HC Deb 01 March 1922 vol 151 cc350-2

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that the "Marsa," an Admiralty minesweeper, was sunk at Harwich Harbour in November, 1917, by collision with another of His Majesty's ships; that the Admiralty remained responsible for this wreck until 27th August, 1919, when they gave notice of abandonment to the Harwick Harbour Board; that the Admiralty had meantime attempted to raise the vessel and during these operations had broken her back, causing her to become deeply embedded in the shingle and sand; that the Admiralty had also during this period removed all the more valuable fittings by divers; that When, for the safe navigation of the harbour, the harbour board were obliged to remove this wreck at a cost of £1,650, the Admiralty refused to reimburse the harbour board for this outlay, sheltering themselves under the prerogative of the Crown; and will he say why they have departed in this case from the normal practice in making equivalent payment for services rendered as an act of grace?

The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Commander Eyres-Monsell)

As the reply is a lengthy one, I propose to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


Cannot the hon. Gentleman give us the nature of the reply, as this is a matter of public importance?


Should the House desire, I will read the reply.


Circulate it.

The following is the reply proposed:

The reply to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. Notice of the abandonment of the wreck by the Admiralty was given to the Harbour Board on the 27th August, 1919, till when the Admiralty retained their rights as owners. Certain salvage work had been carried out by the Admiralty prior to that date, and some valuable stores and fittings were salved. We have no information at the Admiralty to the effect that the vessel's back was broken during these operations. It may be agreed that the prerogative of the Crown was herein exercised in the sense that any objections to these salvage operations that might have been raised against a private owner by the Harbour Board would not have been permitted. In abandoning the wreck on the 27th August, 1919, however, the Admiralty were exercising the right of any ship owner, and were under no legal liability to contribute to the expense incurred by the Harbour Board for its removal. The question of legal liability does not here depend upon the prerogative. With regard to the last part of the question, the Ad- miralty cannot admit that the Harbour Board were rendering any service to them in removing the wreck, and therefore the question of any equivalent ex gratia grant such as is generally made in collision cases does not arise. In view, however, of the particular circumstances of the relations between the Crown and the Harbour Board, both in connection with this incident and otherwise during the War, His Majesty's Government would have been prepared to make some ex gratia contribution had not this connection on the whole been financially favourable to the Harbour Commissioners. My hon. Friend understands, of course, that the Admiralty have no power of themselves to make ex gratia grants.