern, and since then there had been no rival in Birmingham which could at all compete with the Small Arms Factory in the manufacture of rifles. He had been able to prove by figures that, at Enfield, where labour and material had to be imported from a distance, the Factory had been able to produce a cheaper article than Birmingham, whose labour and material were close at hand, and it, therefore, looked as if the private manufacturers were making a far larger profit than was right out of the Government. It was clear that if the Government intended to make rifles at Sparkbrook they ought to be able to compete with and undersell the Small Arms Company. He was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman had acceded to the representations made 905 to him, and he hoped he would reduce the Ordnance Factory Vote by the amount taken for the removal of machinery from Sparkbrook to Enfield.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was afraid he could not promise that the Vote would be reduced. He would consider the question. He was very anxious to press forward the manufacture of the new rifle.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he understood that a certain sum of money was taken in the Vote for removing the machinery from Sparkbrook to Enfield. [Mr. E. STANHOPE: Yes.] He now understood that the machinery was not to be removed, in consequence of the decision to which the Secretary of State for War had arrived.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
explained that he had to order some machinery at Enfield to be taken to Sparkbook.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that although the action of the right hon. Gentleman might turn out for the good of the public, it seemed to raise a very serious question. The right hon. Gentleman, in the statement which had been laid on the Table of the House, undertook to do certain things, and he then proceeded to execute changes before the House of Commons had consented to their being made. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought it a very serious thing that the public, having been called upon to pay for the removal of machinery from Sparkbrook to Enfield, should now have to pay for new machinery, in order that the plan of the right hon. Gentleman might be carried out. That was a lax way of doing business, and especially serious when taken in connection with other subjects that had been brought before the House.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that if the noble Lord would look at the Estimates, he would see that the cost of removing the machinery was very small. He had ordered machines for Enfield, and he was now going to place them at Sparkbrook with the object of facilitating work which appear to him very necessary, although a little more cost might be involved.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (, &c.) Stirling
said, that the noble Lord, although not approving all the steps taken by the Secretary of State for War, had put before the Committee an in- 906 genious argument in defence of the policy the Government had adopted with regard to the Sparkbrook factory. That policy, stated in naked terms, was that they were going to set up another factory for small arms at Birmingham in addition to that which they had already at Enfield. He was one of those who had been, from the first, very suspicious and very doubtful about the advantage of acquiring the Sparbrook factory. It was quite true that Birmingham was the great centre of the gun trade; but if the Government wished to encourage the trade of Birmingham, or to procure rifles at a cheaper rate than they could be manufactured at Enfield, the proper course would have been to give orders to the trade at Birmingham, and trust more largely to private factories and much less to Government establishments. If the noble Lord found fault with Enfield and the great growth given to it of late years, he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) was entirely in accord with him. Still Enfield existed—they had it as a legacy from the past with all its machinery and plant—and, therefore, he was in favour of retaining the Establishment and of keeping it up on the smallest possible scale consistent with the efficiency of a Government Establishment. But if they wished to give a great impetus to the manufacture of rifles, the Government, as he had said, should go to the private trade, and not set up a second factory at Birmingham.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that the only check on the cost of private manufacture was to set up a factory at Sparkbrook, and it was for that purpose that the plan was advocated.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, the idea of the noble Lord was very ingenious; but he repeated that they ought to look to private manufacture for their rifle supply. It came to this—that they were going to have two small-arm factories instead of one. He did not think that that was quite in accordance with the understanding which had been arrived at with the House of Commons when it was first proposed to establish the Sparkbrook Factory—namely, that that factory should only be used for the repair, and not for the manufacture, of small arms. He had been against this proposal from the first; but 907 he thought, at any rate, that it would have been more consistent not only with the understanding entered into with the House of Commons, but with the general interest of the public, if Sparkbrook had only been maintained for the purpose of repairs. The factory at Enfield had been increased a few years ago at considerable cost, and so much money having been spent upon it, he was obliged to express his regret that the Government had not stood to their original proposal, and that they should have been led, in a very plausible and ingenious way, he admitted, into a course which might lead to the establishment of another small-arms manufactory.