§ MR. MONTAGUE GUEST
asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, -Whether Her Majesty's Government can recognize any Treaty made with France by the Bey of Tunis, under the pressure of the superior force which has been brought against him, and in contravention of the Firman of 1871, which forbids the Bey, as the Governor of "an integral part of the Ottoman Empire," to make Treaties with any foreign Powers, which Firman Her Majesty's Government have stated they have fully recognized?
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
Sir, I have already promised that the Papers shall be immediately laid before Parliament; and meanwhile, it will, perhaps, be the more convenient course to defer the discussion of particular points until the whole case is seen.
§ MR. MONTAGUE GUEST
said, that after the unsatisfactory answer just given, and considering the importance of the matter, he felt obliged, though with deep regret, to move the adjournment of the House. He felt that that was the only moment at which the question could be raised by a private Member. The subject required the grave and immediate attention of the House. In contravention of assurances which the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said he had received from the French Government, that there was no intention to annex any territory in Tunis, the French Forces, 30,000 or 40,000 strong, had marched into a friendly country, and the French Fleet had been sent to lake possession of the important position of Bizerta. This country had received a Circular from M. St. Hilaire, and if he (Mr. Guest) were to read a few extracts from it, the House would be astonished at the way in which Her Majesty's Government had been hoodwinked. In that Circular M. St. Hilaire said—We are ready, as soon as good relations are resumed, to engage in a host of other not less enterprizes—lighthouses on the coast, inland roads to connect many populous and prosperous towns with each other, vast irrigations in a country where there is no lack of rivers, but where they are not better turned to account than the forests; the working of abundant mines of every kind of metal; an improved cultivation of lands acquired by Europeans in the regency, or even of the lands of the natives; the employment of the hot springs, which the Romans discovered and used. Tunis is, in general, very 569 fertile, as the prodigious wealth of ancient Carthage sufficiently shows. Under the protection of France all the natural gifts of that country can be developed afresh, with all the energy and intensity of modern methods and practices. We may add that, if the Bey will trust us, the internal administration may receive not less necessary and certain improvements. … It is not France alone that would profit by all this progress, which the Regency may acquire if it wishes. All civilized nations would benefit by it, and there is nothing to prevent us from doing to Tunis, without conquest or fighting, what we are doing in Algeria, and what England is doing in India.Now, he would ask the House whether the French Government, after what he had just read, were justified in saying that they did not mean to annex any territory? He should, moreover, like to know whether, considering its position, this country had no interest in the question whether Tunis was or was not to be an independent State? ["No, no!"] To those hon. Members behind him who cried "No!" he would only reply that there were in the Regency of Tunis 10,000 British subjects, while the Italians numbered 15,000, and the French only 1,000, and that Tunis was situated at the entrance of the channel leading to Malta, cutting off the whole Eastern Mediterranean, and commanding the passage by which all traffic must pass to Syria, Egypt, the Black Sea, Turkey, and the Adriatic. To those who wished to enter the Black Sea, the Adriatic, or were going to the East, was it, he should like to know, a matter of no importance that a great nation like France should place herself so as to command such a channel? What would be the consequence of her having done so in time of war? At the first threatening of war with France insurances would at once go up, and the whole carrying trade would be transferred from British ships to those of other neutral nations. Then traffic would be handed over from our vessels to those of other nations. Then he would ask the House to consider for a moment the position of Bizerta itself. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had informed him the other evening, in answer to a Question which he had put to him, that he was aware of its importance, though he certainly would have imagined that he was not, for he said that without the expenditure of a large sum of money it was almost impossible that it could be used as a harbour. He (Mr. Guest) 570 would, however, refer hon. Members to a letter which appeared in The Times newspaper that morning from Admiral Spratt, in which he stated on his professional authority that for a sum of less than £250,000 all obstruction could be removed from the channel, and that Bizerta could be made at once a most important harbour. Moreover, in taking the position of Bizerta into account, it should not, he might add, be forgotten that it was the only commanding port in North Africa. When the present state of affairs was duly considered, it was only right that the House should bear in mind that in 1871 a Firman had been granted by the Sultan to the Bey of Tunis. The substance of that Firman was—1. That the Regency of Tunis shall form, as heretofore, an integral part of the Ottoman dominions. 