Member for West Essex, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely—The imminent danger to life and property to which the workmen employed in the manufacture of explosives in the Government Manufactory at Waltham Abbey and the inhabitants of the district generally are daily exposed, and to the ineffectual precautions against accident,but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
said, he did not think the House would require him to make any excuse for having employed this particular form in order to bring to their notice the dangerous position of his constituents. When they remembered that nearly 900 men were employed in the Government factory, and that Waltham Abbey had about 6,000 inhabitants, and was surrounded on the south and east by the works which constituted the largest factory of explosives in the United Kingdom, it would be seen that these men—the workmen—were living with their lives, not in the hollow of their hands, but on the tips of their fingers. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War might think that the course he (Colonel Lockwood) was taking was not only inconvenient, but unfair, but when the right hon. Gentleman had heard his reasons he would most probably acquit him. There were only, so far as he could see, three courses open to him. In the first place, he might put a question. Well, he had put many questions, but without attaining any satisfactory result. In the second place, he might have waited for the Army Estimates. His experience in the House was not extensive, but he had been there long enough to know that the opportunity he sought, if he waited for the Estimates, would be afforded him some time in the month of July or August, on some sultry evening when there was a thin attendance and the House was weary. 1427 His constituents were not anxious to wait for such a period. The third course he might have taken would have been to move an Amendment on the Report of Supply, but he had endeavoured to bring a question forward on this stage of Supply on a previous occasion, and had failed to obtain an answer. Under the circumstances he felt that he was entitled to bring the present question forward on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, having regard to its vital importance to his constituents. The Government had had the Report of the Select Committee appointed to consider the condition of the Waltham Works in their hands six weeks. The Committee began its inquiry on the 26th of January, and concluded on the 16th of February, and from that time until now he and his constituents were ignorant as to what measures were to be adopted for their safety and the safety of the men employed in the factory. The Report was not a large one. The conclusions of the Committee were contained in eight pages of large print; therefore, he thought that the time the Government had had to act upon it had been ample. It might be said that the new buildings for the manufacture of cordite were being pushed on day and night, but it must not be forgotten that the lives of at least 900 men were at stake. Before he proceeded further he would state that he did not desire to cast a shadow of blame upon the Superintendent of the factory, Colonel M'Clintock—an officer of great capacity and wide experience. That officer had earned the sympathy of all the men in the factory by his kindness to the wives and families of the men killed and injured in the explosions. It was the system he wished to blame. From 1871 to December 13th, 1893, the Waltham Works had been very fortunate. There had been few explosions, only three persons having been killed, but if the Report of the Committee was to be believed, this was owing more to good luck than to good management. On the 13th of December, 1893, an explosion of E. X. E. powder which was being pressed into prisms took place. Nine men were killed, and one was injured. One was killed on the spot, and the other eight subsequently died of burns. One man, and one man only, escaped. Then followed the explosion of March 1, 1428 1894, of guncotton in the dipping-house, when four men were injured. That was followed by the explosion on the 30th of March in the settling pond; and the last explosion took place on the 7th of May, when four men were killed and 20 hurt. There were four explosions in six months, in which 13 persons were killed, and 25 wounded. He ventured to think that that was a "definite matter of urgent public importance." He did not think that his constituents were cowards, but after such an experience as this, surely he had a right to ask that immediate steps should be taken, and to ask what steps they would be. After the Cam House explosion the hon. Member for Preston asked if the Government worked under the Explosives Act of 1875. An evasive answer was given, but the hon. Member, with the persistence which was characteristic of him, insisted on an answer, and he then found that under Section 97 the Government exempted themselves from the operation of the Explosives Act. The Rules-laid down for the regulation of private factories were very stringent, but the Government, who were the largest employers of labour of this kind, were exempt. Well, the next step the Government took was, he confessed, the right one after the explosion of the 13th December. They appointed a Committee of Inquiry. He did not quite know what sort of a Committee it was—whether a Government Departmental Committee or a public Committee. The Committee consisted of four persons. There was Colonel Majendie, who was, perhaps, very properly placed on the Committee, being Inspector of Explosives and a gentleman with an intimate knowledge of the subject. There was Sir F. Abel, who could hardly be looked upon as an independent member of the Committee, having regard to his connection with the War Office. There was Colonel Lloyd, Assistant Adjutant General at Woolwich; and there was Lord Sandhurst, the Chairman. He did not say a word against Lord Sandhurst. He believed him to be a capable and painstaking man, but to appoint the Under Secretary for War Chairman of a Committee practically inquiring into the conduct of the War Office was a most extraordinary course for the Government to take. The Committee in their Report said— 1429When the Explosives Act, 1875, was passed, Section 97, which exempts Government factories