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, Her Majesty's Government were as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman himself to encourage private trade, and, as a matter of fact, they were going to utilize private manufacture as much as possible. It was, however, absolutely necessary to issue large numbers of the new rifles to our troops within a reasonable time, and the Government were bound to manufacture these small arms themselves, as well as place orders with the private trade. They were desirous of putting out as much work as they could, and if the right hon. Gentleman would look into the matter, he would see that they were employing private firms to a larger extent than had formerly been the case.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, he wished to point out that neither the Government nor the private manufacturers of small arms ought to be handicapped in the matter of the price of the weapons.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, the office of Surveyor General of Ordnance had been created by Statute passed shortly after the Crimea War. Recently two Royal Commissions had reported fully on the position of the Surveyor General of Ordnance, and although each Commission had approached the subject from a different point of view, both had come to the conclusion that the Office of Surveyor General of Ordnance should not be abolished. They both thought that the Office should be filled, not by a civilian, but by a man of high military positon, who should not be a Member of Parliament, and should not go out of Office with the Government of the day. But 908 in face of those two Reports, the Secretary of State had seen fit to adopt a totally different course. He had abolished the Office of Surveyor General of Ordnance, and had substituted a new Office in its place. The Committee which was presided over by the noble Lord, had reported on the increase of cost to the public which had resulted from the new organization—and he need hardly observe that all changes in our Departments were attended with an increase of cost. The evidence upon which that Report was founded was not yet before the Committee; and he was, therefore, not in a position to allude to it. He thought it was due to the Committee and the two Commissions which had considered this question that the right hon. Gentleman should state the reasons which had led him to adopt a course totally opposed to their recommendations. There was another point to which he desired to refer, and which might, perhaps, be regarded as one of detail. In their investigation upstairs, the Committee found that the accounts of the Ordnance Department were—he scarcely knew what adjective to use—in a discreditable condition. The Committee, therefore, called in two professional accountants to investigate the accounts, and although they were in a position to submit the Report of the accountants to the Committee, their evidence had not yet been circulated. Under the circumstances, it would be a violation of the understanding arrived at if the Vote were taken before the Committee had an opportunity of discussing the Report. The accounts of the Department which had just been laid on the Table of the House were two years old—that was to say, they were the accounts of 1885–6. The Committee had before them the evidence of the Accountant General of the Army to show that the preparation of those accounts, which were valueless and illusory, had cost the country from £15,000 to £20,000 a-year. He hoped the Government would not press the Vote on that occasion, in order that hon. Members might have an opportunity for full discussion. He thought the Committee, the Royal Commission, and the public, had some reason for asking why the right hon. Gentleman had determined to re-constitute the Ordnance 909 Department in the manner he had done, and what reasons had induced him to disregard the recommendations of the Commissioners?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had made such a statement as the Committee had just listened to. For his part, he was perfectly ready to consent to Progress being reported at the time the Motion was made, and he was now ready to repeat that offer. There were, however, one or two remarks which he had to make. One was that the right hon. Gentleman had made, if he might say so, a grossly unfair statement as regarded the Report made by the accountants upon the accounts of the Ordnance Department.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, the right hon. Gentleman charged him with making a grossly unfair statement. He had made no statement whatever with regard to the accountants. He merely said that the accountants had given evidence, and that that evidence had not been circulated.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, the right hon. Gentleman had gone far beyond that. He had said that the accounts were in a discreditable condition.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, he pledged himself that he had merely expressed his own opinion on the evidence, He had never said that that was the accountants' statement. He repeated his statement that the accounts were in a discreditable condition.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he had read the first paragraph of the Report referred to, which was to the effect that the accounts of the Manufacturing Department of the Ordnance were kept with care and accuracy.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, he must ask the right hon. Gentleman to read the whole of the statement in the Report.