HC Deb 25 March 1892 vol 2 cc1857-83

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Ordnance Factories (the cost of the Productions of which will be charged to the Army, Navy, and Indian and Colonial Governments), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1893.

(4.42.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

Mr. Courtney, Sir, I desire to return for a few moments to a subject to which I referred last year—namely, the merits of the Lee Metford rifle, and the policy which the Government have pursued both in its adoption and in regard to its manufacture. I am not going to inflict upon the Committee a long criticism of details. I will only say this, that neither from what I have read, nor heard, nor seen, nor learned by actual experiments, do I see any reason whatever to modify in any way the opinions I expressed last year. Take the shooting of the weapon, at any rate with the present ammunition, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) will himself be prepared to admit—whether from the practice of the Army or of civilians and Volunteers as shown by the various competitions in which this rifle has been used under similar conditions with the Martini-Henry—that the actual results obtained have not, at any rate, been superior to those obtained with the Martini-Henry. If you take the question of the extreme range of the rifle you will find from the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman to a question the other day, that the maximum range of the rifle is very much the same as the Martini-Henry—about 3,600 yards with the direct shot, and something under 3,000 yards with a ricochet shot. I do not wish to lay very great stress on this question of shooting or of the range of the rifle, because I maintain that the soldiers never have got all that I think could be got out of the Martini-Henry, and that the question of the accuracy and range of the rifle is, to a certain extent, a matter of detail, and as a matter of fact any good modern rifle is quite good enough for all practical purposes when put into the hands of the soldier. While these, as I admit, are details, still I do not really believe that at present, with the present ammunition, you have got a bit farther forward in the member of shooting than you have got with the Martini-Henry. But when I come to the question of the construction of the rifle I would at the outset say that I do not wish to take up any impossible or impractical attitude. I am perfectly ready to admit that this weapon has many of the necessary requirements of a military weapon; but still, Sir, I do say that while it has many of these requisites, it leaves very much to be desired both in the matter of simplicity and of strength of construction. I say that it has in it too many parts; it has too many screws, too many excrescences which are liable to be knocked off or damaged, and which it is not easy for unskilled labour readily to replace. I believe that my opinion in this respect is borne out by the action of the Government itself, because at a comparatively early period after the adoption of the rifle we began to hear of improvements. In November, 1890, I think we first heard of a Mark II., and so early as February of last year a rifle was produced in the House to show the alterations. That rifle was not the rifle being served out to the Army at the time.


That was Mark II.


Yes. I do not want to be at all unfair in this matter, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that hon. Members did say at that time, "Oh, it is all very well! a rifle is now being issued, but here is Mark II., and we see how very much better a weapon Mark II. is. That is the weapon which, after all, the Department is going to use." I think that the fact that the weapon Mark II. was produced so early after the other is in itself a convincing proof that the criticisms made on the new rifle were sound and weighty criticisms, and were criticisms which even those who were most in favour of the new rifle have been obliged themselves to admit. But nothing has yet been done with regard to the issuing of the improved weapon to the Army. The fact of the matter is, that this rifle was like a child prematurely born. It was like a seven months' child, which, no doubt, may grow into something very strong hereafter, but which in its early days is ricketty and weak, and requiring care and attention. I think it is the fact that some 300,000 of Mark I. rifles have been issued, or are completed and about to be issued to the Army; and what I want to know is whether any improvements at all have been introduced into Mark I., as Mark I. is now being manufactured and issued to the troops; whether it is what I may call an Improved Mark I.; or whether it is the same as before the improvements were produced last year? Of course I know that the Lewes sight has been abandoned; but with regard to the sight I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has had any complaints of the weakness of the new foresight, or whether that foresight has been complained of as being liable to be knocked off, and not suitable for the rough usage to which it is likely to be subjected? Then I would like also some information on this other point. One of the principal parts of the rifle was the attachment of the bolthead to the bolt. Now, various plans were suggested to do away with the bolthead screw. I know that two or three methods were submitted to the War Office, which were put aside; but I understand one of these boltheads has now been adopted. Are the boltheads being now manufactured on this principle? Then I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman for information with reference to the progress of the new cordite powder; as to how soon we are likely to have the new powder distributed for practical use, and when it will take the place of the present powder? It seems to me that you are not acting very wisely, when you are manufacturing such a large number of the new rifles, to go on manufacturing the Martini-Henry rifles. I cannot understand why it should be the object of the War Office to have small arms with different bores, when we could have all our troops armed with rifles of the same bore. I believe that nothing has yet been done with regard to manufacturing a small-bore carbine for the Cavalry, and that that force is still being armed, when new weapons are required, with the Martini-Henry carbine. Now, I should like to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the great desirability of at once adopting a Lee Metford carbine for the Cavalry, because I believe that the Cavalry, even more than the Infantry, would be benefited by having a small-bore weapon, and especially a repeating one. I should next like to ask whether anything has been done to strengthen the magazine and the magazine spring in the present issue of the rifle? because it has been generally held that the magazine is the most unsatisfactory part of the weapon, and one which is likely to break down when it is brought into actual service. I would also like to know whether the War Office Authorities have changed their minds in regard to introducing some form of the clip system of loading for the magazine rifle? I do not think I need trouble the Committee with any further remarks at the present moment. I would only say that I honestly desire to see every effort made to secure for the Army as good a weapon as can possibly be obtained.