from its operation, was, it is understood, adopted in a very large degree, because it was considered that the Government Department principally concerned, namely, the War Office, could be depended on to secure throughout its factories, without having recourse to the machinery provided for private factories, the same beneficial results which the application of the Act and the introduction of an independent system of inspection were designed to effect in the civil establishments.With this view the Committee arc disposed to concur.But if it should be found impracticable to secure, through the independent action of the War Department, results corresponding to those which the action of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Explosives has accomplished in the private factories, then in the judgment of the Committee it would certainly be in the highest degree expedient that the question of subjecting the Government establishments where explosives are manufactured, manipulated, or stored to the inspection of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Explosives should be taken into serious consideration.That showed that the Government knew perfectly well when this Committee was appointed that the War Office was practically on its trial, and yet in the face of that they appointed the Under Secretary for War to the Chairmanship. The War Office had chosen to exempt itself deliberately by Section 97 from the Explosives Act of 1875. An explosion took place, and it was only right that the War Office should take the consequences of it, and that a Committee should examine into the line of conduct pursued by them, and it was not right for them to appoint an official Chairman to preside over that Committee. But, notwithstanding the appointment of an official Chairman, the evidence was so plain that the Committee were obliged to make a Return in the form contained in the Blue Book. There were too many Blue Books issued for hon. Members to read them all, but any person who had taken the trouble to read the one to which he referred must have observed a condemnation of the Government system in every page and every line of it. There was shown to have been at Waltham Abbey a lack of system, of discipline, and of ordinary precautions such as would be taken in every private factory in the United Kingdom. A man who had worked 15 years at tills Government establishment and was now the Superintendent of a private factory in the West of England had told him (Colonel 1430 Lockwood) that not a day passed at the Government factory without the Rules—most important Rules—being broken. The number of men in or about the Cam House at the time of the explosion was largely in excess of the number allowed in private factories. There were 11 men at work—eight at four machines, the foreman, and two boatmen. Nine of these had succumbed to their injuries, and only one man had escaped uninjured. The Committee, in their Report, stated that the search for matches was most inefficient. The Rule as to searching for matches was the most important one in force in private factories. In every gunpowder factory in the world those who went in were searched for matches. The Committee found that at the Royal Factory the precautions wore not applied in a strict or efficient manner. Although so many people were passing into the works, only one attempt was made to search daily—at 1.10 in the afternoon— and that in a most perfunctory manner. If the foreman's evidence was to be believed—They did not trouble about searching men on night duty.The Superintendent could not refer the Committee to any written rule or regulation requiring daily searching, and the Committee, therefore, found that the whole system of search designed to secure the exclusion of lucifer matches was very weak and ineffective. They also said that there were very grave defects in the system of discipline and precautious prevailing at Waltham Abbey, and that there was urgent necessity for the adoption of disciplinary measures for their more vigorous enforcement. There he thought he had a confirmation of what he had said, that he was within his right in bringing forward the present Motion. He considered that there was urgent necessity for measures to be taken. More than a month had passed, and they knew of nothing the Government had done. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had any right to complain—if he did complain—of the method adopted of bringing the question before the House. The evidence given before the Committee went to show that the precautions adopted at Waltham fell short of those found necessary in private factories. Indeed, the evidence had 1431 clearly established that great laxity had prevailed in this direction. If he could help it, he was not going to allow this great laxity to continue. To go on to the second accident, it was true that was caused by the rashness of one of the unfortunate men, who still lay shattered and mangled in bed. He was an unfortunate friend of his (Colonel Lock-wood's), and would be. he was sure, unwilling to throw the blame for the accident on anyone else. But this accident really occurred through want of discipline. No one had a right in the factory to be experimentalising on his own account. Then followed the explosion in the settling pond—the settling pond being a small pond at the bottom of the nitro-glycerine magazine where the waste stuff was drawn off. When this waste was at a certain heat it was exploded purposely. The authorities, it was true, were anxious to spare the nerves of Mr. Findlay, the foreman who had been injured in the dipping-house explosion. He did not think the Financial Secretary to the War Office was right when he said this explosion only frightened two or three old women.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (Mr. WOODALL,) Hanley
No, no. I did not make any such statement as that.
said, if that were so, he was sorry he had misquoted the hon. Member. He thought the hon. Member had said something to the effect that the explosion only made a loud noise and frightened a few people.
§ MR. WOODALL
said, his statement had been that, though the explosion made a loud noise so as to cause alarm, it was followed by no accident to individuals or property. It did cause a large amount of surprise to those who were responsible for firing the material.
