HC Deb 18 February 1904 vol 130 cc231-2

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that the Prison Commissioners have been exhibiting to tenderers samples of foreign made canvas, to be made in the prisons of the United Kingdom into mail bags and other goods for the Post Office; that, contrary to the practice of all other Departments, the Prison Commissioners contract with middlemen instead of directly with manufacturers, and that in recent years these middlemen have negotiated largo contracts for the Government with French and Belgian firms; and whether' he will communicate with the Prison Commissioners in order to bring their method of contracting into line with that of other Government Departments.

(Answered by Mr. Secretary Akers-Douglas.) I have referred to the Prison Commissioners in this matter, and am informed that they do not know the country of origin of the samples of canvas which are, in the ordinary course, offered for inspection to persons wishing to tender. They are the usual samples as obtained from various contractors, and, in any case, it is not implied that the tenders should be for foreign-made material. As regards the practice pursued by the Commissioners in inviting tenders, the proposed contracts, which are advertised extensively, are open to anyone, whether manufacturer or middleman, subject to the usual inquiries as to his capacity, respectability, etc. The Commissioners are of opinion that their peculiar circumstances, in having no facilities for storage, and being obliged to arrange for supplies to be delivered as wanted, in small quantities and at many different prisons on the requisition from time to time of governors, would, if the contracts were confined to large manufacturers, by adopting the practice of some other public Departments, whose circumstances are different, impose an inconvenient limit on the area of competition and might lead to a great increase in prices. Having regard to the requirements of the prison service, I see no sufficient reason for disturbing the present practice. I may add that, as a fact, under the existing contracts made in accordance with that practice, at least four-fifths of the canvas supplied are British-made.