HC Deb 14 February 1870 vol 199 cc316-22

moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the Constitution of the Diplomatic and Consular Services, and their maintenance on the efficient footing required by the political and commercial interests of the Country.


wished to express his gratification at the course taken by the Government in proposing a Select Committee in accordance with the recommendation he made last Session. He was not quite satisfied with the wording of the Resolution; but he presumed there was no intention of limiting the inquiries of the Committee, but that the Committee would inquire into the management of the Foreign Office as well as into the constitution of the Services, and that although no reference was made to the cost of the Diplomatic and Consular Services, the attention of the Committee would be directed to the means of securing a reduction of expenditure. When he ventured to address the House last year upon this question he referred to the recommendations of the Official Salaries Committee of 1850, and pointed out that those recommendations if carried out would have been the means of great economy, but that they had been entirely disregarded by the Foreign Office, and, in consequence, the expenditure of that Department had been continually increasing. [3 Hansard, cxcviii.] He moved for Returns showing the total increased charge for embassies abroad since 1851, which were laid on the table last week, and which entirely confirmed the statements he had made. The Foreign Office had drawn out the Returns in such a way as to give the impression that the increased expenditure was balanced by savings in other directions; but that was not a fair statement of the case. The increase acknowledged by the Foreign Office as having taken place since 1851, was as follows:—Upon embassies, £ 14,000; first-class missions; £3,550; and upon second-class missions, £3,575; making a total of £21,525. In each of these cases the increase had arisen in consequence of the disregard shown to the Resolutions of the Committee of 1850. That Committee wished to reduce the embassies to France and Turkey to the rank of missions; but instead of that, the Foreign Office had raised the missions to Russia, Austria, and Prussia to the rank of embassies, at an increased annual charge of £10,250. Another recommendation of the Committee was that no salary should exceed £5,000; but we were now paying our Ambassador to France £10,000, Turkey £8,000, Russia £7,800, Austria, £8,000, and Prussia £7,000. These items alone showed an excess beyond the amount recommended by the Committee of £15,800 per annum. The Foreign Office, in the Return now presented, justify this expenditure by referring to the recommendation of the Dipolmatic Service Committee of 1801, to the effect that the— Attention of the Secretary of State be directed to the salaries and allowances of the larger missions with a view of considering whether they are adequate to meet the greatly increased expenditure of living at the principal European capitals. But he (M. Rylands) was not disposed to consider the recommendations of the Committee of 1861 as of much value. That Committee differed entirely in its constitution from the Committee of 1850, and was certainly not of a character likely to satisfy the public. It consisted of fifteen members, ten or eleven of of whom were either officials or ex-officials, and two or three others were officials expectant. They called before them a number of witnesses connected with the Diplomatic and Consular Services, and questions were put to them which, practically amounted to asking them if they would like an increase of salary. Of course it was not to be wondered at that a Committee so constituted, and dealing with such evidence, should report in favour of increased expenditure. But the Returns presented by the Foreign Office did not by any means include the whole of the increased expenditure since 1851. They acknowledged an increase of £21,525, but in addition to that there was the charge for Third Secretaries, amounting to £2,298, and for Clerks attached to South American missions, £1,056. Nor was that all. There was the traveling expenses of the Second and Third Secretaries who were moved from one post to another every two years in accordance with the regulations adopted since the Committee of 1861. These charges must be considerable, and it did appear to him a most unreasonable arrangement to require these secretaries to leave their posts just as soon as they were likely to become familiar with the business of the mission to which they were attached, and when they might possibly have become of some use. There was also an increased charge for outfits, which rose with every advance of salary, being calculated at one-third. Consequently in the case of the five great embassies alone, the additional charge for outfits amounted to £5,000. Diplomatic pensions had also been advanced. It would be seen from the Returns that several second-class missions had been raised to the first-class, apparently without increased charge to the public. But that change under the Pensions Act of last Session would have the of effect of increasing the pensions to the holders of those missions from £900 to £1,300 a-year. The calculation of these several items would undoubtedly bring up the actual increased charge for the Diplomatic Service to above £30,000 per annum in place of £21,525, as shown y the Return. But beyond all this, there were the extraordinary expenses of missions abroad, which amounted to £16,000 in 1850 and now stood at £40,000, showing an increase of £24,000 a-year. When in the course of his speech last Session, he said the accounts of these missions were so kept that they gave opportunities for fraudulent expenditure, his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Otway) was very indignant, and asserted that Every shilling spent in the Diplomatic Service—whether extravagantly or economically—was most accurately accounted for, and audited with the greatest strictness by public officers."—[3 Hansard, cxcviii. 938.] He (Mr. Rylands) did not, of course, I dispute the assertion of his hon. Friend that the accounts were strictly audited. But the question was, how far could they be checked, and how far was the audit an efficient one; and upon that point he would call the attention of his hon. Friend to the evidence of Mr. Conyngham, the late Chief Clerk of the Foreign Office, before the Committee of Public Accounts in 1865. That evidence which was given conjointly with Mr. Hammond, showed how little that check amounted to—for when asked, "In the end it comes to your passing the accounts?" Mr. Conyngham answered, "We get rid of the difficulty somehow." Let them now see what the reductions as shown in the Return consisted of. They were as follows:—Missions in Italy, £6,300; Germany, £10,600; Mexico, £4,800; Monte Video, £365; and Bolivia, £365, or a total of £22,430. It would be evident to the House that the great proportion of the reduced charges arose in no way from the economy of the Foreign Office, but were necessitated by the course of events over which the Foreign Office had no control. The Italian missions were suppressed owing to the political changes in that kingdom. The same was the case in Germany, and the interruption of diplomatic relationships with Mexico had been occasioned, as was well-known by the events which had occurred in that country. These missions account for nearly £22,000 out of the alleged savings; and, in fact, the only reduction which the Government could claim credit for was that of Monte Video, which had taken place since the Motion which he submitted to the House last Session. He was very glad to see the suppression of that mission as the first fruits of the economy of the Foreign Office, and he hoped it was only he prelude of a similar suppression of he smaller missions in South America, which were maintained at a cost of £11,400 a-year. He regretted to see hat notwithstanding the events in Germany the Foreign Office still maintained Secretaires of Legation at some of the smaller courts, which was a perfectly useless expense. In thus referring to be large increase in diplomatic expenditure since 1851, he did not wish to complain of the present Government. His complaint was against the management of the Foreign Office for the last twenty years. The present Government had been so much occupied since their accession to Office, that they could scarcely have been expected to deal with these questions sooner. He gave them credit for a strong desire to promote economy in the public services, and he trusted that in the appointment of this Committee, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would see that it was so constituted as to secure the public confidence, and he had a full expectation that the result of its labours would lead to a considerable reduction in the expenditure, and at the same time maintain the efficiency of the Services.