said, he gladly accepted that correction. But the explosion certainly caused alarm in the minds of the inhabitants of Waltham Abbey already startled by two previous explosions. After this came the most disastrous explosion that had occurred— namely, that on the 7th of May at 10 minutes past 4 in the afternoon of two tons of nitro-glycerine. Four men were killed and 20 wounded—the wounds being slight and caused by falling glass 1432 in neighbouring buildings. The buildings in which the cordite was manufactured were situated south or south-east of the town. They were only about 500 yards as the crow flies from the main street of old Waltham Abbey. There were three houses—first, the nitrating house, then the purifying houses from which the liquor ran down in the form of nitro-glycerine into the magazines. The two houses in which the nitroglycerine was stored exploded one after the other, and of course the result was most disastrous. The House could imagine what would be the effect of the explosion of two tons of nitro-glycerine in close neighbourhood to a town of 6,000 inhabitants. On the side of the road opposite to the factory there were a farm and buildings placed there before the Government works were established. These buildings were shattered, and it was a fact that the windows of conveyances passing along the road were blown in, and a great deal of alarm and confusion caused. As a fact, if the wind had not been in a contrary direction, half of the town would have been in ruins today. The manufacture of cordite was one of the most dangerous processes that could be carried on. To begin with, we know little or nothing of the cordite powers and conditions under which it would explode; but the Government did know, or ought to know, that the manufacture of nitro-glycerine was a work of extreme danger — pronounced by able chemists to be so—so dangerous that though the Government had tried to get private firms to tender for cordite manufacture, they could not get them. He wondered what the Government of this country would do in case of war if their works were blown up. He had much doubt if they had a right to go on with the manufacture of this particular powder. Its manufacture could never be safe. Cordite was chosen in days when smokeless powders were young. Now we had plenty of non-nitrate to choose from. Were the Government going to continue the manufacture of this particular powder to the imminent danger of workmen and the neighbourhood? Surely, if the manufacture of cordite was to be continued, the works should be more isolated and the store of finished nitro-glycerine and cordite be reduced to a minimum. The Member for South Manchester had asked 1433 if there was a chemist in charge when the explosion occurred. "Yes," said the Financial Secretary; but, as a matter of fact, who did the House think was the chemist in charge of this most delicate and dangerous manufacture?—a poor young man of 22 years of age. Could foolish economy and foolhardiness go further? The Financial Secretary stated that —When appeals to the benevolence of the neighbourhood were made on a late occasion, it was in apparent ignorance of the fact that any allowance from public funds would be given.A statement of that kind had a most disastrous effect on public sympathy. What was the truth of the matter? The allowance was in most cases a miserable one, and very frequently the relatives of sufferers got nothing at all. He wrote to the public Press setting out the whole terms of the Warrant. The result of the distribution of money in regard to the Cam House explosion was that Mrs. Massey got £10 pension and £14 for the child; Mrs. Rudkin obtained no pension, but a gratuity of £30; Mrs. Hare got £24 7s., while Mrs. Bailey and Mrs. Laman got nothing. The relatives of Watts, Rudd, Clayden, and Jennings likewise got nothing. In reference to the explosion in May, 1894, Mrs. Ingram, for herself and four children, got a gratuity of £134, with no pension. In Bennies' case the father and mother would get nothing. Mrs. Frost would obtain 5s. a week, Mrs. Suckley would get £18 pension a year or 7s. a week, and in this latter case the husband was a foreman earning 39s. a week. He thought that the House ought to know what provisions were adopted by the Government for the safety of the men engaged in powder mills. If the manufacture of cordite was continued the buildings ought to be more isolated; there should be a leading and experienced chemist in charge; and he urged that where an accident did happen the scale of pensions and gratuities should be revised in order that widows and relatives should not be starved, and so that inhabitants of places which might be damaged should be suitably recompensed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."— (Colonel Lockwood.)1434
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down had spoken mainly from the point of view of his own constituents. There was, however, another view of the question. The condition of things at Waltham was nothing short of a national disgrace, from the responsibility of which the House of Commons itself was by no means free. It was by the grace of the House that these Government factories were exempt from the precautions which were taken in the ease of all private works; and if similar explosions occurred at a private factory large compensation would have to be paid, not only for the lives lost but for the property injured. So far from fewer precautious being taken at these Government factories, he contended that they should, if anything, set an example to the private factories. What was the good of giving Government workmen an eight hours day if precautions were not taken to safeguard their lives? He would not, for two reasons, deal with the cordite factory— first, because it was known that he was prejudiced against cordite, and, next, because they had not yet received a definite Report. Limiting his observations, therefore, to the gunpowder factory, and taking the least dangerous portion of it —namely, the "camp houses," where the explosion occurred, he would contrast the precautions taken there with those in force at private factories. In the case of the latter, the rule was that even when 5001b. of gunpowder was stored it must not be stored within 100 yards of any private building, within 900 yards of any Government factory, or within two miles of any residence of the Queen. In no powder or other explosive factory in England were they allowed to have, under any circumstances, more than six persons present where machinery was at work, but at Waltham there were 11 men, of whom nine were killed. In other works there must not be more than one machine in one room, but here there were four machines in one room, and these not properly guarded. Again, Colonel Ford, the Home Office Inspector of Explosives, insisted in the case of private factories that all gunpowder should be removed from a room where repairs were taking place, that all steel tools should be covered with leather, that no meals should be taken in the 1435 work-rooms, and that the whole of the buildings should be lined with wood and varnish, all which matters were ignored at Waltham; and it appeared from the evidence that the Regulations for searching workmen to prevent the introduction of matches, &c, were carried out in a most superficial way. They were told that there was a triple line of defence in this respect—that the men were searched at the gates, that there was another search in the place in which they changed their clothes, and a further search in the shop or shed in which they carried on their work. With regard to the search at the gate, he found that it was left entirely to the discretion of the constable on duty as to