HC Deb 20 March 1900 vol 80 cc1326-53

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I think this would be a convenient occasion to call attention to a matter which has of late engaged much public attention, namely, the question of defrauding War Office contractors and the method in which they are dealt with by the Department. The House is being asked to vote large sums of money raised by taxation mainly to meet the requirements of the war, and it is important to know whether proper steps are taken to protect supreme national interests. The other day a Return was moved for in regard to contractors struck off the War Office list for misconduct, but the way in which that Return was worded, as I ventured to say at the time, was scarcely calculated to afford the House the full information which it desires. It was so worded as to merely give the names of contractors struck off the Government list for misconduct in connection with the supply of stores for the use of our field forces in South Africa, and also the names of officers no longer employed by the Government who had passed those defective stores. Under the head of "Contractors who have been struck off the Government list for misconduct in connection with the sending of stores for the use of Her Majesty's field force in South Africa," the information given is singularly meagre. Two names—Messrs. John E. Bennett and Sons and Mr. John Brown—with the addresses are given; but that does not carry the House very far. It did not enlighten us much, but subsequent investigation pointed to a good deal that was behind. It turns out that the business of Messrs. Bennett and Sons was really conducted by a person called Underwood, who was an old offender, having some years ago been guilty of the grave offence of supplying bad hay for the consumption of the forces. The firm of Underwood was then very properly removed from the War Office list; and that might be supposed to be a heavy penalty. Indeed, an indignant country was left with the impression that persons caught red-handed in a serious offence would never again have an opportunity of plundering the taxpayers and endangering the safety of the forces. But this firm, finding themselves excluded from the privilege of supplying had hay, thought it would be a good idea to connect themselves with another firm already figuring on the War Office list. They therefore acquired the business of another firm which had the privilege of supplying the "War Office; and they were again caught red-handed in supplying defective stores. These facts ought to have appeared in the Return. If the form of Return which I suggested had been adopted, and the Christian names, surnames, and addresses of all the directors of the firms concerned had been given, the House would have had before it the facts which I think have been most improperly concealed. I do not make any charge against the Financial Secretary, though I do think he should have brought the Return up to date and should have granted my Return, which would have prevented him being the victim of this imposture, and would not have led him to deceive Parliament. I fear that persons other than those whose names appear in the Return are gravely compromised. This firm has got back on the list of contractors by a barefaced trick which ought not to have deceived anyone. Whose business was it to see that they should not get back under an alias of this kind? Is it or is it not the case that the business has been conducted in the old promises whence previous frauds had emanated? This has been stated to be the case, but I scarcely think it to be likely, for I think the War Office official responsible in the matter would have felt it his duty to report such a glaring imposition to his superiors. It may be, however, that the officers whose duty it was to see to this matter had some relations with this person. In 1888 the attention of the House was called to the case of a contractor who had been guilty of gross frauds in connection with the supply of leather. He, too, seems to have been taken back again, because the boots supplied to the troops in South Africa are of the most scandalous description.




Is it or is it not the case that the firm of Ross and Co. was struck off the list in 1888? In 1894 the Leader of the Opposition was asked whether he would restore Messrs. Ross and Co. to the list of contractors entitled to supply the War Office. A gentleman named Tomlin was mentioned in connection with the business, and he was really the person who conducted it. The right hon. Gentleman, properly as I think, declined to restore the name of the firm to the list, and he pointed out it was a very gross offence. The firm had been detected red-handed in dishonest practices which were injurious to the public service, and he said he could not restore their names to the list. I would like to ask whether that firm is employed now? The Financial Secretary says the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling Burghs stated that they could not be restored to the list "at present." I suppose he thinks that sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. I have been told that Mr. Tomlin's firm was again employed. Perhaps this case is like that of Mr. Underwood and Mr. Bennett. The partners of the firm, having been caught, probably thought it prudent to make some pretence of retiring. They probably assigned their interests for a valuable consideration to persons whose withers were unwrung so far as the Department was concerned. The difficulty of detecting these frauds is very great. Messrs. Ross and Co. took precautions to prevent the public conscience from being again offended by revelations of this kind, for they succeeded in obtaining the position of the viewer or inspector of the goods they supplied for a man who belonged to their own firm; practically the officers of the Department were ex-employees of their own. Is that the case now? Have they brought back with them their viewers to relieve the War Office of the invidious task of selecting persons to see that they are not again robbed by persons caught red-handed in the act on a previous occasion? The Return which has been supplied is worded in the most restricted manner. It speaks of officers no longer employed by the Government, but, on the other hand, I asked for the names and the ranks of the officers responsible for passing the defective goods. The narrow limits which have been imposed on the Return leave a suspicion in the public mind that there is a great deal more behind. The manner in which these serious charges have been met is not calculated to disarm the grave public suspicion which prevails. Why were attempts made to give no information at all, and then only to give it in a form which conceals the fact that old offenders have been trading under another name, and have been for the second time detected in fraud on the public service? The information has been extracted with difficulty from the Department, and this fact lends colour to the suspicion that, anxious as the War Office may be to protect the public interest and to expose fraud, it has been prevented by its surroundings from showing up all the persons connected with these nefarious practices. A good deal had been heard of a War Office arrangement, but I think it is evident that there is a contractors' ring. The viewers are appointed by the contractors themselves, and yet the House is face to face with this meagre Return, which conceals the essential facts. I contend that the Return ought to be so amended as to include a period of exclusions and restorations for the last ten or twenty years, and give that complete and unreserved information on the subject to which the House is entitled. No person, however influentially placed, should be screened, and the evidence should be produced in so complete a manner as to convince the public at large that they have heard the absolute truth and the whole truth about the matter. I hope we shall have a full explanation from the Financial Secretary.

