HC Deb 11 March 1892 vol 2 cc718-27

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

1. 154,073, Number of Land Forces.

2. £5,635,000, Pay, &c, of the Army (General Staff, Regiments, Reserve, and Departments).

Resolutions to be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Ordnance Factories (the cost of the Productions of which will be charged to the Army, Navy, and Indian and Colonial Governments), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1893.

(11.15.) CAPTAIN BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

I desire, Sir, to point out to the Committee certain disadvantages which have arisen from dealing with private firms rather than with Government Ordnance factories. I find, Sir, that the cost to which this country has been put by buying carbines from private firms amounts to some £27,000. My object in raising this question is not so much to help my own constituency—in which a large Government factory is situated—as to show the Members of the Committee that if the Government factories were employed to carry out this work it would be at considerably less cost to the country. Not only is the work done more cheaply at the Government factories, but I believe it is better done. One proof of that is afforded in the letters, signed "Parliamentaire," which appeared in the Times a short time ago, in which the writer says that the inspection of the arms manufactured by private firms is too severe. The inspection is identically the same as that to which the arms made at the Government factories are subjected, and I have never heard it complained that the inspection is too severe. I am told that the arms manufactured at the Government factories are of a higher class and better quality than those made by private firms. There is another point the Committee should remember—that the men employed in the Government factories are employed under far better terms than those employed in the private factories. The Secretary of State for War himself said in this House— The men earn a fair week's wage for a fair week's work, and, unlike private factories, there is no sub-contracting. The House recently passed a Resolution against sub-contracting, and yet it is resorted to by some of the private firms who supply the Government. I do not desire to give one Government factory preference over another, but I must say, as representing Enfield, I am a little jealous of the favours which have of late been bestowed on the Sparkbrook factory at Birmingham. I do not know if that is due to Birmingham having a more influential Representative than Enfield. I find that while large reductions have been made at Enfield this year, Sparkbrook is to continue the same amount of work as was done last year at that factory. The Secretary of State for War said that the reason why the work at Sparkbrook was not reduced was because it was a small factory, whereas Enfield was a large one. The Government factory at Sparkbrook is a small one, and the question is, should it have been started at all? I feel that with a large factory, like that at Enfield, where there is very costly machinery lying idle, and workmen, who have learned to use the tools and machines in that factory, without employment, it is unfair to continue full work in a town like Birmingham, where the men can easily get other work, while the men thrown out of employment at Enfield can get no other employment, as there are no similar factories in that neighbourhood. We were told on the 3rd February last year that a certain number of rifles had been supplied to the Indian Government, and that the following year there would be a further supply sent over. The Secretary of State, by holding out hopes of that subsequent large order, made many of those workmen who, during last year, were discharged from Enfield, feel that they might live on in the district in hopes that the next year the factory would be at work again. I think a great secret was let out by the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Brodrick), when he said, in February, 1891, that a decrease in the output from Enfield would be required now that private firms were beginning to supply the magazine arm. That points out, as the reason why Enfield has received so small an order this year, the fact that the private trade has received the order for the manufacture of so large a proportion of the rifles. The estimate for wages at Enfield this year is only £160,000, whereas in the year 1890–91 it was no less than £270,000. That shows pretty plainly that a great deal of suffering is likely to be felt at Enfield during this year in consequence of the enormous reduction in the amount of wages to be paid, although the work there is done more economically and better than by the private factories. I feel I cannot move to reduce the Vote of £100 for Ordnance Factories, but I hope the mere fact of having brought these facts before the Committee, will interest right hon. and hon. Gentlemen so that they will in future urge on the Secretary of State for War the desirability of Government factories having their fair share of work.