whether a man should or should not be searched, and that not more than one man in ten was ever searched at all. When the search did take place it was useless, because, according to the evidence which was given, it simply consisted of touching the outside of the men's pockets. As to the arrangements in the place where the men changed their clothes, it was the case that about 200 of the men entered the rooms together, and that there was only one official to examine them. During meal times the men had access to the rooms, and there was nothing whatever to prevent them from putting on any garment under their smocks and so carrying it with its contents into the workshops. The search in the workshops was the search on which the Superintendents were supposed to rely. Colonel McClintock in his evidence, speaking with all the authority of the Superintendent of this factory, said that these men were searched daily and rigorously in the workshop itself. His attention was called to the fact that there was no rule on the subject, and he had to admit it, but he said he thought that was the practice. The men were not searched either in passing through the gate or in the dressing room, but the Superintendent thought they were searched in the workshops. What were the facts? A foreman who had been working in this particular house—hon. Members would recollect that this explosion took place at night — said, it being his duty to search the men—"We did not trouble much about searching at night. "It would seem to anyone that the danger at that time was greater even than in the 1436 daytime. And in the daytime of what did this "daily and rigorous search," of which the Superintendent spoke, consist of? The evidence was thatOnce a fortnight, when everybody knew it would take place, were these men searched at all.Was not that a piece of inconceivable idiotcy which could not take place anywhere else than in a Government factory? Then at night what was the practice? A man was sent round, the Committee were told, to pay surprise visits during the night; but the evidence showed that he only went round once—at 9 o'clock; that he merely looked in at the door and asked if all was right. "We"—that is, the men—"say 'Yes,' and then he goes off to bed." That was not the way to inspect factories of this kind. Other men who had been employed in the factory for two years gave evidence. One of them said—I have not been searched anywhere while I have been in the place half-a-dozen times;and the other said he had not been searched at all—The foreman merely says, I suppose your clothes are all right.' They would sometimes run two or three months without even asking us.There were no tell-tale clocks to show when the inspection visits were made, and even if the visits were made no Reports had to be presented. Colonel Ford was asked whether, if there was no written Report, he would consider the system faulty. He said—Yes, and if an accident happened I should call prominent attention to it.So necessary was a stringent search considered by the Home Office in the case of other factories that Inspectors went round the country to pay surprise visits, but in the case of the War Office factories no such inspection was made at all. A nominal search only was made by the War Office officials. People came into these factories from the barges bringing coal from contractors. They were allowed to pass in and wander over the place wherever they liked without any pretence of search at all. These men brought in matches. One of the foremen said—I Wave myself repeatedly found matches about the grounds and carried in on men's boots; they were live matches.1437 Matches were found lying about in this Government factory where cordite and gunpowder were manufactured. But the Superintendent had no control over those men coming in; he could not punish them. All he could do was this—The colonel would write to the contractors and say that that man was not to be allowed to go there again.That showed pretty well how these factories were managed. Then, on the general question of Rules, what did the Committee say?—These Rules are wholly insufficient, and even when they do deal with any matters of importance they are so badly worded and so unintelligible that it is almost impossible for anybody to understand them, and even if they were plain they are not brought, properly before the men.That was a scandalous thing in this vaunted Government Department, which considered that it carried on its business so well that it had no need to be placed under the Regulations which applied to private factories. The Committee only dealt "with a few of the Rules, but in summing up the matter theydesired to guard emphatically against the impression that the defects mentioned constituted even an approximately exhaustive list, and the inquiry had not been mainly concentrated on one particular house in the factory.All the evidence was not general, but arising simply and solely in connection with the set of buildings where this lamentable occurrence took place. So that the House did not get from the Report even the opportunity of discussing the gross mismanagement at this Government factory. He had had a good deal of experience in these matters, and had found out that though Committees might report no action followed. This must be said ungrudgingly of the present head of the War Department: that he was the best Minister at the War Office for many years, and for that reason it was well to press upon him the absolute necessity of getting these matters put right. This was not a Party question at all; it was entirely a question affecting the lives of men in these Government factories. In that matter the Department was plainly responsible; and when the House had such evidence brought before it, it was their bounden duty, even at tedious length, not to let the opportunity pass by for insisting that these factories should be put upon the 1438 same conditions of safety, and that the same precautions should be used there, as were observed in other factories. Turning again to the Report of the Committee, what did they say with regard to the house where this explosion took place with regard to the engines used there? Those engines were German cam. machines. Even in Germany those machines were being disused on account of the extreme danger attending them. At one of the most important private gunpowder factories in England, where two of those machines had been bought at a cost of £3,000, they had to be given up after a few weeks' experience, and the capital sunk in them sacrificed, on account of their being so dangerous. Would not the Government also abandon them? It was stated in evidence that twice a day sometimes the plungers of those machines broke down, and had to be repaired on the spot by the men. Another matter to which attention should be called was the absence of fire appliances in a factory of this kind. It might have been thought that though no precautions were taken against explosions, that when they did occur at any rate proper hydrants and appliances would be provided against consequent fires. But the fireman stated in evidence that he had only one small hydrant, and though he applied he failed to get a better one. In answer to Question 1211 he said—I have also applied that hydrants might be laid down to the upper island, but the authorities at the War Office would not allow them.There at any rate, was a case where it was not the fault of the Superintendent, but distinctly of the War Office; that in this badly-managed factory where explosions took place no fire engines or hydrants were provided for putting out fires. He wondered what answer the right hon. Gentleman would give to all this. Not, he hoped, the stereotyped War Office