*MR. MCKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

The action of the War Office in this matter passes all comprehension. It has been admitted that there have been serious malpractices, but instead of the War Office taking the obvious remedy of publicity it appears to have persistently acted the Christian part of turning the other cheek to the smiter and of concealing the offences of those who have swindled the Department. A clear explanation is needed why the facts should have to be extorted from the War Office, and why the Department should not have taken advantage of the medium of publicity to expose the malpractices of which it has been the victim. Every effort made by Members of this House to get information in regard to the cheating of which the War Office has been the victim has been constantly met with obstruction. I placed upon the Paper two weeks ago a motion for a return on certain Departmental matters in the War Office. I was asked to postpone my motion. I did so, and put it in a form which I thought would easily give me the information I asked for. What was the result? I was told that no such Return could be issued. If the House will bear with me I will say what the Return was. We know now that in the case of Underwood it was only by accident that the hay was found to be bad and inflammable; but we never hear of those cases in which the War Office officials, doing their duty, detect the efforts of contractors to swindle them The Return I asked for was, in the first instance, for those cases in which the contractors supplied articles 50 per cert. of which had been rejected by the War Office. I was told that my inquiry would probably be met by a nil. I subsequently asked for a Return which would include cases in which 30 per cent. had been rejected as bad. I think it must be admitted that in any ordinary case of business any contractor who supplied goods 30 per cent. of which were not up to the standard cannot have been doing his duty. I am quite prepared to admit that there might be cases in which 100 per cent. was rejected through no fault of the contractor. A big gun might be detected in a small defect, and the whole gun might be returned to have that defect remedied. I do not want to conceal from the House what was the reason for my asking for this Return. It had come to my knowledge that one of the largest contractors for ammunition—Kynoch's—had, in fulfilment of a recent contract, tendered to the War Office some millions of cartridges which were defective owing to the nickel of the cartridges being of improper' quality. That is the story I wanted to get out, and I should be extremely glad if the hon. Gentleman is able to tell not only myself, but those who informed me of this matter, that the information was inaccurate. There were other cases in connection with the supply of khaki, for instance, in which direct suspicion of malpractice has been suggested against officials of the War Office. In all those cases, surely it would be of immense advantage to the public service if the Departmental representative of the War Office were to take the House frankly into his confidence, and not to leave us to extort from him by pressure the information we desire.


The matter which has been brought forward by my right hon. friend is certainly important, and I have nothing to complain of in the manner in which he has stated it to the House. I wish to say emphatically on behalf of the War Department, and especially of that branch of it with which I am more immediately concerned, that there is not the slightest intention or desire on our part to shield any guilty contractor. So far from wishing to do that in relation to the two men whose names appear in the return to which my hon. friend has referred, the Secretary of State himself directed that if it were possible to take criminal proceedings against them such proceedings should be taken, and he obtained the opinion of the Treasury Solicitor, as to whether or not such a course could be followed.


When was that step taken?


It was long before any notice whatever of the matter was taken in this House. In point of fact, at the time my right hon. friend moved for the Return the question whether or not they could be prosecuted was under consideration, and it was that fact alone which led me in the first instance to hesitate to give the information which the Return sought for. Even at the present moment I am a little embarrassed in dealing with the question so far as it concerns Underwood, who has been dealing with the War Office under the designation of Bennett, because further fresh circumstances have come to light, and the Secretary of State has only to-day asked the opinion of the law officers of the Crown as to whether, in view of these further circumstances, it is possible to take legal proceedings against the firm. I do not feel myself free, therefore, to deal with all the facts that arise in the case; but, speaking for myself, and from recollection, perhaps the House will allow me to say that since I have held the office of Financial Secretary I have not restored to the War Office list one single contractor who had been struck off, and indeed, if inquiry were made, it would be found that contractors with the War Office would be very far from telling the House that they receive unduly lenient treatment at the hands of the present administration in Pall Mall. As far as Underwood is concerned, he was struck off the War Office list, not for any dealings in regard to forage, but for fraudulent transactions in regard to coal. To this fact it was due perhaps that we did not discover we were dealing with him as promptly as we ought to have done. Although we were looking out for him in regard to coal, we were not looking out for him in regard to forage. It is very difficult in dealing with an enormous number of contractors to ascertain whether or not a contractor is trading under an alias. We do not ear-mark any gentleman, but we try to make certain that they do not deceive us. At the same time, I do not disguise that possibly a little more vigilance on our part might have detected the fact that we were dealing with a man who had been struck off the list. Two or three years after Underwood was struck off the list in relation to coal he formed his business into a private limited liability company, and he applied to the then Secretary of State for War, the late Mr. Stanhope, to have the name of the company put on the War Office list. The application was promptly refused, and we heard no more from him. But early in 1892 or 1894—I was not aware this question was going to be raised, and consequently I can only speak as to the facts as they are present in my mind—Underwood purchased the business of Bennett and Son. The Department have ascertained that since. The firm of Bennett and Son was on the War Office list, and no fault had been found with the manner in which they had conducted their transactions with the Department. They were not under suspicion, and we were not aware of the fact that Underwood, Limited, had acquired their business. Of course, it is now perfectly plain that one of Underwood's objects in acquiring Bennett's business was to get on the War Office list again. In that he succeeded. Had the Department known that Bennett had become Underwood they would have declined to have dealings with them. Bennett, however, has now been struck off the list. In these circumstances, admitting as I do that possibly we might have discovered what was going on earlier, I do not see what more we could do. I ought to add that at the present moment there are proceedings pending between Brown and Underwood, and that makes it a little more difficult to give a full account of all that has taken place. All I can say is that Brown assures me that he is going to come out of these proceedings white as the driven snow. In regard to the Return asked for, I think it is rather a strong order, where a limited liability company has been dealt with in relation to contracts by the War Office to publish all the names of the directors in a black list of the House of Commons. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Why?" and "No, no."] The directors of the company may be perfectly innocent of any fraud which has been perpetrated by their subordinates. All I take exception to is the form in which the notice for the Return appears on the Paper; but I am authorised to say that if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it desirable that a Return should be made the Government will not object. I earnestly hope that the House will not believe that anybody at the War Office desires to conceal anything.


