HC Deb 17 July 1851 vol 118 cc960-71

House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a sum, not exceeding 148,490l., be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of the Consular Establishments Abroad, to the 31st day of March, 1852.


rose to move, as an Amendment, that the Vote be reduced by 4,000l. The Special Committee upon Official Salaries had not, it was true, made any report upon this branch of the subject, but they had recommended their own reappointment this Session, in order that this portion of the subject might come under their consideration. That Committee, however, had not been reappointed, but he thought that the House had sufficient materials before them themselves to insist upon a reduction in these establishments. He believed that our consular establishments were generally the most defective branch of the Administration. He had had some experience of the service, and anything more disorganised, more irregular, or less fitted for the performance of the duties of their office, it was impossible to conceive. In contrast with our consular establishments was that of France, which had been organised under the former estate in an admirable manner. The Consuls of France, unlike our own, had legal acquirements and legal knowledge. Their previous acquirements were also tested by an examination, and when they had once attained a certain grade, their advancement was regular, and strangers to the service were not put over their heads. He could not admit that in such a matter our great commercial nation ought to he behind a country like Trance. Our Consul at St. Petersburg, with 750l. a year, was appointed without previous service in that capacity. The English Consul at Paris had but 200l. a year, while the Consul at Warsaw had an income of 1,000l. allotted to him—a discrepancy which could not he reasonably accounted for, but the duties of which would, he believed, be amply remunerated by a salary of 500l. a year. The Consuls at Havanah and at Manilla had 1,000l. a year each; but 500l. would be quite enough for the services which they performed. He had no objection to make to the salary of 600l. enjoyed by our Consul at Lisbon; but he thought the sum of 1,000l., paid to the Consul General of the Austrian States, was excessive. He next came to the consulate of Greece. Our Consul at Patras had 700l. a year, a sum which was perfectly preposterous, and a much smaller amount than 500l. a year would be amply sufficient for him. The salaries of 800l. and 900l. a year, paid to the Consuls General at Belgrade and Bucharest, were also much too high. He had also to complain that some of these officers were not very constant in their attendance at their posts. On these three last-named appointments a legitimate reduction might be made of 900l. The Consul General at Constantinople, who received 1,500l. a year for his services, would be well paid by 1,000l.; or even by 800l. a year. The Consulate in Syria had been very properly abolished; but why not dispense with the functions of a Consul in Egypt also? In Tripoli, the salary of 1,600l., given to the Consul General, ought to be reduced to 600l. a year. This surely might easily be effected, since the Government had reduced the salaries of our Consuls at Boston and New York from 400l. and 700l. a year, to 200l. and 300l. respectively. At Montevideo the Consul General had a salary of 1,400l., while at Buenos Ayres, for what reason he could not see, a far less salary was paid. The reductions which he thought should be made in our consular establishments amouuted to 16,250l., independently of the case of Borneo, which he intended to bring as a separate Motion before the Committee. He would not, however, ask the Committee to agree, on so short a notice, to a reduction of 16,250l., but would confine his Motion to one-fourth of that sum.

