HL Deb 13 May 1881 vol 261 cc396-9

, in rising, according to Notice, to ask the Secretary of State at the head of the Foreign Office, If the recent Circular of M. St. Hilaire, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, explanatory of the objects of the French invasion of the Regency of Tunis, can be laid on the Table of the House? said, that although his noble Friend (Earl Granville) was not in the House, he would put the Question generally. In doing so, he would observe that the differences which had arisen between France and Tunis had come to a crisis which could not fail to awaken very grave considerations. The French expedition to Tunis was undertaken with the avowed object of putting a stop to the predatory incursions of some lawless tribes on the Frontier of Tunis and Algeria. It was not easy to ascertain to what extent these raids had been carried on, though they had, in former instances, not unfrequently been easily checked and repressed by the Bey. The French, however, seemed to have treated the matter as a serious one, and sent a force of 20,000 men in search, as alleged, of those lawless tribes. It would, perhaps, be difficult to say that the French were not justified in taking some steps to put a stop to annoyances which they might receive from lawless tribes on their Frontier. But, under pretext of this, a neighbouring and friendly country was invaded against the protest of the Sovereign, who had always been on friendly terms, and was still desirous of keeping up friendly intercourse with France; and the French troops, after occupying several places in the Regency of Tunis, advanced far into the interior of the country, and were now within a few miles of the capital. Simultaneously with this, a Circular was despatched by M. St. Hilaire to the French Representatives in foreign countries, in which it was announced that there must now be a Treaty guaranteeing us both from the incursions from which our frontiers are perpetually suffering, and from the unfair dealings of which the Bardo (i.e., the Government of the Bey) has too often been the instrument and the centre. He (Earl De La Warr) believed this to be a most unjust and unfounded accusation, and that it would be found that the Bey had always endeavoured to be on the most friendly terms with France. Judging from what followed in the document, a French Protectorate of Tunis was the ultimate object of the invasion of the country. M. St. Hilaire goes on to say that— Tunis is in general very 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. And here he might refer to what seemed to be a somewhat questionable sentence for the Foreign Minister of a great country to put into a Circular addressed to the foreign Representatives of that country in speaking of the Sovereign of a neighbouring State. M. St. Hilaire continued— It is very possible that the present Bey may soon learn to his cost, at the expense of his Throne or his freedom, perhaps of his life, what a tremendous mistake his ill-inspired advisers made him commit. He need offer no comment upon those words. And now he would ask their Lordships to look at the present attitude assumed by France as compared with the avowed objects of the military invasion of the Regency of Tunis. Their Lordships had heard more than once from his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that France had no intention of conquest or annexation; that the French Government had authorized Lord Lyons to assure Her Majesty's Government that they had no intention of annexation or conquest; and the same assurances were given by Her Majesty's Government in "another place," where it was stated— The French Government informed Lord Lyons on the 9th instant that their military operations in Tunis will be confined to the neighbourhood of its frontier and the punishment of its lawless frontier tribes. Such were among the repeated assurances of the French Government at the commencement of the campaign; and he (Earl De La Warr) asked how far they were consistent with the present operations of the French Army, which was now far distant from the Frontier, and within a few miles of the City of Tunis? He ventured to hope that the noble Earl would be able to assure their Lordships that some action would be taken by Her Majesty's Government, to show that this country was not indifferent to what was taking place, not only with regard to the injustice which was being done, but also in consideration of the interests of this country. He believed his noble Friend received yesterday a direct communication from the Bey of Tunis—a Copy of which had been sent to the other Powers—showing how that, relying on the assurances of France, he had offered no resistance, and appealing in the extreme urgency of the case to the British Government, as well as to the Governments of the other Powers. He would most earnestly press upon the attention of Her Majesty's Government whether some joint action with other Powers might not bring the question to a satisfactory issue.


said, that he rejoiced at the news of a Treaty having been signed at Tunis, and that further effusion of blood had been stopped, and the danger avoided of any military accidents such as might have induced the French to impose more onerous terms on the Government of Tunis than those they originally intended to impose, or had professed to intend to seek. No final Treaty could be entered into by the Bey of Tunis alone without ratification by the Sublime Porte. The noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) would, therefore, have opportunities of watching over the negotiations and preventing the insertion into this Treaty of clauses which might clash with the independence of Tunis, or with the rights of other nations under Treaties with the Ottoman Porte. The qualities and past political services of his noble Friend, and, he might add, those of the hon. Baronet his Under Secretary (Sir Charles W. Dilke), gave him exceptional facilities for these negotiations.


, in reply, said, he could only repent what his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had already stated—that he intended to lay on the Table of the House very shortly Papers on the subject, and that among them would be the document which the noble Earl opposite (Earl De La Warr) asked to have produced. House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.