You have mentioned nothing about Ross.


Oh, yes. Well, the case of Ross is peculiar. He had nothing whatever to do with boots, and my right hon. friend is in error in supposing that he was guilty of supplying bad boot leather. I did not put him on the list, for the name was back on it before I took office. There was on the list of contractors for accoutrements a firm called Hepburn and Gale, who informed my predecessor in office that they had bought the business of Ross. They proved that all the original partners who were concerned in the transactions which resulted in Ross being struck off the list had been done away with. The House may take it as it likes, but two of them were dead, and the only one remaining was proved to have no further connection with the business. Messrs. Hepburn and Gale were allowed to remain, and to use the name of Ross and Company, my predecessor being satisfied that it was merely a name, and not a reality. When I came into office I investigated the matter, and can now assure the House that not a single individual connected with the old firm of Ross and Company has any interest in the firm of Hepburn and Gale. The list asked for by the hon. Member for Monmouthshire is of the nature of a black list. It would contain the name of every contractor whose deliveries have been rejected up to 30 per cent. If the Return were given in the way it was originally asked for it would contain only one word, "nil," because although many contractors may have their deliveries rejected on account of some small defects, those defects would afterwards be remedied, and the goods passed. I am not quite sure that such a list would not include every contractor with whom the War Office deals. I know a case in which a firm delivered two large guns. These guns were rejected for some trifling detail, which was corrected, and the guns were then accepted. The list, if presented in the form asked for by the hon. Gentleman, would include that firm, and it would be manifestly unfair to include in ablack list contractors who had honestly done the best they could. Inclusion in such a list would cast a reflection on a firm, and it might do it serious injury. I therefore hesitated to grant it. The right hon. Gentleman has also referred to the firm of Messrs. Kynoch, and to the fact that they had not been so successful recently in getting their deliveries passed. It is only fair to Messrs. Kynoch to say that some time ago they were the only persons—not excluding the Government factory itself—who could successfully pass the small arms ammunition test, and the War Office were actually obliged to go to them to ascertain what their process of manufacture was, and what detail they insisted upon, in order that the War Office might at the Ordnance Factory be as successful as Messrs. Kynoch. It would not be right to gibbet firms like that who tried to serve the War Office well, because, owing to some exceptional circumstances, the cause of which they are as anxious as we are to ascertain, they have not been able to get some ammunition passed.


Will the hon. Gentleman tell us something about the officer whose duty it is to view the goods?


The officers who inspect the goods are as a rule Army officer's, and their inspection is extremely strict. If those contractors who fail in the first instance, but who, after a trial or two, satisfy the inspectors are to be placed in a black list, one of three things would be certain to happen: there would be additional difficulty in placing contracts, the price paid would nave to be greatly raised, or the inspection must be relaxed. I do not think any of these things is desirable.

MR. LOYD (Berkshire, Abingdon)

Was there not a very serious forage scandal at the time of the Crimean War?


Yes, Sir, I believe there was.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

