§ 65. Mr. CURRIE
asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he has considered certain correspondence between a well-known firm of merchants in Leith and the Army Contract Department; whether the latter, on being instructed to desist from the attitude assumed by it, sought to penalise the firm by depriving it of the status of a Government contractor and endeavoured to establish, by detective inquiry and the countenancing of rumours, charges of dishonesty against the firm and refused to accept its honourable assurances that such charges were without foundation; whether his Department, after investigation, instructed the Army Contract Office to accept in writing and without reservation the statements of the firm and to restore its name to the list of Government contractors forthwith; whether he is aware that the letter written to the firm in pursuance of these instructions really endeavoured to adhere to and repeated in effect the original charges or part of them and administered censure to the firm; whether he sanctioned this letter; whether he will now say that the firm has for many years, as in the present instance, served the Government faithfully and well and voluntarily incurred a loss on this particular contract through their anxiety to help the country on the outbreak of war; whether he will cause whoever is responsible for such behaviour to be reprimanded; and whether a large cash balance, months overdue and still held back by his Department, will now be paid forthwith and an apology sent to this firm acknowledging that it was well within its rights in defending its commercial honour from a mistaken charge of dishonesty?
§ Mr. FORSTER
My attention has been called to the correspondence to which the hon. Member doubtless refers. The firm in question were removed in June last from the list of War Office contractors, in accordance with the recommendation of the local military authorities, who reported that they had not carried out their contract satisfactorily. Upon further inquiry being made it was decided, after a review of all the circumstances, to retain the firm upon the list. There has been no attempt to prevent the firm from defending its commercial honour, which is not called in question. I understand that the cash balance alleged to be due to the firm is in respect of a claim to be paid for certain supplies at prices in excess of the contract rates. I hope that a settlement in regard to this matter may be reached at an early date.
§ Mr. CURRIE
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he saw the letter which was sent by the Army Contract Department to the firm in question the other day, censuring them for the general tone of their correspondence, and whether he approves of such a letter being sent on the part of the War Office?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think I have seen the letter, and under the circumstances I do not think it was an improper one to send.