HC Deb 29 June 1863 vol 171 cc1665-73

said, he wished to take that opportunity of making a few remarks upon the Diplomatic Service. It was quite unnecessary for him on that occasion to go at any length into the evidence taken before the Diplomatic Committee which sat two years ago, or before the Consular Committee which sat in 1858; but he should like to know from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether it was the intention of the Government to act on the Reports of those Committees. It seemed strangely inconsistent with the welfare of the service, that when Reports were made expressing the strongest opinions with regard to important points in relation to that service, these Reports were not attended to. He wished to direct the special attention of the House to paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Report of the Select Committee on the Diplomatic Service, which were in these words— That whenever it is practicable and fit a residence for a term of years should be secured for the British embassy or mission, the rent and repairs to be defrayed at the public expense. That the attention of the Secretary of State be directed to the salaries and allowances of the larger missions, with the view of considering whether they are adequate to meet the greatly increased expenditure of living at the principal European capitals. Such was the unanimous opinion of the Committee—that the ambassadors and ministers occupying the highest diplomatic posts were not sufficiently paid, and that it was impossible for noblemen and gentlemen to occupy such situations and fill them adequately without drawing on their own resources. The fact was also admitted by several members of diplomatic experience, and he must say it was most injurious to the public service that such a state of things should go on from year to year. Who were the witnesses examined before the Committee? Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, Mr. Elliot, Lord Wodehouse, Sir J. Crampton, and Mr. Hammond. Mr. Hammond stated that the expense of living in many of the European capitals had increased from 50 to 100 per cent, and that the members of the diplomatic service consequently had great difficulty in making their official monies cover their expenses. Sir A. Buchanan while at Madrid lost nearly £1,000 a year by his appointment. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, in giving evidence some short time ago before a Committee, stated that it was impossible that an Ambassador could live properly in Paris under £15,000 a year. At St. Petersburg the salary was £8,000, and Lord Wodehouse, speaking from personal experience, said it was impossible to live there for £10,000. At Berlin £6,000 was allowed, and it was impossible for an Ambassador upon an allowance inferior to that given by other countries to maintain the same appearance. It was a strange circumstance, in connection with the diplomatic service, that it was the only service of which the cost was diminishing while the circle of its operations was extending. In 1825 the annual amount voted was £300,000; in 1830 it had fallen to £230,000; now it was only £180,000. For a long time past several thousands a year had been paid to the Treasury, and a sum of £130,000 had been accumulated, which was practically due to the diplomatic service, and might be expended for its benefit without trenching on the amount voted by Parliament. Then, again, the consular service had been neglected; nothing had been done to place its salaries and emoluments on a proper footing. It was impossible that a man at a place like Cherbourg, which was growing into first-rote importance, could live and maintain a proper position on £500 a year. Marseilles, on what principle he failed to discover, entitled the consul to £1,200 a year. He wished to urge upon the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, who, he was quite sure, had the interests of the service at heart, to devote his attention to the subject; and he hoped it would be in his power to slate that the Government meant to carry out the unanimous recommendations of the Committee.