May I suggest to my hon. friend that many of his difficulties would be obviated by refusing tenders from men who accept contract sat sweating prices for their goods. The way to attract the best class of manufacturers and the best class of firms as contractors to deal with the War Office, is to give a reasonable price for a good article, and not insist upon a minimum price at which a good article cannot honestly be supplied. That is, I think, one of the fundamental principles that should be acted upon by the War Office, and, indeed, by every other Government Department that has to make contracts with manufacturers. I quite sympathised with my hon. friend the Financial Secretary when he described so pathetically to the House that at one time Mr. Underwood approached the War Office in the form of a sack of coal and on another occasion in the shape of a truss of hay. Well, it is very difficult for my hon. friend to recognise one and the same person in two different forms. As an illustration he gave the case of the two guns, and stated that was a technical error. If it was an attempt to defraud, the name of that firm was quite as much entitled to be published as the name of Underwood's. A technical error—there was some oversight in not finishing the guns. If it was an attempted fraud, then your argument for keeping the name off the list falls to the ground. I can understand articles being delivered with a technical error in their finish or in their equipment, but it is easy for any man who is acquainted with business to know that it is not an attempted fraud, and, therefore, no penalty ought to follow that neglect, but where acts are evidently committed by a contractor and intended to defraud, then the name ought to be published without reservation. There is one other point I should like to remind the Financial Secretary about, and it is this—whether he could advise the War Office not to punish a workman who gave information to the Government as to fraudulent transactions not only in material but in workmanship. I remember a case only a few years back where a gross case of fraud was attempted in the saddlery department at Woolwich. What happened was that a highly-skilled workman there employed exposed this attempted fraud, and he was promptly discharged. In consequence of representations made in this House he was reinstated in his position, but he was discharged a very short time after that. A pretext was made of certain irregularity on his part, and the man was sent about his business. Those who have worked in Government works know that the Government is subjected to fraud in connection with the work it engages contractors to do, as much or even more than a private person. I have seen frauds enough committed on the Government. What is the consequence if a workman, who has technical knowledge, and knows the quality of material and the quality of workmanship that should be insisted upon according to the specification, reports to the Government or anyone in authority? Why, the workman would be black listed so effectually as never to get employment again with the firm concerned, and his name would be sent round. I am speaking in this respect of what I know. I have seen it done, and no man who has had experience in these matters is going to risk losing his employment, and losing his living almost, by making reports to the Government regarding matters of this nature. I wish the Government Departments would give more consideration to those who are willing to give this class of information in the future than they have done in the past. The Admiralty, I have no doubt, has very similar experience. It is a matter within the knowledge of all or most people, that the War Office is an institution peculiarly liable to frauds of this kind. I am not going to say that my hon. friend the present Secretary is more liable to fraud than any other Secretary that has preceded him or that will follow him. It is desirable when the public mind is in a receptive condition to deal effectively with fraudulent contractors, and the War Office should show an example to other Departments by setting its own house in order to such an extent that it would terrorise those who live by fraud and fatten on the sufferings of the men and horses who are supplied with their respective fares. I can scarcely imagine a more wicked crime than to send bad food for horses on foreign service. It is a great crime to send bad boots with rotten leather for men in the field and on long marches. [An HON. MEMBER: "Paper soles."] Paper soles, my hon. friend says. I don't know that of my own knowledge, but we do know that very bad material has been sent on the occasion of great warlike undertakings such as we are now in the midst of. I repeat once more that the complaint is that you insist on the cheapest goods, and your contractors believe that you insist upon the cheapest class of article. Your schedules of prices are, I am informed, so put that first-class articles cannot be supplied by respectable firms. You cannot have the best cloth at shoddy prices. The whole thing is a question of price, and if you will give a respectable price and have men who really know how to examine the goods supplied, whether it is hay or cloth or any other article, you will have the best firms in the country at your command. Until you do so you will not get the best firms. A man who is liable to have his goods rejected by a person who really does not understand them is not very likely to bother himself, losing his time and incurring the expense, sending tenders to the War Office. I do hope the Government will mend its manners in this respect. Having reached the limit of human endurance on this question of fraud, I hope that the present Secretary will see to it that he will make one sweep of the whole of these people from the War Office list once and for ever. If he will now undertake to do that I think we shall have some reasonable hope that other departments of the Government will follow the good example that is set.

*MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

I do not think the Financial Secretary has failed to realise the popular anxiety that is felt on this important sub- ject. I rise to call attention to the fact that no doubt without his knowledge the Department has made an untrue Return to the order of the House. On the face of the Financial Secretary's story it appears that at the time the hay was delivered they were not aware that Bennett's hay was Underwood's hay. I understand, however, that at the time the Return was made the War Office knew that Bennett's business had been bought by Underwood's company. If that was so, the registered statutory name of this company was Underwood and Co., Limited, and, knowing that, the Department had no right to return any other name. This is not a mere matter of form; for, but for this, we should not have been left to learn from a casual letter in the newspapers that this defaulting contractor was one who had already been struck off the list for a like default.

MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)

asked whether criminal proceedings would be instituted by the War Office against the persons implicated in supplying the goods.


I am advised that if criminal proceedings can be taken they will be taken. The deliberations of the law officers of the Government on the subject are not yet concluded.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

I rise not so much for the purpose of entering into the question of the frauds which have been practised in regard to certain Government contracts as to repeat a protest I have made from time to time during the present session against the expenditure.


I think one point has not been satisfactorily cleared up by the hon. Member as to which the Members of the House must entertain considerable curiosity, to put it no higher, and that is about the two officers who are named. What was the nature of their offence? What were the circumstances that led to their retirement? Were they retired on account of this, or have they retired in the ordinary course of nature? We want to know a little more as to what the nature of their conduct was. Upon the whole question I feel that it rather does good to exaggerate these matters. I do not agree with a great deal that has been said as to the probability of great frauds taking place in the public departments. I do not think it is a good thing to run down our public departments too much, and I am not aware that we have any evidence of great frauds having taken place. But that does not make it the less necessary for those in charge of those departments to be constantly watchful. I do not think in this instance there is any sign on the part of the hon. Member who spoke for the War Office or his colleagues of having neglected any reasonable means of protecting the public interest. When a firm changes its name two or three times over, it is very difficult to identify it. But what I would press upon the hon. Member is that the real remedy of the Government in such a case is the power they possess to a greater degree than anyone else of giving publicity to, these malpractices—of letting the world know what has happened. That is the powerful instrument we have over contractors. Therefore, I do not look upon this proposal that certain names should be published as at all in the nature of a "black list," as the hon. Member put it. There may be a great many articles rejected without any discredit whatever to the contractor. An hon. Gentleman spoke of the guns which had to be returned because of some slight defects which were discovered. But that was not a final return. What we want to know is—What articles were finally rejected because of some really serious defect in contravention of the conditions of the contract? If that information was published—if the hon. Gentleman will consider the suggestion and see whether it can be done—I think it would give great satisfaction to the House and be a very considerable protection to the country. Some reference has been made to the well-known case of the saddlery makers in Bermondsey, with which I do not think anybody is so thoroughly acquainted as the present Secretary to the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman nursed that case for years, and I have listened to speech after speech of the most eloquent nature from him with reference to the celebrated case of Messrs. Ross and Co. That was a case which was complicated in a singular way by the fact that if they did not get a share of the Government contracts the whole industry would perish in Bermondsey. I remember I was in office, and appeals were made to me of the strongest kind in the interest of the trade and of the employment of people in that part of London. I was told that trade was not very good, and that the whole trade would go to Walsall, the centre of the saddlery manufacturing industry, if Messrs. Ross and Co. did not get a contract. I managed to steel myself against that appeal, touching as it was, but it appears that afterwards my hon. colleague, whose absence I regret, did make the inquiry which the hon. Gentleman describes, and subsequently restored, not that firm, but their successors, to the list. Cases such as these with which we are dealing appear to show that there is a suspicion in London that the contractors work in and out with each other. We all remember a case a year or two ago in connection with a large hotel in the West of London, where it was discovered that the contractors had been fleecing the company for years, and it was ultimately found that all really centred in one man or very nearly so. There may be cases of that sort among contractors whether for private employers or for a Government department. But, as I have said, the one remedy which the Government has, which is not open to a private firm, is that of publicity. I would, also urge upon the Government that publicity is the cure of suspicion. If you wish to got rid of any suspicion, either against the officials of a department or against contractors, publicity is the cure, in small things as well as in great. Although I do not see in what has happened in this case any disposition or intention on the part of the hon. Gentleman of concealing anything, still I think we should always bear in mind that concealment or attempt at concealment is the very worst policy that can be pursued in such a matter.


