HC Deb 16 June 1837 vol 38 cc1501-7
Sir Stratford Canning

wished to take that opportunity of putting a question to the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, respecting certain circumstances connected with our foreign policy. The question to which he was about to call the attention of the noble Lord was, the present state of the British embassy at Constantinople, and he did not bring it forward for the purpose of making any charge against the inefficiency of his Majesty's Government in foreign parts, but, on the contrary, to mention circumstances connected with our diplomatic appointments in that country which the noble Lord would, he thought, be glad to have an opportunity of explaining to the country. It must be in the recollection of the House and the country, that Lord Ponsonby, as he believed, had applied for leave of absence some time ago; and it would also be in their recollection that three or four months since Sir Charles Vaughan, who was on the retired list, bad been raised to the rank of ambassador, and had been sent out on a special mission to Constantinople. It appeared, however, from the public journals, that he was still at Malta, that be was not to proceed to the court of the Sultan, and that Lord Ponsonby was still at his post at Constantinople; the consequence of which was, that we had two ambassadors at a considerable expense to the country, and not only two ambassadors but two secretaries of legation; in fact, four persons were now paid for performing the business of the British embassy at Constantinople. He thought the secretary of legation might have performed the duty in the absence of Lord Ponsonby. It was also worthy of remark, that another anomaly had taken place, and that Mr. Urquhart, who was on his way home, and who was not in the diplomatic service, had been taken out of the situation to which he was originally appointed in that country, and placed at the head of a department of considerable importance at Constantinople. Mr. Urquhart was sent out there on account of his acquaintance with commercial affairs in the East, and for the purpose of making some arrangement with the Turkish Government respecting the new tariff; yet it so happened, that to the new appointment given to that gentleman, and to the ambassador's application for leave of absence, the country was deprived of the benefits of Mr. Urquhart's abilities in that quarter of the world. He was aware that a diminution of expenditure for the pay of our ambassadors abroad had already taken place, but he did not see why it should be increased on an occasion like that to which he had referred. It was true that there had been special missions to countries where we had ambassadors, such as that of the mission of the Duke of Northumberland, and that of the Duke of Wellington, but these were not cases at all in point. He would only add, that Sir Charles Vaughan had not the slightest chance of reaching his post, and, in fact, was on his way back.

Viscount Palmerslon

said, the right hon. Gentleman had put the question plainly and shortly. It might be owing to his obtuseness of understanding, but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that though he had listened with the greatest attention to the whole of his speech, be hardly knew what was the precise question. He would, however, endeavour to answer the questions as far as he supposed he understood them. The right hon. Gentleman knew why Sir Charles Vaughan was sent out, for he himself had given the reasons. Lord Ponsonby applied for leave of absence, leave of absence was granted, and Sir C. Vaughan was sent out to supply his place. On that head the right hon. Gentleman had been rightly informed. Lord Ponsonby, however had been detained longer at Constantinople than he expected, and as he did not think it proper that two ambassadors should be at Constantinople at the same time, Sir C. Vaughan had been instructed to remain at Malta to await Lord Ponsonby's arrival, in order to communicate with him on public business. Since the appointment, however, Lord Ponsonby had made other arrangements, in consequence of which he had not occasion to return home, and he had written home to say, that he wished to withdraw the application for leave, as he did not wish to avail himself of it. Sir Charles Vaughan's mission was, therefore, at an end. But the right hon. Gentleman said, it was a question of expense, and he did not see what occasion there was for putting the country to great expense by special missions. Certain expenses, no doubt, were incurred by special missions; but did the right hon. Gentleman remember no cases where the country was put to the expense of special missions to courts where there was already a British Minister? He had heard of such cases, and, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman had also heard of an ambassador extraordinary being sent to Madrid when there was an English minister at that court. He was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the public service might be of such an extraordinary nature that a special mission might be necessary; and that the Government, according to the confidence usually placed in them by that House, were not required to state the details of the expense, or give any reasons for the mission, or any explanation of the instruction given to a Minister so sent out. With regard to the selection of Sir Charles Vaughan, it had been asked, why he was sent out to perform a duty which might have been left to the chargé d'affaires; and the answer he would give was, that it was thought more convenient and more advantageous to the public service to have one to succeed an ambassador of the weight and authority of Lord Ponsonby; and he accordingly chose Sir Charles Vaughan, a gentleman of great experience, of perfect discretion, and conciliatory manners. The right hon. Gentleman, in going into the question, seemed inclined to make an attack on him for his selection of persons to foreign embassies. Now, he might on occasions have made unfit selections; but he had always acted according to the best of his judgment at the time, and if he had committed any wrong it was unintentional. He must at the same time admit, that the right hon. Gentleman, from his great diplomatic experience, was well entitled to criticise his selections; but he could only assure him, that right or wrong, he had always endeavoured to choose those that appeared to him the best fitted.

Sir Stratford Canning

said, if the House were satisfied with the noble Lord's explanation, it was not for him to press the question further; but he might be permitted to say, that the explanation did not satisfy him. With respect to the mission on which he went to Madrid, it was well known that Madrid was not his final destination, but that he was sent out to that capital with reference to the affairs of Portugal, and that his being extraordinary ambassador was merely incidental. Unfortunately, however, owing to circumstances and the nature of the instructions he received, that embassy came to a total failure.