I am sure the Committee will sympathise with the hon. and gallant Member who has brought forward a subject in which he is intimately concerned, the question of the Government factory at Enfield, and the Government itself desires, as far as possible, to avoid any disturbance of labour and any undue discharge of workmen either at Enfield or in the other Ordnance factories. My hon. and gallant Friend has put the case on very broad, and in some respects very sufficient, grounds. It is necessary, therefore, that I should put before the Committee some considerations under which it is necessary to reduce, to some extent, the amount of employment at Enfield. My hon. and gallant Friend has put the question on the ground of economy and sympathy for those employed at Enfield. He also has shown clearly that there is considerable rivalry between Enfield and Sparkbrook, and strongly urged that so long as Government factories can produce the best rifle in the trade they should get more employment. I think I can show the Committee that Enfield has had the fullest employment, and when £160,000 a year is being spent in wages there Enfield has no reason to think it is being robbed for the benefit of the private trade. It is necessary the Committee should know what were the considerations which made it necessary to reduce, to some extent, the amount of employment at Enfield. My hon. Friend assumes that Enfield has been robbed in order to fill the pockets of the private traders, and in order to keep up a large establishment at Birmingham. Now, Sir, we have the figures, and if my hon. Friend had examined them, he would have seen and satisfied himself that that is not the case at all. In the first place, I should like to point out to the Committee that the employment of the trade upon magazine rifles, as upon other kinds of Ordnance stores, is a matter upon which the House has pronounced an opinion. Some years ago before their actual introduction into the Army, a contract was made with the trade for a large number of magazine rifles, the Birmingham and London Small Arms Company undertaking to deliver 200,000 at an agreed-upon price, and it was necessary to give a large order so as to give them a chance of competing on something like equal terms with Enfield. But, while giving all credit to Enfield for the number, and the quality, and the price of the rifles they have produced, it is undeniable that we must be prepared to face some divergence between the Enfield price and the trade price, though I am ready to admit that the divergence has not been by any means greater in the case of the magazine rifle than in other cases of Ordnance stores. There must be a divergence between the trade price and the Ordnance Factory price, provided the factories are carried on in the cheapest and most economical manner, and are worked to the best advantage. The trade have to pay interest on capital, they have to provide and distribute dividends, they have advertisements to pay for, and they have a variety of other expenses which do not arise in the case of the Ordnance Factory, and that being so, I think the bargain with the trade was a good one. The question has been raised whether Enfield has been unduly depleted. On that point I am bound to say that Enfield has been unduly favoured during the last few years. The increase of the staff during the pressure of 1890 and 1891 was one which could not be sustained unless, to meet sanitary requirements the buildings were increased, and from that point of view alone the reduction became imperatively necessary. Now, Sir, this is a point of which I would like my hon. Friend to take notice. If he will look into the actual facts as to the number of men employed at the Ordnance Factory at Enfield and at Sparbrook respectively, he will find—though it will not do to take the magazine rifle alone as a test—that the result is exactly the same, the reduction in both establishments having been pro rata just the same. It is not by any means our idea or our wish to starve Enfield. It is the policy of the Government to maintain a reserve of power in the Ordnance Factories. That was the policy laid down by a man of great experience, both at the War Office and the Admiralty. A man who was universally recognised as one of the best business men who ever sat in this House—I mean the late Mr. W. H. Smith. His view was that the Ordnance factories formed the only branch we could depend on for rapid expansion in case of emergency or war, and therefore that a considerable margin for expansion should be left. The object of the Government has been to avoid any trouble or distress at Enfield, and the discharges will be limited as far as possible; we have acted quite fairly between Enfield and the other factories and the private trade, and the policy we have undertaken we are fully prepared and able to justify.

(11.40.) MR. LOCKWOOD (York)

I rise, Sir, to move that you report Progress, and do so for this reason, that many Members on this side and many Members on the other side were anxious to resume the discussion initiated by the hon. Member for Enfield, but were prevented from doing so. It was certainly understood on both sides that the discussion on the first Vote which would have enabled us to bring forward various matters of which we had informed the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War—matters of most urgent importance to the persons interested—and matters which, if they are not discussed now, must be indefinitely postponed. Sir, we have recently had a Debate on the condition of Public Business, and, probably, that has had some effect on the proceedings this evening, for before any Member had an opportunity of rising to continue the Debate, £6,000,000 were voted and passed. I protest against our being deprived of the opportunity of discussing such matters; and, therefore, I move, Sir, that you report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Motion made, and Question proposed:—"That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Lockwood.)


I am exceedingly sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman should think he has been in any way shut out. At the same time I can only point out that the Question was put from the Chair in the ordinary way.


I tried to catch Mr. Courtney's eye.


The Question was put in the ordinary way from the Chair.


I was here, and I was ready to proceed, but I was waiting for the hon. Member for Enfield to continue the discussion.


I should like, Sir, with your permission to explain that—


Order, order!


