HC Deb 13 May 1895 vol 33 cc1044-6
MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received any reply from Her Majesty's Consul at the port of Antwerp with reference to the circumstances attending the signing on of the crew of the steamship Ethel Ratcliffe?


We are informed that the Shipping Master engaged by captains to select a crew and by seamen to find employment make a charge for their services according to the custom of the port, and that the sailors and firemen of the Ethel Ratcliffe will therefore not have been exempted from paying the usual fee, irrespective of their getting advance notes or not. The Consul states that he has no personal knowledge as to whether in the present instance the issue of these notes was made conditional upon the payment of the charge of three gilders, as advance notes are always handed to the men by the Captain and Shipping Master after the crew have left the Consulate. The Consul says that he certainly did not use his influence to procure the men at the wage of £3 for able seamen and £3 5s. for firemen, nor does he consider it part of his duty ever to interfere between the contracting parties in a matter of this kind unless called upon to do so, which seldom or never happens. It is also incorrect to state that the police were called into the Consular Office to prevent a disturbance, no such request having been made and no police officer having entered the Consulate. It appears that the shipping office being situated in the Sailors' Home, there are always a large number of men congregated about and in the building, and with a view to possible disturbance the police are stationed in the neighbourhood. The practice at Rotterdam is for the Master, or his deputy, the Shipping Master, to make terms with the crew before they enter the Consulate, and the Consul states that he does not have and never has had any business transactions with shipping agents.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not issue instructions to the Consuls to prevent shipmasters from transacting their business in Consular offices?


It does not seem to me that there is any occasion to issue fresh instructions to Consuls. In any case the Foreign Office could not issue further instructions without having the opportunity of consulting the Board of Trade.


I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether it is the intention of the Board to instruct the superintendent of the Mercantile Marine Office at Tower Hill, London, to take down the statements of the crew of the steamship Ethel Ratcliffe, which crew recently signed articles at Antwerp, and allege that they were charged three guilders each before they could get their advance notes?


There will be no objection to the Superintendent of the Mercantile Marine Office in London receiving any statements of the crew of the Ethel Ratdiffe.


I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in consequence of the many complaints made by British seamen in regard to the question of engaging and discharging seamen, also the question of the shipping fees charged, and the general treatment of seamen in the ports of Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and New York, he thinks it desirable that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into and thoroughly investigate such charges?


As far as the particular complaint into which we have made inquiry is concerned, it does not appear that there is occasion for such an investigation. I have received some further letters relating to other places, but it will be necessary to confer with the Board of Trade before expressing any opinion upon them.