HL Deb 21 June 1898 vol 59 cc930-2

The following Question is on the Paper in my name— To ask whether the attention of the Admiralty has been drawn to the inadequacy of the sirens and steam-whistles on Her Majesty's ships. My object in putting down this Question on the Paper was to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the existing condition of the steam whistles on board Her Majesty's ships, and I think it is very necessary that attention should be directed towards this important subject. I think most of your Lordships are quite satisfied that, so far as noise is concerned, these steam whistles and sirens are quite sufficient for practical purposes. Many of your Lordships are aware that in the case of fog the only means of communication between the flagship and the other ships is by means of sirens and steam whistles. There are two reasons why they are quite insufficient for this purpose: one is the great variety of the sounds which these whistles give out. If any of your Lordships happen to be on board a ship in the Channel Squadron, which consists of 14 or 15 vessels, or on the Reserve Squadron, consisting of 9 or 10, and happen to be overtaken by a fog, I think you will be greatly surprised by the enormous variety of sounds which assail your ears every minute. Some of these steam whistles emit noises which can only be described as attenuated screams; others emit sounds of an entirely different character—deep and imposing, though not from the melodiousness of their tones. That is one fault which I find with the present steam whistles and sirens. The other is of much more importance, and it is this: that the sirens do not answer at once after the lanyard is pulled. As your Lordships probably know, all these signals are worked on the Morse system: that is, they are conducted by a series of long and short noises, and as these long and short noises are emitted the other ships of the squadron know exactly what operation they are called upon to perform. The order may be for keeping distances, it may be for change of direction, or any other operation, and any one ship is liable to misinterpret the order which is given by signal from the flagship, and if that happened most serious consequences might follow. Supposing the flagship gave an order that the squadron was to "port helm" and one ship of the squadron interpreted that to mean "starboard helm," the result might be a serious collision, and that is a point of possible danger in the case of a thick fog. I quite admit that up to the present no accident has occurred, but I think that is due, in a great measure, to the way in which our squadrons and ships are handled by the admirals and the captains, and I do not think that it necessarily follows that such accidents will not occur in future. There can be no difficulty in proving these matters. One of the great difficulties now in getting the sirens to answer properly is that there is a condensation of steam in the steam pipes, and before a proper sound is emitted the water created by such condensation has to be blown clear. That ought not to be beyond the power of engineers to overcome. In that direction, and in other directions, I think it would be very desirable, not only that the sirens and steam whistles should answer promptly be that there shall be no misunderstanding as to longs or shorts, but also that all sirens fitted to Her Majesty's ships should be within reasonable limits of the same tone, because that would partially enable the commander of a squadron to judge as to the distance of the various ships composing his squadron. I have merely made this suggestion to my noble Friend in the hope that the Admiralty will see its way to giving more attention to this very important subject than it has hitherto received.


My Lords, no question has recently been raised on this subject, but in April of 1897 the Vice-Admiral in command of the Channel Squadron, Lord Walter Kerr, drew the attention of the authorities to the inadequacy of some of the steam whistles and sirens of Her Majesty's ships, and more especially as to the faulty nature of the drain pipes attached to those whistles; and in accordance with the representations made by the Admiral, the following order was issued— In ships fitted, with a siren and a whistle, the whistle is to be removed and an additional siren, fitted in lieu. In ships fitted with a sirenette and a whistle, the whistle is to be removed and an additional sirenette fitted in lieu. I presume that the word "sirenette" is the diminutive. An additional drain-pipe to be fitted to steam-pipes in all vessels where the existing arrangements are not satisfactory. Upon looking more carefully into this matter it was found that to fit the whole of Her Majesty's ships suddenly en bloc with additional sirens was a very expensive matter, for it would have cost £37,000, and as there was no provision made on the Estimates for so large a sum being expended this year, the order was withdrawn, and another order was substituted in its place to the effect that the change was only to be made in those vessels in which the existing arrangements were held to be faulty, and also in new ships. Since this last order was issued there has been no complaint on the subject.

House adjourned at 5.50.