HC Deb 19 June 1860 vol 159 cc714-24

Sir, in rising to speak to the Motion of which I have given notice I wish entirely to disclaim any intention of criticising the diplomatic appointments of the present or any other Go- vernment, still less of attempting to make a general attack upon the very respectable service with regard to which I desire that there should be some inquiry. I quite admit, and I think it is the general opinion of most persons who take an interest in the subject, that the representatives of this country at foreign Courts, and their subordinates, perform their duties very tolerably. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton has said, before now, in this House, that they perform them as well ns any body of men who are employed in a similar capacity by any other State. This may or may not be true, but it at least forms no part of my case to controvert it. I am of opinion, however, that the diplomatic service of this country, considering the prizes which it holds out, the opportunities of self-culture which it gives, and the exceptionally agreeable character of the duties which it imposes, ought to attract to it the very highest talent, and the very greatest attainments which are to be found in that large, heterogeneous, and constantly increasing class in this wealthy country, the members of which can afford to devote themselves to occupations which do not enable them to increase their fortunes. It is, however, perfectly notorious that it does not do this. Let any one take up the Foreign Office list, and see how many of the members of the diplomatic corps, from the first ambassador down to the youngest attaché, are persons who, before they entered the service, had given proof, either at our Universities, at our public schools, or elsewhere, of rare and distinguished merit. I gratefully acknowledge how much improvement has been recently effected, and that the present generation of attachés are superior to those of whom Sir Hamilton Seymour speaks in his evidence before the Committee on Official Salaries in 1850. Still nothing has as yet been done to make the service intellectually a corps d'élite. The first subject, then, into which I should wish a Committee to inquire is this:—Whether it would not be possible, gradually and tentatively—so gradually and so tentatively as not to interfere seriously with the patronage of any Minister who now sits on either of these opposing benches—to introduce the system of giving away all vacant first appointments in the diplomatic service to the most successful candidate in an examination which should stand in the same relation to the examinations now enforced, as the class do to the pass ex- aminations at Oxford. I know it may be answered that the duties of an attaché are for the most part of a very simple kind; that you do not want a person of remarkable power to write ordinary letters, still less to register and copy despatches; but an able chief would generally contrive in one way or another to find some use for an able subordinate. I beg the House to understand that I do not by any means propose that the diplomatic service should be thrown open to competition like the Indian Civil Service. I do not think that, provided only the examination to which candidates were subjected was a judicious one, the mischiefs which most people would expect to arise would really arise from that course. I ask, however, for no sweeping change. I wish to see one attachéship—one only—every year given away by competition. I cannot doubt that after giving this system a ten years' trial, Government would find it to their advantage to extend it, but if they did not do so, nothing would be easier than to abolish the practice altogether. Anyhow, it is impossible to believe that there can be any objection to having the expediency of so moderate a proposal considered by a Committee. There is another point connected with the education of our diplomatists, to which I wish to call attention. By the recent regulations of the Foreign Office, a young man who is about to pass from the position of an unpaid to that of a paid attaché is required to prove his acquaintance with Wheaton's Elements of International Law, and History of International Law. Now Mr. Wheaton's books are very respectable and very useful books, but they are hardly sufficient to be the beginning, middle, and end of a diplomatist's training in international law. I confess, Sir, that it appears to me quite monstrous when we consider how enormously the whole modes of thought of the statesmen and publicists of Continental Europe are coloured by the jurisprudence of Rome that some seniority should not be taken, that at least the outlines of that magnificent system, and especially its terminology should be mastered by the young diplomatist. I am sure all hon. Gentlemen whose attention has been turned to this subject will agree with me, but in case I seem to some to exaggerate the importance of this branch of study, I may be permitted, perhaps, to read a few lines by the late eminent professor of civil law at Cambridge, Dr. Maine, which bear directly upon the sub- ject. Nor are these remarks answered by urging that comparative ignorance of international law is of little consequence so long as the parties to international discussions completely understand each other; or, as it might be put, that Roman law may be important to the closet study of the law of nations, but is unessential as regards diplomacy. There cannot be a doubt that our success