HC Deb 26 March 1863 vol 169 cc1936-47

said, be rose to call attention to the charges for the diplomatic service and to make a Motion on the subject. The expenditure on the diplomatic service, as far as he could ascertain it, amounted altogether to £360,000, and about one-half of that sum was defrayed under Act of Parliament by a fixed annual charge on the Consolidated Fund. The other part of our diplomatic expenditure was provided for in the Estimates yearly voted by the House. The various items of which it was composed were scattered up and down the different volumes of Civil Service Estimates, some of them being avowedly for diplomatic expenses, while others were disguised and placed under headings where one would least expect to find them. With the fragmentary Estimates which were submitted to the House at different intervals, it was impossible for any hon. Member, when asked to go into Committee of Supply, to say what was the cost of the diplomatic service, how the money voted was expended, or what they got for it. And yet, if he could not answer these questions, how could he give an intelligent "Aye" or "No" in Committee. Even if the Estimates were produced in an intelligible form, they would still be of comparatively little use, because they provided for only one-half of the expenditure on the diplomatic service. He had endeavoured to ascertain how it was that they had got into that position. Before the year 1830 a portion of the diplomatic expenditure was defrayed from the Civil List, and the other part by the Votes of that House. In 1831 the Civil List was reformed. A Committee which sat upon the question felt the mischief of making the House of Commons vote one-half of the charges for a service, while the other half was withheld from its control, and accordingly recommended that the whole expense of that service should be thrown upon a single fluid — namely, the Consolidated Fund. At the same time. a few specified extra expenses for subsidiary matters, were put in the Estimates. These extras were gradually increased by salaries, advances for houses, repairs, &c., until at length, in 1862, they had reverted to the original abuses of the year 1830. He also observed that several diplomatic officers figured in the Estimates as if they belonged to the consular service, while others, who ought to appear in the Estimates, were transferred to the Consolidated Fund. It seemed, indeed, as if the Foreign Secretary could withdraw from the control of the House all the appointments which might be thought questionable, submitting only those which could not fairly be impeached. Another point requiring explanation was, that diplomatic agents, who while on service were paid out of the Consolidated Fund, had been placed among the Consuls in receipt of pensions. The late Chargé d'Affaires at Venezuela, for example, had been pensioned out of the Votes of that House; while, on the other hand, there was a Consul pensioned out of the Consolidated Fund. In fact, the present system was full of anomalies and contradictions which were difficult to understand, and which placed that House in a very difficult position when they were called upon to vote the Estimates for the diplomatic or for the consular service. The Act of 1832 was intended to put a definite limit on the expenditure of the diplomatic service, whereas that limit had, in some cases, been openly transgressed and in others indirectly evaded. He asked the House, therefore, to affirm the Resolution which he had moved, and the effect of which would be to repeal the Act which charged the service upon the Consolidated Fund and to provide that Estimates for the whole of the diplomatic expenditure should be submitted to the House in a connected form, and the Votes for that service taken, as those for the army and navy were proposed, in one draught. The House often felt that its power on foreign questions was imperfect, and that it was only through the Crown that it could deal with foreign Governments. But the House had the legitimate remedy in its own hands, from the constitutional check it possessed in the power of the purse. If the whole of the Estimates for the diplomatic service were annually voted, the House would strengthen its hold on that branch of the public service, tighten its rein over the Foreign Office, and exercise a more direct influence on questions of foreign policy. The diplomatic body would feel themselves to be more the servants of the public and less of the Foreign Office, while the Foreign Office itself would become more sensitive, and would more quickly respond to the wishes of the House. Their foreign policy being more under the control of the House would acquire a more national character, and the diplomatic body, deriving their power immediately from the support they obtained in that House, would gain in popularity at home and acquire additional weight and influence abroad.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, all sums required to defray the expenses of the Diplomatic Service ought to be annually voted by Parliament, and that Estimates of all such sums ought to be submitted in a form that will admit of their effectual supervision and control by this House, —instead thereof.


