HC Deb 07 August 1913 vol 56 cc1745-6
45. Mr. KING

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government has considered the difficulties involved in obtaining competitive tenders for armour-plating and gun-mountings owing to the existence of trade rings, to which the Report of the Estimates Committee calls attention; whether he is aware that certain transaction of, and the high dividends paid by, the companies alleged to form such trade rings have given rise to public comment; and what action is being taken to ensure that the sums voted by Parliament for shipbuilding, which show an increase of about five millions in the past seven years, are so spent as to secure a fair value for money voted?


The right hon. Gentleman has asked me to answer this question. The reply to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, and the subject will receive the continuous attention of the Admiralty, but I may observe that the matters referred to in my hon. Friend's question were closely investigated by the Select Committee on Estimates, who had the advantage of hearing the confidential evidence of the expert Admiralty witnesses. The Report of the Committee has just been published. Paragraph 36 of that Report states that the Committee, having taken evidence "on the system of purchase and contracting followed by the Admiralty, are satisfied that the Contract Department is efficiently administered," and in Paragraph 17 on the subject of armour-plating and its cost, the Committee report "they are satisfied that having regard to the particular consideration which must govern the Admiralty in dealing with this matter, the money voted is efficiently administered with a clue regard for economy so far as it is compatible with considerations of fighting efficiency.


Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that the Admiralty are actually at the mercy of a "ring" in this connection?


So far there has not been absolutely open competition.


How is it possible for there to be a "ring" in a Free Trade country?


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the two paragraphs of the Report that he has read out to the House were only carried by the casting vote of the Chairman?


I cannot say as to that.