HL Deb 25 March 1881 vol 259 cc1926-8

asked, Whether the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could give any further information with reference to the question of the Enfida Estate in the Regency of Tunis? He said that, perhaps, the noble Earl would excuse his bringing this question again under his notice; but, as his noble Friend must be aware, it was one which was exciting great public interest, not only in the Regency of Tunis, but also in this country. Statements had been made in the public Press in France, as well as elsewhere, arising out of the Enfida case, but really involving the relations of this country and the Regency of Tunis. It would be very desirable if the noble Earl could give their Lordships further information as to the present position of affairs, and whether the case was to be decided by the local Courts? Perhaps his noble Friend might not be unwilling to lay before their Lord- ships the Papers and Correspondence relating to the subject?


said, there could be little doubt that the case of Enfida ought to be left to the local tribunals, because when the Porte made the concession of allowing foreigners to hold land, it did so on the express condition that they were to be subject to the law of the country in all that concerned their property. The Enfida question, however, was a secondary one compared with the dangers to which Tunis was now exposed from France, but for which Italy was as much, or perhaps more, to blame; for the French would not have become so excited at Tunis, nor have threatened that State, if it had not been for the intrigues of the Italians, and the fear the French had of the Italians attempting to establish themselves at Tunis. The Italian Government might fairly be suspected of not having too great a regard for the Law of Nations, since the Italian Kingdom had been formed by a disregard of that law. There was another danger said to threaten Tunis besides the fear and rivalry of the French for the Italians, and for that this country was to blame. He would ask his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether the statement which had gone the round of the Press was true—namely, that a former Minister of the Crown had, shortly after the acquisition of Cyprus, admitted the claims of France to supremacy over Tunis? That statement ought not to be credible, for whilst France had no right to supremacy over Tunis, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, still less had any Minister of this country the right to give away and betray portions of the territory of an Ally, the integrity of which was secured by the Treaty of Paris. The statement that had been made, even if entirely untrue, showed the inherent vice of the Cyprus Convention, and the baseness of the whole of the policy called "peace with honour," but which had consisted in joining with Russia in despoiling our Ally whilst pretending to oppose Russia. In doing that the late Government had demoralized Europe, for France had come out of the Berlin Negotiations with clean hands; but now it seemed that she wished to invade and conquer a country which had given her no offence or just cause for complaint, and, if the statement now made in the Press was true, the late Government had been tempting France to this dishonour, in order, apparently, to secure her complicity, or to prevent and silence her remonstrances. He would remind the House that there were engagements long anterior to this on the part of France not to meddle with either Tunis or Morocco, given at the time of the conquest of Algiers or shortly after.


I regret that I cannot give any information at the present moment in answer to the Question put to me by the noble Earl opposite (Earl De La Warr). The matter is still under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and I have referred it to the Law Officers. Their opinion is confirmed by that of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Two days ago further despatches were sent from Tunis; but they only arrived this morning. I have thought it right also to refer them to the same learned authorities, in order that they may make any observations on them. Till that is done, it will not be competent for me to give any information to your Lordships. With regard to the Question of my noble Friend, I was not aware that he was going to put it. I believe it is evidently founded upon a conversation which had taken place between Lord Salisbury and M. Waddington; but the former had denied that he had made such an admission. The question was not one that he (Earl Granville) could enter into without Notice, and he did not think there would be any advantage in re-opening the matter at the present moment.