answer—delay. If delay were interposed the whole thing would blow over once more and be forgotten. This would not be the first time such a result had followed at the War Office. Who was responsible for this state of things? The last time a similar case was brought before the House the men who ought to have been discharged and punished were 1439 promoted and rewarded, while the unfortunate men—but for whose public spirit and patriotism the ease would never have been heard of—were punished, degraded, and finally driven out of the factory altogether. He hoped they would not have that result under the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and that he would not resort to the old War Office plea of delay. It was a month after the previous explosion before a Committee was appointed, and a month after the Report was made before it was laid on the Table, and he very much doubted whether it would have been produced yet but for the subsequent explosion forcing the hand of the War Office. Let the right hon. Gentleman not tell the House that the opinions of experts must be obtained. They had been obtained. Colonel Majendie, Professor Abel, and all the experts had been examined. The chief complaint against the War Office was that they had no experts at Waltham Abbey. Good heavens ! At what other factory like this in the world would a colonel of artillery be allowed to be appointed Superintendent? Hon. Members had been instrumental in getting civilian Superintendents appointed at Woolwich, and he was really sorry to see a good officer really degraded by being-placed in such a position. The Committee had stated that it was time this system should cease at Waltham Abbey, as it had ceased at Enfield. The lives of hundreds of men ought not to be left at the mercy of ignorance and inexperience. Could not, at any rate, the War Office carry out two recommendations of the Committee, for which no further expert was required, and for which no further delay or consideration was required? The Committee recommended that if they could not manage this factory better than they had done (and they had not reformed after long experience) it should be put under Home Office inspection. The adoption of those two recommendations would go a long way to remove the evils complained of. While the matter was being delayed the lives of men were in jeopardy in these buildings, while work was going on night and day, Sundays and week-days. They were replacing these buildings for manufacturing cordite as they were, only substituting brick instead of wooden walls— 1440 without other alteration. And no change was made in the rules or practice at the factory. If the Department asked for further time the House could not give it them. These were not questions for the opinions of experts, but matters of common sense. It was only common sense that these factories should be regulated in the same way as private establishments; and as the Government were responsible for the lives of these men, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see that this work was carried on with ordinary precautions not only for the protection of property, but, what was far more valuable, the lives of the men engaged in it.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN)
Sir, I entirely sympathise with my hon. and gallant Friend opposite in the deep interest which he naturally takes in this subject, and I fully appreciate also the importance which the House at large must attach to it. At the same time, I should not be doing my duty or expressing my feelings if I did not protest in strong terms against this particular method and this particular time being adopted for bringing it before the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the urgency of the matter, but he could only use that plea if there had been on the part of the Secretary of State or of the Financial Secretary any neglect of duty, any undue delay, or any disposition to hide the facts from the House or to ignore the importance of the question. There has been no such delay, no such secrecy, and no such neglect. From the very first moment to the last we have done all that has been in our power to meet what we believe to be the necessities of the case, and therefore I should have thought it more in accordance with the conditions of Parliamentary procedure to have waited until the legitimate opportunity was afforded by the Army Estimates, rather than to interrupt perhaps the most important business of the Session with the consideration of a subject which, though important, is not of that degree of urgency with which hon. Gentlemen opposite profess to regard it. I need not waste time in expressing my feelings with regard to these explosions, my sympathy with those who had suffered by them, and my sense of their great 1441 significance. We have shown at the War Office our sense of their importance by the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the matter thoroughly. My hon. and gallant Friend cavilled at the appointment of that Committee because Lord Sandhurst, the Under Secretary, was Chairman; but I could not have made a better appointment if I had searched the whole country over for a man to conduct the inquiry. I cannot understand my hon. and gallant Friend imputing, as he did, some idea of Lord Sandhurst being likely to make a one-sided Report.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
If the hon. and gallant Member meant anything he meant, I suppose, that an official like Lord Sandhurst would be apt to gloss over anything like backsliding or errors on the part of the Department. Is there any sign of that in the Report? On the contrary, the very Report which Lord Sandhurst's Committee had supplied hon. Members with furnishes all the materials for their denunciations of the War Office in this matter. I do not at all defend the state of things which has been disclosed by the inquiry. I deplore the fact that it is evident there has been great want of discipline and a great want of good arrangements in these very delicate processes. There is no doubt about it, or about what the Committee, after a long and minute inquiry, has recommended. But all the recommendations which the Committee have made have been, so far as the War Office is concerned, put into force. Instructions have been given by the Financial Secretary that with the greatest stringency the particular alterations of system recommended by the Committee should be carried into effect. The whole subject which the Committee had to deal with is divided naturally into two parts. It is so dealt with in their Report: first of all, the particular circumstances of the house in which the explosions took place and the precautious to be taken to prevent their recurrence; and, secondly, the general question of danger buildings not only at Waltham Abbey but at Woolwich and other places under control of the War Department. That, of course, would be a more complicated matter, which would take a longer time 1442 to deal with; and, therefore, the Committee wisely left that part of the subject over and devoted their inquiry to the circumstances of the particular explosion.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It may be the first intimation to my hon. and gallant Friend, but the Financial Secretary has directed that the most strenuous efforts should be made to correct the weaknesses of the system that have been disclosed by the inquiry. Whether all the changes recommended have been carried out is not the question. The question is whether they are going to be carried out, and I promise that there shall be no delay beyond that which is absolutely unavoidable. When the hon. Member for Preston says there has been delay, I deny that entirely.