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, the right hon. Gentleman must not dictate to him what to road in a matter of that kind. The portion of the Report to which he had referred showed, as clearly as possible, that the main object had been attained, and that the House had been told the cost with sufficient accuracy. Undoubtedly, there were minor defects in the accounts which deserved and which were receiving consideration. But that did not affect the general 910 system on which they were made out. The right hon. Gentleman asked him why there was no Surveyor General of Ordnance at the present time? His reply to the right hon. Gentleman's question was, that he saw no reason for continuing an Office at a cost of £1,500 a-year which was, in his opinion, unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that two Royal Commissions had reported in favour of continuing the Office of the Surveyor General of Ordnance. It was true that Lord Morley's Commission had gone out of their way to recommend the continuance of the Office; but he thought he was right in saying that the second Commission, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, considered the question of the continuance of the Office as outside the scope of their inquiry, and, although they had most carefully inquired into the organization of the Department, they had expressed no opinion upon it. He thought it was a great source of weakness that the men who were to use the weapons supplied were not the men responsible for them. The reason, therefore, that had induced him to abolish the Office was that he thought it would be the best course to make the Military Authorities responsible, and that view he believed was in accordance with the best opinions that had been expressed on the subject. It seemed to him that the best course was to abolish the Office and make the Military Authorities responsible for the weapons they used, and he believed that that would tend not only to economy, but to efficiency, in the Public Service.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, the right hon. Gentleman had made a personal attack upon him, and, therefore, he hoped the Committee would allow him to quote one or two passages from the Accountants' Report which, it was quite evident, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State had not taken the trouble to read. The accountants reported—The last completed accounts of the Departments available for our examination were those of the year ending 31st March, 1885, which, though ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on the 13th April, 1886, were not completed and ready for distribution until August of that year. It is to these, therefore, relating to a period which ended considerably more than two years ago, that we have had to, direct an examination.911 He asked mercantile men who were Members of the House what they thought of accounts two years old which had to be examined? Let them see what were these correct accounts of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. The accountants said that these accounts—Consist of the balance sheets with the accompanying schedules and capital account printed in the Blue Book, described briefly in paragraph 10.The term 'Balance Sheet' is incorrectly applied to these accounts. They are not statements setting out the balances of the books, but accounts showing in a somewhat confused manner the whole transactions of the Department for the year. They give on the one side the stores and semi-manufactured stock in hand at the beginning of the year, and the materials, wages, stores, obtained from various sources, and other charges which make up the total cost of the articles manufactured during the year. On the other side are inserted the total manufactures completed and services performed, and the value of the stores and semi-manufactured stock in hand at the end of the year. Any capital outlay is passed through the same account. Balance Sheet No. 1 contains no charge for interest or depreciation. Balance Sheet No. 2 contains both. The books do not agree with either balance sheet, inasmuch, as they omit interest, but contain depreciation, which, however, is not added to the cost of manufacture, but is charged to the account of the Secretary of State. The ledger accounts also fail to work up to the figures shown in the balance sheet.When he (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) had an opportunity, he should call the attention of the House to some of the evidence as to the way in which the "Balance Sheets" were made to square.The ledger accounts also fail to work up to the figures shown in the 'Balance Sheets,' for there are no separate accounts for the items of timber, fuel, metal, &c.; nor for the various classes of production detailed in the schedules which accompany the annual accounts. It is only with considerable difficulty that the various items in the 'Balance Sheets' can be traced, and then only with the help of subsidiary books.They went on to say:—The Annual Statements of Accounts as at present drawn up in the 'Balance Sheets' submitted to Parliament are in our opinion defective. They do not agree with the Appropriation Account, and they do not state clearly what has become of the manufactures of the Departments. They are also confused, inasmuch as they include items of receipt and expenditure on Capital Account in the same statement with the items composing the cost of their manufactures.The same minuteness," they said, "of control is exercised here as elsewhere, over expenditure. For instance, many signatures and much labour were bestowed upon the 912 trivial amount of twopence. A full statement of the inquiries as to this item has been prepared, as an illustration, and can be laid before the Committee if desired.All he asked was that as they had spent several thousands of pounds in employing accountants to investigate the accounts, time should be allowed in fulfilment of the pledge given by the Government for the consideration of the Accountants' Report before this Vote was taken.