(5.10.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE,) Lincolnshire, Horncastle

All the questions that have been addressed to me seem to me to be of an important character, and I am glad of the opportunity of saying—and I say it with some satisfaction — that after the further experience I have had, I am able absolutely to adhere to all I said in February of last year with reference to the new rifle. The reports we have received as to the rifle, which is now being placed in the hands of the troops, are very satisfactory. I am also able to say that the objections to it have practically disappeared, and that it is being exceedingly well received in the ranks of our Army. I have heard criticisms passed on the War Office for having been somewhat slack in adopting and introducing the magazine rifle so long after foreign countries have adopted it. I think we have profited by the experience of other countries, and that the steps we are now taking, as the results of that experience, have been of great value to us. The right hon. Gentleman asked a specific question, to which I will endeavour shortly to reply. He said that, after all, the new rifle did not show any conspicuously better shooting than the Martini-Henry, and that it is not superior to it. I fully admit that I cannot say that the shooting of the new rifle is superior to that of the Martini-Henry, but that is due entirely to the ammunition. Like all foreign countries, we have had great difficulty in obtaining the right sort of ammunition for our rifles. If the right hon. Gentleman had heard the speech I made the other day, he would have noticed that I dwelt especially upon that point. We have gone so far with cordite powder that we are trying it under all conditions, and the results have been absolutely satisfactory. So far as we can see at present, we believe that the cordite powder is better than any powder produced in foreign countries which has come within our experiments. We have often to carry powder in magazines on board ships in the midst of a great heat, and therefore it is absolutely necessary that it should be such powder as will meet all conditions of heat and cold. Now the right hon. Gentleman also referred to the strength of the new rifle, and asked me whether any changes have been introduced into it since it has been issued to the troops. No change had been made in the rifles which were issued last year to the troops, but the rifles now being issued have all undergone some change in order to meet the defects which had been found to exist in them. A new sight has been substituted for the original, and the spring has been strengthened, but the magazine remains of the same size as before. When I am asked whether we have changed our opinion with regard to the system, and are prepared to adopt that which is in operation in other countries, we say we believe that the system we have adopted here is the best on the whole. In the new rifle we have got rid of difficulties which so many people consider to be very serious, but which we do not admit to be serious in their character. The right hon. Gentleman said it was highly desirable that we should have, as soon as possible, the same bore in all the rifles and carbines which are in use throughout our Army, and that we should not spend money in producing rifles with old bores. He also urged that we should issue rifles with small bores to the Cavalry. Now that is entirely our desire. We propose to issue rifles with the small bore. It has been necessary, however, to continue to make a certain number of carbines with the old bore for the use of the Volunteers and other parts of the Forces who are armed with Martini-Henry rifles. That is all I have to say upon the subject, and I think it will be agreed that I have tried to answer the questions which have been put to me.

(5.20.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)

I desire to ask for an answer to a question I put in writing to the War Office authorities, about a year and a half ago, with reference to the discharge of workmen from Government factories. The Superannuation Act for 1887 says that any man who has served for seven years and is then discharged, in consequence of a reduction of the staff, is entitled to ask for a gratuity. Now a number of men have applied for gratuities at different times, and the answer they have received is that the Secretary for War will not recommend them to the Treasury to be paid gratuities unless they have served twelve years. What right has the head of any Department, or any person whatever, to decide that an Act of Parliament which states the period at seven years shall be construed to mean twelve? It is of no use for this House to pass Acts of Parliament if they are to be so ignored. These men were not entitled to superannuation, but they were entitled to ask for a gratuity at the end of seven years' service. The exercise of such a regulation in opposition to a specific enactment appears to me, without explanation, to be unjustifiable and incomprehensible. I, therefore, beg to ask the Secretary for War why he does not carry out the Statute itself; and why it is that he fixes twelve years as the proper period instead of seven years?


In answer to the question of the hon. Member, I would explain that there are clauses in the Superannuation Act which enable the Treasury to frame certain rules, so as to avoid the difficulties attending the discharge and employment of workmen. There must be in Government factories some power of dispensing with the services of workmen in a short time. It would become a grievance if a man who had served for five or six years were to be discharged at the end of those periods, when by serving a few months longer he would be entitled to a small allowance. That is the main reason for making the rule. It was not in any way adopted with the view of getting rid of men or to defraud them of what they might expect to receive at the end of their period of service. The heads of the factories felt that the men who had served for eleven or twelve years were the men who ought to be given something at the end of their term of service, because they might have expected to have had permanent employment.


I will not discuss the reasons which caused the creation of the clauses of the Act; but I say that under it every man employed in the Government factories is entitled, at the end of seven years, if discharged owing to the abolition of employment, to ask the Treasury for a gratuity, and it should not be construed to mean a period of twelve years.


