HC Deb 16 December 1954 vol 535 cc1980-2
Mr. Bottomley

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he has a statement to make about the disaster to H.M. Submarine "Talent" in Her Majesty's Dockyard, Chatham.

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)

Yes, Sir. At about 3.30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, the caisson sealing the entrance to No. 3 dock collapsed. Water rushed in with such force that the submarine "Talent," which was being refitted in the dock, was lifted off the blocks and carried through the dock entrance and across the River Medway where she grounded on the mud. There were 50 people on board at the time. Three men were missing. The body of one has since been recovered from the dock. In addition, some 30 men were injured, and I am sorry to say that one of them died in hospital this morning; two others have been detained in hospital. The House, I know, will wish me to express the deepest sympathy for those bereaved and injured.

The submarine has been pumped out and is now secured alongside a salvage vessel. Both vessels were grounded on an even keel this morning on the falling tide. It is intended to re-float them and to move them into the Dockyard later this afternoon. The reason for the collapse of the caisson has not yet been established, and a full investigation has been ordered. I would like to pay tribute to the very prompt action of the Dockyard and naval personnel on the spot in organising immediate rescue work and to the very ready and skilful assistance rendered by the Royal Engineers at Chatham, and by the Kent Fire Brigade.

Mr. Bottomley

While associating all of us on this side with that message of sympathy, may I also say that personnel in Chatham Dockyard will welcome the speed with which an inquiry is to be held? May I ask the First Lord whether there will be means whereby compensation will be paid to those who suffered? Is he in a position—in view of the fact that this accident is the first of its kind—to say whether there is any suspicion of sabotage?

Mr. Thomas

If I may answer the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question first, I have heard no suggestion of sabotage and, naturally, I prefer to await the outcome of the investigation. So far as compensation is concerned, the Admiralty will pay pensions and gratuities in the case of those who died. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is responsible for industrial injury compensation and, pending the usual legal formalities, arrangements have been made for immediate advances of pay where necessary to dependants. Injured men will receive sick pay.

Mr. Burden

It would be quite improper to ask a question on particulars at this stage, but may I ask my right hon. Friend if he will give particular attention to the question of speedy—if possible, ex gratia—payments to dependants of those who have lost their lives? There is bound to be some financial difficulty, in particular at the time of year into which we are now entering.

Mr. Thomas

The answer is that the whole question of pay is amply covered by the facts I have mentioned in my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hobson

Will the right hon. Gentleman make public the findings of the inquiry? Can he say whether an accident of this character has ever happened before in the history of the Royal Naval Dockyard or civil dockyard?

Mr. Thomas

I will certainly make public the results of the inquiry. So far as I know from the inquiries I have made today, no such accident has ever happened before in any shipyard.