I have only to say that the two persons whose names appear in this matter were removed from their appointments in consequence of negligence in respect of this particular matter.


I do not propose to add much to the debate on this aspect of the question, which is now, I suppose, drawing to a conclusion. But I do desire to express the strong feeling which the Government have that there is no subject which more deserves the careful vigilance of the House of Commons than this question of Government contracts. No one can have the most elementary knowledge of the military history of this and of other countries—I am glad to say even more of other countries than of this country—without seeing what incalculable harm to the national interest has been done in the past by the frauds of contractors. The number of valuable lives that have been sacrificed, the number of military operations whose success has been imperilled, the loss of all kinds which great Imperial interests have suffered from the admitted frauds of contractors on whom successive Governments have relied, is one of the most painful chapters in the military history of the last century and of the beginning of this century. We certainly ought to exercise all the vigilance in our power to prevent the repetition of any such crime against the public interest. I think we ought to distinguish between two very different cases which have been, to a certain extent, mixed up in the present debate—the case of fraud on the part of the contractor and the case of error on the part of the manufacturer in producing goods for the public service. I confess I am not convinced, even by what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the moderate and interesting speech he has just delivered, that as regards this latter class that publicity which he desires would do any good. I think it would certainly produce great hardship, and I am not sure it would produce any great public benefit. He endeavoured to answer the objection made, I think, by my hon. friend near me with regard to the case of two guns which had been returned and afterwards altered and accepted. He tried to evade that by saying "I do not want a list of those goods which are finally accepted after having been returned and remedied." But it is impossible for us to distinguish in all cases goods of that kind. In the case of two large pieces of ordnance the identity could, no doubt, be followed through the manufacturing departments of the firm which produced them and remedied the defects which had been found in them; but in regard to many other articles it clearly would not be possible for the manufacturer to remedy the defects in every case. But is it a crime for a manufacturer who is trying to produce the goods the Government desire to find he has not succeeded in one particular instance? It is not a crime, and ought not to be punished as a crime. Yet the publication of a "black list," showing that such and such a firm which was asked to produce such goods as the Government could accept had failed to produce those goods, would inflict very serious injury.


I think I used the words "I do not look upon it as a 'black list,'" by which I meant to imply that I did not intend that any slur should be cast on the firms whose names appeared thereon.


I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's view, but I think he himself will feel that if he does not call it a "black list," if he does not wish it to be treated as a "black list," it would in effect be a "black list" in the sense that it would greatly injure that firm's position in regard to its foreign market. It is to our interest that these great firms should not merely manufacture for us, but should have a market in foreign countries, because one result of that is that we have a large surplus power of production to enable us to meet a great national emergency. But if you insist that every error of this kind is to be published abroad, not merely to the British public but to the foreign consumer, I cannot help thinking that such publication will be treated by the foreign consumer as ground for distrusting the British manufacturer, and the British manufacturer will suffer as compared with his foreign rival. And with the loss which the British manufacturer suffers is bound up a certain national loss on our part—in fact our means of rapid production of warlike material might be seriously diminished.


No one asked for that.


The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I am dealing with a procedure which is distinctly asked for. The hon. Gentleman did not ask for it, but he is not the only gentleman who has taken part in this debate this afternoon. I think the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to these errors in manufacture is, perhaps, too severe a one. I do not think any course too severe in the case of detected fraud, and I think no vigilance on the part of the War Office can be too energetic to prevent such frauds taking place. That there is a difficulty in preventing these frauds has been sufficiently evidenced from the debate this afternoon. The authorities at the War Office have not merely to inspect the goods, to find out by inspection if they come up to the Government standard, but they have also got to pursue the tortuous windings of anonymous companies, to follow them under one name or another name, and through the ramifications of ingenious mystification. Well, that is rather a large operation, but it is one which certainly ought to be undertaken by the War Office, and I hope it will be undertaken in a spirit of the most careful inquiry; for I am one of those who think that when a firm has committed a fraud by palming off on the War Office or on the Admiralty goods which are not up to the standard and which are evidently intended to deceive, and which are produced and brought over for the purpose of deception, too great publicity cannot be given to their acts, and no punishment which the laws of the country can inflict can be too severe. I hope, therefore, most heartily that the investigation of the law officers to which my hon. friend has referred, will result in the Government's being able to take criminal proceedings, and bring to a criminal trial the contractors who have endeavoured to commit so great a public crime as to pass off on the public service stores of bad quality. I trust that after this declaration on my part, which, perhaps, was hardly necessary after the statement of my hon. friend, nobody, either in the House or in the country, will think that the Government are indifferent to a matter which is of the very first national importance. Let it not be said that in connection with this war, or any other subsequent operation in which we may be engaged, there has been any repetition of the gross scandals which disgraced the public service through the whole of the last century, and which I am afraid might be found in the earlier history of the present century. One hon. Member referred to the Crimean War, and I am afraid that in the Crimean War very scandalous cases of this kind occurred. I hope that no such gross scandals will be elicited by the most searching inquiry into the case of the present war which will be undertaken, and on behalf of the Government I say that we shall welcome such an inquiry, and any assistance that can be given to us by the House or the public in seeing that the goods supplied to our men in the field are of the first quality will be welcomed by my hon. friend and by all those who are responsible for War Office management.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

