§ MR. KING (Hull, Central)
asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign. Affairs, Whether the attention of the Government has been called to the manner in which the French Customs Law is enforced at the port of Rouen against English vessels, whereby the captains or owners of vessels are obliged to employ the local brokers on frivolous pretences, and to pay fees amounting in one case to two per cent, of the entire freight; whether, in the case of the British ship, Royal, Minstrel, the Custom House authorities insisted on the employment of a broker simply to translate 3 the statement of one seaman, from whom a statement was demanded, quite unnecessarily, as all the ship's documents were in the hands of the authorities, in consequence of which the owners had to pay a brokerage fee of 538 francs 50 centimes; whether French, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and other vessels are exempted from this exaction by the authorities; whether English vessels are entitled, under existing Treaties, to be placed on the same footing as French and other vessels in this respect; and, whether steps will be taken in the case of the Royal Minstrel to vindicate the rights of British shipowners against such exactions?
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE (Sir JAMES FERGUSSON) (Manchester, N.E.)
The case referred to by the hon. Member is correctly stated, and no doubt involves great hardship, although it does not appear that anything has been done contrary to either law or treaty. The ships of other nations are equally liable to such exactions, but often escape because the shipbrokers are unable to act as interpreters of their several languages. The question of ship-brokerage in France has formed the subject of frequent representations to the French Government, and the hon. Member will find a full statement upon the subject in a Parliamentary Paper, Commercial, No. 35 (1884), page 10. Her Majesty's Government will watch for a suitable opportunity to make a further attempt to procure some amendment of the law. A recent decision of the French Minister of Commerce will, I hope, lessen somewhat the difficulties and expenses of British shipowners; and I will communicate it, with explanations on the points adverted to by the hon. Member, to the owners of the Royal Minstrel.