HC Deb 07 July 1881 vol 263 cc258-9

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, considering the great importance to the commercial community of obtaining the earliest information respecting the Tariff upon which the French Government propose to base a Commercial Treaty with this Country, Her Majesty's Government will cause the necessary information respecting that Tariff to be laid, without delay, before Parliament? The hon. Gentleman said he pressed this matter on the attention of the Government, because the Return of the new General Tariff which had been presented to Parliament was calculated to mislead the public and the country.


No doubt, the public would make a mistake if they were to assume that the new General Tariff has been laid before them, and that they have the final practical arrangements under which the commerce of the two countries is to be conducted. I hope it will not be so. We shall be glad when the communications between the Commissions now reach such a state as to enable us to give more practical information on the subject; but at present such projected Tariffs as have been produced to the Commission are considered as confidential at the request of the French Commissioners. We are, therefore, not at liberty to produce them.


It may be convenient if I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman which is germane to the answer just given. It is—(1.) Whether he can hold out any hope of being able to make public the "Tarif à discuter"—that is, the secret terms for the new Commercial Treaty offered by France to England, before the close of the Session, and before Her Majesty's Government finally commits the country to the acceptance or rejection of a Treaty; (2.) And whether, during the month which is to elapse before the Anglo-French Commission re-assembles for final decision, Her Majesty's Government will communicate confidentially to the leading officers of each of the principal Trades Unions (registered under Act of Parliament) concerned with the trades affected by the French Tariff, and, so far as it relates to their own trades, the terms above mentioned—that is, the "Tarif à discuter," in the same manner as these terms have been confidentially communicated by the Foreign Office to Chambers of Commerce and to manufacturers, in order that Her Majesty's Government may have the advantage of becoming acquainted with the views and practical experience, not only of the master manufacturers, but also of the important and numerous bodies of handicraftsmen whose wages and means of living will be largely affected by the decision as to a Commercial Treaty with France?


I think it would be better to postpone the answer, because I am not able at present to give any positive engagement about producing the Tariff. On the other hand, I should be unwilling to abandon the hope of producing it, because we are most anxious to make it known as soon as we can do so without misleading the public or violating the consideration which we owe to those with whom we are in communication.