§ MR. HANBURY
The question is— Will the right hon. Gentleman put the factory under Home Office inspection, and appoint a civilian permanently at the head of it as Superintendent?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
These are questions of policy which affect the future. The most important question is with regard to the precautions taken under the present system day by day against danger. I have no pedantic objection to the factory being put under Home Office inspection, but I am informed, not by those connected with the War Office, but by those who administer the Rules of the Home Office, that it is very doubtful whether it would be to the advantage of the factory to place it under those Rules. They say it would be more effectual and practicable that such an establishment should be subject to periodical inspection and report by some officer of the Home Office. As a matter of fact, it is admitted by the Home Office that the Rules of Waltham Abbey are more stringent in many respects than the Home Office Rules them-selves.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The evidence of that is my statement of what has been communicated to me by the responsible officials of the Home Office. It is a very moot and debateable 1443 question in the interests of security whether more would be gained by putting the factory under Home Office Rules like other similar establishments throughout the country, seeing that the existing Rules are in accordance with Home Office ideas, than by continuing the present system, and having at the same time a special inspection and report periodically by a high officer of the Home Department. Whichever of these two systems is considered to give the largest amount of security I am ready to adopt without any prejudice on one side or the other. The hon. Member for Preston may rest assured that, wherever it is disclosed in the Committee's Report that the existing system is prejudicial to safety, a change will be made without delay. But not only has there been the explosion which is the subject of this inquiry; there has also been an alarming explosion, not in the cordite factory properly speaking, as has been represented, but in the nitro-glycerine factory. Cordite, I am happy to tell the House, has continued to give the very best results with regard to safety and in every other respect. It is a most singular tiling to those of us who have no knowledge of the chemistry of these processes that, whilst gun-cotton is one of the most dangerous materials to deal with, and nitro-glycerine is almost as dangerous to touch or move, if you unite these two materials so as to form cordite the danger disappears, and you have a material which can be handled with the greatest safety. As far as the manufacture of cordite is concerned, I need not say that we are in the infancy of the science, and we cannot dogmatise at present as to the proper course to take with regard to its manufacture, but I believe myself that the dangers of this manufacture can be reduced to a very great extent, and we shall, of course, do our best to take advantage of any experience we may gain. The hon. Member for the Epping Division (Colonel Lockwood) said it was a scandal, or, at, all events, an unjustifiable danger, to have a cordite factory so near a town with 6,000 inhabitants. I can only say that if the inhabitants, through their Member, object as strongly as they seem to do to the presence of this factory among them, we shall, of course, if that view be enforced as it has been to-day by local opinion—
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I will not be misrepresented. I did not state anything approaching what he is attributing to me. What I said was that the War Office ought to acquire more laud round the cordite factory, so that it. might not be so close to the houses of the town.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
My hon. and gallant Friend must know that laud is not to be had by the mile at Waltham Abbey.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
If, therefore, we are to take a wider space for these operations, I am afraid we shall be driven against our desire to some other part of the country. But in the meantime, we are acting under the advice of the very authorities who have been quoted! in this Debate—Colonel Majendie, Sir P. Abel, and other men who are the best qualified to advise us. In the plans that have been made for the further reconstruction of the works at Waltham Abbey we shall endeavour under their advice to combine safety with efficiency as far as possible. I do not believe it will be found necessary in general to have on the works such a largo quantity of nitroglycerine as there was there on this occasion. I believe it would be found possible to carry on the manufacture of cordite and yet to have a much smaller store of nitro-glycerine in hand, so that the danger may be as far as possible mitigated. My hon. and gallant Friend complained of a lack of sympathy for the widows and orphans of the men who lost their lives by these accidents. I can assure him that all is done for them that is possible under the Treasury Regulations dealing with cases of the kind. The Government have shown their disposition in the matter by the clause they introduced into the Employers' Liability Bill extending its provisions to workmen in Government establishments. The sums that are given in such cases to the widows and orphans are not intended to keep them without their making any contribution towards their own support. But I may remind my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Lockwood) that he himself went over with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary (Mr. Woodall) the list of widows and children of those killed 1445 and that he expressed himself as fairly satisfied with the amounts that were to be paid. [Colonel LOCKWOOD: No.] At all events, it was proved to my hon. and gallant Friend that no person dependent upon the men who were killed had been overlooked.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