said, that he must admit that much of what his hon. Friend had said was true. No doubt, the practice with regard to the voting of the expenses of the diplomatic service was different from that which prevailed in reference to other departments of the public service. But the system had hitherto worked well. His hon. Friend had expressed the same opinions last, year, and he (Mr. Layard) then ventured to differ from him. He was prepared to oppose the Motion on two grounds:—First, he thought what his hon. Friend proposed would be objectionable on the score of economy; and secondly, on the score of the efficiency of the public service. What was the real state of the case? In 1825 no less a sum than £300,000 a year was assigned to the diplomatic service. In 1830 it was reduced to £230,000, but at that time the salaries of attachés were not, he believed, included in the Vote for the diplomatic service. After mature consideration, in 1832, it was proposed that a gross sum of £180,000 should be placed on the Civil List for the annual expense of the diplomatic service. That sum was to include not only the charges for the foreign missions, but also the retiring pensions to which Ministers and others in the diplomatic service were entitled. His hon. Friend had mixed up several things which were distinct. The nominal sum was only £180,000; but going through the different classes of Estimates his hon. Friend calculated the gross annual expenditure at not less than £360,000. But that embraced various parts of the public foreign service included in Classes 5 and 6 of the Estimates. There was a distinction between the consular and diplomatic service to which his hon. Friend had not adverted. The sum of £180,000 was made to meet the expense of the foreign missions alone and pensions. The only real exceptions were the diplomatic establishments in China and Japan, which had sprung up since the arrangement of 1832 was made, and for which separate Votes were taken. His hon. Friend had stated that in Class 6, among the superannuation grants, were included the pensions of diplomatic officers. That was not the case. Then his hon. Friend had referred to the cases of the Chargé d'Affaires at Venezuela, and other diplomatic agents in America. In the first place, some of the instances to which his hon. Friend had alluded probably referred to a period prior to the new arrangements made with regard to our missions in South America, where the consuls general had received diplomatic appointments: their salaries were now paid from the diplomatic list. It sometimes happened that when a consul general and diplomatic agent was absent on leave, the Consul of the place was charged for the time with the duties of consul general and diplomatic agent. Although he for the time being discharged diplomatic functions, yet as Consul his pension would come under the superannuation list as that of a consular officer. The arrangements as to South America were different from those as to other countries. In nearly all the States of South America they had not diplomatic agents, but consuls general, who had diplomatic powers. While the annual Votes for every branch of the public service had increased, in many instances, to the extent of one-third, during the last few years, the diplomatic service alone remained station ary; and the Foreign Office, by the exercise of strict economy, was able to hand back annually to the Treasury some £7,000 to £10,000; but if the diplomatic charges were annually submitted to the House, he would venture to say that the increase would be as great in them as in those for the other departments. Excellent reasons would be assigned by hon. Members for the increase of this and that diplomatic salary. The evidence before the Diplomatic Committee showed that the expense of living had increased nearly threefold in almost all the capitals in Europe, and he believed that with few exceptions every Minister and Ambassador abroad spent more than he received from this country. Members of the House would be constantly bringing forward special instances of grievance in this respect, and the House would, perhaps, not be disinclined to listen to them. Therefore, he was convinced, that if the House had annually an opportunity of discussing the amount of diplomatic salaries, the result would be a large increase of expenditure in that direction. Upon the question of efficiency he must say, that the last reason assigned by his hon. Friend for making the change he proposed was the very reason why he should be disposed to resist it. The hon. Gentleman said, that if these salaries were annually discussed in that House, the Ministers and Ambassadors of this country would become more dependent for their policy upon public opinion as expressed in the House, that they would look to this House instead of the Foreign Office. They had in the diplomatic service as able, as intelligent, and as independent a body of men as existed in any other branch of the public service of the country; but the proposed change would, he believed, be fatal to the efficiency of the diplomatic service. Formerly, when a change of Government took place, there was also a change of their representatives abroad; but that system had, to a great extent, disappeared, and consequently their diplomatic agents had become independent of any political parties, obeying simply the instructions of the Minister of the day. But if every year diplomatic salaries and missions were discussed in that House, and our representatives were made to depend for them upon their political opinions, they would look to Parliament rather than to the Secretary of State; they would become politicians instead of servants of the public, and the authority and responsibility of the Secretary of State would be lessened. In the cases of Japan and China the House had been asked to vote sums for diplomatic salaries in addition to the £180,000 which had been agreed upon; but those cases were peculiar, a large diplomatic and consular staff having to be created in both of those countries. The experience gained by those Votes, and by the Votes for the consular establishments, did not encourage the proposition to submit all diplomatic salaries to annual discussion; for instead of diminution in amount, appeals were being constantly made in that House for additional consuls to be appointed. While the consular Votes had increased year by year, the Foreign Office was limited to the expenditure of £180,000, and it was compelled to restrict its expenditure to that amount. There were some charges connected with the diplomatic service, such as for messengers and couriers, which were included in the Civil Service Estimates; but the £180,000 had only been intended to meet the pay and pensions of the diplomatic agents, and not to include such items as those referred to. He believed that the Resolution, if carried, would only result in an increase of expenditure, without in any way improving the efficiency of the service, and in very much damaging the efficiency of this branch of the public service. On these grounds, he hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion, or that the House would refuse to adopt it.