said, the only occasion on which the Government was blamed for not paying its servants enough was when the Vote for the service which he had the honour to represent was brought forward. The speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton completely answered the speech his hon. Friend the Member for Sussex (Mr. Dodson) had made a few nights ago, in which he felt inclined to quarrel with the rate of pay to the diplomatic service. It was perfectly true, that, on the whole, it was an underpaid service. But his hon. Friend was mistaken in supposing that the Government had done nothing to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee. They mode seven recommendations, of which six had been carried out. Those recommendations were—first, as to the constitution of a second class of candidates for admission; that had been carried out. Secondly, that a probationary term of six months should be passed in the Foreign Office, and that a further period of four years should be spent at some mission abroad; that had been carried out. Thirdly, they recommended, that at the expiration of this period of probationary service, a certain rate of pay should be given to attaches, and that had also been carried out. Though these recommendations were unanimously adopted by the Committee, and acted upon by the Government, his hon. Friend the Member for Sussex objected to the small additional sum which they entailed. For his own part, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Honiton that pay ought to be given to the attaches. It was very hard that men should be called on to serve their country perhaps for fifteen or sixteen years without receiving any equivalent; and the proposal of the Committee, that after four years service £150 a year should be paid to them, he regarded as very moderate. The fourth recommendation of the Committee was, that there should be exchanges of clerks with the Foreign Office; and the fifth, that leave of absence should be granted to the Ambassadors and Ministers, as it previously was to Secretaries of Legation, without deduction from their pay. These had also been carried out, and they had every year two months' leave without any diminution of their pay. The sixth was, that, whenever it was practicable and fit, a permanent residence should be secured for the embassy; that recommendation had likewise been carried out in some cases, and he thought it would be very desirable if it could be carried out in all. The only recommendation which had not been carried out was the seventh; and that was a question, not for the Foreign Office, but for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The point to be determined was, whether the House would be willing to sanction an increase of a grant which, as his hon. Friend was aware, was fixed on the Consolidated Fund, and could not be increased or diminished annually. It was perfectly true, as his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton had stated, that the cost of the service had diminished instead of increasing, and he ventured to assert that the same could not be said of any other branch of the service. Some years ago, the amount voted under that head was nearly double the present amount. Out of the £180,000 provision, moreover, had to be made for the pensions for diplomatic services. The missions to China and Japan had arisen since the former settlement of the diplomatic service, and their cost was not included in the £180,000; but the only other exception lay in the small sum of £2,000 or £3,000, which it had been his duty to ask on behalf of attachés, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. Notwithstanding that the diplomatic servants were as a class underpaid, and were compelled to contribute from their private fortunes to the expenses of the public service, he frequently heard complaints, both in and out of the House, that they were not sufficiently hospitable to travellers. Under the circumstances, he thought it hard that persons should grumble because public servants did not increase their expenses; but, in point of fact, he believed they did entertain more hospitably than the country had a right to expect. No doubt, as was stated by Sir Hamilton Seymour, one of the duties of diplomatists was to give good dinners. The object, however, was to entertain, not travellers and British subjects, but persons in high station in the country to which those diplomatists were accredited. If they performed their duty in that respect, they were entitled to credit, and not to be exposed to reflections in that House. His hon. Friend was further mistaken in thinking that nothing had been done to improve the position of the consular service. He held in his hand a list of no less than seventy-one consuls, of whose salaries some had been nearly doubled, and all materially increased, The Government, notwithstanding that addition, had been able to reduce the annual Vote for the consular service, as he would proceed to explain:—In 1859 the Vote taken on that account was £156,404, which was an excess over that for 1858 of £10,920. After the recommendations of the Committee had been issued, the Government determined to pay the consuls in future by salaries instead of fees, which should thenceforward be levied on account of the Government. In 1861 the net charge to the public for consular services was £143,156. In 1862 it was £142,241, being a reduction of only £1,000 between 1861 and 1862. In the year 1861 there was paid into the Exchequer, however, for fees received, £10,935, and in 1862 £13,000. So that not only had the recommendations of the Committee been carried out with vast success, but with increased efficiency to the public service. He feared that it would be impossible to come to Parliament for an increased grant without interfering altogether with the arrangements for the diplomatic service, and incurring the opposition of several Members of the House.


said, he would beg leave to remind the hon. Under Secretary that there was one mode by which the limited sum apportioned under the Consolidated Fund for the remuneration of diplomatic services might be increased—by being more judiciously distributed. The hon. Gentleman had stated that the sum was limited, and that these public servants could not be more adequately remunerated without applying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, he did not wish to enter into the question as to whether those gentlemen were adequately or inadequately remunerated; but he would repeat that if the sum was limited, there was a mode of distributing the fund which would allow more ample compensation to be given than was the case at present. Let the House consider the practice which prevailed of sending out persons on special missions. The House would be presently asked to vote a sum of £1,500 to be paid to Mr. Elliot for his special mission to Greece. It was true that was not paid out of the diplomatic fund. But that was not the point to which he wished to call the attention of the House, What he wished to know was, why a gentleman should have been sent on a special mission to Greece when Her Majesty had a Plenipotentiary at Athens, receiving an adequate salary, paid out of the special sum to which the Under Secretary had referred? The House had every right to suppose that the permanent Minister at Greece was able to discharge the duties of his office; if not, he ought not to be there. He was, he believed, a diplomatist of considerable experience and ability, yet the moment any business of importance occurred the Foreign Office sent out a special envoy to transact that business, the country paying the special envoy when it was also paying for the permanent Minister. No reason had been given why that practice was continued, and why two salaries were paid to two diplomatists that ought to be paid to one. When the House was told that only a certain amount of diplomatic expenditure was permitted, it would perceive that the cost of their diplomacy was increased by the practice to which he had alluded.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman was clearly under the impression that the expenses of the special missions to which he referred were paid out of the sum appropriated to the diplomatic service, and were consequently in diminution of the ordinary salaries. Such was not the case. The sums for special mission were voted by Parliament. Special missions had been spoken of as if they were a common practice. They were not common, and it was clearly undesirable that they should be frequently resorted to. But occasions might occur when a special mission intrusted to a person of eminence, accurately instructed as to the most recent views of his Government, became absolutely necessary. Such occasions had arisen when Lord Ashburton was sent to America and the Earl of Elgin to China.


said, that his right hon. Friend did not contend that there ought not to be special missions on special occasions. Lord Ashburton was sent out because he had special relations with America, and Lord Elgin because he had a particular knowledge of China. Mr. Elliot was, however, first sent on a special mission to Naples. ["No!"] Yes, there was a balance of a Vote that night for Mr. Elliot's special mission to Naples. Mr. Elliot had been twice selected for special missions when no great emergency existed, and when, as in the case of Greece, Her Majesty had a very able and faithful servant at the capital to which he was sent. The objection to such special missions was, that when once the permanent Minister was superseded in that way, his Government virtually told those to whom he was accredited, that although he did very well for ordinary affairs, yet when matters of importance arose they were obliged to send out some one else. That was a most unfair thing to a Minister, besides making the diplomatic expenditure more extravagant than it need be.