The hon. Gentleman has regard to only one portion of the Act and not to the whole of it. There are clauses which enable the Treasury to frame rules, in order to enable it to avoid the difficulties I have alluded to. I am informed that this step was not taken without most careful consideration of the facts, and I am sure the hon. Member will see that if certain rules were not laid down the working of the factories would become impossible.

(5.51.) CAPTAIN BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

I have had a case brought to my notice only to-day, in which a man has received notice to leave the factory at Enfield after serving eleven years, and nine months, and the Superintendent has assured me that he was unable to do anything towards getting the man a superannuation or gratuity because of the order which has been given by the head of the Department that a man should not receive it unless he had been twelve years in the factory. When an Act of Parliament lays down a fixed number of years, it is hard lines that the head of some Department should afterwards override the practical decision which this House has come to.

(5.24.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War whether the cordite powder to which he referred in his speech is the same powder that has been patented under that name by Sir Frederick Abel, the Chairman of the Explosives Committee, which recommended its adoption; and whether it is the case that other rifle manufacturing firms, who wanted to have their powder tried, made application to that effect to the War Office, and that their applications were absolutely ignored?


I understand that the cordite powder was made practically by Sir Frederick Abel and another gentleman, and that they immediately assigned the patent to the Government of this country. Other rifle manufacturers asked that their powder should be tried, and I gave instructions that it should be tried in such a manner as to absolutely satisfy the authorities of the War Office as to its merits. The result, however, has been that it has been decided that the cordite powder is the best powder.

(5.28.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to what is known as the Enfield scandal, as we were prevented from discussing the question on a previous occasion. The charge against the right hon. Gentleman is one of political corruption; that is to say, a charge of plundering the taxpayer for the purpose of benefitting some Political Parties that he may be in agreement with at the present moment. I received from the Committee at Enfield a notice that this matter would be brought forward by the Member for the Division on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House. I do not know why that course was not taken. The Committee enclosed a precise statement of the case; and the first charge against the right hon. Gentleman is that he is paying, or has agreed to pay, to private manufacturers £5 for rifles that can be made at Enfield by our own workmen at a cost of £3 8s., and that, in fact, contracts amounting to nearly £500,000 have been given out to private manufacturers on these terms, which show that we are paying a private manufacturer £2 more for rifles than the Enfield price. If that charge is correct it is a very serious one. The Evening News and Post, a Tory newspaper, calls this "The Enfield Scandal," and says they want to know why the matter is being burked in the House of Commons by the Government. They say that the difference between the charge of £3 8s. and £5 is the difference between the cost at Enfield and the cost outside; and they say that, instead of rifles being made at Enfield at the lower price, large orders have been given to the Sparkbrook Factory at Birmingham, and to private firms at Sheffield, and other places, at the higher price. The Evening News and Post says— Why does not Mr. Stanhope honestly face this charge, and promise to stop the dismissal of any more Enfield rifle makers? Previous to that they charge the Financial Secretary to the War Office with having in his answers burked the questions put to him in this House. I am satisfied, on my own knowledge, that proper replies were not given either by the War Minister or the Financial Secretary, when this matter was mentioned here about a fortnight ago; and it certainly astonished me that the War Minister has not taken some pains to explain so serious a matter. The works at Enfield have been a great expense to the nation, and the workmen engaged there have been educated into doing this work of rifle making in an efficient manner. I quite agree that if you could get the rifles you require from private firms at a cheaper, or even at the same rate as is charged at Enfield, it would be a right and proper thing to put the work into the hands of private individuals. But having specially built these works at Enfield, and having trained skilled workmen, Government for some reason or other—while Enfield is idle—are actually paying private manufacturers very nearly double the price at which the same weapons can be made at Enfield. The only explanation of that is that it is done to please the political friends of the right hon. Gentleman. That is a very serious charge, and I want an answer from the right hon. Gentleman distinctly explaining why he is paying £5 for articles that can be produced at £3 8s. in our own factory. Now, Sir, I do not say that because men have been once employed at Enfield they should always be retained. But if these men have been working efficiently for a number of years, that fact ought to be taken into consideration; whilst it ought to be borne in mind that they have been put to great expense in many cases in getting a home near the works, and that in depriving them of their work at Enfield they will be compelled to make a fresh start in another part of the country. That is, perhaps, a view the taxpayer will not entertain, but I think it is entitled to some consideration. The matter, however, upon which I shall take a Division is a charge of political corruption against the War Secretary. I move the reduction of the Vote by £50.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a reduced sum, of £50, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Morton.)