in negotiation is sometimes perceptibly affected by our neglect of Roman law; for, from this cause we and the public, or negotiators of other countries, constantly misunderstand each other. It is not rarely that we refuse respect or attention to diplomatic communications, as wide of the point and full of verbiage or conceits, when, in fact, they owe those imaginary imperfections simply to the juristical point of view from which they have been conceived and written. And, on the other hand, State papers of English origin, which to an Englishman's mind ought, from their strong sense and directness, to carry all before them, will often make but an inconsiderable impression on the recipient from their not falling in with the course of thought which he insensibly pursues when dealing with a question of public law. In truth, the technicalities of Roman law are as really, though not so visibly, mixed up with questions of diplomacy as are the technicalities of special pleading with points of the English common law. So long as they cannot be disentangled English influence suffers obvious disadvantage through the imperfect communion of thought. It is undesirable that there should not be among the English public a sensible fraction which can completely decipher the documents of international transactions, but it is more than undesirable that the incapacity should extend to our statesmen and diplomatists. Whether Roman law be useful or not to English lawyers, it is a downright absurdity that, on the theatre of international affairs, England should appear by delegates unequipped with the species of knowledge which furnishes the medium of intellectual communication to the other performers on the scene. These, Sir, are weighty words, and I do trust that the Government, whether they do or do not grant the Committee, will at least inquire whether they ought not to be acted on; for sure am I that only a mere fraction of our existing diplomatists have ever read a page of Institutes of Gains, or Justinian. There is yet another matter with regard to which some evidence was taken before the Consular Committee; but as to which it seems desirable that we should hear something more—I mean the establishment of an Oriental College. It is strange enough that now that Haileybury is no more, we, whose connection with the East is so great, should actually have no establishment where Oriental languages are taught on a great scale. It seems hardly creditable. Every year our relations with the East are likely to increase. Every step taken either in the reform of the Turkish Empire, or, if it cannot be reformed, in its demolition, will increase our intercourse with Eastern Europe, and with Western Asia. China and Japan will become continually more important to us. The establishment of fairs in Northern India is likely, we may hope, greatly to increase our trade with the wide regions beyond the Himalaya. I do think, then, that as well for our merchants as for our consuls and our diplomatists, we should do wisely seriously to inquire whether some institution of the kind might not gradually be formed. So much for the educational part of the inquiries of the Committee. I pass to other matters. It will be in the recollection of the House that the Committee which sat in 1850 on official salaries, recommended that the number of our missions in Germany should be reduced. This recommendation was not acted upon, and most people would probably argue that in advising that there should be only one central mission, at Frankfort or elsewhere, they went too far. I confess, Sir, I think that if you so remodel your service as to have in it only persons of first-rate capacity, that I think you do well to retain your present number of missions, because every mission will then be really and truly a centre of English influence in the very highest sense of the term. If things are to be on their present footing, I am more doubtful, and I think the question might again be considered, rather more fully than in 1850, more especially with reference to the mission at Stuttgardt. Then we have the question of the present mode of carrying on diplomatic relations with Rome. Might not the Report of a Committee, if in favour of any alteration of the present system, strengthen the hands of Government which wished to introduce any modification? There seems to be a common consent alike in "another place," in the press, and amongst persons who have lately been in Italy that the gentleman who at present acts for us at Rome performs his functions with extraordinary ability and with perfect success; but then it is only fair to remember that circumstances give him very peculiar advantages, and that his own qualifications are of the highest kind. Surely, without any disadvantage to the public service, the Committee which I propose might receive evidence as to whether inconvenience was experienced some years back, or is likely to be one day experienced again, by the anomalous nature of our intercourse with the Court of Rome. Another question which might be with great advantage investigated by a Committee of this House is—one to which attention was recently called—I mean as to whether the Persian mission should be under the Foreign Office or under the India Office. It will be remembered that it has been sometimes under the one, and sometimes under the other, during the course of the present century. Her Majesty's present advisers, when they acceded to power, found it in correspondence with the Indian Office. Since