HC Deb 02 March 1882 vol 266 cc1943-5

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it is true, as reported, that Lord Lyons and M. de Freycinet have signed a Treaty prolonging for ten years the existing arrangements with regard to fisheries, navigation, and trade marks; and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government have in that Treaty taken measures to secure the abolition of the bounty system, and whether they have taken steps to secure a modification of the surtaxe d'entrepôt, which places our seaports at a disadvantage with those of France; also, whether it is true that, notwithstanding ''the most favoured nation Clause," importations of Foreign and Colonial produce, by way of ports in Great Britain or Ireland, are liable to surtaxes d'entrepôt, and placed at special disadvantage as compared with similar importations into France direct; if it is true (as stated in the "Times" of 28th ult.) that about half our exports to France are of this character; whether his attention has been drawn to a Memorial which was recently addressed to the Foreign Office by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, in which it was stated that about 40,000 tons of traffic per annum had been already lost to the port of Liverpool by this system of taxation and diverted to France; if it is true that West India and other similar produce sent to France by way of Southampton, Liverpool, or other of our ports, is more heavily taxed than such importations when forwarded by competing American routes; if ships of French ownership, built in this Country, are not placed at considerable disadvantage in regard to bounties as compared with similar vessels built in France; whether vessels of British ownership are at greater disadvantage still; and, whether, if "the most favoured nation Clause" in existing Commercial Treaties has, in these and other instances, failed to secure equal treatment, Her Majesty's Government can see their way to replace Duties upon the luxuries which we import from France and other Countries until such time as France and other Countries are prepared to receive our manufactures free of Duty, and to trade with this Country on fair and equal terms?


Sir, it is true that Lord Lyons and M. de Freycinet did sign, the day before yesterday, a Trade Marks, Navigation, and Fisheries Convention for 10 years. That continues the existing state of things in regard to fisheries, trade marks, and other matters, which are subject to no tariff arrangement at the present time, and of course without it, I need hardly point out, we should have reverted to an old system, which is barbarous as compared with the systems of commercial countries at the present day. The subject of shipping bounties is not one that could possibly have been brought under the terms of the Convention at the present time. What the hon. Gentleman states with regard to the effect of the surtaxes d'entrepôt is correct. That question was dealt with very fully in the recent negotiations, and the English Commissioners obtained a very large reduc- tion of surtaxes d'entrepôt, which they had no reason to expect before these negotiations. This, however, fell through in consequence of no Treaty being signed. But the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in supposing that any "most favoured nation clause "now exists, or that with regard to surtaxe d'entrepôt there will be any change in the system in force since 1872, which favours direct, as compared with indirect, importations into France. In 1880, three-sevenths of the export trade of this country with France were in foreign and colonial produce; but the great bulk of these exports consisted of raw material, which was and is exempt from surtaxe d''entrepôt. There is an improvement upon the surtaxe d'entrepôt obtained by the arrangement of yesterday. For instance, Australian wool was formerly free, but South African wool was subject to surtaxe d'entrepôt; whereas the latter is now exempted as well as the other, and all wool is free. In reply to the last part of the hon. Member's Question, I must again repeat that there is now no Treaty with France guaranteeing ''most favoured nation" treatment as regards customs tariffs; and if he means to inquire whether Her Majesty's Government intend to impose duties on articles hitherto untaxed, I may tell him that we have no such intention. If the hon. Member refers to the wine duties, that question has been and is still under consideration.