HC Deb 05 April 1898 vol 56 cc191-2
SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonics whether it is the custom in the spring of each year for the commanders of Her Majesty's ships to hold meetings of fishermen in Newfoundland, and fix the price at which British subjects are to be allowed to sell bait to the French and to other Bank fishermen, one price being fixed for sale to the French and a higher price for sale to other fishermen; whether a fine is imposed on anyone departing from the arrangement; under what law the commanders of Her Majesty's ships act in this respect; whether any communication can be made before May, through the Admiralty or through the Governor of Newfoundland, to the commanders of ships on the station suggesting their abstention from fixing the price of bait; and whether there is any engagement which imposes on British officers the necessity of seeing that the French Bank fleet should receive bait before it is sold to others?


The hon. Member is no doubt aware that the French have a Treaty right to catch bait for themselves without interruption from the competition of British subjects. The practice referred to, which does not rest on any law, has been adopted for many years in the interests of the inhabitants of the Treaty shore, with the concurrence of the French, who, instead of taking bait for themselves and thereby preventing the native fishermen from fishing at the same time, agree to purchase it at the price fixed. I am not aware that the naval officers take any part in fixing the price for other than French fishermen, or that fines are imposed for a departure from the arrangement, as to which no complaint has reached Her Majesty's Government. If the arrangement were put an end to the French would immediately exercise their Treaty right to an uninterrupted fishery, with the result that the Newfoundland fishermen would be excluded from fishing until the French had completed baiting, and Her Majesty's Government do not propose to interfere with the practice, which is beneficial to both parties.