that time, however, by the decision of the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government this arrangement has been altered, and it is now under the control of the Foreign Office. Now, with regard to the expediency of this arrangement there are the most diverse opinions. Some persons tell me that all the most important questions which arise in our intercourse with Persia are connected with our position in India. Others say, with equal confidence, that this is not so, and that all our most important relations with Persia are connected with the position which we occupy with regard to Russia. Far be it from me to attempt to decide which of these two views is the correct one. It is pre-eminently a question for a Committee. There is another matter which is accessory to this, I mean the question as to whether we should or should not give presents in Persia and other Eastern countries. Some say that the mission of Sir John Malcolm, who gave presents largely, produced great effect. Others maintain that Malcolm spent a vast sum of money, made much display, and did very little. They add, that although the Russians still continue to give presents, they will soon discontiue them, if they see that we are determined to do so, and ere long we shall stand just in the same position with regard to Russia at the Persian Court as we do now, and save our money. I pass, Sir, to another branch of this subject—to the expense of our embassies. Now, I am by no means a friend, as a general rule, to cutting down official salaries. It is far better policy to raise the men to the level of the pay, than to depreciate the pay to the level of the men. Put your diplomatic service on a right footing, and you may, with the utmost propriety, keep most of your salaries at their present figures; nay, you might, I am sure, with the full approbation of the country, even increase some of them. If, on the other hand, the service is to remain just as it is, I think a new Committee might with great propriety retraverse some of the ground which was traversed by the Committee on official salaries. There is one embassy, which however much you may increase the efficiency of your diplomatists, will, if the amount which is now paid is still paid, remain unless the value of money altogether changes, most scandalously overpaid. I allude, of course, to the Embassy at Paris. Let me remind the House of the exact position of this much-discussed question. In consequence of the Report of the Committee to which I have so frequently alluded, the salary of the Ambassador at Paris was reduced from £10,000 a year to £8,000 a year, but since that time it has been again raised to its former level. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government maintained, before the Committee on Official Salaries, that it was necessary to pay the Ambassador at Paris very highly on account of the great expense of that capital, and the propriety of the Ambassador's receiving a great many people at his house. I quite subscribe to all this, and I admit also that Paris is now more expensive than it was in 1850. What, however, is the great expense of Paris? House-rent. But the House will remember that the hotel of the British Ambassador belongs to the British Government, and has cost the British taxpayer, first and last, more than £100,000. What is the second exceptional expense of Paris? Fuel. Does the British Ambassador pay for his fuel? Not at all. That expense lurks under a convenient item—"Miscellaneous"—which we vote in the Estimates. Several servants at the Embassy are also, I believe, paid by the public. On the whole I shall not be far wrong in asserting that the salary of the Ambassador, added to his other advantages, puts him in the position of a man who has, independently of his private fortune, from £15,000 to £16,000 a year to spend in Paris, which is surely ridiculously more than what is needful. Again, Sir, it would be very desirable to have some evidence as to the expediency of continuing diplomatists for a very long time at the same Court. I confess I have great doubts about it, and some strong opinions were expressed on this subject before the consular Committee. When a man is led to consider that he will be in a particular place for a permanency, his relations with its inhabitants take insensibly a new character, and he often becomes entangled in local matters which by no means add to his efficiency as a public servant. There are a number of other questions which might be, with great advantage, reported on by a Committee. It might, for example, be considered whether there should or should not be any unpaid attachés, or whether the whole service ought not to be paid. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government expressed some years ago great doubts on this subject. How far, again, should the service be a close one—that is to say, within what limits ought it to be in the power of a Minister to introduce into the higher ranks of the service persons who had not gone through its lower grades. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs expressed an opinion on this subject before the Committee of 1850. Might we not also derive a great many useful hints, if evidence was produced before a Committee as to the diplomatic service of other countries. I have been told, for example, that the Russians endeavour as much as possible to have at their various missions persons of different kinds of excellence. Say, for instance, one man who is pre-eminently a man of society—another of letters—another particularly skilled in the routine of the chancellerie, and so on. The Swedish system has also its admirers. The Swedes, as I have been informed, consider no one below the rank of Secretary of Legation to belong, strictly speaking, to the diplomatic service at all. The attachés do the subordinate work of the Embassy, and enjoy, in return, the various advantages which their position confers, but have not necessarily a claim to promotion, and generally leave the service early. If they show marked ability, the Government has of course always the option of offering them promotion. Without, however, touching on any other questions which might be discussed, I think I have said enough to make out a good case for a friendly but full inquiry into the whole working of our diplomatic service—an inquiry at least as large as that which lately took place with regard to the consular service. It is surely a strong argument in favour of this, to say that while there have been in the course of the last fifty years several inquiries into the consular service there has never been, so far as I can learn, at any period of our history, a full inquiry by this House into our diplomatic service. The Committee on official salaries discussed only a very small part of this great subject. Some tell mo that any Government will be very unwilling to grant this inquiry. I really cannot see why it should. I do not accuse any Government of improper practices. To refuse inquiry is to excite suspicion. I do not say that the service is bad, but I desire to make it admirable. There has been a great deal of talk of late years about "secret diplomacy." Some of this talk has not been wise; but it has more influence than our rulers perhaps imagine. If they want to prevent it doing evil hereafter, let them grant a full, a fair, and a free inquiry.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present condition of the Diplomatic Service, and the best means of increasing its efficiency.


said, he was ready to acknowledge that the hon. Member had not made a personal attack upon any of the gentlemen who were engaged in the diplomatic service, but the fact which he had stated—that there was no reason for finding fault with the diplomatic sereice—could hardly be used as an argument for appointing a Committee of Inquiry. He believed that the proposed Committee would produce little or no result. The questions which the hon. Member had mooted were not questions to be examined by a Committee, although they might from time to time occupy the attention of the Executive Government. For example, there was no great number of persons who applied for the post of attaché, which, indeed, was not one that would generally be an object of great competition, and consequently, nothing would be gained by making it the subject of a competitive examination. Again, the hon. Member thought that more attention should be paid to the Roman law; but, without going into that matter at the present time, it might be said that there were other things required in our diplo- matic service of much more importance than the knowledge of the Roman law, and, generally speaking, our diplomatic servants obtained that information which it was necessary their Government should possess, and inspired that confidence which it was desirable that Englishmen representing their country abroad should enjoy. Nor was the question whether the Persian mission should be under the Foreign or the Indian Office worth the consideration of a Committee. It was one which might be decided either way without any great risk of harm being done. The fact that no Committee had ever been appointed on the diplomatic service was a great compliment to that service. If things were going wrong let a Committee be appointed to inquire and report on the faults of the system; but if, as the hon. Member bad stated, there was no fault to be found with the diplomatic service, why put hon. Gentlemen to the trouble of attending a Committee? He hoped the House would reject the Motion.


said, he thought the speech of the hon. Mover of the Committee displayed great good sense and research, and if the Motion bad been brought forward earlier in the Session it would have been received with considerable favour by the House. He believed that the Diplomatic Service was capable of amendment, and should be glad to see the whole system of unpaid attachés abolished altogether, but at the present late period of the Session he did not think that the discussion of that subject would be attended by any special advantage, and, therefore, he hoped the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion. The various important points raised in his speech might be considered at some future time. In the case of the consular service the appointment of a Committee was necessary, because strong representations were made and a desire for different arrangements were expressed on that matter.


said, that as a member of the Consular Committee, he could assure the House that upon examination the service was found to be infinitely more effective than they were led to suppose from the attacks which had been made upon it. Although the speech of his hon. Friend showed great research, he would recommend the withdrawal of the Motion.


said, he would withdraw his Motion for the present, but he should take the earliest opportunity next Session of bringing the matter more fully before the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.