§ MASTER or ELIBANK (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been called to two specific instances in which the Crown Agents are 950 alleged not to have sufficiently safeguarded the interests of Ceylon in regard to files and ship plates supplied to that Colony; and whether he has called upon or will call upon the Crown Agents for explanation.
(Answered by Mr. Secretary Lyttelton.) My attention has been called to the allegations to which the hon. Member specially refers, though no complaint has reached me from the Ceylon Government. It was stated that the Crown Agents supplied files for the Colombo Harbour works at a discount of 55 per cent., whereas they could have got the same files direct from the manufacturers at a discount of 62½ to 65 per cent., and also that they supplied to the Ceylon Government, in November, 1903, ship plates at £9 5s. per ton when the market rate was from £6 2s. 6d. to £6 5s. The statements came under the notice of the Crown Agents, and they informed me at the time to the following effect. No comparison can be made in the discount without knowing the qualities, as files vary in discount according to quality. Files of two different qualities have been purchased through Messrs. Blakemore, of Birmingham, for the Ceylon Government in recent years; in one case they were hand cut of full weight, good shape, and hardness, with a clear ring, and the cutting perfectly true, the discount on which was at the rate of 55 per cent.; in the other case "Patent Sand Blast Files" were supplied as demanded, at a discount of 62½ per cent., but these are machine cut, less durable, and of an inferior quality to hand cut. No ship plates were supplied by the Crown Agents to Ceylon in November, 1903, the last supply having been made in May, 1903, at a price of £5 12s. 6d. per ton, and not £9 5s. as alleged. These supplies were not procured through Messrs. Blakemore.