Motion made, and Question put— That a sum, not exceeding 144,490l. be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of the Consular Establishments Abroad, to the 31st day of March, 1852.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat considered our consular service ill organised and inferior in efficiency to the consular services of other countries. He (Lord Palmerston) was perhaps better qualified to speak on that head than the hon. Gentleman, as knowing more of the manner in which our consular officers performed their duties. And he would take upon himself to say that, without any exception, no consular service in the world was better performed than the consular service of this country. The consular service of France might be organised in a more regular manner, or more conformably with the views of the hon. Gentleman; but he (Lord Palmerston)—and, he was sure, every one else who filled his office, could bear testimony to the fact, judging from their ability and the manner in which they discharged their duties—that, in point of efficiency, a better consular service did not exist in any country. Their duties were very various and arduous; not only had they to perform all kinds of duties with regard to commercial interests on the spot, but they had to collect valuable information from all sources and of all kinds, which was regularly submitted to the Foreign Office and to the Board of Trade. He would also venture to say, that in point of efficiency and ability, instead of meriting the censure of the hon. Gentleman, they were entitled to his praise and commendation. Among the different appointments which he referred to, he put first and foremost that held by a person who had the misfortune on a former occasion, and in another country, to have had some little difference with the hon. Member; of course that consideration could not have weighed with him for a moment in wishing to reduce the salary of the Consul at Warsaw. Now, any one who knew anything at all of the scale of expense incurred at Warsaw by the gentleman who held the rank of consul, and represented a great country like England, would be of opinion, on comparing his salary with that of similar officers there, belonging to other countries, that the sum was rather below than above the amount that a person in his position required. He said that, in Paris, we had only a Consul at 200l. a year, and asked why one at Warsaw required a higher sum paid to him? The English Consul at Paris, he should explain, was a consul's clerk, who merely performed subordinate duties under the direction of the embassy; and the only reason he gave him the rank of consul was, that it would better enable him to perform certain duties of routine; but he was not an independent officer, who received instructions from the Secretary of State, but simply a consul's clerk, attached to the embassy of Paris. Now, with regard to the Consuls in Wallachia, Servia, and Moldavia, they all had duties more of a political than of a peculiarly commercial nature; and those provinces were parts of the world in which there were countries of very considerable interest, and therefore it was important to have persons who were qualified to give both political and commercial information. It did so happen that one officer was absent on account of ill health, at the period to which the hon. Member adverted; but it was not expected that every officer, stationed in a foreign country, should perpetually remain at their posts—they must occasionally have leave of absence, either in regard to private affairs, or on account of ill health. If consuls were never allowed to move from their respective stations until no events of interest happened, they would be put to the greatest inconvenience. The hon. Member said that the Consul General at Constantinople ought to have his pay reduced, because, at a former period, he (Lord Palmerston) intended to abolish the appointment. Like the hon. Member, he had an impression at one period that the office might be dispensed with; but, on further examination, he was satisfied with regard to the importance of the office, and that it was right and proper for the public interest to maintain the Consul General at Constantinople. The salary he received, looking to the importance of his duties, was not more than he was fairly entitled to. With regard to Smyrna, the hon. Member said the Consul received 600l. a year, and that as the Committee on Official Salaries recommended 500l., he thought the sum ought to be reduced to that amount, as a model for the salaries of all other consuls. He (Lord Palmerston) believed that the Consul would tell him that the 600l. a year was a very small salary, considering the duties he had to perform. There was great commerce at Smyrna, and, having regard to the expense of living at that place, he could not suppose the Committee would adopt the dictum of the hon. Member. With regard to the