(5.40.) SIR J. COLOMB (&c.) Tower Hamlets, Bow,

I do not think the hon. Member can have made any endeavour on his own behalf to ascertain why not merely this, but previous Governments have adopted, in obedience to the demands of public necessity, the course of employing private firms; but he ought at least to have been aware that Commissions and Committees that have inquired into the supply of ordnance and rifles have universally pointed out the necessity of not relying in this country merely upon the Government factories. It must be recollected that in war we would have not merely to provide for the demands of the Army and Navy of the United Kingdom, but for the whole of the Indian Army, with all the additions which a war would cause, and for Canada, which has a Militia Force of vast numbers and which relies upon this country to meet any demand that may be occasioned by war or the danger of war. If you pass to the Cape or Australasia it is the same thing there. Go round your Empire and you will find that the demand for ordnance and for stores that will come from this extensive Empire, if it is to be met by relying upon the Government factories in this country and upon these alone, will involve us in one or other of these difficulties: either you will not be able to meet these demands in war, or in time of peace the Government factories must be kept up on a gigantic and wasteful scale. That being so, I am sure the hon. Member himself would not like to face the consequences of a scare caused by demands coming from our Colonies which we could not meet. As a matter of fact and of history, any scares that we have had have actually blocked the Supply Department with demands for arms and stores that could not, in any sense, be met. Therefore, Sir, it comes to this: that the most economical thing for this country is not to keep up enormous and gigantic Government factories and establishments, but to keep a sufficient establishment under Government control for the manufacture of arms and ordnance as will leave the Government, to a certain extent, able to dictate fair terms to the trade, and to rely largely on the trade. Now, Sir, I hope the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Office will at once dispel the illusion which has evidently overtaken the advocates of Enfield. I do not forget that this discussion was originated by the hon. Member for Enfield, who very naturally strove to make the best of his case. But, Sir, the question above all others is not Enfield against Birmingham or Enfield against Bow, but the question of what is best for the country and for national purposes. I think it is a great pity in this House we should get into these small wrangles through not having sufficient knowledge and should have to conduct our discussions under the miserable necessities of Party strife. I cordially approve the action of the present Minister of War and of his predecessor, for the present Minister of War is merely carrying out the policy which has been laid down by successive Ministers of War. It is altogether beside the question to= say that you must go to Government factories to get good rifles. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman once more to dispel the illusion that there is so great a discrepancy to be found between a rifle turned out by a Government factory and one turned out by a private factory. Everybody knows that as a matter of business you should charge the interest on capital outlay to the cost of production. But I was informed to-day by the right hon. Gentleman that the cost of a rifle, turned out by the Government factory, does not take into account the interest on capital outlay. And I think when the hon. Member (Mr. Morton) sees the figures he will see that instead of the price being double as between a Government rifle and a private factory rifle, there is only a matter of under thirty pence between them. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will kindly state what, in the case of a Government produced rifle, is the distribution of the charges which make up that cost, and then apply the same test to the rifles turned out by private firms. The Comptroller General's Report gives the cost of the production of a rifle at a Government factory at £5 6s. 8d.


That was at the commencement; since then the cost of producing rifles has been very much reduced.


I have in my hand the Ordnance Factory Report for the years 1889–90, and, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he rises to state when we are to have the Report for 1890–91 in our hands. Taking the figures for 1889–90 as stated in the Report, I find that the cost of a Government made rifle is £5 6s. 8d.; but it is quite evident from the following paragraph in the Report that there was some dispute between the Comptroller General and the Factory Department as to what is really the cost of the rifle. In the 36th paragraph of the Report he says:— In the examination of the local accounts at Enfield and Sparkbrook the transfer of the expenditure on the magazine rifle at the factory amounted to £2,564, which has been added to the cost of production at the former. The effect of this transfer has been that the cost of production per rifle, which previously stood at Enfield at £5 5s., and at Sparkbrook at £5 18s. 4d., now stands in the production statement at £5 6s. 8d. I have not yet been furnished with an explanation of that adjustment. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can furnish us with an explanation of this adjustment, also if he can tell us what is involved or meant by the expression "transfer of expenditure from one Department to another?" I find, taking the figures, that 4,000 rifles were turned out at one factory at the cost given here, and perhaps at exactly the same as the cost of turning out rifles from another factory, where the figures run to 31,000. It puzzles me to know, if there is accurate account keeping, how it is possible in one establishment to turn out a small number of rifles and in another an enormous number of rifles and yet turn them out at exactly the same cost. That is a matter which requires some explanation. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the price of the trade to the War Office comes to £5 7s. 8½d. I want to know if these trade prices are correct, and if not, would the right hon. Gentleman state the details of how that price is made up? There is evidently some confusion, perhaps in the method of accounting. It is, I believe, beyond dispute, that in order to meet the exigencies of this great Empire, the best and cheapest way of doing it is to have a reasonable number of small Government factories, but mainly to rely also on private trade. And if you are going in any sense to expect to get the help of private trade in war you must give it encouragement in times of peace. It will not put up machinery and plant to the same extent as if you gave encouragement, and if an emergency arises the trade would not be able to give you the help you desire. The really important point of the whole thing is that private firms do claim that a rifle supplied by private trade is the cheapest that can be made. I know how these figures of the cost of Government rifles are arrived at in the Government factories to show the smallest cost that possibly can be.