said, he thought that nothing would be gained to the cause of diplomatic reform if the proposal were carried; for he believed that if the expenditure on that service was annually discussed by the House, it would be increased every five years. The amount for diplomatic services was not large, and, upon the whole, was well administered. He was not well satisfied with the expenditure in Paris, but was bound to admit that a majority of the Committee which sat two years ago did not agree with him. He believed that such Motions as that under consideration did harm, by withdrawing the attention of Parliament from what really required amendment. An increase of efficiency, and not a decrease of expense, was really needed in the diplomatic service. That service was at present in a fair condition, having been improved by the last regulations of the Foreign Office; but still further improvement was required, and that House could best contribute to that end by constantly pressing upon the Government to uphold the standard of diplomatic merit, and to make the service one d'élite which no one should be allowed to enter who had not shown that he possessed superior abilities.


said, he was struck by the extraordinary statement of the hon. Under Secretary of State as well as by the extraordinary theory he had propounded. The hon. Gentleman said that the diplomatic expenditure had not increased for thirty years; but it was proved that, instead of £180,000, the expenditure upon that service was £360,000 a year. The hon. Gentleman also said, that if diplomatic and consular salaries were annually submitted to that House, the consequence would be a great increase of expenditure. But, if that theory was good for anything, it went to the extent that there was no use in submitting any Estimates at all to Parliament. As to the increased expense of living abroad, that point had been considered by the Committee, who, however, instead of recommending increase of salaries, advised that no salary should exceed,65,000 per annum. He believed that they had, particularly in Germany, more diplomatic establishments than were necessary. He remarked that whenever they withdrew (heir diplomatic agents from any place things went on very smoothly, and it would appear that they only tended very much to increase mischief. It might be said that they gained information at the small Courts in Germany; but so far from that information being useful they would be better without it.


said, that it was much to be regretted that such an important Motion had not been met by a responsible Minister of the Crown. It was trespassing too much upon the indulgence of the House to leave the subject to be dealt with by an Under Secretary of State. The hon. Under Secretary stated, that if diplomatic salaries were voted by that House, the persons who received them would become party men, who would agitate for the increase of salary instead of attending solely to the service of the country. Now, was that a proper reason to give to the House of Commons for refusing it the control over the diplomatic expenditure? All the permanent civil service was paid by Votes of the House, and in every Department of the State there were important officers whose salaries were paid in that way; but were they made party men in consequence? Another reason given by the hon. Under Secretary was, that if the salaries were submitted to the House of Commons, they would be raised by the importunity of Members, and that the public expenditure would thus be increased. Now, it appeared to him that that was a libel upon the character of the House. Would any Minister of the Crown venture to assign such reasons as these for opposing the Motion? At present the charge upon the Consolidated Fund was often supplemented by Votes of Supply; but it was impossible for the House to form any just judgment respecting this expenditure without having the whole of it before them. At all events, he submitted that in connection with each item in the Votes upon that subject there should be distinctly stated the amount which was charged upon the Consolidated Fund.


said, that he must say that all his prejudices and prepossessions were in favour of such a Motion as that before the House, because it tended apparently, ostensibly, and even really, to extend the jurisdiction of the House with regard to the details of public expenditure. Nine years ago it was his lot to propose to the House the adoption of a measure which removed from the Consolidated Fund a very large number of charges, and placed them on the annual Votes. At that period it was the duty of the Government to consider each case by itself, and to determine whether each charge should be submitted annually to Parliament, or placed on the Consolidated Fund. After taking a comprehensive view of the whole question, at that time it was the opinion of the Government that the diplomatic charges, properly so called, ought to be retained upon the Consolidated Fund; and when he subsequently submitted a measure upon the subject, he was not aware that an opposite opinion was expressed in the House. It was to be borne in mind that the question was then considered not casually, upon a particular point raised at a particular moment, but after full notice, after public attention had been drawn to the subject, and a comprehensive view had been taken of it, with the assistance of the collateral light thrown upon it by the consideration of kindred matters. He did not say that that fact was decisive of the question, which must of course be settled, one way or the other, wholly by a regard to the public advantage. The existing system was not, he admitted, perfectly and absolutely consistent. The general intention of the Act, which charged £180,000 a year upon the Consolidated Fund for the payment of diplomatic salaries and pensions, was that all the higher classes of officers should be provided for from that source. That, however, was not so; and, on the other hand, some of the lower class of officers, as to whom he thought it unnecessary that they should be placed there, were so provided for. It was conceivable, that upon consideration of the subject some partial improvement might be effected in distributing these charges, but that was not the question with which the House was dealing. His hon. Friend laid it down broadly that "all sums required to defray the expenses of the diplomatic service ought to be annually voted by Parliament." Now, to that Motion there was, in his view, in the first place an objection of principle, and in the second place an objection of practice. It had been the just opinion of the Legislature that the highest diplomatic officers held a position which it was so important to maintain in the highest degree of independence that it should really be treated in a manner analogous to that of the Judges, and that their salaries should be placed beyond the reach of the smallest uncertainty. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary had, at the same time, expressed an opinion, which was entitled to much more weight than his own, that the change proposed would be injurious to the discipline of the Service. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, it was his particular duty to regard the question from a point of view connected with his own Department, and he was bound to say, that speaking simply in the interest of the Treasury, and setting aside all constitutional reasons, he deliberately preferred the arrangement as it stood to the arrangement as proposed. They had had a good deal of experience upon the subject, and there had been some difficulty as between the Treasury and the Foreign Office in arriving at one conclusion upon many of these points; but in all the cases where the Foreign Office had made requisitions upon the Treasury for an increased public charge, these demands had invariably been supported by reference to movements in that House, to demands made there, and to the Reports of Committees of that House. The Foreign Office itself had greatly reduced these demands, and upon further consideration between the two Departments a further reduction had been effected, so that in a simple practical point of view he gave his entire adhesion to the main proposition laid down by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary. He did not deny the jurisdiction of the House of Com- mons in these matters, if they thought fit to exercise it; but he hoped that, on the ' grounds he had stated, they would not accede to the Motion. As to the statement that there had been a great, increase in the diplomatic charges, that must be an error, for he thought that there had been no increase at all corresponding with the increase in the charges for government generally. But an increase had taken place in the consular charges, which were subject to the Votes of the House, and must depend, to a great extent, upon the demands of the growing commerce of the country in various parts of the world. The difficulty in keeping down these charges did not arise from the extravagant wishes of the Foreign Office, but from the necessity of making head against the authority of a Report presented by a Committee of that House. He could not give his adhesion to the proposition laid down by his hon. Friend, and he trusted that the House would not accede to his Motion.