Consul General at Egypt, the hon. Member observed that the office of consul-general at Syria had been abolished, and that, therefore, the same course might he adopted at Egypt. After the campaign in 1841, previous to which, it was important to have an officer in Syria, not merely commercial, but political, with the rank of consul-general, he thought the same reason no longer existed, and he took advantage of the vacancy in the office of the embassy at Constantinople to transfer to that capital the Consul in Syria. But the same ground did not apply to Egypt. It stood in a very different political position to Syria. Egypt was governed by a Pasha, who was hereditary, and did not stand in the same relation to the Porte as other Pashas. He had to pay a fixed tribute to the Porte, receiving the revenues into his own treasury—and he was, therefore, not to say independent, but to a certain extent governor-in-chief of the province of which he was Pasha. The Consul General in Egypt had political and judicial, as well as commercial duties to perform, and his position was, in many respects, arduous and responsible. Moreover, Egypt was now the great thoroughfare for English travellers passing to and from India, and the Consul General had duties of hospitality devolving upon him that materially infringed on his income. With regard to Tripoli, he intended to abolish that Consul Generalship, and was only waiting for authentic information as to the length and period of the services of the gentleman who now held the office, in order that it might be precisely determined to what sum he was entitled on the abolition of the office. With respect to the Consuls General for South America, they were diplomatic and political officers, as well as commercial officers. The hon. Gentleman wished to know why a larger salary was given to the Consul General at Monte Video than at Buenos Ayres. The reason was, that at Buenos Ayres there was a Minister Plenipotentiary, and the Consul was merely a commercial officer; whereas the Consul at Monte Video had duties of a diplomatic and political, as well as of a commercial character to perform, and acted in some sense as a Chargé d'Affaires. With respect to the Consul General at Venezuela, that gentleman had very lately rendered most signal service in dealing with the Venezuelan Government upon a matter of great interest and importance to the British merchants. By the enactments known always to the Venezuelans as the law of despair, the debts due to British creditors had been doomed by the Executive Government to confiscation. But owing chiefly to the exertions of the Consul General, the law of despair had been annulled, and it was to be hoped that they would soon receive intelligence that the claims of the British merchants, who were likely to be severe sufferers from that enactment, had been settled in a satisfactory manner. With regard to the Consuls in North America, the salaries of two of them—those at Boston and New York—had been already reduce. The reduction had been even carried to a point which at a first glance might appear too low; but this had been done in consideration of the large amount of fees which the Consuls at these ports were entitled to receive. Should there be any falling-off in the amount of the fees, such a diminution of income might, perhaps, furnish a sufficient reason for restoring the Consuls to their original salaries. The Consul Generalship at Algiers had been abolished, and a Consul and Vice-Consul had been substituted. He was about to abolish the Consul General at Tripoli; and the Consul General at Syria had been abolished without any substitution whatsoever. After a most minute and careful consideration of the entire question, he was compelled to say that he could see no reason whatsoever for the redections proposed by the hon. Member. It was impossible to lay down any general rule by which to regulate the precise salary to be paid to the different Consuls. The amount must of necessity depend on the expense of maintenance in various places, and in the number and nature of the duties to he performed. Sometimes the Consul was a resident merchant, with an establishment of his own, and could, therefore, afford to discharge the duties of the consulate at a much smaller cost than a person who had been specially deputed from this country for that purpose. The special circumstances of each particular case must, in every instance, regulate the allowance, and it was impossible to lay down an inflexible rule on the subject. He could only say, in conclusion, that the subject of consular expenses was one that had at all times commanded his serious attention, and that it should always continue to do so. He would endeavour henceforward, as he had ever done, to keep down the expenses, by abolishing all offices that were not absolutely essential, and by reducing such salaries as might appear to be greater than was necessary.