I am very sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman did not rise in his place and take the ordinary opportunity offered to him. He has been long enough in the House to know the ordinary way.


I did rise. It was not the ordinary way.


As the hon. and learned Gentleman did not rise he was not called upon. He says he expected my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield to continue the Debate. My hon. Friend took the proper course. He did not continue his speech on the Vote for War, but on the Ordnance Vote he took the best opportunity that was available to him for bringing before the Committee that particular subject in which he is interested. The proper Vote was that for the Ordnance Factories, and the Committee was very glad to hear the speech which my hon. Friend made. In these circumstances, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite can have no desire to press his Motion—particularly as at a later period of the Session another opportunity will arise for the discussion of the matter in which he is interested.


Every battalion is inefficient. That is my theme. These are the words of the Commander-in-Chief, backed up by the Adjutant General of Her Majesty's Army. Whether the Rules of this House do or do not permit me to speak I do not know. I do wish to speak on the recruits and the Reserve and other matters. With regard to the Report, I think we must all admit that the short service system has—


Order, order! The Motion before the Committee is, that I report Progress and ask leave to sit again, and I must ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to confine himself to that.


That, Sir, I quite expected. I do say that we have waited on for a week. We have been told to be patient, and we have been patient. The hon. Member for Enfield was in possession of the House. Sir, in every society in England—and I say it with the deepest respect to the Committee, and with the most profound bow to the Chair—in any society in England it would be said that we have been jockeyed.

(11.48.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

Owing to the Vote having gone through we have lost the opportunity of having a general discussion on matters connected with the Army. I should like to ask the Secretary of State for War, whether he will arrange to put down another Vote early in the Session in order that we may have an opportunity of discussing the case of Surgeon-Major Briggs, whose case is one of peculiar and pressing hardship.


I hope the Committee will now allow us to take the Vote, which is entirely distinct from the Vote on which it is desired to raise further points. The hon. Gentleman opposite says he desires to raise a further discussion, but I would point out to him that he has two opportunities of doing so. The first will be upon the Vote which is to be put up for the discussion of the Report of Lord Wantage's Committee; the other upon the Report of the Vote that we have just taken. It will be possible for the hon. Gentleman on the Report to raise any question that he may desire to bring before the House. The Ordnance Vote to-night is important and pressing and must be taken before the end of the financial year, and in these circumstances I trust we may be allowed to proceed.

(11.52.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

I am afraid I must ask that this Vote be postponed. The hon. Member for Enfield rose in his place to continue his speech, and the hon. and gallant Member for Lambeth rose also with the evident intention of speaking. There has been some mistake, and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for York has reason to complain, and if he goes to a Division I will support him.

(11.54.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I will support the Motion for reporting Progress. Although I do not desire to say we have been jockeyed there has been some extraordinarily sharp practice. I fully expected the hon. Member for Enfield to complete his speech upon the important matter which he brought under our notice, and I fully expected a reply from the Government. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was quite ready to go on, but, for reasons I cannot explain, the Vote slipped through.

(11.55.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Nottingham)

I do not think we ought to give any exceptional facilities to the Government. They have begun badly, and they have ended by being told by a Gentleman, whom we on this side of the House greatly respect, that he and his friends have been "jockeyed." Scenes like these are extremely painful to us. The honour of the House is concerned in the honour of the Government, and I do think we should report Progress, in order that we may consider what should be done owing to this charge having been made against Her Majesty's Government to which they have made no reply.

(11.56.) MR. E. STANHOPE

With the permission of the Committee I will reply. The Vote was put by the Chairman of Committees in the ordinary way. He did not see anyone rise to continue the discussion, and the Vote was carried. The Government have done nothing beyond what has been done by every Government, and they are in no way to blame. There can be no advantage in further contesting the matter at this hour, and therefore we agree to an adjournment.

(11.57.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

You, Sir, read the Question. I scarcely heard it. The hon. Member for Enfield was standing. The hon. and gallant Member for Lambeth was also endeavouring to attract your attention. I understood that he was to follow the hon. Member for Enfield. But there was so much noise below the Gangway on the other side of the House that I could not hear what you were saying and these Votes were taken. These Votes have not been fairly got, and in the circumstances I hope the right hon. Gentleman will put the Report stage down before 12 o'clock.

It being Midnight, the Motion to report Progress lapsed, and the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.