said, that from what he had seen as a Member of the Diplomatic Committee he had upon practical grounds arrived at the same conclusion as the right hon. Gentleman, and he did not think that any reduction of expenditure would follow if these Estimates were submitted annually to the House He thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right in the analogy which he had drawn between the position occupied by the Judges and the higher diplomatic servants. The calculation on which the sum charged to the Consolidated Fund for the diplomatic service was grounded, was made many years back by the noble Lord the present Prime Minister and adopted by the House. Augmentations for contingencies had since been made, but these were annually submitted to Parliament. On the ground of economy he should recommend the rejection of the proposition submitted to the House.


said, he rose to express a hope that the Motion of the hon. Member for Sussex would not be adopted He had, however, understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to argue that Ambassadors were placed on the same footing as the Judges of the land. Nothing could be more false in fact or theory. It amounted to this, that the members of the diplomatic body were fixed servants of the Crown. The Government of Sir Robert Peel, and many other Governments, he believed, had on taking office changed those who occupied the higher positions in the diplomatic service, and much of the evidence taken by the Committee on the Diplomatic Service went to prove, that so far from it being desirable that Ambassadors and Consuls should remain fixed servants of the Crown, it was, on the contrary, extremely desirable that consular servants should be selected from those who had displayed efficiency in public life at home, because they commanded more respect than those who had passed their time in the diplomatic service. The hon. Member for Southwark had expressed apprehension, that if a Vote on this subject were brought annually before the House, the foreign policy of the country would be more under the control of that assembly. That constituted no good ground of objection, for it had been proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that it was very desirable that foreign ministers should become better acquainted with, and learn to appreciate more, the public opinion of the country as it found expression in Parliament. He opposed the Motion solely on the ground of economy—believing that the charge for the diplomatic service would increase year by year if the course recommended by the hon. Member was adopted.


said, that the hon. Member who had just spoken had attributed words to him of which he had not made use. He likened the position of the higher members of the diplomatic body to that occupied by the Judges, not on the ground of their tenure of office, but on the ground of their independence.


said, he would gladly support the Motion if he believed that economy would be secured by its adoption; but looking at the large increase that had taken place in the charges for the consular service, which, before they came under the control of the House, amounted to £96,000, but now exceeded £160,000, he did not think that such would be the case. That increase had been incurred at the desire of the merchants.


said, that he should support the Motion. Whether the hon. Member for Sussex went to a division or not, he had done good service by his Motion. He had shown the necessity of a revision of the system under which the charges for the diplomatic service were regulated, and the sooner the Government took up the matter the better. It had been shown that the £180,000 charged to the Consolidated Fund was insufficient to cover the charges placed upon it. In addition to the increased expense occasioned by the embassy to China and to Japan, there was this year a new Vole for the payment of an attaché, and he feared that from year to year there would be an increase of such Votes. He did not offer any opinion as to whether a portion of the charge for the diplomatic service ought not to be borne by the Consolidated Fund, but he thought it desirable that the House should have the control of the great body of the expenditure.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 136; Noes 65: Majority 71.