felt bound to express his dissatisfaction at the conduct of the Consul General at Peru. He thought it the duty of a Consul to exert himself to facilitate commercial affairs. Bat in the case of Peru, in the important article of guano, the Consul had not done his duty. A monopoly was kept up by the Peruvian Government. The importation was all but checked, in consequence of the heavy duty placed on the article, which would not have been the case had the Consul exerted himself. He wished, therefore, that the British Consul General at Lima and the Government at home would use their influence to break up that monopoly, which had the effect of maintaining the present high price of Peruvian guano; and he thought that by the imposition of very high customs duties on that article, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to bring the Government of Peru to its senses.


I can assure my hon. Friend and the Committee that if guano is not more plentiful in this country, the fault does not rest with the Consul General at Peru, and indeed I may with all sincerity add, that still less does it rest with me. It is now two or three years since the right hon. Baronet—whose loss we all so much deplore—Sir Robert Peel, who took more interest in the prosperity of agriculture than many gave him credit for—applied to me to persuade the Peruvian Government not to continue that monopoly, which they now adhere to, but to permit guano to be imported into this country in greater abundance. We made the attempt twice, but without success. The Peruvian Government represented that the sale of guano here supplied them with the means of paying their bondholders, and that they could not increase the supply, for that if they did, the price would fall, and they would consequently be unable to fulfil their engagements. I am very far from saying that this was a just or sufficient reason, or that in porsuing this course the Peruvian Government acted in the manner best calculated to promote even their own interests. On the contrary, I believe that even with a view to their own advantage, their policy was a most mistaken one, for a larger consumption of guano would have supplied them with increased means for paying their debts. Whether the course suggested by the hon. Member would operate beneficially on the Peruvian Government, or cause a larger importation of guano, is another question. I confess to some doubts on the subject; for certainly the idea of imposing a prohibitory duty on an article with a view to obtain a large supply of it, is, to say the least of it, new and unusual. And I cannot help expressing it as my opinion, that if the proposed prohibition were to deprive the Peruvian Government of the means of paying their debts, the Peruvian Government would be likely to submit to that deprivation with much greater fortitude than the agriculturists of England would exhibit on being deprived of guano.


said, he complained of the consular establishments of the country generally, as being salaried upon an extravagant scale. He saw no use in a consular establishment both at Alexandria and at Cairo; and he thought that one instead of the two would be sufficient for all necessary purposes. If our Consul General of Egypt indulged in hospitality, as the noble Lord had stated, he thought the taxpayers of this country ought not to be called upon to pay for it. He would support the Motion of his hon. Friend opposite.


said, that however it might be thought unfair to tax the people of this country for the hospitality of the Consuls in Egypt, he was of opinion that it would be still more unfair that the Consuls themselves should be taxed for that hospitality which they were in a manner compelled to show towards English visitors in that country.


begged to ask if there would be any objection to laying before the House for the future a statement of the amount of fees received by the different Consuls? The Consul at Rome was in the receipt of a large income from fees, of which nothing whatever was known.


said, he had no objection to such a statement being made. No part of those fees were included in the Vote asked from the Committee.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 153; Majority 110.


objected to the Vote for the salary of Sir James Brooke as British Consul at Borneo, and Governor of Labuan, on the ground that he had been engaged in commercial transactions since his appointment to that office.


said, that, as Consul, Sir James Brooke had carried on negotiations with the Government of the kingdom of Siam, and other States. He was not aware that he had been engaged in any commercial transactions.


was not satisfied with the general statement of the noble Lord, as he had evidence to prove that Sir James Brooke had been engaged in trade.


said, that Sir James Brooke might have been engaged in transactions bearing the character of trading transactions before he was Governor of Labuan; but he had the distinct assurance of Sir James Brooke himself that, since that time, he had been engaged in no commercial transactions whatever.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) 16,000l., Ministers at Foreign Courts, Extraordinary Expenses.


wished to know whether the suggestions he had made on a previous occasion, which had been assented to by the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, concerning the necessity of examining the candidates for diplomatic offices as to their qualifications for such offices, had vet been carried into effect?


replied, that he quite agreed in the suggestions that had been made by his hon. Friend, and could only plead as an excuse for not having carried them into effect, the overwhelming pressure of business during the present Session of Parliament. He quite agreed that the candidates for diplomatic offices ought to be subjected to some test of the nature that was proposed, and trusted that by the next Session he should be able to satisfy his hon. Friend.


wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the state of the diplomatic establishment in Greece. Besides the salaries of the diplomatic officers, there was a charge of 659l. for translation and other extra expenses. He could not conceive, either, the necessity for having a Minister with 2,075l. per annnm—besides other officers—for such a petty State as Wurtemburg. There were also extra charges amounting to 588l. for the diplomatic establishment of that State. He thought the expenses of our establishment at Buenos Ayres were also too great.


said, that there were many documents, statistical and commercial, which the Ministers were obliged to send over to this country, which required great, labour in their preparation, and for which several persons had to be employed in translating, copying, &c. With regard to Wurtemburg, that was one of the States belonging to the German Confederation, and, as such, was of peculiar importance, especially in the state in which Germany had been placed for the last two years. The Minister at Buenos Ayres had to draw an extra sum of money on account of some extensive calculations that had to be made there with respect to bills of exchange.