No case of either the widow or the child or the mother of a workman dependent upon him was omitted or overlooked. I do not know that it is necessary for me to occupy more of the time of the House. The Committee, which has proved itself so admirably qualified to inquire into the matter, has all but concluded its inquiry, although it has not yet presented its Report upon the subsequent misfortune at the nitro-glycerine works. I hope to receive that Report in the course of a few days, and our action will be taken upon it. The Committee will then proceed to inquire into the general question of danger buildings, which, as I have said, they have put off, owing to the more immediate urgency of the questions they have already dealt with, and I can only express my firm determination, which I am sure is shared by every man who is connected with the Department, to lose no opportunity of carrying into effect any well-considered advice or recommendation of the Committee, which is likely to secure greater safety, not only to the men who work so faithfully in our service, but in the district in which the works are situated.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
said, that nobody who had heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech could doubt that he was fully alive to the importance of the question, nor could anyone doubt that the important announcement, which had been drawn from him as to the steps which were being taken, thoroughly justified his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Lockwood) in bringing the question before the House. He (Mr. Brodrick) must enter his protest against the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, that this question ought to have been postponed until it could be brought up upon the Estimates. The pledge which had been given by the Government as to the Army Estimates had not been carried out. That pledge was that the Army and the Ordnance Factory Estimates 1446 should be brought on for discussion in April, or early in May. He knew that circumstances had been too much for the Secretary for War in this matter, but inasmuch as the pledge had not been carried out, his hon. and gallant Friend could not be blamed for having made an opportunity for bringing this important subject under the notice of the House. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine that objection was taken on the Opposition side of the House to the appointment of Lord Sandhurst as Chairman of the Commit tee. That was not the case. The right hon. Gentleman had very fairly said that the character of Lord Sandhurst's Report would be the best indication of his appointment. The objection taken by his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Lockwood) was practically that a man could not be a judge in his own case. Inasmuch as the Committee had to go into the question of the construction of buildings for which the War Department was responsible, it was obviously desirable that the impression should not get abroad that the War Office was sitting in judgment upon its own performances. His hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had stated that attention had been drawn not only by the present Superintendent but by the late Superintendent of the works at Waltham Abbey to defects in the construction of the buildings, and that no notice had been taken of these representations by the War Office.
§ * MR. WOODALL
was understood to say that the cam houses had been reconstructed, and were now separated not only by the intervening water wheel, but by solid traverses.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
said, that was a very important element in the matter. As to the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), if any representations were made such as those suggested to the late Government, the late Secretary of State was never aware of the circumstance, and he (Mr. Brodrick) could not find any reference to it in the evidence. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) had also said that artillery officers were shovelled into the very important position of Superintendent without having any special knowledge or training, and that it was the intention to remove them after five years' service. All that the late Secretary of State had 1447 laid down was that, instead of these appointments being for life, they should be for five years, the object being that if the man appointed did not prove to be the best man for the position he might be removed without having any slur cast upon his character. It was certainly not the intention to limit the appointments to five years. The House itself must take some share of the responsibility for the fact that the buildings of the factory at Waltham Abbey were too near together. The War Office bought the best site it could command, and stinted no money for the purpose. It could not go very far from the town, or otherwise it would have to go to the other side of the public road, which would have separated the new buildings from all the other buildings. The fact that there was a footpath crossing the farm which was taken for the erection of danger buildings was put forward as a complaint in the House, and it was only by the use of the greatest possible pressure that the War Office succeeded in inducing the House to hand the path over to them. The War Office, however, was bound to maintain the path, and he had no doubt that in consequence of this some of the danger buildings had had to be placed nearer together than would otherwise have been the case. He would urge the Government to see that the recommendations of the Committee which they adopted should be carried out at once. The Secretary for War had said that no undue delay had taken place, inasmuch as the Committee was not appointed until five weeks after the explosion, and no Report was made until two and a-half months after the last of the evidence was taken. He (Mr. Brodrick) did not think that at all events there had been any undue haste. He trusted that the result of this Debate would be to bring thoroughly home to the people of Waltham Abbey the fact that the Secretary for War took every precaution against storing large amounts of explosive material except where it could not be possibly avoided, and he congratulated his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Lockwood) upon having cleared up the matter in a way which must be satisfactory both to the relatives of the workmen and to the people of the locality.