Mr. Harvey

said, that with regard to the fitness of the parties he knew nothing; but after all that had been said about great anxiety for the public benefit and regard for public feeling what would the country think if the right hon. Gentleman and the House allowed a question of that sort to pass without something more than a speech? The subject related to the economy of expenditure, and, that being the case, he would take the liberty of saying a few words on it. He had always understood that when an ambassador was sent out he was not only to be paid a salary, but was also to have a substantial outfit. Now, he did not understand that because that gentleman appointed to the embassy had been arrested when only half seas over, and had been called to come back, he was to cancel his claim to some salary, in addition to what he had received as an outfit. That was the only point with which the country, had to do. It was the economy of the transaction, and not the raging hostility between parties, or the clashing interests of diplomacy, or the proposition laid down, that it would be dangerous to the interests of the country to have any persons representing the Sovereign of less weight than an ambassador. Now he could see no reason, when Lord Ponsonby wished to come home, why another ambassador should have been sent and the country burthened with an additional outfit and an additional salary. As it appeared Lord Ponsonby did not wish to come home—on the contrary he wished to remain at Constantinople, and the country was to be put to additional expense on that account, he therefore, hoped, that the right hon. Gentleman, in place of throwing out these unintelligible taunts against the noble Lord, would have moved for a return of the expenses incurred on account of the mission of Sir Charles Vaughan. He supposed the noble Lord wished to see Lord Ponsonby in order to connect him the more with the policy of the country at home; and if there were a diplomatic confab in the Mediterranean, what harm could be attached to that? But he might say to the right hon. Gentleman, why do you complain? Have you or your party never had anything to do with a job? But to hear anything coming from the Tories about the feelings of the country, or saving the expenditure of the country, and, still more, anything like a complaint about the unnecessary expenses of ambassadors, was so unusual that he could not help expressing his delight at it. All he rose for was, however, to say, that the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman would be liable to suspicion unless he went further and brought the discussion to a conclusion by moving for a return of the expenses incurred by the mission of Sir Charles Vaughan.

Viscount Palmerston

wished the House to understand that, in his opinion, it would be very unjust towards persons employed in diplomatic situations, when they had performed their duty zealously and faithfully, to refuse them permission to come home and refresh themselves by reviving their English feelings, and witnessing more closely the operation of those constitutional doctrines in which they had been brought up. And if English Ministers abroad did not make applications of that nature, he should feel disposed to order them home. Lord Ponsonby had been abroad for five years, and had performed his duty at Constantinople in such a way as would entitle him to any indulgence which the Government could extend to him. He would add, that when an ambassador was absent one half of his salary was suspended; and so far, as regarded expense there was a saving. Sir Charles Vaughan, besides, was not sent as ambassador, but on a special mission. The expenses of that mission, of course, would be paid out of the public funds; but he would not receive any salary, but only his expenses during his stay at Malta. Certainly some outfits were necessary, but they were not outfits such as were given to an ambassador appointed to succeed another. Sir Charles Vaughan consented to accept of the appointment, and the Government felt obliged to him. for agreeing to perform the duty in the absence of Lord Ponsonby; and after what the right hon. Gentleman had said about appointing persons of rank and weight to such situations, he did not see why taking into consideration the relations he had to that country, and the rank and station of Lord Ponsonby, there was any blame to be attached to him for appointing in the absence of Lord Ponsonby, a gentleman of rank and weight as an ambassador.

Sir Robert Peel

said, in repelling the attacks that had been made on different parties, no one had come forward as the defender of Mr. Urquhart; and as the noble Lord had defended one ambassador after another, he believed it would be only necessary for some Member to make some observations on that Gentleman to call up the noble Lord to make a fourth speech in his defence. It certainly appeared, that when they had just come to the point when they could see whether that Gentleman could swim they had sent out another to supersede him. No doubt that gentleman, Sir Charles Vaughan, might be the fittest, but nevertheless to send him out during the absence of the chief was a practical attack on Mr. Urquhart. The noble Lord said Lord Ponsonby had applied for leave of absence, and he had granted the application But the noble Lord had gone further, and said not only that he had granted leave of absence, but that if it had not been made he should have been disposed to order an ambassador home, in order that he might be re-impregnated with the constitutional doctrines of old England. Now, if such a rule were good as regarded countries generally, á fortiori, it was good for Constantinople, and there never was such an opportunity of carrying it into effect as in the case of Lord Ponsonby. The noble Lord admitted, that when an ambassador was abroad for five or six years, if he did not apply for leave of absence, then he would compel him to come home. When the application was made, and when the ambassador had been absent for five years, and had become so rusty that he required a new impregnation of constitutional doctrines, the noble Lord sent out an ambassador in partibus who never arrived at his post. But what was the result? Lord Ponsonby declined coming home, and notwithstanding all that had been said about the necessity of recalling ambassadors at the end of five years, and the appointment of a successor, still all that was forgotten, and Lord Ponsonby was allowed to remain. He did not blame the noble Lord for taking precautions to have an extra ambassador in that quarter of the globe, where storms, according to his statements on a former occasion, so awfully raged; but, after the expense had been incurred, and after he had admitted the necessity of relieving the ambassador at a stated period, he must doubt his wisdom in consenting to the withdrawal of the application for leave of absence made on the part of Lord Ponsonby. He would make every allowance for the Government, but still the noble Lord had given no sufficient explanation for superseding Sir Charles Vaughan, who had never gone beyond Malta, and who had never encountered the perils of those storms that they all knew prevailed in the Ægean Sea.

Subject dropped.

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