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, there was no doubt whatever that it was perfectly competent for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton to extract passages from the Report of the Accountants, either in favour or greatly damaging to the administration of the Government manufacturing Departments. After all the question of accounts was a most important one, inasmuch as there was a large annual expenditure involved. There was a most remarkable fact about our accounts. Not only were the accounts of the £2,000,000 expended not presented to Parliament until more than two years after the money had been spent, but the accounts could by no ingenuity be made in any way to coincide with our great Magna Charta of finance—the Appropriation Act. The House of Commons seemed to him to be at the present time perfectly useless, so far as financial control was concerned, and that was a matter he recommended very seriously to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). It was quite impossible to cast any blame upon either side of the House or upon any official. The system had grown up somehow or other that the £2,000,000 was expended, and the House had no notion how it was expended until two years after it was spent. The accounting, which cost £15,000 a-year, was worthless, and the appropriation accounts were useless. These were remarkable statements; but he was certain that no Member of the Government could controvert them. This showed that the question of accounts was extremely important, and one which was worthy of the careful consideration of the Committee and of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) asked 913 the Government to give more time for the consideration of this part of the Vote. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought that the right hon. Gentleman only made a reasonable appeal, and that the Government would do well to accede to it. With regard to that position of the Surveyor General of Ordnance, he had absolutely no remarks to make. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, supported by his Colleagues, had abolished that important, and, to some extent, ancient Office. They had yet to see the result of that change. No doubt £2,000 had been saved in salary; but he (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought that this would be found to be more than counter balanced by the other appointments that had been made in consequence of the abolition of the Office. They had yet to see whether the transferring the control of the Government manufactures from the hon. Baronet the Member for Exeter (Sir Stafford Northcote) to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) was an important public change. He himself fancied it would be found to be as broad as it was long, and that things would go on very much in the old way. There was no doubt whatever that the Surveyor General in his last appearance in the House was most useless. Whether his place had been taken by other officials equally useless remained to be seen. The Committee upstairs went into the subject, and the result of their recommendations to the House was that they should wait until next year before they ventured to express any opinion in the matter.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) that time alone must decide the question of the advantage, or otherwise, of the abolition of the Office of Surveyor General of Ordnance. Even the Committee over which the noble Lord presided had been unable to express a definite opinion upon the matter. The Government, however, hoped that the new Department would present most satisfactory results to the country. Now, there was no objection whatever to report Progress, if it was desired by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. 914 Fowler) to discuss this Vote further when the evidence was before the House. In fact, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War offered, even an hour ago, that Progress should be reported. He (Mr. Gosehen) had only to say, with regard to the very animated speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that one would have thought from his utterances that for years he had been contending against this monstrous system of accounts at the War Office, and had been thwarted in his effort at reform by some recalcitrant officials. But it was only after the efforts of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) had revealed the deficiencies of the accounts that the ex-Secretary to the Treasury, who had himself been conversant with the accounts, had risen to the conviction that these accounts were in a state of the greatest confusion. If that was so, and if these accounts were a disgrace to the nation, as, judging from the right hon. Gentleman's very dramatic speech, one would be inclined to believe, why did the right hon. Gentleman not take the matter in hand? It was mainly due to the efforts of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) that the question of these accounts had been thoroughly gone into, and the Government had accepted with great alacrity the proposal to submit these accounts to professional accountants. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) had said that they revealed a disgraceful state of things.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