2. That the Boys on their accession shall apply for and receive their investiture from the Sultan, their suzerain. 3. That the Hutba (Friday's prayer) shall be, as heretofore, said in the name of the Sultan [this shows the Sultan's spiritual supremacy]. 4. That the money shall he coined in his name [this shows the Sultan's administrative supremacy]. 5. That, in lieu of tribute, Tunis shall furnish a contingent of troops in case of war. 6. That, although the Bey might make Commercial Treaties with foreign Powers, he was entirely debarred from entering into political Treaties with them, or from yielding or ceding to them any part of Tunisian territory.Now, having had it on good authority, he was, he believed, correct in saying that the Government of England had expressed their satisfaction to the Bey at that Firman having been granted, and that the Governments of Austria, Russia, and Germany had congratulated the Bey on the occasion. It was only the other day that he had put a Question to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the subject, and he had been informed in reply that the French did not recognize the Firman. He would, however, refer hon. Members to the Circular which had been addressed by the Sultan to the Ministers of Foreign Powers, in which it was shown most distinctly that so late as 1863 this suzerainty over Tunis was acknowledged by the French. When had they, he would ask, ceased to recognize it? There was not the slightest doubt that the authority of the Sultan over Tunis had existed for a great many years, and that it had been acknowledged by Her Majesty's Government. Again, France had declared that Tunis was independent, and was 571 perfectly able to make this Treaty with them; but if Tunis was independent in 1881, she was equally independent in 1871, and able to make the arrangement she had made with the Porte by the Firman of that year. What was the position of the Boy at the present moment? France had annexed the country, and he should like to know, in the event of any question arising between this country and Tunis not of a commercial nature, whether the Government would pay attention to the Firman of 1871, the authority of which they said they recognized, or to the Treaty which had just been concluded with France? For his own part, notwithstanding the highhanded proceedings of the French in overrunning a friendly country, he hoped the Government would stick to the Firman of 1871. He was aware that it was said that Lord Salisbury had made an arrangement with France in 1878. He would ask, however, what power Lord Salisbury had, after the Berlin Treaty, to make such an arrangement? Lord Salisbury had, he believed, denied that he had made any such arrangement as that attributed to him. ["Oh, oh!"] He was willing to abstain from going into the question whether Lord Salisbury had or had not made such an arrangement, because it was probable that the House would hear some authoritative statement on the point before the discussion closed. For his own part, he thought it was impossible that an English Minister could have agreed to hand over to the Government of France any portion of the Ottoman Empire. In any case, however, it had been thrown in the teeth of the Liberal Party that, in everything they had done since they had come into power, they had attempted to reverse the policy of their Predecessors in Office; and even assuming that Lord Salisbury had made the arrangement attributed to him, was it to be contended that on this question alone the present Government were bound to abide by and carry into effect the policy of their Predecessors? In his opinion, Her Majesty's Government were bound to protest against this high-handed—he was almost going to say this outrageous—attack which had been made by France upon Tunis. They had marched into a friendly country a three of some 30,000 or 40,000 men, and had taken possession of one of the most important ports on the 572 Mediterranean, and had forced the unfortunate Bey of Tunis to sign a Treaty at the point of the bayonet. He recommended the Government to join Italy in making a most determined protest against the course that had been taken. He apologized to the House for having occupied so much of their time on this occasion; but he felt that the subject was one on which that House and this country should speak out, in order that the public of Europe might know what their feelings were in reference to it, and that France—with whom we were on the most friendly terms—should be made aware without delay that her proceedings in this matter did not commend themselves to us. The fact was that, led on by Germany and Prince Bismarck, France had fallen into a trap, although she was, for the moment, as proud as if she were marching on Berlin. He begged, in conclusion, to move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Montague Guest.)
