HL Deb 20 February 1883 vol 276 cc395-7

who rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether the rights of British subjects in the Regency of Tunis under the capitulations will be affected by the proposed Treaty between Franco and the Bey of Tunis; and whether Her Majesty's Government can state what course they intend to pursue? said, that lie was very desirous of bringing the subject as early as possible before their Lordships, having had good reason to believe that statements which had appeared in the public Press were given upon good authority—to the effect that in June and July of last year communications were carried on between France and the British Government, and with other countries of Europe, with reference to the position of France in the Regency of Tunis, and that M. Cambon, the French resident Minister at Tunis, went to Paris to negotiate the terms of a Treaty between France and the Bey of Tunis, which was afterwards signed. The noble Earl opposite said, in November, that he could not give an opportunity then for bringing the question forward. It almost seemed that their Lordships' House was threatened with the clôture, which could hardly be said to be necessary. Now, after the signing of this Treaty as alleged, in September, when M. Duclerc was Prime Minister of France, it appeared that communications were addressed by the French Government to the Great Powers, informing them that it was in contemplation to abolish the Consular Courts existing in virtue of the Capitulations, and to establish French tribunals in Tunis. He contended that this was a most important matter for their Lordships and the country generally to consider, and it would be well to know how far the negotiations had proceeded and what would be the future course of the Government in regard to them. As their Lordships were aware, the rights of British subjects under the Capitulations were two-fold, judicial and commercial. They had existed for 200 years or more; and under them a British subject was entitled to have his cause determined in the Consular Court, which existed under a series of special Orders in Council, the last of which was of very recent date, he believed since the French had occupied Tunis. Now, it was not difficult to understand that British interests would be materially affected by the abolition of the Consular Court; and even if French Courts were established in their place, there would be a great difference to a British subject if he were to be tried by French law in a French Court instead of by English law and by an English tribunal. Other countries would also be much affected by the proposed change, especially Italy, which had a large Colony in Tunis, and which had from the first protested against the violation of international rights by the French annexation of Tunis. But if Her Majesty's Government should tacitly consent, as he could hardly think possible, to give up these judicial rights so long established, and to hand over 10,000 British subjects to French Courts of Justice, there was a further question which was of vast importance to this country in a commercial point of view. Under the Capitulations we had Treaties with the Bey of Tunis of the utmost importance. By the last Treaty no article of British produce or manufacture was excluded from the Regency of Tunis, and no duty could exceed the rate of 8 per cent ad valorem. To mention one instance of the value of this Treaty to British interests, cotton goods of British manufacture came annually into Tunis amounting in value to about £1,000,000. He would ask their Lordships to consider the difference that would follow if these Treaties should cease to exist, and a French Tariff were imposed. We had had some experience of French Commercial Treaties and French Tariffs, and he believed it was a fact that English trade with Algeria had almost ceased in consequence of the high duties which were levied upon English goods, the specific duties now levied by Franco amounting to from 50 to 80 per cent. If the Capitulations were abolished English trade might effectually be stopped in Tunis. He begged to ask whether Her Majesty's Government proposed to surrender the Capitulations as reported, and how far the interests of British subjects would be affected by it? He begged also to move for Papers and Correspondence on the subject.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for papers and correspondence respecting the rights of British subjects in the Regency of Tunis under the capitulations, in connexion with the proposed Treaty between Trance and the Bey of Tunis.—(The Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, we have received no proposal, nor am I aware of any, with respect to the abolition of the Capitulations in Tunis. In answer to an inquiry, we have informed the French Government that we are ready to give a favourable consideration to any alteration in the modes of Consular jurisdiction that would be satisfactory to all nationalities. I believe a similar answer has been given by most countries to whom the application was made. I saw the other day that in the United States a Bill had passed the Legislature of that country for the purpose of enabling its Government to do so. I wish to add that we have accompanied our communication with the assurance that we shall reserve all the rights and privileges, commercial and other, which British subjects enjoy under any Treaty that now exists with the Bey. The Papers will be presented; but at this early stage of the negotiations I cannot say when that will be done, and I would rather a Motion for them should not be made at present.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.