HL Deb 27 March 1882 vol 268 cc2-4

rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If a copy of the Concession to M. RénéDuplessis of the Esparto fibre districts in the Regency of Tunis between fax and the Tripolitan frontier can be laid upon the Table of the House; also any correspondence which may have taken place on the subject? The noble Earl observed that, although, perhaps, it might not be correct to say in so many words, as did the late Prime Minister of France, M. Gambetta, that England had "recognized the Bardo Treaty," which had been obtained from the Bey of Tunis by France, he feared that facts of almost daily occurrence proved that, in practice, it was so. The instance to which he was about to refer, and the Papers which he was about to ask the noble Earl opposite to lay upon the Table of the House, formed, he might say, a convincing proof of the position occupied by this country at the present time as regarded trade and commerce. It appeared that a concession for a considerable number of years of the principal Esparto grass districts in the Regency of Tunis had been granted to a French house under the name of M. Réné Duplessis. The districts granted, as he was informed, comprised all the best parts of the country, and those which remained were comparatively unimportant. It appeared that the British trade in Esparto grass, recently discovered as being of great value in the manufacture of paper, had been of considerable importance; and in the Return of 1880 the quantity exported from Tunis and Tripoli to Great Britain amounted in value to£477,000. Now, it was quite clear that if what was virtually a monopoly had been established in favour of a French house, British merchants would be placed at a considerable disadvantage, and the Treaty of 1875 between this country and Tunis, so highly favourable to British trade, practically became of no effect. He would remind their Lordships that since the late unhappy events in Tunis, not only had they to regret the loss of that close and ancient alliance which had for so many years existed between this country and the Beys of Tunis, and which the present Bey had so earnestly desired to maintain, and which the Governments of Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell were so careful to uphold, but also there were now in the Regency of Tunis not fewer than 10,000 British subjects who would severely suffer unless more protection was afforded them than had hitherto been given since the occupation of the country by the French. He would now beg to ask the noble Earl the Question of which he had given Notice.


In answer to the Question of the noble Earl, I have to state that Her Majesty's Government have received a telegraphic communica- tion, but no copy of the concession referred to. It would not be convenient to lay upon the Table any of the Correspondence relating to this matter while communications are taking place with the French Government.