HC Deb 14 July 1881 vol 263 cc851-3

(for Viscount SANDON) asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he can hold out any hope of being able to make public the "Tarif â discuter," i.e. 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 the Treaty; whether, during the month which is to elapse before the Anglo-French Commission re-assembles for its 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, i.e. the "Tarif â 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; and, whether he can inform the House for what period of years it is proposed to conclude the Treaty with France, and if he will provide that either party should be able to free itself from the Treaty with twelve months' notice?


asked the Prime Minister, whether, in the event of this request being granted, there would be any objection to the terms of the Tariff being communicated to trade unions which were not registered, as well as to registered unions?


In reference to the Question last put, though I am not able to give a positive reply, I do not know if they can be got at, or why any distinction should be drawn between the two different bodies interested in this matter. I may say, however, in reply to the general question, that much cannot at present be promised in a definite way. One difficulty about communicating the Tarif à discuter, as it is called, is that it is a document confidentially communicated to us, and to the publication of which the consent of another party is necessary. But there is a more serious difficulty still—though I cannot say whether that consent would or would not be obtainable—the difficulty that this document is only the basis of negotiations, and has already undergone material variation; and, consequently, I am afraid it might be taken to be more important than it is, and that it might lead to more misrepresentations than information. It has never been communicated to the Chambers of Commerce; but what has been done has been this—that the deputations that have come up to the Commission have received copies of it from the Commissioners, or such information regarding it as would enable them to take counsel upon the material points to be discussed. The Commissioners have felt it necessary to exercise their best discretion in this matter; but all interested in the matter may rely upon it that the Commissioners are anxious not to take any step without being sure of the ground under their feet. With respect to the last part of the question, the negotiations are not sufficiently advanced to make it possible to say anything as to the precise period for which the Treaty may be concluded; but as to the question whether it will be provided that either party shall be at liberty to withdraw from it after 12 months' notice, I may say that any provisions of that kind would entirely destroy the advantage of having a Treaty, though, of course, there might be a provision of that kind for the lapse of the Treaty at the end of the specified number of years constituting the period of its duration.