(5.55.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

I would like to say one or two words on this matter. It appears to me that the dispute as to Enfield has been going on for the last few weeks in the form of a very violent attack upon Birmingham. I quite understand from the hon. Member who represents the Enfield Division that he looks to the interests of his constituents, and no one complains of that. He does his best for them, and, we can only hope that in making his public speeches be will use a little more courteous language to the Representatives of other Divisions whose industries are of the same character as those of his own Division. Hon. Members on this side of the House seem to make this question an engine for a political attack on Birmingham. The hon. Member who moved the reduction of the Vote seems not to have been posted up by his political friends even in the simplest manner. He asked the Secretary for War to answer two questions—namely, why a rifle costs £3 18s. at Enfield and costs £5 odd at the private factory at Sparkbrook. The answer is that the cost is not £3 18s. but £5 6s. 8d., and that Sparkbrook is not a private factory at all. Therefore, before the hon. Member for Peterborough makes these attacks he should learn the alphabet of the position, and so be able to conceal how little he knows about it.


Might I be allowed to state that I did not say Sparkbrook is a private factory? I quoted from a Tory paper, which spoke of the Sparkbrook factory at Birmingham and two other private firms in large towns.


The hon. Member was comparing the cost of rifles made by the Government and those made in private factories, and, of course, as he mentioned Sparkbrook in that connection the inference was that Sparkbrook was a private factory. We have two Government factories in Birmingham and Sparkbrook, a small arms factory at Smallheath, and another factory. The Royal Commission which sat in 1887 reported that it was highly desirable that orders should be placed in the hands of the trade, and Lord Morley's Commission urged that the Government should rely to a considerable extent on the gun trade. I suppose their object in so doing was to preserve for our own country every source of productive power which can be used when an emergency arises. But, in order to do that, private firms must get some trade, or they will not place themselves at the disposal of the Government. They should be encouraged to keep sufficient capacity for rifle making, and have orders occasionally that their premises would enable them to fulfil. The consequence of the present system is that a company went into liquidation, and the Government bought a small arms factory for £40,000 or £50,000 which cost nearer £200,000. And if they pursue that policy with other factories ruin of the same character will assuredly follow. I am not arguing now whether that policy is right or wrong, but we cannot possess this reserve of force without giving them orders occasionally. At Birmingham we have exactly the state of things recommended by the Royal Commission—a Royal small arms factory for general continual work, and a reserve force in one of the best private factories we have. The hon. Member has quoted one paper; I may quote another, which for misrepresentation and vulgarity is, perhaps, at the top of the Press of England. I am speaking of the Star, a paper sworn by by many Members on this side of the House. This paper says— Birmingham is busy and Enfield starving. Every rifle made in Birmingham is of inferior quality and much higher in price, and the reason they are sent there to be made is to gain votes. We did not desire to raise the question of Enfield against Birmingham; all we want is a fair field and no favour. I am quite aware that the right hon. Gentleman sitting below me, the predecessor of the present War Minister, honestly held it was not right to make Sparkbrook into a Government small arms factory.


The hon. Gentleman attributed some similar sentiment to me when speaking at Birmingham. What I did say was that when it was first acquired the intention was that it should be confined to repairs, but I never held a strong opinion as to its being extended into a factory.

MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

I will read the right hon. Gentleman's words, as this is a matter of national as well as local interest. On 21st June, 1888, the right hon. Gentleman said— He did not think 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 repairs, and not for the manufacture of small arms. He had been against this proposal from the first, and he thought, at any rate, that it would be more consistent, not only with the understanding with the House of Commons, but with the general interests of the public, if Sparkbrook had only been maintained for the purpose of repairs. I do not think there is any doubt about that expression of opinion. 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 factory. I was not going to complain of the right hon. Gentleman, but to say that from the first he was against the creation of the factory at Birmingham, and that if he had had his way we should not have made a single rifle at Birmingham. The paper I have quoted makes a charge of political corruption against the Minister of War for sending orders to Birmingham, but the arguments we used when it was proposed to move the machinery to Enfield were founded on the public good and the good of the Service only. They were, mainly, that it was not wise for our system to be confined to the two factories at Woolwich and Enfield, and we pointed out that Birmingham was the centre of railways and canals and distribution well situated with regard to coal and iron, and has been the seat of the gun trade for 200 or 300 years—ever since there has been a gun trade. There was also the advantage that plenty of workmen could be got in times of pressure. There were in the factory engines of 400-horse power, and something like 1,000 machines in good order, and it was pointed out that it would be folly to practically dismantle it by simply using such an equipment for repairs only. The chief of the gun trade said that the factory was second to none, if not superior to any in the district. Those were arguments which the War Minister could not disregard, notwithstanding the pressure brought to bear upon him by the right hon. Gentleman below me. We hear a great deal about rivalry with regard to Enfield; but other work is sent there, and I find in the Report that the work turned out there amounted to £269,000 as compared with £66,000 at Sparkbrook—that is to say, four times as much. Enfield has been favoured in a wonderful degree during the past few years. The demand of Enfield is, that if a few hundred hands are put on during pressure they shall be made the nominal number, and not be reduced. I think it would have been well to leave the question of Enfield alone; but I do not blame hon. Members on this side, as in their hands Enfield is an engine of political attack to attempt to destroy the prosperity of Birmingham. Birmingham will be able to bold her own, and show that on public grounds the Royal factory, supported by the private factory, are the best to supply the requirements of the State. We do not shrink from an inquiry, but the amounts quoted are not worth the paper they are printed on, so far as ascertaining the cost of the rifles is concerned. The difference between the cost at Enfield, Sparkbrook, and the private factories cannot be ascertained at all. The right hon. Gentleman says interest on plant is charged; but there is nothing to show it, though I know he would not say a word he did not believe to be true.




