HC Deb 28 May 1852 vol 121 cc1326-8

On Order for going into Committee of Supply,


wished to call the attention of the House to the expediency of instituting examinations as a test of the competency of candidates for situations in the Diplomatic Service. He believed that the general nature of the education given to youth in this country was not such as to fit them for the Diplomatic Service. Most of the young men who obtained situations of a diplomatic character were much better versed in Greek iambics and hexameters than in the works of Grotius, Puffendorf, and Vattel. He thought that the change which was corning over the Universities should be introduced into the diplomatic career, and examinations be introduced in order to enable the candidates for such offices better to fill the situations to which they were appointed. Questions of international law and of treaties would soon be more generally taught in our Universities than they ever were before; modern languages, too, were making great progress. It was because he saw the necessity of extending diplomatic education, that he invited attention to this subject, and because he thought that the improvement would be very considerably strengthened by the improvement of our public schools, and the improvement in the education given at the Inns of Court. The latter especially would add greatly to the knowledge of international law. There were many reasons why at this particular time an attempt should be made to institute examinations for diplomatic candidates. The subjects he would suggest for examination would be modern history, modern treaties, and the general rules of international law. It might be said that it would be absurd to subject persons appointed as ambassadors to an examination of this kind; and so it might; but why should not Chargés d'Affaires and paid and unpaid attaches be subjected to it? As regarded their knowledge of modern Ian- guages, he had found, from his own experience in foreign countries where he had encountered the English diplomatic subordinates, that they were not so well versed in foreign languages as generally were the foreigners similarly situated and employed in this country. The system of examinations had extended into every department of the public service, including the Navy and Army, and he could see no reason why it should not be extended with equal benefit to the diplomatic service. He was fortified in his opinion that the system of examination, which had been very properly and very generally extended, ought now to he applied as he recommended, by the fact that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), did, whilst in office, begin to establish a system of the kind, and did assure him (Mr. Ewart), in answer to public questions, that he (Viscount Palmerston) was paying anxious attention to the subject; and hoped to accomplish the object he had in view. That noble Lord had left office without accomplishing this object; but he (Mr. Ewart) hoped it was one that any Government might equally be expected to pursue; and he saw no reason for supposing that there was anything in the character of Her Majesty's present Government to hinder their acceding to his proposition. Possibly steps of the kind had been already taken?


willingly admitted the importance of the subject which the hon. Member had brought under the attention of the House. Although no precise form of examination was established for the diplomatic service, it would be an error to suppose that it was exempted from the tendency of the age to improved education and mental cultivation, the influence of which was felt in all other departments of the public service. For a considerable period arrangements had existed, and were in operation, with respect to appointments to diplomatic offices, the whole subject of which was to improve the diplomatic service of the country, and to give it the character of a profession. The efforts of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton in this direction merited the highest commendation. It was also due to the Earl of Aberdeen to state, that when he held the seals of office, he sedulously occupied himself to effect the same object. It was the noble Earl's conviction that it was our duty to make the diplomatic service a profession. To carry that object into complete effect, a formal education would, of course, be necessary. To a certain degree the principle had been developed. Attached to the Universities were classes for the study of the Oriental languages, and those of the students who had distinguished themselves by their proficiency were appointed to offices connected with our Eastern Embassies. The present Government had had but little opportunity yet of directing their attention to all the points connected with the subject; but there existed every disposition on their parts still further to develop the principle laid down by their predecessors. Having said this much, he would take the liberty of reminding the House that the experience of momentous years had proved the diplomacy of England to be inferior to no other branch of the public service. In confirmation of that statement, it was necessary to refer merely to the great events in which the noble Lord the Member of Tiverton distinguished himself in the years 1839 and 1840, and which were commonly spoken of as the settlement of the East. Those events afforded evidence that the British Government was able to obtain the most accurate information under very trying circumstances. It was mainly owing to the admirable information and dexterity of our diplomatic service at that time that our then Foreign Minister—who, however, was quite equal to the occasion—was enabled to avail himself of circumstances and to bring the business to a successful issue. More recently, again, during the events which convulsed Europe from 1848 to 1851, our diplomatic service defied the competition of the diplomacy of all other countries, if, indeed, it did not excel them all. He did not recall these matters to the recollection of the House by way of answer to the hon. Member's reasoning; on the contrary, he concurred in the hon. Member's views. There was no reason why our diplomatic service should not be an educated service, and subjected to the influence of the spirit of improvement which governed the whole conduct of the nation, and influenced every department of the State. All he desired was, that the House and the public should not run away with the idea that, in consequence of the want of a formal education for the diplomatic service, the country was not ably served. The country was most ably served. No diplomacy had accomplished greater results, saved more of the public money, or contributed more to the national honour.

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