After the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury. I do not intend to discuss further the contract question, although there are still many hon. Members who are not fully satisfied. I rise for the purpose of protesting against the expenditure of public money upon this disastrous war, and it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of Irish Members if we did not avail ourselves of every opportunity of protesting against such expenditure. From the very commencement of the war Ireland has signalised in the most unmistakable manner that she considers this war cruel and unnecessary. It was elicited this evening by the First Lord of the Treasury's reply to a question put by an Irish Member that the amount expended in Ireland out of the sum of £60,000,000 taken under the Consolidated Fund (No. 1 and 2) Bills for this war was a paltry £150,000. Surely, under these circumstances, we are justified in complaining—even if we approved of the policy of the Government—of the very meagre and miserable share that Ireland has got of this large sum of money. If the Government think it right to provide employment at Government works in large industrial centres in England, why should they not do the same in Ireland? If a private firm can go to Ireland and establish factories for the manufacture of such substances as cordite, why cannot the Government go to Ireland and manufacture other things? A complaint was made last night with regard to the expenditure upon Colonial troops as compared with British troops. The Colonial troops are paid 5s. a day, while the pay of the English, Irish, and Scotch troops is only 1s. 4d. per day. I asked the hon. Gentleman why this preference, is given to the Colonial troops, and he gave me an unsatisfactory reply. He spoke about the Colonial troops being called upon in an emergency, but that was not a complete answer. If the service of the Colonial troops is of a voluntary character, why should their pay be three times greater than the Regular troops coming long distances from all parts of Scotland, Ireland, and England? This is a point which deserves full consideration by the Government. As to the contract question, I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman, the Financial Secretary to the War Office, that we shall continue to protest against the system which is growing up by which military officers on active service are employed in trade, and against this huge and enormous expenditure upon a war which we believe to be unjust and unnecessary.

MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)

said the Leader of the House had stated that if he gave the information asked for in regard to the contractors it would injure British manufacturers. He sympathised not with British, but with Irish manufacturers. As regarded the hay supply, the best hay in the world was grown in Ireland, and could be got as cheap there as it was being supplied at the present time to the War Office. He believed that there was only a difference of about 2½d. per ton between good Irish hay and the rubbish which the Goverment were importing from abroad. He hoped his hon. friend would go to a division as a protest against the stinginess of the miserable policy which had been adopted by the hon. Gentleman opposite and the Government. If the Government were as kind to the people of Ireland as they were to the people of England they would have factories in Ireland, and thus assist to give employment to the people of a poor country which had to find a large portion of the money required for the war. He hoped that the experience which the hon. Gentleman had had of British contractors would open his eyes and induce him to buy hay in the future from Ireland. He had been informed on good authority that even in Ireland foreign oats and hay were imported for the feeding of the horses of the British Army stationed there, and if that were so it was a disgrace to this country. No wonder the Irish people had no sympathy with the war when the Government passed over the people of Ireland who could supply them with forage almost as cheap as the present contractors were doing, and of a much better quality. It seemed to be the rule at the War Office that "no Irish need apply." Irish soldiers were good enough to carry the trenches in the Transvaal, and to be put to the front in battles, but when it came to buying Irish produce Ireland was ignored. He was very pleased to see the humiliating position in which the Government had been placed owing to the rubbish which had been supplied to them.

*MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

I desire, before the Irish Members introduce the question on which they are interested, to point out one very serious defect in the administration of the War Office which tends in some degree not perhaps to the grosser forms of fraud, but to defective fulfilment of contracts, which is very serious. I refer to the difficulty in getting the Government Departments to put into force the fair wages resolution passed by this House in 1891. I make no complaint against the Financial Secretary, who is not responsible. It is the system that is in fault. That resolution was passed, not only to satisfy the workmen, but to protect the fair employer, who is prepared to produce a good article, but who is unable to do so when brought into competition with men who flagrantly violate the resolution. It is notorious, and many manufacturers will agree, that the Government Departments often go to the worst contractors, who are given to the shadiest of tricks in their transactions, rather than enforce the resolution; and although the promise given by the Financial Secretary to investigate the matter holds good, the investigation is carried out by a routine which precludes a just conclusion being arrived at. The nation is not getting value for its money simply through the neglect of the Government to see that the fair wages resolution is carried out, with the result that the work is being done by shady firms and the best firms of contractors are prevented from contracting at all. It is only by competition that the best is obtained, but the game to be fair should be played according to the rules, and the Government have laid down certain conditions which are not observed and consequently the best contractors often decline to enter into competition. I trust that the Government will see that the fair wages resolution is adopted and that facilities are given to obtain the necessary details. The Government offices are so bound up in red tape, and routine is so rampant, that it is absolutely impossible to obtain from them details which an ordinary firm would get to know in twenty-four hours.

*MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

complained of the high rate of interest which was inserted in the Bill for the purpose of borrowing money. He pointed out that it was absurd to insert a rate of 5 per cent. when it was perfectly well known that the war loan now being raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which had been subscribed for ten or twelve times over, was only to bear 2¾ per cent. He also pressed the Government to increase the penalty for illegal trawling, and penalise those who covered their lights while trawling to the great danger of the line fishermen who prosecuted their calling in the stormy seas off the coast of Scotland. He assumed he would be in order in calling attention to the serious inconvenience to Scottish Members owing to the absence of the Secretary of Scotland from this House.


