§ 6 and 7. Mr. RONALD McNEILL
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) whether, at the outbreak of war, the supply of anti-fouling composition to the Admiralty was exclusively, or almost exclusively, in the hands of the British Anti-Fouling Company, Sutter, Hartmann, and Company, the Moravia Company, and 166 Holzapfel and Company; whether all these companies are, or then were, in the control of enemy aliens and employed German or Austrian capital; if he will say whether any of these companies are still supplying material to the British Navy; and, if so, whether it is because no British manufacturers are able to supply the requisite material; and (2) having regard to the possibility of information being conveyed to the enemy as to work proceeding in dockyards by contractors to the Admiralty, whether he can give an assurance that no firm or company in which enemy aliens, or naturalised enemy aliens, have any interest, financial or otherwise, is being or will be employed by the Admiralty to provide material for the Navy?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The compositions supplied by the companies mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend are among the dozen or more brands, most of them manufactured by firms understood to be exclusively British, which are, and have been, used in the Royal Navy, and they are among the most efficacious. The formulae of the paints in question are believed to be of foreign origin, and, as might therefore naturally be expected, foreigners were connected with the companies. Careful inquiries were made through the police authorities, and otherwise, at the commencement of the War as to the nationality of the boards of directors, staff, and workpeople. This subject has also, I believe, engaged the constant attention of the Board of Trade, who have reduced the enemy alien shareholding to a practically negligible quantity, and that Department is understood to be satisfied that the firms are almost entirely purged of their enemy taint. As regards the question as to whether or not British manufacturers are able to supply the requisite material, I have to say that it has not been possible to obtain from British makers, who have all had opportunity to compete, a composition equivalent in total value to any of the four compositions mentioned, and some of the substitutes that have been used have not given altogether satisfactory results. The whole matter has been constantly before us since the outbreak of war, and so far back as December, 1914, we took steps to experiment with a dockyard-made anti-fouling composition of our own. Unfortunately the ship upon which we used our experimental composition as a test was lost. The tests are being continued on 167 other vessels, but they have not yet proceeded far enough to enable definite conclusions to be arrived at.
As regards Question 7, I may say that the greatest care has been taken to prevent information being conveyed to the enemy as a consequence of the supply to the Royal and private yards of the anti-fouling compositions now in use. The representatives of contractors are excluded from the Royal dockyards during the War unless they have definite appointments with the dockyard officers; and instructions have been issued as considered necessary in respect of visits being paid to His Majesty's ships in private yards. As regards these latter, our contract conditions provide that "No persons other than British subjects shall be employed on the vessel herself, or on her drawings, or shall be employed within His Majesty's dockyards or contractors' shipbuilding premises in the execution of this order or any part thereof.…"
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We do not select particular firms except on the ground that they supply us best with the essential article we require, and of course for no other reason.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said he would have heard that it has not been possible to obtain this from British makers, who had and have Bad opportunities to compete. I read those words before.
§ Mr. HOLT
May I ask whether it is not the fact that it is almost universally considered that Messrs. Sutton, Hartmann, and Company's composition has the best properties and it is usually the most expensive, and whether he can give the House the definite assurance that His Majesty's ships will be coated with that composition which best enables them 168 to fulfil their duties as warships without regard to the character of the person who makes it?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am sorry I did not make myself clear. I said as regards this firm that they arc; amongst the most efficacious. As regards the last part of the question, we are at work ourselves upon a dockyard-made anti-fouling composition.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very general opinion that the contracts of this firm are obtained by very different methods than efficacious?