* CAPTAIN- BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)
said, he wished to congratulate the 1448 House on the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down. As a resident near two large Government factories, he was able to speak as to the complaints which were made to the authorities from time to time, and the difficulty experienced in getting the War Office to take action. He felt that there was real urgency in connection with this question, and that, therefore, it was a little unfair of the Secretary of State for War to blame his hon. and gallant Friend for raising the Debate. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite that at Waltham Abbey at the present time there existed alarm which almost amounted to a panic. The inhabitants felt that it was no use relying on the War Office, seeing that there had been four explosions within a comparatively recent period. It was to be hoped that some new Regulations would be adopted and greater precautions taken. Something more than Regulations on paper was needed. The Government manufactories of explosives should be subject to inspection by some authority outside the War Office, who would take care that the Regulations laid down by the War Office were carried out. Had the Secretary of State assured them that the Government factories, like private factories, would be placed under the jurisdiction of the Home Office, the inhabitants of Waltham Abbey would have been able to go to bed at night in greater security and comfort. He trusted that extra precautions would be taken to regulate night-work at the Government factory. Night operations were extremely dangerous, and to maintain an efficient inspection a large staff of Inspectors was essential. Then, as to compensating the victims of the explosions and their families, the Secretary of State had done everything that the law allowed him; but the law was faulty, and he (Captain Bowles) trusted that when the next inquiry was made the subject of pensions and compensation to the workmen would be investigated. The mischief was that at present a man was compensated according to the number of years he had worked in the factory. If he had worked a large number of years, it was probable that his widow would have reached an advanced age, and so much compensation was not needed. But where a young man was killed or 1449 maimed the compensation given was not adequate to support a widow and youthful family. The question was one which should at once be looked into.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
said, he did not think the hon. and gallant Member for Epping was to blame for bringing this question forward. The raising of the question at the present time was justified, seeing that the Government had appropriated practically all the time, and the Debate on the Vote on Account was closured. There was only one remark made by the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Lock-wood) to which he took exception, and that was the remark to the effect that Lord Sandhurst should not have been put upon the Committee. Lord Sandhurst, who was an old personal friend of his own, had proved himself a most capable and impartial Chairman of the Committee. The extreme laxity shown in these factories led one to wonder whether in connection with the manufacture of cordite things were as they should be. The Committee said they had only inquired as to the gunpowder factory, and had not dealt with the other buildings. The Secretary of State had said that the new buildings were in charge of Sir F. Abel.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that what he had stated was that the best advice had been taken—that of Sir F. Abel, as well as that of Colonel Majendie.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said, he was informed, upon an authority in which he placed implicit trust, that cordite was being manufactured at Waltham Abbey in a very dangerous manner by what was known as the dry process. By this process impalpable dust was given off by the guncotton, which settled in all parts of the building and was liable to spontaneous combustion. From this dust, consequently, an explosion of a violent and destructive character might at any moment occur. Under the Mines Regulation Act particular Regulations were made that coal-dust should be kept thoroughly watered, and restrictive regulations were even more necessary in the case of such a highly explosive substance as guncotton. To enforce what he had said, only the other day an explosion took place in New 1450 York which undoubtedly was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of this guncotton powder, manufactured in a similar way to that manufactured at Waltham Abbey. In the case of these kinds of accidents on board Her Majesty's ships they had immediately a Court of Inquiry, and in many cases these were followed by a Court Martial. He could not see why similar regulations should not apply to Her Majesty's factories, which were watched over by Government officials. Some years ago a fearful explosion took place at Antwerp under similar conditions to these. The proprietor of the factory which was blown up was tried and imprisoned, and his manager was sent to prison for a year and a-half. He did not require anything of that sort, but he thought that the Regulations in force in the Army and Navy should be applied to Government factories; a Court of Inquiry should sit at once, and, if necessary, it should be followed by an inquiry similar to a Court Martial.
* SIR W. HART-DYKE (Kent, Dart-ford)
said, this was a question to which his attention had been called very much in the past few years, and he would like to touch upon one point that had not yet been alluded to in this Debate. No one, he thought, could blame his hon. and gallant Friend for bringing this matter forward. His hon. and gallant Friend had made a most temperate and excellent statement, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite had met it by practically conceding all the points that had been urged, and, therefore, the time that had been occupied had not been lost. The right hon. Gentleman told them the Committee had two points to consider—one was the position and state of the buildings in which these accidents happened, and the other was the danger that might accrue to life and property in other Government establishments. There was one point that had not as yet been touched upon. If hon. Members would take the trouble to read the evidence contained in the Blue Book they would find that the cause of the accident was attributed to the fact that the factory at Waltham Abbey had been carried on lately at extremely high pressure. He did not say that all the accidents had happened on that account; but 1451 this was self-evident, that on many occasions, which could be proved, more men had been at work in the factory than would have been allowed in any private firm, and that with the aid of the electric light they had been allowed to work day and night. He was not here to ask the Government to give large employment to this or that private firm; but, having lived in the vicinity of gunpowder all his life, he happened to know these private manufactories for years past had had certain Government work to do, and to carry that out and to meet modern requirements these private firms had put up most expensive machinery, and had employed a number of skilled workmen. Now, however, these private firms were failing for want of work, and there was eminent danger of their being closed altogether. But the practical point, apart from any interest he might have in the matter, which he wished to put to the War Office, was this: if they were working these Government factories at a time of peace on such extremely high pressure, what would happen to them if, unfortunately, this country should be dragged suddenly into war, and when these private firms had been extinguished, their machinery sold, and their skilled workmen discharged? This was a very important matter; it was not a Departmental but a National question, and it was for that reason he had brought it before the attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
May I explain that all private firms which are able to supply us with the powder we want will have an opportunity of tendering for the supply.
MR. ABEL SMITH (Herts, E.)
, who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to press upon the Government the necessity of taking every precaution against explosions, and to see that the rule against carrying loose matches was most rigorously enforced, as the most deplorable accidents had resulted from laxity in regard to this rule.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said, he wished to ask one question in reference to what fell a moment ago from the right hon. Gentleman, and it was this: would private firms be allowed to make the powder by the wet process, which they considered far safer than the dry process which the War Office insisted upon?
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 139; Noes 184.—(Division List, No. 61.)