That is on the other side of the account. I am speaking of fixed charges, and mean a fair interest on capital outlay, which is charges in a private factory. You may take the cost of the rifle at Enfield as the simple cost of the iron, the labour, and the administrative staff, and little else. The hon. Member who last spoke referred to an adjustment which had brought the two costs very near each other; but if he had read further on he would have seen some letters, signed by a Mr. Phillips, which point out that great diversity exists between the method of estimating the cost at Sparkbrook and that practised at Enfield, and recommending the adoption of a more uniform system. Enfield was intended to be a mere experimental shop; but during 30 or 40 years, by what hon. Members on this side would call jobs, it has developed into a factory. It is an artificial creation altogether, and you have expenses for police, cottages, Divine service, and so on, all of which were already in existence in Birmingham. If these charges were taken into consideration, the disparity in price would be in favour of Birmingham. Enfield is an exotic in the growth of which hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of pounds have been spent; it has been almost a bottomless pit for public money. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the question of the blot on the military system which would confine the production of arms to a couple of factories. We have never raised this question as between Enfield and Birmingham and never should have thought of doing so, but since Enfield is used as an engine of political attack, I think we have a right to ask that the question of finance should be considered before a decision is arrived at. The Secretary for War is asked to commit an act of political jobbery, in that, there not being legitimate work enough for Enfield, he is asked for political purposes to send work to Enfield which is not wanted. Sparkbrook and Smallheath are both doing good service and are turning out rifles, as good if not better, as cheap if not cheaper than Enfield, though Enfield is not charged the same cost of production as Birmingham. Without making allowance for that fact all comparisons are worthless, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not be forced by the pressure which has been brought to bear upon him from this side of the House, because of a want of love for Birmingham, to do an injustice for fear it should be thought that he is acting from political motives. I will ask him not to be forced into the political job which hon. Gentlemen seem to wish to force him into of sending work to Enfield where it is not wanted, because of the political agitation which has been raised.

(6.19.) CAPTAIN BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

It is only right after the remarks of the last speaker that I should make a short reply. With respect to the suspicion that has been cast on my figures I can only say that they were taken from answers given by the Secretary for War or by the Financial Secretary, and I must leave the question of their accuracy to the War Office. But so far as the figures have been given to this House it will be found, I believe, at present rifles are more cheaply manufactured at Enfield than at Sparkbrook, in spite of the extraordinary cheap rate at which the Sparkbrook factory has been bought, and spite of the arrangement by which Birmingham is more greatly favoured than London and its neighbourhood. Further, when you look at the fact that Enfield is being kept at a small rate of work, and that a great part of the machinery is lying idle, is it fair to compare the cost of maintenance at Enfield with the cost of the factories at Birmingham which have been kept in full work? With respect to the complaints that have been made by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Collings) let me tell him that if we look at the Estimates for two years ago we shall find that the Estimate for wages at Enfield was £270,000, and the same year the Estimate for wages at Sparkbrook was, I believe, £100,000. This year the Estimate for wages at Enfield is only £160,000 or £110,000 less than it was two years ago, whereas the Estimate for wages at Sparkbrook is £60,000, or only £40,000 less than it was two years ago. I contend that too large an order has been given privately, or to Birmingham or somewhere else, and, while this country is being armed with a new rifle, I feel it is somewhat unjust that Enfield, which is the chief centre of the manufacture of rifles in this country, should only in the three years have had one year's full amount of work, and that at present they should be turning out a smaller number of rifles than they have done at any period during the last twelve years. If the Members for Birmingham desire a Committee of Inquiry, all I can say is that we, on the side of Enfield, only desire that the whole of the facts shall be laid before the House. I am convinced that the case of Enfield would be found to be quite as good as that of Birmingham, and I am sure that the complaint which is made on behalf of Enfield is a just complaint. I should like also to point out the desirability that all rifles made under present circumstances should be of the same bore, and I should like to ask the Secretary for War whether the carbines for the Indian order are to be large or small bore.


They are small bore.


I am glad to hear that statement, for it is one of considerable importance. It would solve the difficulty we are in at present if we at once set about providing the Indian Army with a weapon of the same bore as our own Army. This would for many years to come give sufficient work both to Enfield and Birmingham.

