HC Deb 15 March 1900 vol 80 cc912-4
MR. HOWELL (Denbigh Boroughs)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the business of J. Bennett and Sons, which has been recently struck off the list of contractors to the War Office on the ground of supplying defective stores for the use of Her Majesty's Field Force in South Africa, was some time ago purchased by Underwood and Sons, Limited, who have since carried on the business under the name and style of J. Bennett and Sons; whether the said Underwood and Sons, Limited, had before purchasing the business of Bennett and Sons been struck off the list of War Office contractors for malpractices in the execution of contracts; and whether he is aware that the said Underwood and Sons, Limited, although struck off the War Office list of contractors, have subsequently, under the name and style of Bennett and Sons, executed large contracts for the War Office, including that which has led to their being again struck off the War Office list as J. Bennett and Sons; whether he can state whether any and what person is responsible for ascertaining the identity of contractors executing contracts for the War Office; and whether he can state whether any and what precautions are taken to prevent contractors guilty of malpractices continuing to contract with the War Office after being struck off the list under circumstances similar to the above.


I beg also to ask the Secretary of State for War whether Messrs. Underwood and Sons, who were struck of the list of contractors for supplying rotten hay to the forces, were the same firm which bought the name and business of Bennett, and again tendered and were again dismissed from the list of contractors for a similar offence shortly afterwards; and whether the Government proposes to prosecute this firm.


Bennett's, until they were recently struck off the list, had been regular contractors to the War Office since 1873. Underwood's was struck off the list in 1884. It would now appear from statements made by Brown—the other contractor recently removed from the list—that Underwood acquired Bennett's business, and has been dealing with the Department in the name of Bennett. The Financial Secretary, through his executive officers, is responsible for making all necessary inquiries as to the standing of contractors. The names of blacklisted contractors are widely circulated among all officers likely to be concerned; and every effort is made to detect any attempt on the part of such contractors to deal with the war Department under assumed names.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

Does my hon. friend see any objection now to give the Returns in the form I asked for?—that is, to give the Christian names, the surnames, and addresses of all the members of every firm which were struck off the list.


Does my right hon. friend mean the names of all contractors that have ever been struck off the list?


In my motion for the Return I said, "During the current financial year," but I should like it for ten years.


Perhaps my right hon. friend will confer with me in the matter. There is not the least disposition to screen or shelter anyone. The hesitation of the Secretary of State to disclose, at first, the two names of these contractors, whose names appear in the Returns given to the House, was solely due to the fact that litigation was pending between them which might have been prejudiced by his so doing.


In reply to the latter part of my question, will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Government will prosecute?


Upon that point I have to say that the Secretary of State is taking legal advice.


Is it the case that the War Office only recently took back a contractor who had been previously struck off?


Order, order! The right hon. Member must give notice of that question.


Then I give notice that I shall call attention to the matter on the Estimates.