said, the hon. Member for Honiton was quite mistaken in supposing that the expense of the diplomatic service had diminished. In 1831 the whole expenditure of the effective diplomacy was £179,000; in 1862 it had increased to £336,000. The hon. Member said that the members of the Diplomatic Service Committee were unanimous. That was not surprising, as the Committee consisted of fifteen members, ten or eleven of whom were either officials or ex-officials. They called before thorn a number of witnesses connected with the diplomatic or consular service, and the question they put to them virtually was, "Would you like an increase of your salary?" The answers of the witnesses and the report of the Committee were such as might be expected. It did not follow, because other foreign Ministers at different Courts received larger salaries than those of Great Britain, that they were to run a race of expenditure with those foreign Governments. It was quite enough that France should frame the Army and Navy Estimates, without having the diplomatic expenditure governed by that of another country. The House of Commons ought to have its own standard, and vote as much as was necessary for the effective discharge of the duties of the office. He was sorry to hear the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs express an approval of the proposal to have leasehold residences for the diplomatic servants, and say that in some instances it had been adopted. He had hoped that the leasehold house of their ambassador at Madrid, which had turned out a very bad bargain, would have operated as a warning against their having leasehold houses elsewhere. That house was purchased at a high price, an architect was employed for many years running backwards and forwards to look at it, there was a permanent clerk of the works at it, and he saw one report which stated that the house was a heap of ruins, and that there was the greatest possible difficulty in preventing it tumbling down. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to an increase of pay in the case of the consuls. The consuls were an efficient body of men, but he believed their efficiency as well as their pay might be increased without necessarily adding to the expense of the consular service. The fact was, they had got a number of unnecessary consuls in different places, and the savings that would be effected by the abolition of useless consulships might be applied to increase the pay of the others. A beginning had been already made; useless consulships at Moscow, Milan, and other places, had been abolished, and still more might be done in the same direction. The House should watch with great jealousy any proposition, direct or indirect, made by independent Members for an increase of the pay of public servants.


said, he had always understood that Committees formed in that House were composed of persons of some experience of the questions with which they had to deal, and likely to come to a proper and impartial decision. The Secretary of State, the Under Secretary, the hon. Member for Birkenhead, and the hon. Member for Horsham, and other hon. Gentlemen who had diplomatic experience, were members of the Committees on the diplomatic service, and the evidence which was brought before them was fully sifted. In fact, a fairer Committee could not have been formed. The hon. Gentleman objected to the evidence given by the witnesses who were called before the Committee, but he would ask the House merely to read that evidence. There was not a single member connected with the service who did not in the most distinct manner show that the necessaries of life had increased from 25 to 100 per cent, and that in every case their salaries were entirely inadequate. He was glad the subject had been brought forward by his hon. Friend, because he had elicited from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Layard) the fact that the attention of the Government was turned to the subject. But it was too bad, when a Committee made a Report, that hon. Members should come forward and say that its recommendations ought not to be carried out. A gentleman formerly, upon entering the diplomatic service, was often six or seven years unpaid; but now, as the Committee had recommended, after four years he received £150 a year, and after a certain time he would receive £250 upon becoming second Secretary. A man might be in South America for four or five years, and in coming home he would have to spend £60 or £70 out of his own pocket, unless he was sent to another place. The Secretaries of Legation had very important duties to perform, for they had not only to assist the Ministers, but regularly every year to make a full Report upon all matters connected with trade, and both the public press and the House always admitted the ability with which those Reports were drawn up. It would be a much better plan than that pursued at present to have recognised mission-houses abroad. He bad had experience when at Vienna, of the inconvenience arising from the removal of papers from one house to another, and he could not conceive anything more open to objection. It was said that British Consuls were in the habit of charging excessive fees; but the Committee inquired into that matter; they sent letters asking for information to all the Chambers of Commerce in England, and the result was, that the accusation fell to the ground, and the Consuls of this country earned the highest praise it was possible to bestow. And the same was true of the diplomatic corps. Under those circumstances, he could not believe that the House or the country would grudge an increase of salary to a body of men who so well deserved it, sufficient to enable them properly to represent Her Majesty and the power and wealth of the country.


said, the Committee in question was composed of officials, or those who had been officials, with two or three who were officials expectant; and all the witnesses were of the same kidney. Foreign Ministers were paid, in the smaller capitals of Europe, at a much lower rate than their own. Many of the smaller embassies might be dispensed with altogether, as either useless or injurious. The means of communication by telegraphs and railways would enable them to do that and save money, while the service would not suffer in the slightest degree.