HC Deb 08 January 1913 vol 46 cc1167-9

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can now make a statement as to the condition in which His Majesty's ship "Torch" and His Majesty's ship "Prometheus" were sent to sea whilst in commission on the Australian station in 1911?


The "Torch" was first commissioned on 14th January, 1897, and remained continuously in commission until 31st December, 1905, when she was ordered to be laid up at Sydney Dockyard as available for subsidiary purposes of war. On 6th September, 1910, the Commander-in-Chief was asked to report the general condition of the hull and machinery, etc., of the "Torch," and whether the vessel could be commissioned for service without general refit; if not, to state the rough approximate cost of refit. The reply was to the effect that the general condition of the ship was good, and that she was ready for commission at three weeks' notice without general refit. The cost of docking and painting and refitting the rigging was stated to be £354. Orders were therefore given on 4th January, 1911, to employ the "Torch" on work connected with the duties of the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific in place of the "Pegasus," which was being paid off in March, and Commander E. C. Carver was appointed to her command. This officer arrived in April, 1911, and the ship was commissioned on 4th May, 1911. Instead, however, of only spending £354 the sum of £1,080 was spent, the difference between the two amounts being accredited to the "recent discovery of additional defects."

In the course of the repair the accessible parts of the hull and fittings were examined whilst the ship was in dock, and certain apparent defects were made good, and, according to the yard officers, all that was necessary for the ship's seaworthiness was done before she sailed in May, 1911. During the time which elapsed prior to the return of the "Torch" to Sydney in December, 1911, certain defects presented themselves, but nothing seriously affecting the seaworthiness of the ship made itself patent, and although the fracture of the main shaft and dropping of the screw-happened, it cannot be traced to any defect in the material. After the return of the "Torch" the Commander-in-Chief decided to have the ship thoroughly repaired, and she was accordingly docked in March, 1912, and a thorough examination of the hull was made by stripping off the sheathing outside and removing the cement inside. It was then found that the bottom plating under the boilers was badly worn, and it may be assumed that this state of things existed, at any rate partially, when the "Torch" was commissioned in May, 1911.

The Regulations prescribed that an examination of the cement coating on the inside surface of the bottom plating should be made, so far as it is accessible, on every occasion when a ship comes under repair in the yard, and that the ordinarily inaccessible positions should be examined periodically or whenever the ship is recommissioned. This is prescribed both by King's Regulations and Foreign Yard instructions. No such survey was held on the "Torch" between December, 1905, and March, 1912, and as the ship was not in commission at the time she was brought forward for refit, it appears that the Regulations governing the supply of the certificate of completion of defects did not apply in this case.

The state in which the "Torch" was found to be in March, 1912, showed that when she went to sea in May, 1911, she was not in a thoroughly seaworthy condition, and for this the captain in charge and officers of Sydney Dockyard were responsible. It is improbable that a Court of Inquiry would elicit more facts having an important bearing upon the case than the comprehensive report already furnished by the Commander-in-Chief, and I am advised after very full consideration that none of the officers concerned have actually committed such a breach of the regulations as would render them liable to disciplinary measures under the provisions of the Naval Discipline Act.

In the opinion of the Board the deficiencies which have been revealed were due to a lamentable want of judgment and common sense, as well as to a lack of businesslike capacity. The captain of the dockyard will receive the severe censure of the Board of Admiralty for the lax administration of the establishment in his charge and will be informed that but for his recent relief, he would have been superseded in his appointment. The officers of the yard immediately concerned will also be informed that they have incurred their Lordships' serious displeasure for the unsatisfactory manner in which they have discharged their duties.

It may be added that the position of Sydney Dockyard is in a state of transition at the present time, and there is no reason to believe that similar laxity exists elsewhere. A full inquiry will be made into the manner in which the regulations are being carried out at the dockyards abroad with a view to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such an incident.

In making the foregoing statement I have confined myself entirely to the case of the "Torch." The circumstances attending the breakdown of the "Prometheus" on the voyage to Hong Kong have been the subject of a separate inquiry, as explained in my answer of the 18th of December, and were mainly due to a lack of supervision and defective organisation in the engineers' department of the ship. In so far as this ship is concerned, the breakdown in the machinery did not have a bearing upon the administration of the


As this is a very serious matter I will take an early opportunity of raising it on the Motion for Adjournment.


May I ask when the House of Commons will have an opportunity of discussing this instance of lax administration?


All the regular opportunities will arise in the course of the year, and these will serve as vehicles for discussion.


Is that to be postponed in favour of Home Rule and the gerrymandering of the Register?