HC Deb 08 April 1859 vol 153 cc1561-4

said, he desired to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, respecting the recommendations of the Consular Committee. In drawing up the Report of that Committee he had been greatly assisted by the hon. Gentleman who so ably filled the office of Under Secretary of State, and as even in those of last Session matters upon which they differed, the hon. Gentleman had the better of him (Mr. Monckton Milnes), he had every reason to believe that it was in conformity with the opinions of the Government. Unfortunately, however, all that had since been heard of the subject was rather in opposition to the recommendations of the Committee. He had regretted that the Report should have been made so early, as he did not think all the evidence that it was desirable to have, had been adduced, but the inquiry had been concluded at the request of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary upon the ground that the question was so urgent, and the pressure upon the Government was so great, that it was of great importance that the Report should be made at once. He hoped now, after the lapse of eight months, the Government could state that the grievances and defects pointed out in the consular system had been remedied. Never was it more important than at the present time that England should be well represented, even in the least important posts. A tumult in some Italian port might interfere with the mediation between two armed monarchies whose differences had caused such alarm. He wished to ask in what mode and to what extent the Government intend to act upon the recommendations of the Consular Committee of last Session.


said, he regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not exactly pointed out the portions of the Report to which his question particularly referred, but he could state that immediately the Report was made it was taken into consideration at the Foreign Office, and had been the subject of unceasing attention ever since. The principal recommendations were in reference to an increase in the salaries of the Consular service, and the introduction of a system by which fees should be received by Consuls on behalf of the Government, instead of, as heretofore, forming a portion of their own remuneration. In every appointment that had been made since the Report, those recommendations had been uniformly carried out, the salaries in each case had been considered, and a scale of remuneration laid down which was considered to be just towards the Consuls, and more becoming their position than the old system. At the same time, in all those new appointments a stipulation had been made that the fees received by the Consuls should be paid to the Government. It would have been desirable that the system recommended by the Committee should have been more largely acted upon, but the changes he referred to had not been wholly confined to new appointments. There were between twenty and thirty other cases in which the salaries of Consuls bad been taken into consideration upon representation of their inadequacy, and increased allowances made by the Government. He must add, however, that the adoption of any such scale of re- muneration as the Government would desire to lay down, and which would be satisfactory to the Consular service, would entail a great and sudden charge upon the public revenue. It was necessary to proceed with caution, and it had not been thought desirable to propose to Parliament any large increase in the present Vote for the Consular service. There was another important point in which the hon. Gentleman took great interest, the appointment of young men who had studied the languages of the East to consular appointments. The Government had considered that point, but they found the best authorities were opposed to such a system, for reasons which appeared to be sufficient. The plan would be very expensive; and when the students were qualified at the expense of the country, there was no certainty that they would remain in the public service. There was such a demand for persons skilled in the use of Eastern languages that it was possible that the services of young men educated by the country would be obtained by mercantile houses or public companies by the offer of higher remuneration.


said, an increase of the salaries of the consular body was never contemplated by those who supported the Motion for the Committee of Inquiry. On the contrary, it was then thought that the salaries of many of them should be reduced. Besides, the competition for admission into this department of the public service was greater than with respect to any other; and he complained that private interest, and not efficiency, governed many of the appointments. He hoped the Government would pause before they made any increase in the salaries, especially as there had been no complaints from the consular body.


said, he was always under the impression that the consular body generally were very much dissatisfied with their salaries; and if the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) had taken the pains to read the evidence given before the Committee, he would have seen that it fully bore out their complaint in that respect, and that it was shown that the cost of necessaries, lodging, and living abroad had increased 50 per cent in some places, and in others even more. It was that consideration which led the Committee to recommend an increase of salary, and he regretted that the hon. Member had sought to weaken that recommendation. He was glad, however, to learn that the Government had taken this matter into their serious consideration, and he had no doubt that they would eventually carry out the recommendations of the Consular Committee, or at least the most important of them.