Sir, it is not for me to animadvert upon the use which my hon. Friend the Member for Wareham (Mr. Montague Guest) has made of his power to move the adjournment of the House, nor on the rather full and animated and pointed statement which he has delivered upon that Motion, entering into the whole question of Tunis. But it is for me, in the responsible position that I hold, in the first place, entirely to associate myself with the answer which was previously given to the Question by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Charles W. Dilke); and, in the second place, to represent to the House in the most earnest and strongest manner that justice, policy, and I would almost say decency, require that this discussion should not now be continued. On one point only can I refer to the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Wareham, because it is an historical point which while confirming does not touch any of the matters which he probably may desire, and may very legitimately desire, to bring under the notice of the House. It is the statement which he has made that up to the year 1863 France recognized the connection between Tunis and the Ottoman Empire. 573 Now, that point has been a subject for very many years of correspondence, if not of controversy, between the Foreign Office of this country and the French Government from time to time. I would observe, with regard to these recognitions, that they are made a good deal to depend upon convenience by this Power and that; and if my hon. Friend is prepared to go all lengths in the assertion of the measures which this country ought to take in consequence of our recognizing the suzerainty of Turkey over Tunis, whilst France does not recognize it, he will feel that we are open to the question whether we ourselves have acted upon that principle, and admitted the suzerainty of Turkey in cases where she has claimed it. I believe I am quite accurate in saying that Turkey claimed the suzerainty over Algiers, before the French came into the possession of it; but we, considering ourselves to have a cause of quarrel with Algiers, bombarded the town without asking leave of the Porte. It will, I believe, be necessary to consider the principle upon which we have ourselves acted in laying down the law for other people's grievances. In the view of our Foreign Office, this matter has long been a matter of correspondence and controversy, and the British Government has always contended that Turkey exercised a power of suzerainty over Tunis, while the French Government has as steadily denied it. Moreover, the French Government was supported in that denial by the Government of Italy down to a very recent period. Do not let the House suppose for a moment that I mention this as a point determining, or even having any bearing upon, the merits of this question; but I merely wish that the matter of fact should not be omitted or misinterpreted. I pass, Sir, to the earnest representation I have made, and for which I will now state the grounds. My hon. Friend the Member for Wareham has, undoubtedly, in the strongest terms, arraigned the policy and conduct of the Government of France. Well, let us consider what are the titles of a friendly nation upon our courtesy and consideration. France is a country with which for more than a generation of men we have been in close and unbroken alliance; and I must say I think it is not stating too high the obligations that we ought to observe towards such a country, and, indeed, I will say towards 574 any country, that when we have very strong charges to bring against her policy and conduct, we should take care that the House is placed in possession of authentic information before we do anything in the way of bringing such charges. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State has stated that this information is being pressed forward with all speed, and that in the course, I hope, of two or three days, it will be in the possession of the House. I put it to the House, as the first of the two propositions I wish to make, that if there is a disposition, and evidently there is, in the mind of some—I now give no opinion upon the matter—to arraign the conduct of the French Government, it is but right and just—and I will add but decent—that we should have that authentic information which is on its way to us in our hands before we proceed to consider the form and extent of the arraignment as to their conduct. With regard to the other question, which is a most legitimate one for my hon. Friend the Member for Wareham to raise, the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, I have no doubt that conduct will be closely and carefully scrutinized, as it ought to be. My hon. Friend says that we have been hoodwinked and deluded, and betrayed into a false position. Well, those are assertions which I only name for the purpose of showing that if I do not now contest them, I may not be held to overlook them, or subscribe to them, or any other. But the claim I would make on this portion of the question—namely, the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, is really one that I would venture to place quite as high as the claim I have just made in respect of our obligations towards a friendly and neighbouring country. My claim is that you cannot judge the conduct of Her Majesty's Government until you have the Papers before you. Nay, more, you ought not to attempt so to judge it, even if it were true that this was a question on which their conduct had exclusively turned upon proceedings of their own. But it is right I should say that when the Papers are produced, the most important portions of the Correspondence that we shall lay before the House, so far as they involve the proceedings of this country, are portions which belong, not to the time of the present, but to the time of the previous Administration. My hon. 575 Friend the Member for Wareham has referred to something which he supposes to have been stated or done by Lord Salisbury. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will feel with me that there could not be a more gross deviation from Parliamentary etiquette, and there could not be a more gross deviation from the rules of substantial justice, than I should be chargeable with if I were in general terms, and without the production of the documents, to enter upon a discussion of the conduct of Lord Salisbury. I state Lord Salisbury personally, because my hon. Friend mentioned Lord Salisbury but I have not the smallest reason to believe—on the contrary, my belief is exactly the opposite one—that Lord Salisbury, with regard to these proceedings on this important question, was in any manner separated from the general action of the Government of which he was a Member. Under these circumstances, my hon. Friend and others will see that though the time may be very close at hand when this subject should be discussed, yet that it would not be right that we should attempt to discuss it in the absence of the Papers now in preparation. It would lead to no benefit whatever; it would conduct us to no solid conclusion; and I do not hesitate to say that it might be productive of very serious inconvenience and difficulty.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he felt very strongly the appeal by the Prime Minister to the House to wait for further information. At one time Her Majesty's Government professed to have knowledge on the subject. He admitted that the House ought not in a hurry to enter into a discussion; but, assuming that there was ground for the appeal, he thought the House ought to know what was the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Surely there could be no objection on the part of a patriotic Administration to inform the House what was their policy. They knew that some time ago Her Majesty's Government believed that the Regency of Tunis was an integral portion of the Ottoman Empire. Did Her Majesty's Government believe that, or had they given up their contention in the face of the arms of France? In fact, were they in the presence of another surrender? They knew it was a cardinal principle of Her Majesty's Government to defend popular rights and the rights of nationalities. Had they maintained 576 popular rights at present? Surely the House ought to know whether Her Majesty's Government had assented to an annexation of Tunis. [Great interruption here ensued, upon which the hon. Member resumed his seat, saying he must decline to continue his speech.]
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I rise to Order, Sir; I beg to direct your attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) is interrupting the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) by incoherent cries.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
resumed by assuring hon. Members opposite that it was only from a conviction of the importance of the subject that he had ventured to address any observations to the House. Hon. Members had asked for information again and again. Had Her Majesty's Government made up their minds, or did they intend to spring a surprise on the House this day week? Could they have been in communication with the French Government all these weeks and months, and not have arrived at any policy on the subject? Had they consented to a hauling down of the British flag? Speaking as an Irishman, he thought he had a right to plead for a recognition of national rights.
MR. J. COWEN
said, he quite agreed with the Prime Minister that any discussion of the Tunisian question at the present time would be inconvenient and unjust. They ought not to condemn the French Government until they had had an opportunity of being heard. But it was only fair to say that if his hon. Friend (Mr. Guest) had been precipitate in bringing the matter before the house, the French Government had been equally, if not a good deal more, precipitate in the course they had pursued. He feared there was little chance of their explaining away the action that had been taken. The English and Italian Governments had every reason to believe that the French simply meditated punishing the Kroumirs for their raids on Algerian territory. It was but too evident now that the Kroumir incursions had merely been made a pretext for an annexation that had long been contemplated. At least, that was the only view it was possible to take upon 577 the case as it stood. He would be glad if subsequent intelligence justified him in altering his opinion. He had no desire to further prolong the discussion; but he wished to ask this question. The Tunisian Government owed a debt of some £5,000,000. A few years ago it was upwards of £6,000,000. The Bey was unable to pay the interest, and an International Financial Commission was established for collecting the taxes and taking charge of the Debt. This Commission consisted of one Englishman, one Frenchman, one Italian, and two Tunisians. It had been in existence now for some time, and its operations had been highly successful. The interest had been regularly paid, and the Debt had been gradually but substantially reduced. Now, he understood, by the Treaty just concluded, that this International Commission had been annulled, and a French Commission had been substituted for it. That was an important matter. A good deal of the Tunisian Debt was held by English people, and it was only right that they should be represented on the Commission. What he wished to ask the Government was, whether the Papers they were about to submit would enlighten Parliament on the part the French Cabinet had taken in destroying the old International Commission and supplanting it by a French Commission?
