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"Empire Windrush" Loss (Ex-Gratia Payments)

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give an assurance that adequate compensation in cash or kind will be given to all Service personnel and married families who lost their private possessions, military clothing and equipment in the fire aboard the ss. "Empire Windrush."

All soldiers, married or unmarried, are advised to insure their personal property and are warned that, if they fail to do so, they will have no claims to compensation from public funds. Nevertheless, there were many with property on board this troopship who had not insured and it is clear that considerable hardship would arise if no compensation were paid. Because of this and the exceptional nature of the loss of the "Empire Windrush," ex-gratia payments within reasonable limits will be made to those whose losses were not covered by insurance. The necessary claim forms are now being sent out to those concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend set his face against any idea that these people should have insured? One does not expect a troopship to go down when one goes on it, and it would be foolish to insure to that extent. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give adequate compensation to these people.

I cannot set my face against insurance, because it is put out in a regulation that people are advised to insure, not only for travel by troopships but for other reasons. I agree about the exceptional circumstances, which nobody would anticipate, but that does not take away from the fact that people are advised to insure, which is a very wise practice.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that nobody claiming compensation will be asked to sign a final statement of acceptance of the amount until the inquiry has decided whether there was any negligence on the part of those responsible for the ship and the reason for its sinking in the way that it did?

Will the compensation of which the right hon. Gentleman now speaks be adequate or only partial? Will it cover all the loss suffered?

It is a highly technical matter but, broadly, normal property compensation will be on the basis of value at the time of loss. There will be certain restrictions to ensure that large sums of public funds are not paid out for things like valuables and luxuries, which people might be expected to insure. For instance, if there were diamonds in the troopship these should have been insured and should not be paid for by the War Office.