HC Deb 08 August 1918 vol 109 cc1572-4W

asked the Minister of Munitions (1) whether he is aware that the firm of Jonas, Colver and Company, Limited, had, prior to the War, one of the best reputations in Sheffield as steelmakers, and during the whole of 1915 and the early part of 1916 were practically the sole suppliers of aeroplane cranks and crank steel for air engines, but that their reputation for good steel changed, and that owing to the bad steel supplied by this company the principal machining firm in Sheffield was occupied on machining 80 per cent. of defective stuff to the prejudice of the engine programme of the Air Board; whether any compensation in respect of bad steel paid to machining firms came out of public funds; whether an analysis showed that much of the steel was such that it never could have met the tests required; whether he is aware that in the middle of 1917 the chief steelmaker to Jonas and Colver left and that Mr. Robert Jonas is now in charge of the steel-making plant; and whether the Air Board has recently installed a Government steel specialist at the works, and what experience of steelmaking has this expert; and (2) Why, in spite of the repeated output of defective steel by Messrs. Jonas and Colver, they still have the largest allocation for the production of high-grade steel of any firm in Sheffield; and whether he will cause a full, independent inquiry to be made into the transactions of this firm since the War began?


I am informed that the firm mentioned had, previous to the War, one of the best reputations as steelmakers in Sheffield, and that so far as the Ministry of Munitions is concerned, the reputation of the firm as steel producers has not changed. It is incorrect to state that the firm was practically the only producers of aeroplane cranks and aeroplane crank steel in 1915 and the early part of 1916. Owing to the stringency of the specifications and the greater stresses which have to be endured by this particular steel all firms engaged in its manufacture have encountered considerable difficulties. These difficulties have now been overcome. The quality of Messrs. Jonas and Colver's products are quite equal to the average deliveries from other firms. It is possible that over a period of a few days' rejections might have been as high as 80 per cent., but the rejections over a reasonable period have not exceeded those usual in the trade. No compensation from public funds in respect of bad material has been made. The steel was correct to the analysis required at the particular stage of manufacture. The chief steel maker to the firm left in March, 1918, and not in 1917. He was succeeded by an expert from another Sheffield firm. An officer with steel-making experience has been watching operations on behalf of the Ministry and for purposes of advice. It is true that the allocation of orders for this particular steel to Messrs. Jonas and Colver is the largest in Sheffield, but I may point out that these allocations are made on the advice of a committee composed of representatives of the leading firms of steelmakers in Sheffield.