No; that the evidence revealed such a state of things. He did not think that was the opinion of the accountants, because they said, in the first place, that the accounts were carefully kept, and that they showed the cost of the manufactures. The great charge which had been brought against the accounts, and which was a serious charge, and which the Government would investigate, not only because of the challenge of the noble Lord, but because they were anxious to simplify the accounts, was that the accounts were too formally kept, that there was too much red-tape about them, that there were too many items, and that, on the whole, they were not sufficiently business-like. But that was a very different thing 915 from saying that they were in a discreditable state. There had been too much elaboration and too little care to make all the accounts agree with one another. There was no person more thoroughly convinced than he was that the great value of accounts was that one set should tally with another set. Nothing was more confusing to hon. Members, if they had to work out a great arithmetical difficulty, than a difference between the forms of various accounts. But the confusion in the accounts was due, in part, to hon. Members who had a mania for calling for different accounts and Returns. Every Member who was seized with some statistical fanaticism thought he had got a particular form of accounts which was particularly valuable, and a soft-hearted Secretary to the Treasury gave him his Return. That puzzled the next person, who was equally anxious to make statistical investigations, and so it had arisen that they had various sets of accounts, and it required the facility of an accountant to be able to reconcile all the different Returns. The Government would undertake to endeavour, to the best of their ability, to introduce more and more simplicity into the accounts. They would try to do without the duplication of accounts, to which the accountants called attention. It was the mass of accounts, quite as much as the want of accounts, which confused the brain of the country; and he undertook, on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, and on behalf of the Treasury and the Government generally, that they would endeavour, as the Admiralty had endeavoured, to bring before the House of Commons the cost of all articles in the most simple and business-like form they possibly could. He thought that all Governments and successive Parliaments were more or less responsible for the form of accounts they had got at present in the Ordnance Departments and in other Departments. The right hon. Gentleman was scandalized at the fuss which was made over twopence. He (Mr. Goschen) believed that there was no business firm in the Kingdom who, if their books did not agree, did not hunt to find the cause of the smallest mistake, because the smallest divergence might not mean simply a small error, but might be the result 916 of an enormous set of errors. He trusted that they might now report Progress on this Vote. He assured the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) that they would be animated by as great warmth in this cause as he had shown this evening, and that they would do their best to assist the House of Commons by reducing the accounts of the country to such a simple form that the taxpayers could understand for what they had paid their money. He begged to move that Progress should now be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Motion be now withdrawn."
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought it very clever to attack him with a tu quoque. No one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman that the accounts of the Ordnance Department no more came under the notice of the Treasury than the accounts of the London and North Western Railway Company. No Secretary to the Treasury could by any possibility see these accounts, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer know that as well as he did.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he certainly did not know anything of the kind. He should consider it his duty as Chancellor of the Exchequer to remonstrate with the Secretary of State if he thought the accounts were not satisfactory.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
asked if the right hon. Gentleman had ever seen these particular accounts. He was not going to allow this matter to pass without another remark or two. These accounts cost the country £15,000 a-year. They were presented two years after they were made up. Those Members of the Committee who were present half-an-hour ago heard the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) describe what they were. In far stronger and better language than he could use, the noble Lord described how absolutely incomprehensible the accounts were. They were so incomprehensible to the mind of the noble Lord that, with the full 917 concurrence of the Government, the House was asked to appoint two professional accountants to try and make out what they were. There were on the Committee Gentlemen of considerable commercial and manufacturing experience, and they gave up the examination of the accounts in hopeless despair and concurred with the noble Lord in asking for the appointment of professional accountants. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in the House when the discussion commenced. No one had attacked the present Government. No one had attacked the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. This was a question of the permanent officials of the Department, for whom he did not hold the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary in any way responsible. The accounts had been investigated, and all he asked for was that the evidence taken should be placed before the House before they were asked to take the Vote. He very much regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not for the first time—should have taken the opportunity of making a personal attack upon him simply to serve a mere personal and political purpose.