HC Deb 08 March 1915 vol 70 cc1137-40

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether, as soon as the electric light has been suitably installed at Donington Hall for the use of German officers and their servants, it will become possible to extend a similar convenience to the English officers and men in the Hyde Park barracks at Knightsbridge; and why it was necessary to provide electric lighting for the Germans when one of our principal barracks for Englishmen has been so long without it?


There was no lighting installation at Donington Hall. Electricity was chosen as being the best and safest illuminant, having regard to the necessity of external powerful lighting in connection with the fencing round the house, of which the hon. Gentleman may perhaps realise the necessity. Hyde Park barracks is lighted with gas. In substituting new forms of illuminants in permanent barracks it is the practice to deal first with those lighted by oil, and not to deal with those lighted by gas until those lighted by oil have been furnished with a safer and better illuminant.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give me an answer. Has he any idea of when the appropriate time will arrive for the installation of the electric light at Knightsbridge?


It is very difficult to give a forecast of that kind to anyone; first of all, it depends on the end of the War; and, secondly, how we proceed and progress with other matters.


Why did you select Donington Hall first, instead of Hyde Park?


I think that is sufficiently obvious from the answer which I have given. It is necessary to have a powerful illuminant outside the building for protection.

69. Mr. FIELD

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War how many contracts have been entered into by the War Office for the extension, repair, and renovation of Donington Hall; whether the sum of £13,000 alleged to have been expanded is merely in respect of a first or preliminary contract; whether a supplemental contract has been or is about to be entered into involving further expenditure upon the property; and will he inform the House of the nature of such last-mentioned works?


There is only one contract which was to cover all the work so fa as could be estimated. This included the provision of furniture and equipment. Proposals have recently been made for certain hospital accommodation and extra accommodation for the guard, and these are now under consideration.


asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he will lay upon the Table of the House the lease or agreement under which Donington Hall is held by the Government and the contract or contracts for repairing, altering, and furnishing the mansion for the reception of prisoners?


I am making a statement to-day on the subject of the expenses incurred on Donington Hall, and if, after the hon. Gentleman has heard that, he still desires information I shall hope to be able to furnish it.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question of which I have given him private notice:—Whether he has made further inquiries into the expenditure on Donington Hall, the number of prisoners there, the cost involved, and the cost actually incurred?


Taking the main items of expenditure seriatim, the following points may be mentioned:—

1. Repairs to Drainage.

Complete tests of the drainage: Were-made by the agents, and their report re- veiled the fact that an entire overhaul was necessary to render the house fit for occupation. No more was done than was necessary.

2. Repairs and Alterations to the House.

The house had been unoccupied for many years, and in some places the walls showed signs of damp and required distempering. No decorations or unnecessary work was ordered.

Additional latrines had to be erected both for officers and men, but these were of the plainest description, out in the courtyard.

A few baths were installed in one room, at the rate of one bath per fifty officers—not an extravagant allowance.

An additional boiler was put in for the supply of hot water to the baths, as the existing supply was quite inadequate.

3. Electric Lighting.

It was necessary to provide electric light for illuminating the barbed wire fence at night, and as there was no artificial light in the house it was considered the most economical plan to utilise the current from the plant installed for lighting the fence.

The wiring of the house was carried out in an economical manner, and if, when the house is relinquished, the landlord does not wish to take the installation over, it can be removed and made use of elsewhere.

4. The fencing includes several pairs of iron gates, and sentry posts at the corners of the fence.

5. The officers have been given rather less floor space in the bedrooms than is allowed per man in a barrack room in peace time, and the large, bedrooms are distinctly crowded in appearance.

In the wooden huts it is proposed to put as many as twelve officers in each, without any partitioning.

Each officer has a strip of cheap carpet by his bed, and a plain washstand and half a cheap chest of drawers, so that the style of furnishing the bedrooms corresponds to that in servants' bedrooms and cannot be described as luxurious.

Although the general scale of equipment follows that laid down for sergeants' messes, in which billiard tables are authorised, no billiard tables have been provided at Donington Hall. The majority of the servants are housed in a large loft over the coach-house. The figure for hutting includes the cost of half a dozen wooden huts for officer prisoners, exactly similar to those in which the men in the New Armies are housed, and it also includes quarters for officers and men of the guard and staff. I should estimate the cost of putting up huts for the whole of the prisoners and guard, etc., without fence or furniture, if done on the same lines as the officers' and men's huts in the New Armies, at over £20,000. The numbers provided for now at Donington Hall include:—

Prisoner Officers 320
Prisoner Servants 105
Staff and Guard 160
Total 585

By putting up extra huts for more prisoners, a total of 700 could be accommodated. When the place is full, the rent will come out at about 15s. per head per annum.