HL Deb 05 July 1881 vol 263 cc5-9

in rising to ask a question of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as to the alleged statement of M. Tissot, the French Ambassador at Constantinople, to the effect that instructions had been given to the general in command of the French troops to cross the Tunisian frontier into Tripoli, if necessary for the preservation of order; also if any information can be given with regard to the military organization which is stated to be taking place in Tripoli under the Turkish governor, Nasif Pacha, in consequence, as alleged, of the occupation of Tunis by the French; also to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for papers and correspondence relative to Tripoli? said, he felt that he ought to offer an apology for again bringing this question under the consideration of the House. His apology was the great urgency of the case, and the more than usual reserve on the part of Her Majesty's Government in withholding information, and in not giving the least information as to what would be their policy on a question which, he was sure, the noble Earl opposite would admit was one of a very grave nature. Arising on all sides were alarming indications of what might result in massacre and bloodshed, and what had begun in Tunis might not end there. Already we heard of a large mobilization of French troops, of the probable bombardment of Sfax, which was not very far distant from the Fron- tier of Tripoli, of the pillage of the town by the Natives, of British subjects being killed, of hundreds of Europeans, including British subjects, taking refuge on board ships, though no English ships of war were there; of the probable occupation by French troops of the town of Cabes and of the Island of Djerba, near the extreme limit of the Frontier of Tunis adjoining Tripoli—these, and other rapidly progressing events, pointed most unmistakably to two things—the French occupation of Tripoli, or a rising among the Natives, which could only be repressed by military force. Granting, as he believed the noble Marquess below him (the Marquess of Salisbury) did, that there was a legitimate exercise of French influence in Tunis, of which this country need not be jealous—granting this, he would say that the question had now assumed a new phase, as the occupation by French troops of a portion of the territory of Tripoli might at any moment take place. It had been stated, and if incorrectly, he hoped the noble Earl opposite would say so, that the French troops had received instructions to cross the Tunisian Frontier into Tripoli, if necessary, for the preservation of order. Now, there was a very remarkable resemblance between this statement and what had occurred in connection with the crossing of the Frontier between Algeria and Tunis. A pretext was only wanting, and an Arab Tribe had only to be irritated, and the pretext was at hand. But what would be the consequences? Tripoli was an undoubted portion of the Ottoman Empire. It was protected by Treaties as fully as any other part of the Sultan's Dominions; and was it for a moment to be supposed that Turkey would allow French troops to enter any portion of the territory of Tripoli without the consent of the Sultan? He trusted that the noble Earl would tell their Lordships whether the Governor of Tripoli had not been making military preparations in the event of this emergency. Was it likely, he asked, that Italy could remain unmoved by events which were passing almost within sight of her own shores—events which must have a great influence upon her future prospects? This country had long been on friendly terms with the countries of Northern Africa, and they had placed confidence in England's good faith and in English influence; but their trust had been much shaken by recent events. He desired to give credit to Her Majesty's Government for their intention to serve the interests of this country, and he regretted to be obliged to differ from them upon this important question. He sincerely hoped, however, that they would be able to give some indication of the policy which would be pursued with regard to the daily increasing difficulties in the countries of Northern Africa.


said, the recent complaint of the French with regard to the measures taken for the protection of Tripoli had no more foundation than the complaint of the wolf against the lamb. Tripoli was 12 degrees to the East of the Province of Oran, where the Algerine insurrection had taken place, and it was impossible for news to have been carried in that short space of time from Tripoli to near Oran through the Desert. There were, besides, no direct lines of communication between Tripoli and the district South of Oran, for in the Sahara the roads ran mostly North and South, and there were no lateral communications. The cause of the insurrection in Algeria was due to the French themselves, and to their conduct only, in invading Tunis, and to the excesses committed by some of their forces on entering the Regency of Tunis. Since that it was reported that the division of General Logerot, on its way back to Constantina, about 12 days ago, had burned the crops and date trees of the tribes, and carried off 18,000 cattle and 700 women, the women having been subsequently released. The French papers had also lately adopted a plan of writing of affairs which were totally distinct and geographically distant in the same paragraph, so as to mislead ignorant persons to imagine that they were connected with one another. Thus they had connected the Khroumirs with the slaughter of an expedition in the Sahara, and now they were mixing up a rising in Tunis with that in Oran. It had been stated that the French Government had entered into a Convention or understanding with the Spanish Government under which Spain was to occupy Morocco and France take Tripoli. He did not believe that such an understanding had been actually come to, but it was probable that it had been attempted; and he would ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he had any information on the subject? In the recent insurrection in the Province of Oran a large number of Spaniards had been killed and taken prisoners. From the accounts in the French papers it appeared that the civil and military authorities were mutually casting the blame upon one another for the neglect of proper precautions, which had rendered possible the loss of life which had occurred, and the feeling in Spain had been turned against the French on account of their neglect of their countrymen; and it was not to be feared that this unnecessary loss of life would lead the Spaniards to assist the French in their designs, since it was clear that the French alone were to blame for it. If the Government continued to be as inert as it had lately shown itself to be, more harm would be done, and a beginning on the part of the French would be made, when it would be more difficult to stop them than before they had entered upon a further course of aggression on Tripoli. Moreover, it was not Tripoli only that was threatened; the French papers were preparing the way for designs on Syria. He valued the friendship and goodwill of the French for this country as much as any man did; but the goodwill of Her Majesty's Indian Mussulman subjects, and the goodwill of the population of Western Asia, was equally valuable and necessary to this country, and Her Majesty's Government appeared to be quite indifferent to the loss of it. If Tripoli were interfered with by the French a very large British trade would be lost, for the trade with Central Africa went from Tripoli through Mourzuk, and not from Tunis, as had been stated on a former occasion. He therefore trusted that his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would take steps in conjunction with the Ottoman, Italian, and French Governments in order to prevent further aggressions.

Address for papers and correspondence relative to Tripoli.—(The Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, I am bound to say that the noble Earl opposite (Earl De La Warr) always gives me Notice of the numerous Questions which he is in the habit of address- ing to me, which my noble Friend at the Table (Lord Stanley of Alderley) does not. I imagine that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), to whom the noble Earl referred, and all your Lordships agree with the Government that the cases of Tripoli and Tunis are of a perfectly distinct and separate character, and that any arrangements which may be arrived at in respect of Tunis are not in the slightest way applicable to Tripoli. I agree so far with the noble Earl; but I repudiate the noble Earl's interpretation of my great reticence about this matter. A Government is placed in great difficulty in regard to giving information, charged, as they are, with the affairs of the country in relation to foreign Powers, and is under a disadvantage in furnishing information to the public that depends upon the consent of foreign Governments. But no Government can be blamed for not giving information which they have not received, and, therefore, do not themselves possess. My noble Friend at the Table, who gave me no Notice of his Question, asks me to give him information as to what has happened between France and Spain with regard to the partition of Morocco. Now, all I can say is, that I have not heard a word of any Treaty concluded between France and Spain with regard to Morocco. I utterly disbelieve it; and it is, therefore, impossible for me to give any information about it. The noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) complains of my not having given information as to the first part of his statement in reference to M. Tissot. But I have to say that I have heard nothing about the military occupation of Tripoli. The only report we have heard was that on the 28th of last month a Turkish ship of war had arrived at the port with a Turkish General of Division on board and two battalions. That is the only report we have heard. The noble Earl moves for Papers. I shall be only too ready to accede to his request if he thinks they will be of the slightest importance to him.

Address agreed to.

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