HC Deb 17 March 1890 vol 342 cc1002-4
MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether his attention has been called to the fact that Monsieur Barbey, French Minister of Marine, replying to Admiral Vallon in the French Chamber, said that accidents in the French Navy are much fewer than in those of other countries, and added, referring to the English Navy, that, in the last 36 months, there had been 39 accidents, which had cost the lives of 80 men killed without counting the wounded, and of several million of francs; and whether this statement is correct; and, if so, what steps are being taken to prevent in future so heavy a loss of life and public money?


The hon. Member has contrived in his question to thoroughly misunderstand the purport of the speech made by M. Barbey, the French Minister of Marine, on March 8. M. Barbey did not say that accidents in the French Navy were much fewer than in those of other countries, nor did he use any words capable of that meaning. His speech was made in reply to an attack upon French naval administration in consequence of the machinery of a French cruiser (recently commissioned for a distant station) having so broken down as to necessitate its recall and the substitution of another vessel in its place. After having fully explained the cause of the breakdown and the instructions issued to prevent a repetition of similar accidents, he proceeded, to point out the delicacy and complexity of the machinery on board modern war vessels, and how subject such machinery must be to accident, not only in the French Navy, but in other Navies. By way of illustration, he referred to the British Navy, and said that he had a list of 39 accidents which had occurred during 38 months (not 36 months, as stated in the question), and which cost 80 lives and entailed certain expenditure. As is self-evident from the context, the object of referring to our Navy was not to depreciate it, but to show that such accidents occurred even in the best regulated and managed Navies. I cannot say if this list is correct unless I know what is the definition of an "accident," whether it refers to machinery alone or includes gun accidents, collisions, and the ordinary casualties of a hazardous profession. I may, however, state, looking to the number of British ships permanently in commission, to the number temporarily engaged in the manœuvres of the last three years, to the work and duties upon which they are employed, that the accidents (using that word in its broadest sense) which occur are small in number and contrast most favourably with those of any other Navy.