§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that Her Majesty's Consul at Antwerp has for some considerable time given the exclusive privilege to two men, named Bethell and Williams, to engage and supply seamen to British ships requiring crews in that port; whether he is aware that these two men supply some 10,000 seamen par annum; that they charge each seaman a shipping fee varying from 10s. to £1, and that they are allowed in Her Majesty's Consulate 199 at Antwerp, where they conduct the business of signing on the seamen in the absence of Her Majesty's Consul, and that they refuse to sign any seamen who object to pay their fees; and whether he purposes to take any steps to cause an inquiry to be held into these practices?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
The system of employing shipping masters in connection with the Consulate General at Antwerp has, I understand, been in force since the beginning of the century. Only men approved by the Consul General are allowed in his offices, but I do not know their present number, or their names. The number of seamen engaged at Antwerp during the year 1895 was 11,204. Probably the greater number were engaged through the shipping masters, but, although it is customary, it is in no way obligatory for the master of a British ship to employ a shipping master to procure him a crew, nor is it necessary for a seaman, unless so disposed, to sign articles at the Consulate General through the intermediary of a shipping master. The fees charged vary, I am told, from 5 francs to 12 francs, according to the rate of wages. The approved shipping masters allowed in the Consulate assist in the work of engagement, but I have no reason to believe that the actual engagements do not take place in the presence of a Consular officer, as required by the Act, of Parliament. The matter is one which, in my opinion, requires investigation, and I propose to direct an inquiry into the subject.