HL Deb 02 November 1948 vol 159 cc150-2

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government, what are the regulations requiring officers and men serving in His Majesty's ships to be able to swim; whether their attention has been called to statements which have appeared in the Press of men who were in the pinnace of H.M.S. "Illustrious," which went down in the recent gale, appealing for assistance as they could not swim; and whether any record is kept of officers and men now serving in the Royal Navy who are unable to swim; and what steps are taken to remove this disability.]


My Lords, there is no regulation which requires officers and men to be able to swim before they are appointed or drafted to one of His Majesty's ships. In the interest of themselves and their shipmates, however, they are encouraged to learn to swim and all possible instruction is given, both in ships and shore establishments. Indeed, the passing of the swimming test was an essential qualification for advancing to Leading rate in certain branches before the last war. It was suspended during hostilities, but is now being reintroduced and extended to certain other branches, and will eventually apply to all branches of the Royal Navy for advancement to Leading rate.

In all His Majesty's ships a record of swimming instruction is required to be maintained, and the number of non-swimmers remaining in any ship is to be produced at all inspections. The inspecting officer is to satisfy himself that everyone below Leading rate, and every boy who has not passed the standard test, is receiving all possible instruction. My attention has been called to a statement in the Press, to which the noble Lord has referred, but until the Report of the Board of Inquiry has been considered I am unable to say anything further. I am sure, however, that noble Lords will join with me in expressing the deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives on this sad occasion.


I thank the noble Viscount for his reply, but does not this terrible disaster show the desirability of everyone serving on board His Majesty's ships being able to pass a simple swimming test whereby he could keep himself afloat until he was rescued? It seems to me that not only the life of the person concerned but also other lives which are at present placed in jeopardy might be saved if such a regulation were enforced.


I think the noble Viscount's answer, if I heard it aright, referred to officers, as well as to men. Is it not the case that, at any rate as regards naval cadets who go through Dartmouth, everybody is required to become not only a swimmer but a competent one?


May I deal first with the point raised by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon? Everybody who enters Dartmouth is given swimming instruction, and I think it possible that all cadets there can swim. But this is not the only channel of entry into the Navy. A number of men enter at eighteen or eighteen-and-a-half, and a number of them do not receive instruction until they join the Royal Navy. With regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, it is certainly desirable that everyone should be able to swim, but no person can be prohibited from joining the Navy because he cannot swim. Indeed, every inducement is offered to those who join, and who cannot swim, to learn to swim. The fact that they cannot secure advancement to Leading rate—which is rather a drastic penalty—is an indication that every step is being taken to get everyone, so far as possible, to swim. It is fully realised, of course, how desirable it is, from the point of view of both the men themselves and their relatives, that every man should be able to swim.