said, very little had been done to make Englishmen the direct mode of communication between the Ministers of the Porte and this country. The Turkish Ministers, as well as the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), communicated in the French language. He proposed that the Vote be reduced by 750l. for interpretation.


said, it was desirable that the interpreters in Turkey should be British born, as they were in most other countries. Some years ago, he had applied to the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge Universities for a supply of young men for the embassies, who were good linguists, and could supply in Turkey, for instance, the place of the present dragomen. The Vice-Chancellors had endeavoured to supply that want, and he hoped that when vacancies occurred in the office of dragoman on the Turkish embassy, to be able to supply their places with Englishmen; but it would not be right or proper to displace the present occupants of that office. If the hon. Member for Stafford had meant to insinuate that the head of our embassy in Constantinople was not qualified to communicate in the French language, he was much mistaken, for Sir Stratford Canning was a complete master of the French tongue, the ordinary language of diplomacy. The Grand Vizier and the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs both spoke French. But there were many matters which passed between our Embassy at Constantinople and the Turkish Govern- ment, in which the head of the embassies, or the heads of the Government, did not interfere, and in which it was necessary to employ dragomen.


said, he objected very much to the employment of dragomen (not English) in State matters requiring confidence and security. He did not consider the explanation of the noble Lord at all satisfactory.

Vote agreed to; as were also the following Votes:—

(3.) 108,205l., Superannuation Allowances.

(4.) 3,750l., Toulonese and Corsican Emigrants, &c.

(5.) 2,008l., Vaccine Establishment.

(6.) 325l., Refuge for the Destitute.

(7.) 4,450l., Polish Refugees and Distressed Spaniards.

(8.) Miscellaneous Allowances, formerly on the Civil List, Hereditary Revenue, &c.


said, the item for Dissenting Ministers had been frequently objected to in that House, and the Government had come to the determination not to propose such an item hereafter. He hoped, however, that as no notice of the withdrawal of the Vote had been given to the parties interested, the Committee would have no objection to agree to the present Vote.


had great objections to the Vote. He would move that the Chairman report progress.


hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the explanation given by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was sure that the determination of the Government not to propose the item for the relief of Dissenting ministers would be satisfactory to the Dissenting interest.


thought the Government had taken a course which was wise, and for which he was exceedingly thankful. He hoped that the Government would be true to their promise, as to the withdrawal of the item in question.


did not care for the promises of Government, and hoped that the Committee would be divided, especially as he objected to the proceeding with the business at this hour [a quarter to one o'clock] in the morning. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer threatened the House, the other evening, that if they did not pass the Votes they would be detained until the middle of August. Well, he did not care if they were; he had nothing else to do than his duty in that House. The fact was, that the Government wanted a nice comfortable prorogation, and to pocket their salaries.


had, year after year, made objections to the Vote for the support of Dissenting ministers, and he had come down to the House that evening for the purpose of renewing his protest against it. However, after what he had heard the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer say, he thought it would be unreasonable if he should say any thing on the subject at present. He had reason to think that a great body of the Dissenters would be very well satisfied with the course proposed. He trusted, therefore, that his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth would not persevere in his Motion.


had received so many representations from all parts of the country against the item in question, that he had felt it his duty to object to it. However, as the Government had promised that this should be the last year that they would ask for it, he would not offer it any opposition. There were, however, other items in the Vote to which he objected, and he therefore hoped that the Committee would not proceed further with these Votes on the present occasion.

Vote agreed to.

(9.) 650l. Foundling Hospital, Dublin.


said, it was determined by the Government to reduce the grants to the Dublin hospitals, with the exception of two, to which medical schools were attached. The fever ward at the House of Industry would still continue to receive the diminished allowance.


inquired whether the Government would lay on the table of the House the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant, with reference to the continuance of the grants to the Dublin hospitals.


said, that the letter of the Lord Lieutenant, containing the recommendation, was not a public one.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed; Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.