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Navy—Admiralty Contracts

Volume 203: debated on Monday 1 August 1870

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Question

said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Why in May last the Admiralty, after having invited Tenders for the supply of Coal Sacks, the quality of which, by the sample publicly exhibited, should be of the very best long hemp, accepted the tender of a London firm, who are now delivering coal sacks on account of this contract, the cloth for which, manufactured by Messrs. Baxter Brothers and Co. Dundee, is made of nothing but the refuse of hemp called tow; and, why, if the Admiralty at the last moment prior to giving out the contract determined to substitute a different quality, they did not invite fresh tenders, seeing that with one exception last manufacturer had tendered (being ignorant of any change) to the quality of the pattern first shown? He also wished to ask, at the same time, Why the Admiralty accepted the tender of Mr. E. R. Moberly for the supply of 300 tons of hemp at Chatham Dockyard in April last, at £35 4s. per ton, whilst they had in their possession a tender for the supply of the same hemp at £34 10s.?

Sir, the hon. Gentleman seems, somehow or other, always to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. His facts this time are, if possible, more incorrect than ever. No change has been made this year in the quality of coal sacks required for the Navy, nor was any sample publicly exhibited by the quality of which those tendering should be bound. On the contrary, the first condition of contract was "a sample of the material of which it is proposed to make the coal sacks must accompany the tender." A change, indeed, was made last year, and it was this. I found on entering Office that a London firm, who, I believe, bought the goods from Messrs. Baxter Brothers and Co., of Dundee, had had for many years practically a monopoly of the supply of coal sacks to the Admiralty. This monopoly I tried to break up by inviting by public advertisement to manufacturers or others to send sacks suitable for the purpose. From long experience of such goods, I fixed upon a sample sack extensively used by the great Atlantic steam ship companies as not only cheaper, but in some respects much better adapted for the purpose than that which had been formerly used in the Navy. On opening the tender which accompanied it I found that it was from the same firm who had supplied the other article for many years. Now as to hemp. The House, of course, will agree with me that only hemp of the very best quality should be purchased for use in the Navy. The lowest tender for delivery of Russian hemp at Chatham was from a gentleman who had never supplied the article before; and it therefore became our duty to inquire in various quarters not only as to his standing, but as to his means of obtaining that superior article which we wanted. The testimony was unanimous that, although a person of respectability, he was not in a position to insure our getting the best quality of hemp. He is not in that trade himself, but acts as agent for persons abroad who ship a very inferior article. In these circumstances I did not hesitate a moment in accepting the next lowest offer, being that of Mr. Moberly, who is one of the largest hemp merchants in the City, and has for many years supplied successive Boards of Admiralty. I cannot help remarking, Sir, that questions of this sort, especially when explanations have been given privately, tend only to injure individuals, and not to benefit the public service.