Order, order!


Very well; if he was not in order on that point he would leave it. He was sorry the Lord Advocate was not in his place, because he would have brought under his notice the great need there was of spending the £10,000 which the Scottish Office had placed at the disposal of the Fishery Board of Scotland in 1899 for the purpose of providing a fishery cruiser. Such a boat was very much needed on the coast of Scotland to guard the fisheries, the present cruiser being of no earthly good in these stormy seas to put down illegal trawling. He had asked for a return of the deer forest area in the Highlands, and the return made was inaccurate. The Scottish Office owned that it was inaccurate, and promised another one. He had a letter from the Scottish Office in which it was stated that considering the difficulty and trouble involved—


The hon. Member is not in order in discussing a Return on the deer forests.


Am I not to be allowed to discuss the inaccuracy of that Return and the in competency of the Scottish Office? We pay high salaries to the Secretary for Scotland and other officials, and they should take some steps to get an accurate Return.


There are various opportunities of discussing the matter of the deer forests; but this is not one of them.


Well, there was another question, that of salmon. The Office of Woods and Forests were disposing of salmon fishing rights, and the reason they gave was that litigation had been raised in various cases. He should have thought that the Crown would have been able to hold their own in all cases of litigation. These salmon fishing rights ought not to be parted with, but should be retained by the Crown, and he asked the Secretary to the Treasury to see that the Office of Woods and Forests do not go on in their mad career of selling the salmon fishings in the way they were doing.

*MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeen shire, E.)

said that, although the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had dealt with a great variety of subjects, yet some of them were of considerable importance, and it was unfortunate the Lord Advocate was not in his place to speak on these. They could not get any attention from the Treasury in regard to the construction of more fishery harbours, and they complained of remissness in the administration of the laws relating to the protection of the line fisheries against trawlers. What he complained of was that the Government passed Acts of Parliament and declared that these were effective for certain purposes, but they did not take steps to put these laws into operation, as was shown all over the north, east and west coasts of Scotland particularly during the last fortnight. He saw in the newspapers only the previous day that the fishing community of Portessie would have to migrate to another locality, and the whole population of another of the most ancient fishing villages in Aberdeen shire, Old Slains, had last week migrated bodily, and taken up their habitation in Aberdeen. There was no complaint against the lady superior of the village, who was one of the best proprietors in that part of the country. But the inhabitants found that they got absolutely no assistance in building a fishery harbour either at the villiage or in the immediate locality from the public authorities who ought to grant some assistance and relief. There was no country whore so little was spent upon what was regarded as essentially a national object: the construction of fishery harbours. Then there was the: old grievance of the non-enforcement of the laws against trawling. Trawlers were constantly found working within the three-mile limit night and day, and nothing was done to stop it. He regretted that the Lord Advocate had not had the courtesy to attend in his place to listen to the complaints which were raised in regard to these subjects.

*MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)

complained that Ireland was completely boycotted in regard to contracts for the Army, and yet in a shipment of supplies from Southampton, which had been brought from the Continent, no less than 15,000 lbs. were found to be rotten. An English soldier—mark, not an Irish soldier—had written a letter describing the food served out on board a transport during the voyage to South Africa. They had had fresh meat only once in twenty-one days,

and the salt beef and pork were rotten. When they complained to the officers, who were living on their own luxuries, they were told they ought to consider themselves lucky in getting what they did. The soldiers had to buy everything they ate at the canteen. They knew that supplies furnished by English contractors were grow nor produced in foreign countries, and what they complained of in Ireland was that, although they paid a very large proportion of the cost of the war, they were absolutely refused fair treatment in the way of contracts. He had brought this question before the House some years ago, but the reply given him was most unsatisfactory. The Financial Secretary had even told him that the climatic influences of Ireland were not suitable for rearing horses for the British Army, when it was notorious the contrary was the fact. Then as to oats, he understood that no Irish producer of corn could tender to the War Office for the supply of oats unless they were of a certain weight, and under that standard Irish farmers were tee totally debarred from entering into such contracts. The War Office ought to be more liberal in the standard they laid down, for it was unfair to Irish and English farmers as well to send so much money to Russia, France, Germany, and the United States.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 274; Noes, 30. (Division List No. 74.)

