HL Deb 05 May 1915 vol 18 cc951-2

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Admiralty have taken steps to secure an adequate provision of boats and lifebelts in transports conveying British troops to or from Great Britain; whether rules exist for that purpose; and, if so, what measures are taken by inspection or otherwise to see that they are properly observed. I have placed the information upon which my Question is based, and which I have preferred not to make public, at the disposal of the noble Lord who represents the Admiralty; and, as the House will see, my object in putting the Question is to ensure that as far as possible the ships and transports which are taking our troops to or from Great Britain to different theatres of war shall be protected against the many dangers and accidents, more particularly from submarines, to which they are likely to be exposed.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the information that he has put at my disposal and on which he has founded his Question. I will see that the specific allegations which are made in his letter are investigated; but in any case I could not, of course, have replied upon them to-day. The noble Earl asks whether adequate provision of boats and lifebelts is made in transports conveying British troops to or from Great Britain. I may say, in regard to boats, that as far as possible boats are provided to accommodate everybody on board the transports, but I cannot say that it has been possible in every case to come up to that standard. It would not be right that I should give any details of the number of transports that were despatched early in the war to the Eastern Mediterranean, but I may say that the number was very large, and that it was impossible to have obtained sufficient boats at that time in order to provide room for everybody on board if some accident had occurred by which the ship became totally lost. Indeed, some of those transports were so constructed that I think it would have been impossible to have had so many boats as would have been required to hold every one on board. But I may say, having stated the case frankly, that the Admiralty has had made life-rafts in large quantities which are being taken upon transports and which will greatly add to the chances of safety if any accident occurs.

I now come to lifebelts. Lifebelts are in every case, I am told, provided for every one on board. It is suggested that sometimes these lifebelts are tampered with and rendered ineffective. Possibly it is the case that the tapes have sometimes been cut off them during a voyage, but every time that the ships come home they are completely overhauled; and I am informed that they are never sent out without every lifebelt being perfectly ready for use in case of emergency. The noble Earl further asked whether rules existed for the purpose of seeing that adequate provision is made. I may say that rules do exist which embody the Board of Trade regulations in regard to this matter. Those rules are issued to the shipping companies, and are open to inspection by any one specially interested in the matter who has a right to see them.

Lastly the noble Earl asks what measures are taken, by inspection or otherwise, to see that the rules are properly observed. On that point I can assure him that every ship is formally inspected before it leaves port as to its fitness for sea, and particularly as to whether the life-saving regulations in force at the time are complied with. More than that, these transports are not only inspected before they leave port but the preparations made on board are carried out under the immediate supervision of the Admiralty the whole time. Therefore they are not only inspected, but are supervised during the time they are being prepared for sea.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.