(6.25.) MR. E. STANHOPE

I think the discussion will prove to the House that any one who occupies my position has no very easy task to reconcile the conflicting claims and interests of different parts of the country. I believe, however, that no hon. Member will be inclined to credit the charges which have been levelled at me. I think the House will fairly believe of me that I have tried to the best of my power to do my duty to the country in placing those orders, without any regard whatever to political considerations, or to any consideration whatever, except that of trying to get rifles in the best and most satisfactory manner for the permanent interests of the country. Less than that no Secretary of State ought to do. I will begin with the complaint with respect to the distribution of orders for the manufacture of rifles. When we had to give out a large number of rifles for manufacture we had to consider what the resources of the country were in the way of the production of rifles and what they would be in time of war when an emergency might require the production of an enormous quantity in a very short time, and the Authorities came to the conclusion at once that to rely solely on Enfield, admirable as Enfield was in itself, would be to expose the country under certain conditions to very grave danger indeed. And we also came to the conclusion that, unless under very exceptional circumstances, Enfield ought not to be employed to the full extent of its power, but we ought to enlarge the area of production so as to be able to get from other quarters some assistance in the manufacture of a large number of rifles. In the first place we decided that we should be perfectly justified in establishing a small additional ordnance factory in the town of Birmingham. Birmingham is, after all, the main seat of the gun trade, and I believe if we were to begin again de, novo, we should establish the chief manufactory, not at Enfield, but probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of Birmingham. But we have got Enfield, and we must continue, as I think, to do justice as far as we can to the colony, which, owing to our action, has been established there. We soon found that the establishment of the factory at Birmingham did not meet all our difficulties, because when our orders fell off we found it necessary to make reductions at the factories, and everyone will see what the effect of a considerable reduction in the number of men employed must make to a particular district, and this, I believe, is the cause of the local pressure from Enfield. Therefore, we thought it right to ask the private trade, or such portions of it as was able to produce rifles, to help us in meeting the large demand that was anticipated. We employed the private trade first in London, in the district of Bow, where there was a small factory capable of doing work, and also the Small Arms Company at Birmingham, which is capable of doing a much greater amount of work. We distributed the work as far as we could between these factories, public and private, and I may say at once that we have every reason to be satisfied with the work that has been done at all of them. I do not want to exalt Enfield at the expense of Sparkbrook, or Enfield and Sparkbrook at the expense of the private trade, because I appreciate all of them, and I appreciate the fact that the private trade cannot produce rifles as quickly as we can at our own factories; but we have no fault to find with the quality of the work they have turned out. Having made this distribution fairly, and having given orders to the ordnance factories and the private trade, we found that this year the amount of orders fell off, and the War Office has treated with all these sources of supply in a spirit of absolute equality. I will not go into the circumstances under which the orders have fallen off more than has been anticipated; but the result has been that we have called upon all the factories under Government control, as well as the private trade, to submit to some reduction of their work. The orders to Sparkbrook, Birmingham, and Bow, have been reduced; and we also thought it necessary to reduce the output at Enfield. But Enfield, being our special workshop, not only for rifles but also for other munitions of war, we have been able to treat it in an exceptional manner, and we hope and believe that we shall be able to enlarge the number of orders for other munitions of war that we give to Enfield, so as to make the reduction in that place as small as it can reasonably be made. I think that everyone will see that this was a reasonable step to take, because a good many men have been employed at Enfield for a long period, a considerable population has been drawn to the place, shops have been established there, and many other interests have been created; and to go beyond the reduction that was absolutely forced upon us, or to diminish the number of orders, would be to inflict a hardship upon Enfield which we have no intention to inflict. Let us now come to the question of the comparative cost of the rifles. It is obvious that the rifle ought to cost more money when manufactured by the private trade than when produced at an ordnance factory, because the private trade has to make a profit which is estimated at 15 per cent., while there are other advantages to which it is entitled. It is obvious that when you put up new machinery in a Government factory, and the first orders have been executed, there is a chance that other orders will come in, whereas the private trade begins work without such a certainty. When asked to undertake an order for rifles, the private trade is not certain that when it has been executed they will have any further orders. Having made those remarks, let me now come again to the general question. I cannot give all the particulars that have been asked of me, and I do not think I could make myself intelligible to the House if I went into details as to the comparative cost. The matter was very closely investigated by two skilled accountants appointed by the Committee of which the noble Lord the Member for Paddington was the Chairman—Messrs. Waterhouse and Whinney. They went carefully through the whole of the accounts of the ordnance factories, and their report showed the cost of the different articles produced as fairly and reasonably as possible. Now what is the cost of these rifles? There has been some confusion about the figures, because, of course, the cost was different two years ago to what it is to-day. The reason is that after the Martini-Henry had been produced for a certain time, the cost of production fell rapidly, and it ended by becoming an exceedingly cheap rifle to produce. I am glad to say that the cost of producing the new rifle has also fallen very considerably. The present cost of manufacturing it is £3 13s., and it is calculated in this way: Wages, £2 3s.; materials, 10s.; and indoor expenses, £1.

MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

Does that include depreciation of buildings?