Aird, John Bolton, Thomas Dolling Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole
Allan, William (Gateshead) Boulnois, Edmund Colville, John
Allhusen, Augustus Henry E. Bowles, Cant. H. F. (Middlesex) Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)
Anson, Sir William Reynell Bowles, T. Gibson (King'sLynn) Cripps, Charles Alfred
Arrol, Sir William Brassey, Albert Crombie, John William
Asher, Alexander Brigg, John Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Broadhurst, Henry Cubitt, Hon. Henry
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Curzon, Viscount
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Dalbiac, Colonel Philip H.
Bailey, James (Walworth) Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Dalrymple, Sir Charles
Baker, Sir John Bullard, Sir Harry Davies, M. Vaughan Cardigan
Balcarres, Lord Butcher, John George Denny, Colonel
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r Buxton, Sydney Charles Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Banbury, Frederick George Caldwell, James Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon
Barlow, John Emmott Cameron, Sir Charles (Glasgow) Dorington, Sir John Edward
Barry, Rt. Hon. A. H. S. (Hunts Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Doughty, George
Bartley, George C. T. Cayzer, Sir Charles William Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East) Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)
Beach, Rt. Hn. W. W. B. (Hant. Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Doxford, Sir William Theodore
Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm. Dunn, Sir William
Bethell, Commander Chamberlain, J Austen (Worc'r Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Elliot, Hon. A. R. Douglas
Biddulph, Michael Charrington, Spencer Emmott, Alfred
Bill, Charles Coddington, Sir William Evans, Sir Francis H. (South' ton
Billson, Alfred Coghill, Douglas Harry Faber, George Denison
Blundell, Colonel Henry Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Far dell, Sir T. George
Farquharson, Dr. Robert Lecky, Rt. Hn. Wm. Edw. H. Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenhm)
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E. Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington) Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Fenwick, Charles Leng, Sir John Rutherford, John
Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r Llewelyn, Sir D. (Swansea) Ryder, John Herbert Dudley
Finch, George H, Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Fison, Frederick William Long, Col. Chas. W. (Eve sham) Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert
FitzWygram, General Sir F. Long, Rt Hn Walter (Liverpool) Sharpe, William Edw. T.
Flannery, Sir Fortescue Lowe, Francis William Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew
Flower, Ernest Lowles, John Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Lowther, Rt. Hon. James (Kent) Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbysh.)
Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) Loyd, Archie Kirkman Simeon, Sir Barrington
Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lucas-Shadwell, William Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)
Fry, Lewis Lyell, Sir Leonard Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Galloway, William Johnson Lyttleton, Hon. Alfred Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)
Garfit, William Macdona, John Cumming Smith, James P. (Lanarks.)
Gedge Sydney M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Stanley, Sir Henry M (Lambeth
Giles, Charles Tyrrell M'Ewan, William Stevenson, Francis S.
Gilliat, John Saunders M'Iver, Sir L. (Edinburgh, W. Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.
Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert J. M'Kenna, Reginald Stone, Sir Benjamin
Goddard, Daniel Ford M'Killop, James Strachey, Edward
Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick Malcolm, Ian Strauss, Arthur
Goldsworthy, Major-General Marks, Henry Hananel Strutt, Hn. Charles Hedley
Gordon, Hon. John Edward Martin, Richard Biddulph Talbot, Rt Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Mellor, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Yorks. Tennant, Harold John
Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand Thomas, A. (Glamorgan, E.)
Goulding, Edward Alfred Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M. Thomas, David A. (Merthyr)
Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Middlemore, Jn. Throgmorton Thorburn, Sir Walter
Gull, Sir Cameron Milbank, Sir Powlett C. John Thornton, Percy M.
Halsey, Thomas Frederick Monk, Charles James Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray
Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord George Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants. Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Rbt. Wm. More, Robert J. (Shropshire) Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)
Hanson, Sir Reginald Morrell, George Herbert Wallace, Robert
Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Morrison, Walter Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Harwood, George Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford) Wanklyn, James Leslie
Hayne, Rt. Hon. C. Seale- Moulton, John Fletcher Warr, Augustus Frederick
Heaton, John Henniker Mount, William George Wason, Eugene
Hedderwick, Thomas C. H. Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute Webster, Sir Richard E.
Hermon-Hodge, R. Trotter Myers, William Henry Weir, James Galloway
Hill, Rt. Hon. A. S. (Staffs.) Newdigate, Francis Alexander Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon
Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampste'd) Nicol, Donald Ninian Whiteley, George (Stockport)
Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich) Oldroyd, Mark Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Holland, William Henry Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay Williams, Jos. Powell-(Birm.)
Hornby, Sir William Henry Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham) Willoughby de Eres by, Lord
Horniman, Frederick John Percy, Earl Wilson, Fred. W. (Norfolk)
Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry Phillpotts, Captain Arthur Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)
Houston, R. P. Pilkington, R. (Lancs. Newton) Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil Pilkington, Sir G. A. (Lancs S W. Wilson, John (Govan)
Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice- Platt-Higgins, Frederick Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh. N.)
Hutton, John (Yorks, N.R.) Plunkett, Rt. Hon. Horace C. Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)
Jacoby, James Alfred Pollock, Harry Frederick Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath
Jebb, Richard Claverhouse Pretyman, Ernest George Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Purvis, Robert Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (Hudder'd)
Jessel, Captain H. Merton Pym, C. Guy Woods, Samuel
Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Edw. Quilter, Sir Cuthbert Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Johnston, William (Belfast) Rankin, Sir James Wright son, Thomas
Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Reid, Sir Robert Threshie Wylie, Alexander
Joicey, Sir James Renshaw, Charles Bine Wyndham, George
Kay-Shuttle worth, Rt Hn Sir U Rentoul, James Alexander Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H. Richardson, J. (Durham, S. E.) Young, Comand'r (Berks, E.)
Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William Rickett, J. Compton Younger, William
Kimber, Henry Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W. Yoxall, James Henry
Kinloch, Sir J. Geo. Smyth Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Charles T.
Kitson, Sir James Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Laurie, Lieut.-General Robertson, Herbert(Hackney) Mr. Anstruther and Mr. Fisher.
Lawrence Sir E. Durning-(Corn) Robson, William Snowdon
Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool) Rothschild, Hon. Lionel W.
Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Doogan, P. C. Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Engle dew, Charles John Hogan, James Francis
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Farrell, James P. (Cavan, W.) Jordan, Jeremiah
Commins, Andrew Field, William (Dublin) Kilbride, Denis
Crean, Eugene Flynn, James Christopher Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'l'd)
Crilly, Daniel Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis Macaleese, Daniel
Daly, James Gibney, James M'Ghee, Richard
O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal) Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion) Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)
O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
O'Keeffe, Francis Arthur Tanner, Charles Kearns Mr. Flavin and Mr. James O'Connor.
Pinkerton, John Tully, Jasper

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow, at Twelve of the clock.