HC Deb 17 May 1888 vol 326 cc550-1

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether a new barge contractor has recently, by his neglect, placed the arsenal and town of Woolwich in great danger by leaving powder and ammunition barges unattended in the river Thames; whether about 750 tons of explosives were in the deserted barges, and that, with the adjacent powder ship and Government barges, a total of 2,000 tons of ammunition and powder was involved in risk; to whom would the people of the Metropolis look for indemnity for loss of life and property in case an accident had happened; whether his attention has been called to the statement of the contractor— That he employed vagrants, whose names and addresses he did not know, and who deserted the barges; And, if so, will the Government offer a reward for the said vagrants to come forward and explain whether they swam ashore, or how they all made their escape unobserved, and particularly why they left work for which they were to be paid; and, whether the said contractor will be continued in the service of the Government?

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

I explained, in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend a few days ago, that a barge contractor had recently committed a grave offence in the manner indicated in the Question. The contractor is bound by his contract to provide a suitable watchman for each barge; and as he failed to do so, he was summoned and punished by a heavy fine. The responsibility for the characters of the watchmen must rest with the contractor. This contractor is quite new to the work; and the notice taken of this offence will, no doubt, render him more careful in future.