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked whether the Papers to be laid upon the Table would include the Treaty said to have been signed within the last few days; and, also, whether the Government would produce any communications which might have passed with the Italian Government with respect to the action of the French Government?
§ MR. BOURKE
also wished to ask, whether any Papers would be included relating to Biserta Bay which were at the Foreign Office? He believed that there were some Papers at the Admiralty also, in relation to that matter, which the House would like to see.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
, in reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), said, there were points connected with the International Financial Commission on which information would be given in the Papers to be laid before the House. In answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), he had to say that the Treaty 578 would be given in the Papers. The communication with the Italian Government would be given. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bourke), he thought his Question had better be put to the Admiralty.
§ MR. BOURKE
gave Notice, that be would, to-morrow, ask a Question about the Papers to which he referred.
§ MR. MONTAGUE GUEST
said, he was willing, after the statement of the Prime Minister, to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. MONTAGUE GUEST
asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether, with regard to a threat made by the French in 1864 to fire on any Turkish ironclads that might attempt to proceed to Tunis, upon which the honourable Member for Rochester asked for Lord Palmerston's answer at that time, if he did not say that "there was no answer whatever to it;" if he is aware that in 1864, on the arrival of the French and Italian Fleets in Tunis, Admiral Yelverton was ordered to that place with the English Fleet, and that the Porte sent likewise a squadron under Mustapha Bey, with the Sultan's Commissioner, Haidar Effendi; and, if he will lay upon the Table the Papers referring to that transaction?
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
Sir, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) having asked me whether the French Government had threatened to forcibly prevent a Turkish naval force from visiting Tunis, I incidentally stated in my reply that the French Government had so acted in 1841 and in 1864. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester (Mr. Otway) then asked me what answer Lord Palmerston made, and I replied that the French Government not having asked his consent to their proceeding, he had made none. My hon. Friend then observed that he had sent the British Fleet, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wareham (Mr. Guest) now asks me if that is so. On the former occasion, in 1841, the French Government despatched to Tunis a fleet carrying 438 guns. Lord Palmerston sent a far smaller force to protect British life and property, and with distinct orders "to take no part in the dispute." On the later occasion, in 1864, on the occurrence of riots in the Regency of Tunis, in the course of which the houses of some 579 British merchants were pillaged, Lord Palmerston sent one large and one small ship to protect British life and property. When France interfered in the matter, a few weeks later, the French Government sent a large force, which was ultimately increased till it numbered five unarmoured ships of the Line, two iron-clads, and five other steam men-of-war; and the Italian Government, who had at that time an understanding with the French Government with regard to Tunis, sent four unarmoured frigates. one iron-clad, and one corvette, the Italian ships having also troops on board for disembarkation. There never were more than two British ships at Tunis at any one time in the course of 1864, and their mission was to protect British life and property.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
, in reply, said, that the Papers relating to Tunis were almost of incredible bulk, and it would be impossible to include in those about to be produced the Papers referring to the negotiations of 1868 as to the Financial Commission.
§ MR. MONTAGUE GUEST
asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether, in view of the concert stated to have been established between the Great Powers with the especial object of regulating the affairs of the East and maintaining the Peace of Europe, France consulted the other Powers who were parties to the said concert before invading Tunisian territory, and is now acting with their concurrence and sanction?