HC Deb 18 May 1820 vol 1 cc475-8

On the order of the day for receiving the report of this bill,

Mr. Curwen

said, he could not but deeply lament, that, in the present state of the country, ministers had not recommended and acted upon that system of economy, the necessity for which was so universally admitted. Instead of the measure now before them, he had hoped that ministers, on the part of the Crown, would have stated that a considerable diminution of the civil list expenditure was intended; because, however desirable it was to support the dignity of the Crown, still, at a period like the present, the sufferings and privations of the people ought to be attended to and removed as much as possible. With this feeling, he conceived the greatest ornament of the Crown at this moment would be economy and retrenchment. Everyman who felt the real state of the country must be convinced that its prosperity could alone be hoped for by considerably diminishing the public expenditure. He regretted that a proposition of that kind had not been made on the part of ministers, particularly with reference to the civil list. He conceived that a well-con- sidered diminution of that expenditure would at once conduce to the true dignity of the Crown, and be found in every point of view serviceable to the country.

Mr. Monck

observed, that the allowances granted to our ambassadors and envoys were extravagant and enormous. He did not wish the country to be niggardly towards those individuals, but he conceived that it would not be derogatory to the dignity of this government if they were put on the same footing as one of the greatest monarchs of Europe—he meant the king of France—placed the ambassadors of that nation. He was credibly Informed that there were but two classes of French ambassadors, the higher and the interior. The members of the first class were paid 6,000l. a year each, with the single exception of the ambassador to the court of London, who, in consequence of the high rate of living in this metropolis, was allowed 200,000 francs, or about 8,000l. sterling. Now, our principal ambassadors had not less than 12,000l. a year; and the salaries of our ambassadors at the inferior courts varied from 5,000l. to 4,000l. and 3,000l. Thus this government gave, as nearly as could be, double the allowances granted to the ambassadors of one of the first monarchs in Europe. This made a difference, on the whole, of nearly 80,000l. a year, or, in other words, our government were paying 80,000l. annually more than was paid by the French government for similar service. Such a saving was important at all times, but particularly so in the present circumstances of the country.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that in 1815 a committee of the House of Commons investigated this branch of expenditure and recommended that the present allowances should be granted. That recommendation was acceded to without opposition; and the provision then suggested, and which was made on a general view of the subject, had been continued ever since. Prior to that period particular sums were granted for particular branches of expense to which our ambassadors were liable, but it was thought better to give a specific salary. He could assure the hon. member that the subject had undergone a great deal of consideration, with a view to the greatest possible economy, and at the same time to avoid impoverishing or embarrassing individuals employed as ambassadors. There were, at the former period, large demands under the head of extraordinaries, which created much embarrassment; and it was therefore thought expedient to do away with claims of that description, and to give in lieu of them a fair and liberal addition to the rate of salary to our ministers abroad. With respect to the observation made by the hon. member relative to the course pursued by the French government, he did not think it was an infallible criterion as to the amount of salary which British ambassadors should receive, that, because other courts only paid certain sums, they were bound to follow the example.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, the observations that had fallen from the hon. member afforded a further proof, of the necessity of that discussion and inquiry relative to the items of the civil list which had been so repeatedly called for by gentle-men on his side of the House, and as repeatedly refused by the gentlemen opposite. A committee had, it appeared, sat in 1815, and it was said that their decision proceeded on such grounds, that there could be no mistake in the correctness of their calculations. It was, however, properly replied, that the government had stripped that committee of all those powers which could alone enable them to perform their duties effectually. The hon. member for Taunton had truly stated, that ministers had prevented a. close, vigorous, and efficient investigation of every part of the civil list expenditure, and had refused to the committee those facilities by the use of which alone they could hope to arrive at a just conclusion. But, supposing, in 1815, a committee, clothed with such power as would have enabled them to have properly examined the subject, had been appointed, still a fresh inquiry was, he contended, necessary, because the two periods were wholly dissimilar, and the state of the country now was far more critical.

Mr. Philips

said, that the noble lord, in speaking of the salaries granted to our ambassadors, seemed to have forgotten the depreciated state of the currency when the last arrangement was made. The sum of 12,000l. granted in 1815 was; now equal to 15,000l. This circumstance; afforded a strong reason either for diminishing the expense, or for inquiring into its necessity. The noble lord had given of satisfactory answer as to the difference in diplomatic expenses which appeared to exist between this government and that of France. He had not stated why our expenses should be double those of the French government.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that when the arrangement was made, it was specifically agreed that our ambassadors should have a fixed salary, independent of any alteration in the currency. That salary was to cover all extraordinaries, and was not liable to be increased on account of any unfavourable fluctuation in the foreign exchanges. As to the hon. member's information relative to the payment of foreign ambassadors, he knew not the source from which he had derived it, and of course could not answer for its correctness.

Mr. Monck

said, he had derived his information from a French gentleman who was in the diplomatic line.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that having had an opportunity of seeing our ambassadors in other countries, he thought it but an act of candour to say, that there were claims made on the hospitality of the English ambassadors which were not made on the ambassadors of any other court.

The report was then agreed to.