HC Deb 14 December 1900 vol 88 cc826-8
SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been called to the statement, on 12th December, of Baron von Richthofen, the Imperial German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that a large number of field batteries of German guns have been ordered by the British War Office of the Rhenish Machine and Metal Goods Company, and that the Imperial Government had stopped the further execution of the order until the guns were no longer needed; whether he will state what steps were taken by the War Office to ascertain if similar guns could be made in Sheffield or elsewhere in the United Kingdom or British Empire under royalty or other business arrangements as to patents; and whether, having regard to the danger of being dependent upon foreign manufacturers, controlled by foreign Governments, for munitions of war, he will encourage industrial enterprise and the laying down of the necessary plant in the Queen's Dominions by a guarantee that the Government will place its orders with its own taxpayers and not with foreigners.


Yes, Sir. I have seen the statement. Early this year it became necessary to give large additional orders for field guns for early delivery. The ordnance factories and the only gun-making firms in the United Kingdom received orders for more field guns and carriages than they could execute within the current year, and an order, about equivalent to that given to each English firm, was placed in Germany a month later. The ordnance factories have at this date completed their order. The German firm has delivered the whole order and the guns are available for issue; one of the English firms has delivered one-third of the order, and the other has delivered nothing at all. The Government have every desire to give priority to British manufactures. Every encouragement has been given to gun-making firms in this country to lay down plant by giving orders to the value of several millions sterling, and I will take care that everything is done which foresight can suggest to secure continuity of orders. But in view of the figures quoted above and the absolute necessity of securing prompt delivery, I can give no guarantee that orders will not be placed abroad when the public interest requires it.


Was the delivery of batteries ordered in Germany stopped by the German Government?


No, on the contrary, they were received hero, but, unfortunately, the batteries which ought to have been delivered by English firms were not delivered. As I read the speech of the German Secretary of State, an order was issued to stop further delivery, but the guns had been delivered.


Can the Return of warlike material purchased abroad which was refused earlier on grounds of public policy now be given?


Possibly it might be given at the close of the year, or some convenient date. Of course, it will take some time to prepare, as a certain amount of research will be required.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

Is there any objection to giving the names of the contractors who failed to fulfil their contracts?


I would rather not give the names now; I am having investigation made in reference to each factory and case of non-delivery. It may be necessary to take further steps.


Was it since the Anglo-German Convention was entered into that these guns were stopped?