Yes; depreciation of buildings and plant, and an enormous number of items, such as the maintenance of machinery, the Treasury contribution in lieu of rates, and sick and injury pay, which go to make up the general sum. It is true that India and the Colonies protested against the inclusion of interest on capital in the cost of the weapons, and its inclusion has, therefore, been abandoned. The estimated cost of the rifles was a compromise between the balance-sheets which are known as No. 1 and No. 2. The trade price of these rifles is of course higher, but it is hardly fair to make a comparison, because the price of the first 100,000 made by the trade was based upon the cost at the ordnance factory, and the second 100,000 would be considerably less, and the trade price would compare very favourably with the cost at the ordnance factory. It has been urged that India should be supplied with a larger number of rifles and carbines carrying the same ammunition as the magazine rifles. I will only say that we should be exceedingly glad to supply them; but India, like every other country, regulates its orders according to the amount of money it has at the time. It cannot order everything at once, but it has already received a very large number of rifles, and is now receiving a large quantity of ammunition, to put in reserve, and no doubt it will continue to give orders for rifles. In any case we must anticipate that a great many Martini-Henry rifles will remain in the hands of the native troops. It will be impossible to arm them all at once with rifles of the new pattern. I think I have answered all the questions that have been put to me. With regard to this Vote, it is desirable that it should be taken before the end of the financial year, for, although it is not by any means of vital importance, it simplifies the operations of the Department.

(6.28.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (&c.) Stirling,

I shall not stand in the way of the Vote being taken, but there is something to which I should like to refer. All will agree that there may be bad ways and there may be good ways of providing a supply of the munition of war to the country, but the very worst way is to depend upon local influences, and above all, political influences. Now I am not aware, not having heard the early part of this debate, how far any such charges have been made against the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly could not countenance any such charges myself. But of all who can protest against that view of the case, I think the very last is my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley, because he has, on more than one occasion, trotted out my observations with regard to the factories as an additional argument why the electors should not vote for Liberal candidates. He has done it, of course, for political purposes. Now let me say exactly what I meant. When I was Secretary for War a large addition had been made to the buildings at Enfield. It was made before my time. I confess I viewed it with regret, and I regret it still. I think that before the addition the establishment at Enfield was large enough. But advantage was taken of a Vote of Credit, of all things in the world, to enlarge the buildings and increase machinery for the manufacture of a new rifle which, after all, was not adopted into the Service. Such was the position with regard to Enfield. Then Sparkbrook had been purchased on the understanding that it was to be used solely or mainly as a repairing factory. I thought in this state of things, when we had had these enlargements, that it was not unreasonable that I should put in a little protest against the development of Sparkbrook into a new manufacturing establishment. It may be a good thing or it may not. I was not acquainted with all the facts, but I thought a protest would not be out of place. But the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Collings) thinks that everyone who seems to differ from him on these points is making an attack upon Birmingham. Now, I do not care two straws whether the rifles are made at Birmingham or anywhere else so long as they are well made and in a manner to give the largest means of supply to the country. My idea is—and I humbly follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that having got a Government factory we should keep it in a state of efficiency, but at the same time large orders should be given to private trade, not only that we may receive weapons from private trade, but that the private trade may be retained in such a flourishing condition that we may depend upon the trade for supply in a time of emergency. The private trade at Birmingham may get all it wishes for, and should so far as is consistent with keeping up the Government factory. My sole protest, and upon which the hon. Member has founded his observations, was directed, not against orders being given to the private trade in Birmingham, but against what seemed to me to be the wanton or unnecessary and unjustifiable extension of a Government establishment, whether at Enfield or anywhere else. The policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War seems to me to be a reasonable policy. He has said enough to show how extremely difficult it is in the matter of cost to arrive at the actual facts; but if there is a little haziness about the actual cost, I hope the House will not encourage any other policy than that of maintaining Enfield in a proper state of efficiency, but keeping it within due limits, and giving such orders to private trade as will secure this as a large and fruitful source of supply.

(6.48.) MR. MORTON

It is impossible, I think, that we can go to a Division without some fuller explanation, although I say at once that I never intended to charge any personal corruption against the right hon. Gentleman. My point is that if you pay £5 10s. to a private firm for an article which in your own factory costs £3 8s. or £3 13s., there is a loss to the taxpayer that seems to require explanation and remedy. Now, so far as I understand the right hon. Gentleman, he practically admits—(Cries of "Divide!") This is considered a very serious matter outside the House as well as inside, and I trust we shall not be prevented from finishing the discussion before coming to a Division. No more important question has arisen in regard to Government administration for some time, and so far as I can make out from the information given to us by the right hon. Gentleman—

(6.50.) MR. E. STANHOPE

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


I hardly think the Vote ought to be put without the general consent of the Committee; but I think, perhaps, the present subject may be considered to have been discussed sufficiently.

(6.50.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

There is a question which arises in reference to the relations between the War Office and the Admiralty in respect to stores produced at the Ordnance Factory. Millions of money are involved in the supply of stores for India, the Colonies, and the Navy.

It being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-day.