HC Deb 10 February 1887 vol 310 cc1096-100
COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, If he will state the names of the vessels from which complaints have been received as to the defective state of sword-bayonets; and, if the Admiralty have directed the Commanding Officers of Her Majesty's Ships to make a strict investigation into the state of the sword-bayonets supplied to their respective vessels?

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, What vessels of Her Majesty's Navy have been supplied with sword-bayonets similar to those recently complained of at Devonport; whether any and which of such vessels are now on active service; whether the Admiralty make an independent official test of such weapons before they are issued to the officers and men of Her Majesty's Navy, or whether they rely upon the guarantee of the Ordnance Department; and, whether he will consent to place specimens of the defective sword-bayonets, for the inspection of Members of this House, either in the Library or in some room of the Admiralty?


The Admiralty make no independent official test, as they rely on the guarantee of the War Office that the weapons issued are fit for service. Complaints have been received from the Active, the Volage, the Rover, and the Devastation. Some cutlasses and sword-bayonets in the Active having been found defective in actual use, orders were given for about half of those in the ship to be tested as follows:—The point of the sword was placed in the deck, and pressure applied at the handle until the point was turned about 50 degrees from the straight line. On being released, the whole of those marked defective remained permanently out of the original line. Of the 50 cutlasses tested in this ship 34 were found defective, and of the 55 sword-bayonets tested 40 were found defective. The same course was followed in the Rover; when 45 out of 50 cutlasses were found defective, and 54 out of 55 sword-bayonets. The same test was applied to the Volage, and 12 out of 50 cutlasses were reported defective, and 17 out of 55 sword-bayonets. The following was the report from the Devastation:On examining sword-bayonets it was found that many were bad, like hoop iron. Some could be bent easily by hand and remained bent. No instructions have yet been given for a general naval test to be applied to these weapons pending a reply from the War Office as to the steps they wish to be taken, sword-bayonets being a War Office store. Admiral Phillimore, Commander-in-Chief at Devonport, ordered the cutlasses on board the Indus to be tested, as certain of them were reported to be defective. The result was unsatisfactory, a large number being rendered useless. The contention of naval officers is that these cutlasses are unserviceable, not from defects of pattern, but of temper or material. At the special request of the Secretary of State for War, I am collecting the particulars of all the complaints and of all the tests applied to different weapons supplied to the Navy by the War Office, in order that he may consider them. There would be no advantage in exhibiting specimens of these defective weapons, as suggested, as no sound conclusion could be drawn from their variable condition, unless the power of the test and the mode of applying it was in each separate case explained as well as the date and pattern of manufacture.


said, that the noble Lord did not state how many vessels had been supplied with these defective sword-bayonets, and how many of such vessels were in active service?


said, he was unable to give such information. The War Office kept a record of the dates on which the weapons were issued, as well as of the particular patterns supplied.


wished to ask the Secretary of State for War, What steps he proposed to take with reference to these defective weapons; and, whether he intended to attach responsibility to any particular individual or individuals in respect to their original issue?

THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

I am glad of this opportunity, Sir, of stating the general view taken by the War Office on the subject. First of all, on behalf of the officials of the War Office, I have to say that the War Office is by no means prepared to accept the correctness of the view taken by the Naval Authorities. I do not think the House ms in a fair position yet to judge. These weapons were made before 1859, and they have satisfied the requisite tests up to the present time. It is very difficult to say what the 50 per cent test of my noble Friend (Lord George Hamilton) means. At the same time, I feel that a conflict between two public Departments is on all grounds to be avoided; and also that the public have a right to know whether these weapons are serviceable or not. My noble Friend has just undertaken to supply the War Office with full particulars of the complaints received, and of the tests to which these weapons have been subjected. I have already, with the assistance of my hon. Friend the Surveyor General of the Ordnance, made careful inquiry into the complaints which have been received; but I feel that no such inquiry will now be sufficient. I propose, therefore, without waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission, to institute an independent inquiry into the condition of the weapons now complained of. I shall ask my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to nominate a representative to take part in it; and I can assure the House that the Government will place at the disposal of the Committee of Inquiry all the information necessary for arriving at a decision without delay.

SIR HENRY TYLER (Great Yarmouth)

asked, Whether the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War would agree that a further test should take place of these weapons which had not already been complained of, in order that the whole matter should be inquired into?


said, that all these weapons would be tested; and if after being tested they were found inefficient and useless, the testing would then be carried further.


inquired whether the Committee to be appointed was a purely official Committee?


replied that he had already stated that it was to be a purely independent Committee.


inquired whether the stores now issued to the Army and Navy were subject to any inspection beyond those of the contractors and the purchasing authorities of the Army?


said, that the question of an independent inspection was one which was under the consideration of the Royal Commission. Up to the present, it had not been the practice to have an outside or independent inquiry.


said, that his Question had not been answered as to whether any person would be made responsible for what had occurred?


observed, that he should prefer to wait the Report of the independent Committee which would be appointed before coming to any decision on this matter. The responsibility for the original manufacture of these cutlasses dated so far back as 1859.


asked whether, in the event of any person being found incompetent for his duties, any further punishment beyond dismissal from the Service would be awarded?


said, he was not prepared to consider that question at present; in fact, he thought the hon. Member could hardly expect him to express any opinion upon it.