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he would not retort on the right hon. Gentleman by saying this was not the first time in which he had addressed him in a menacing tone. He rose not to justify himself, but to repudiate the view the right hon. Gentleman had expressed that the Parliamentary Chiefs were to put the responsibility for this state of things upon the permanent officials. The right hon. Gentleman said it was the permanent officials who had been attacked. Personally he held that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury for the time being were responsible for the permanent officials, and his point was that the right hon. Gentleman might have discovered that the accounts were not satisfactory. But the state of the accounts had been brought to the notice of the country, not by the indignation of the right hon. Gentleman, but by the acumen of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. The right hon. Gentleman said that he (Mr. Goschen) was defending the pre- 918 sent Government. He never thought the present Government was attacked, but he contended that the Parliamentary representatives of the Departments had no right to shift the whole responsibility on to the permanent officials. If abuse went on, and if there had been such abuse in the keeping of the accounts as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, all successive Governments, Parliamentary as they were, were responsible, and they could not throw the blame upon the permanent officials. The present Government would do their best to remedy the defects which had been pointed out. The right hon. Gentleman said, because he was a little angry, that he (Mr. Goschen) had justified the present accounts. As a matter of fact, the whole tenour of his speech was that the present accounts were far too complicated, and that they were defective in many respects. The Government were perfectly alive, as alive as any portion of the House, to the defects of the present system: they wished to do their best to rectify them, and in their endeavours they would be glad of the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, of every Member of the House.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was very anxious, as it was quite possible the newspapers might call them in question over the item of twopence, and as the keeping of the accounts was a matter of vital importance as one bearing on the changes which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had made, to show that the Committee was alive to the defective state of things. Question No. 1,340, which was put to Mr. Knox, was—Now let us pass to the other principal items of their recommendations; passing to the matter of delay, what do you say?And the reply of the Accountant General of the Army was—As regards the delay in rendering the accounts, I certainly think that that is a thing which not only ought to be avoided, but must be avoided; in fact, the new arrangement of the Estimates, under which the Ordnance Factory is separated from the Army Estimates, and under which the Navy and the Army will pay that establishment for the work it turns out for them, absolutely requires that the balance sheet shall be made up a very short time after the conclusion of the financial year"—and, mark this— 919And before the Appropriation Account of the Army and Navy is completed. I feel sure that unless that is done the system will break down, and all our energies are turned in that direction to ensure that we shall have the accounts very much earlier than we have had them hitherto.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, that as a business man, he never expected that we got in a Government Department more than 15s. worth for every £1. The very conditions of working made this inevitable, and the moral he drew was, that it would be for the advantage of the country and the credit of the Government if they would curtail instead of being continually extending the Government Manufacturing Department. He had no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was under the impression that he was doing the country good service by pushing the manufacture of rifles in the Government Manufactory, rather than extending the manufacture to the trade. But the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) showed how utterly unreliable and fallacious were the figures upon which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. E. Stanhope) had proceeded. Every private establishment put as a charge on the business the interest on the capital employed, but this was not taken into account in the Government Manufactory. There was also the depreciation of the premises and machinery, and in a matter involving continued change it was necessary that a very large percentage per annum should be set aside for depreciation. The depreciation figures were given as a matter of account, but they were not made part of the charge of the establishment and part of the cost of every rifle made. Further more, a thorough system of inspection was carried on in every establishment in the country, and such a system ought to prevail in the Government Departments.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that the things which the hon. Member had mentioned were taken into account in estimating the cost to the country of rifles, and all the accountants said of them was that they found fault with the form of the accounts.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that 10 per cent was allowed for depreciation of ma- 920 chinery, and 5 per cent for the depreciation of buildings, and to a great extent this rendered unnecessary the calculation of interest on capital. As to the question of costs, the cost of keeping the accounts in the factory had been positively extravagant. One reason was that there were too many Departments. The articles were priced every year. It stood to reason that if they were priced every four or five years, the cost of keeping the accounts would be very much less. In his opinion the Government ought to have factories to furnish a standard by which other works should be tested.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.