§ 13. Mr. BETTERTON
asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the allegations which have been made regarding the depreciation and waste of stores at the Chilwell ordnance depôt; and whether he will make a full statement on the subject and inform the House what steps are being taken to preserve and to dispose of to advantage the accumulation of stores there collected?
14. Sir J. D. REES
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will give a general explanation of the great accumulation of stores at Chilwell and of their disposal; and whether he is aware that 1210 such stores are rapidly deteriorating in value while awaiting disposal?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is proposed to use Chilwell in future as one of the chief depots for military stores. Meantime it has been used for the reception of material delivered after the Armistice under war contracts, or brought back from France. The latter material occupies a large proportion of the space. It has to be examined and classified as serviceable or requiring repair, which necessarily takes time. With regard to some classes of military material, it is only after this classification is complete that it can be known whether the items are to be retained or transferred to the Disposal Board for sale. Including surplus unused articles, which do not require examination, a proportion of the material at Chilwell has been placed in the hands of the Disposal Board—some of it as far back as September, 1919. It is not all, however, readily saleable. Investigation has been made and every care is being taken to preserve the stores which are under cover. It is impossible to accommodate everything in the existing sheds; and to build new ones for a temporary need would involve greater expense than any loss likely to be sustained by the articles which are for the time being uncovered. These consist principally of guns, gun-carriages, limbers, carts, galvanised barbed wire, and several hospital trains which have recently arrived and are having the fittings removed prior to being restored to civilian use. There is no foundation for the statement that excessive quantities of stores are to be retained, and the misapprehension has probably arisen from the fact that the articles for disposal are unavoidably stored together with those which are to be retained. I am impressing upon the Disposal Board the urgency of removing and selling the material which has been handed over to them. I am also giving directions to the Departments of the Quartermaster-General and the Master-General of the Ordnance which will ensure still larger quantities being declared surplus at an early date.
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it not a fact that there are a very large number of Bessonneau tents distributed about the various aerodromes of the country, which could be transferred to this depôt and used for protecting these goods and preventing them from deteriorating?
Sir J. D. REES
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that residents in the Eastern Midlands were proud of this factory in its working days, and are proportionately critical of its dilapidated state at the present time; and will he continue to press the authorities, to whom he has already made representations, seeing that the factory at present affords an object-lesson and a focus of general criticism?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
All these cases are very difficult. There are vast masses of stores, of which some have to be kept, some have to be disposed of, and all have to be sorted. If they continue in their present conditions they will, of course, deteriorate; but to take steps to give cover to all the stores would involve an expense far beyond what would be justified. Even when they are handed over to the Disposal Board, the difficulties of transportation and disposal are very great, and when they are sold there is the burden on the railway lines of removing them. In all these circumstances, the best possible must be done, and that, I believe, is being done.
§ Mr. WATERSON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members know this place perfectly well, and are totally dissatisfied with such a reply; and is he prepared to consider an inquiry into the matter?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, Sir. I do not think an inquiry would help. I think the best thing is being done that is possible. If the hon. Member has a plan for dealing with the matter, and would care to put it on paper and send it to me, I should be glad.
§ Mr. BILLING
Will the right hon. Gentleman collect the Bessonneau tents to which I have referred, and which could easily be collected throughout the country and concentrated where these valuable stores are? Will he say "Yes" or "No?"