HL Deb 04 July 1918 vol 30 cc607-9

My Lords, I desire to ask the Government whether they are able to afford us any further information in regard to the recent explosion in the Midlands.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for having given me private notice of this Question, and I am glad of the opportunity of giving all the information that is now available as to the serious explosion which took place, as your Lordships know, last Monday evening. The explosion was instantaneous, and as far as can be ascertained it was not preceded by a fire, nor, I am glad to say, was it followed by any but small fires which were easily subdued. This was on account of the non-inflammable, material of which the factory was constructed. I regret to say that the loss of life has proved to be larger than was at first believed. About 100 persons, as far as at present can be ascertained, were killed, roughly two-thirds men and one-third women, in addition to which about 150 people were injured.

The House will realise that it is not always possible, in the case of an explosion, to say exactly what causes it, more especially in a case such as this when it is a question of a comparatively new explosive, but an independent Inquiry is going to be held into all the circumstances. One thing I can say, my Lords, and that is that it is quite certain that no factory, certainly not in this country, nor I believe anywhere else in the world, has ever been conducted with greater regard to the safety of the workers. I may add that less than a quarter of an hour before the explosion took place the factory had been thoroughly gone through by the military danger building officer, who is responsible for seeing that all the conditions of the safety regulations are carried out. A very large number of workers were on the premises at the time, and, as previously instructed, they scattered at once on the explosion taking place, but returned immediately to assist in the work of rescue. There never was the slightest semblance of panic, and owing to the prompt measures taken by the staff and employees, as well as by the local authorities and others, the wounded were all taken to local hospitals in the neighbourhood in a marvellously short space of time.

I am glad to be able to state also that within twenty-four hours of the explosion taking place arrangements had been made whereby a portion of the factory will be able to continue manufacturing. This has been arranged on a continuous three-shift basis, and has been in operation since yesterday morning. I think that the House will agree that this is a magnificent proof of the courage and spirit of the employees in the factory. The loss in output will, therefore, I am glad to be able to say, be considerably less than was at first feared.

It is impossible to praise too highly the admirable arrangements that were made by the manager and staff in the event of any explosion taking place, and in the measures which they took when the disaster occurred; and it is difficult for me to express to your Lordships in any adequate fashion the magnificent spirit which animated every single person in the factory from the highest to the lowest. I think I can say that this spirit was really nothing short of heroism, and I am confident that I am only voicing the feelings of all present in the House in paying a sincere tribute to the splendid behaviour of every one on that occasion, and in offering our deepest sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their liven, as they have done, in the service of their country just as much as any soldier on the battlefield.


Hear, hear.


My Lords, I am certain that the whole House will desire to echo the concluding words of my noble friend opposite in expressing profound sympathy with the relatives of those who have lost their lives in the performance of duty in this appalling accident, and also the sentiments of admiration which the noble Lord expressed of the coolness and courage which was shown by those who were present. I think I understood the Noble Lord to say that an Inquiry would be held into the circumstances. This Inquiry will, I suppose, be of a purely technical character. There is no suggestion, as the noble Lord said, that any carelessness was shown in the handling of these dangerous materials. Of course, in one respect that is not in itself a rea-assuring statement. One can understand that human nature being what it is some lapse from perfect care may from time to time take place, but an unexplained disaster of this kind, due possibly to some physical or chemical qualities in the material which have not hitherto been understood, may be more serious, but I have no doubt that the Inquiry of which the noble Lord spoke will throw such light on this calamity as can be expected to be thrown after a devastating accident of this Kind.