said, the excess of the expenditure in the Diplomatic and Consular Departments last year was £166,000, and it was the duty of a reformed Parliament to inquire into the subject. In both these branches there was great and gross extravagance. He would remind the House that he had asked for a Committee last year. He thought that there was no ground for suspicions which had been entertained that the proposed Committee would not prove to be perfectly fair and straightforward in its inquiries. In all the communications which he had held with the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he had found him to be a man of honour and candour. He accordingly regarded the promise of the Department in that light. He hoped that the Committee would be fairly selected, and that the investigation would be full, thorough, and most searching. Its result would then be to ensure economy and not only maintain, but increase the efficiency of an important public Department.


said, he must maintain that the increase which had arisen under the head of the Diplomatic Service had been absolutely forced on the Government. We were bound to look at our position compared with other Powers. Our Diplomatic Service was by no means better paid than that of the French. He felt confident, if the Committee went into the whole subject, it would be found that the Service was not overpaid. Having been for some years in the Service, he could declare that he had seen the greatest economy practised in it. In the junior branch there were sixty-one officers who received salaries averaging only £250 a-year each, and he would ask anyone whether, considering the qualifications required, less than that could be paid.


, in reply, said, he had intended to preface his Motion by a short statement, but, looking to the state of the House, he thought it would have been a mere waste of time. For the same reason he must decline to follow his hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands). He begged, however, to assure them, as to the character and investigating power of the Committee, that while necessarily the Government must be represented on it, the Committee would be composed of Gentlemen who had taken an interest in the question, that the Members would be fairly selected as representing different opinions, and they would have power to investigate all the questions which had been referred to. He and the hon. Member (Mr. Rylands) would meet on the Committee, and would go into the allegations made, in the truth of which he by no means believed. The investigation would be full and complete, and it was his earnest hope and expectation that it might lead to results not only of an economical character, but also such, as should conduce to the efficiency of the Diplomatic Service.

Motion agreed to. Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the Constitution of the Diplomatic and Consular Services, and their maintenance on the efficient footing required by the political and commercial interests of the Country."—(Mr. Otway.) And, on February 24, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. BOUVERIE, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY GLADSTONE, Mr. RYLANDS, Mr. RICHARD SHAW, Sir HENRY LYTTON BULWER, Sir CHARLES WENTWORTH DILKE, Mr. KINNAIRD, Mr. HOLMS, Mr. WILLIAM CARTWRIGHT, Mr. ARTHUR RUSSELL, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Viscount SANDON, Mr. EASTWICK, Mr. BARING, Mr. WILLIAM LOWTHER, Mr. CAMERON, Mr. FREDERICK STANLEY, Mr. BUTLER-JOHNSTONE, Viscount BARRINGTON, Mr FREDERICK WALPOLE, and Mr. OTWAT:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Seven to be the quorum.