HC Deb 02 April 1895 vol 32 cc715-8
MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the General Commanding the Cork district has issued an order directing that every Corps and Regiment shall, from the 1st proximo, obtain its canteen grocery supply from a firm in Cork; and, if so, whether such order is justified by the regulations of the Service, and by what authority can a General Commanding give this preference to a particular firm?

MR. F. A. O'KEEFFE (Limerick)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been called to recent orders issued by the General Commanding the Cork District (and which includes the City of Limerick), that henceforth all canteen supplies should be obtained from a Cork firm; is he aware that this order has excited great dissatisfaction throughout every garrison town in the south of Ireland; and whether he will cause this order to be withdrawn?


I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to a resolution passed by the Queenstown Town Commissioners on Friday last, protesting against the order recently issued by the General Commanding the Cork District, directing that in future canteens, groceries, and other stores be supplied by a Cork firm; and whether, in view of the serious injury which such an order must inflict upon local traders, he will recommend the Military Authorities in Cork to consider the desirability of cancelling it?

MR. W. ABRAHAM (Cork County, N.E.)

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he had received a copy of the resolution adopted by the Town Commissioners of Fermoy with regard to this order; and whether this order, if carried into effect, will not only act prejudicially to the interest of the soldier, but also affect the traders in small garrison towns in Ireland.


That is a repetition of the three questions on the Paper. I ask the hon. Members to take the one answer to them all. The general principle as regards canteens is that they manage their own affairs and obtain their supplies where they can be had most advantageously for the soldiers; and I should view with regret any large departure from a system under which considerable local relations subsist between the troops and the townspeople in their neighbourhood. At the same time it is the duty of a General Commanding to see that the canteens of his district are so administered as to give the greatest benefit to the soldiers for the money they expend. In the Cork district it was found that, in many cases, goods were supplied, especially at outlying stations, at prices much higher than those at which large firms were ready to deliver goods of equal or superior quality; and, while leaving for local markets the large items represented by milk, vegetables, eggs and malt liquors, as well as by the extra meat and bread, the General decided to concentrate into one order the demands of the different canteens for the several other articles, and to entrust, in each case, the supply to some one firm—not necessarily in Cork. No monopoly was created, and no contract made; but a comparison of prices between different firms was to be made monthly, and the Order was given for one month only. I give the General Officer Commanding the greatest credit for the efforts he has made to reduce the price and enhance the quality of the goods supplied to regimental canteens in his district. The result has been, I am informed, an improvement in quality, and a reduction in price amounting, in some cases, to 53 per cent. I do not wish, however, to disguise my opinion that it is better that the canteens should manage these matters for themselves; and, if the Canteen Committees do their duty, I see no reason why they should not realise equally satisfactory results by adopting the same methods.


inquired if the order of the Commander would remain in force notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's own views on the question, and whether he was to understand that there would not be any monopoly confined to any particular firm or firms.


Certainly not, and the arrangement is made for a month only.


asked if any complaints had been received by the military authorities in Cork as to the price and quality of the goods supplied by the local traders, and if a similar order had ever been issued in the Cork district.


was not aware of that, because, as he had said, the general principle had been that each Canteen Committee should manage this matter themselves. In this case it had been found that the prices being paid were largely in excess, and the prices paid sometimes to suppliers outside the district altogether were largely in excess of the prices at which the same articles could be obtained. He might add that the quality had been greatly improved. It was found that a large number of canteens were obtaining and selling margarine as butter.

MR. E. CREAN (Queen's Co., Ossory)

asked if local traders were precluded by this order from competing.


Not at all. As he understood, there was no open invitation for traders, but the different price lists of firms were compared, and action was taken on that.

MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)

inquired whether, in this instance, the complaints had originated with the troops or with the shopkeepers.


asked what was the practice in England. Had any English General told the Army they must all buy of the Army and Navy stores?


said, there was no question of the Army and Navy stores. The goods were obtained from traders in the district, and he had already said it was a new departure on the part of an energetic, public-spirited General commanding the district, who saw his way to accomplish, and had accomplished, considerable benefit for the soldier by this process. He had already expressed the opinion that he thought it was the sounder system to allow each Canteen Committee to manage its own affairs.


Has this experiment ever been tried in England?


I have already said this is a new departure.