§ 79. Mr. Rogers
asked the Minister of War Transport if he will make a statement on the circumstances in which the 29 s.s. "Orion" was overcrowded with Dominion troops; and the reason for its return to port.
§ Mr. Barnes
This is a rather long reply, Mr. Speaker, but in view of the interest in this subject, I will take the opportunity—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am in the hands of the House. If it is the general wish of the House, it may be as well to have the statement now, instead of after Questions.
§ Mr. Stokes
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. You said you were in the hands of the House, and the House has clearly demonstrated that it did not wish to hear it now.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me this opportunity of stating the facts to the House—
§ Mr. Barnes
Troop capacity has no relation to peacetime capacity, and the removal of cabins and the erection of fittings in the troopdecks add greatly to the accommodation. All ships are fitted in accordance with Regulations laid down by the Service Departments in conjunction with the Ministry of War Transport, and their capacities for voyages west and east of Suez are agreed by the same authorities.
In present circumstances there is inevitably a great shortage of cabin accommodation, and it has been agreed by the Service Departments, including those of the Dominions, that as a temporary measure officers up to the rank of Lieutenant, R.N., or the equivalent in other Services may, when necessary, be embarked in accommodation normally provided for non-commissioned officers and men, which may involve sleeping in hammocks and the acceptance of troopdeck messing.
The fitted trooping capacity of the "Orion" is 5,235, reduced for voyages east of Suez to 4,676. On this occasion, 30 in order to improve conditions for the large number of officers and warrant officers who could not be accommodated in cabins, the total number of all ranks embarked was further reduced to 3,44I—and a lift of I,200 men was sacrificed. The Service Authorities informed their personnel before embarkation of the conditions of travel that would be experienced. The owners of the "Orion" were not responsible for deciding the numbers to embark, or the allocation of the accommodation. I am satisfied that they assisted in every possible way to make those travelling as comfortable as the conditions would allow. Before the voyage the troop accommodation was reported by the Board of Inspection to be satisfactory in all respects. Minor complaints about food were speedily rectified.
The criticisms of conditions on board appear to have arisen from the use of troopdeck accommodation for officers and warrant officers. When this course has to be adopted on voyages of this length, every effort is made to accommodate officers in tier berths, rather than in hammocks, but the "Orion" was the only suitable ship in position to take these men home in time for Christmas. She sailed from Southampton on nth November, but owing to damage to her machinery, had to return. I am glad to inform the House that another ship has been allocated, but it will be some two or three weeks before the ship will sail. It must be realised that, so long as the present pressure on passenger space continues, there must be some sacrifice of comfort if men are to be got home within a reasonable period, and it will not always be possible to provide cabin accommodation for every officer.
§ Captain Marsden
Did any representatives of the Dominion concerned inspect and approve the accommodation before the ship sailed?
§ Mr. Barnes
I cannot say whether they actually inspected it, but the Australian Government were fully consulted and, I understand, concurred in the arrangements.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Is the Minister aware that many British officers in Burma and the Far East today would be very glad of that accommodation?