HC Deb 18 February 1870 vol 199 cc533-51

, in rising according to Notice, to call the attention of the House to the present position of Her Majesty's Diplomatic and Consular Services said, that, considering the manner in which the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) had dealt last year with the Diplomatic branch of that subject, his observations would now be mainly directed to the Consular Department. Appreciating very fully the evidence the Government had given of their determination to lay a reforming hand where maladministration or extravagance was found to exist, he trusted that the Committee proposed by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would have a far more important result than any that had followed the appointment of previous Committees of Inquiry into that subject. A discussion on the question at present would, he believed, not only lessen the labours of that Committee, but enhance their value. Successive Committees had been appointed, but it was remarkable that there had been no debate on that important Department of the State for more than a quarter of a century, and in point of fact no encouragement had been given to the discussion of the subject. Any remarks which he might make he desired to apply, not to individuals, but to the system. The Consular system as it at present existed was regulated by the action taken by Mr. Canning in 1825. At that period the monopoly of trade in the East so long enjoyed by the Levant Company was transferred from that company to the Government, and at the same time the various Consuls in the Levant were also transferred to the Crown, in whose hands their control and their remuneration had since then remained. At that time Mr. Canning laid down the rule that our Consuls abroad should all be paid direct from the Home Government, and should be non-trading. After a few years' experience it was found that system tended greatly to increase the cost of our Consular Department, and representations were made to the Government to that effect, but it was not till 1833 that any relaxation was made in the rule. The Reformed Parliament then reduced the expense of the Consular Service by from £30,000 to £40,000. The cost of the Service in the year 1834 was £83,300. In 1835 a Committee was appointed to inquire into the state of the Consular Service, and especially into the mode of remunerating Consuls abroad, and that Committee unhesitatingly condemned the principle laid down by Mr. Canning, and declared that our Consuls should be permitted, at the discretion of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to trade or not to trade. In 1838 the expenditure on this Department remained much as it was in 1834; but the attention of the country from 1838 to 1848 being1 engrossed by the great question of Free Trade and withdrawn from financial economy, the result was an enormous increase in our Miscellaneous Estimates. A Committee was then appointed to inquire into those Estimates, and its attention was naturally drawn to the great increase in the charge for the Consular Service, which in 1848 amounted to £123,000, in addition to which £24,000 was required for the services in China and Japan, making the total cost in that year £147,000. The Committee protested against the increase of £4,200 over the Estimate of the preceding year, and that amount was struck off. They also recommended that when the exigencies of trade called for the establishment of new Consulates, investigation should be made into the existing Consulates, to see whether they did not admit of reduction. In 1850, the Committee appointed upon Official Salaries were able to inquire only into the condition of the Diplomatic Service; but they recommended that in the following year an inquiry should be prosecuted into the Consular Service; and if their recommendation had been attended to by the Foreign Office in regard to the Diplomatic Service a saving to the nation up to this time would have been effected of at least £500,000. In 1857–8 another Committee was appointed to inquire into the Consular Service. He must say that that Committee seemed to have been far more moved by the interest of the Consuls abroad than by that of the taxpayers at home. They, however, made several suggestions, which again received little or no attention. In 1859, another Committee was appointed, which also made some most valuable recommendations, but these, in turn, were treated with very little respect by the Foreign Office. The officials of the Foreign Office showed considerable skill in warding off attacks on the present system of diplomacy, from whatever side they came; and there was not much inclination on their part to carry out the improvements recommended by the Committees. The House had acquired abundant information on the subject, and what was now wanted was action. The Committee of 1858 recommended that in future all the fees received by the Consuls should be paid into the Treasury, and that they should instead receive salaries and allowances. In 1858 we paid £15,840 to Consuls in Turkey, and the fees amounted to £8,000 or £10,000 more; but last year there was voted £25,700 by way of salaries, and there was returned to the Treasury on account of fees only £968. In the ease of Bucharest, the Earl of Malmesbury, writing before the salary of the Consul at that place was increased, said that for several years the fees had been £220 a-year. Upon this the salary was raised from £900 to £1,000 a year, and there was besides £300 a-year of allowances; last year, however, there was only 40s. returned to the Treasury for fees, whilst the allowances voted were £800. In Alexandria the fees had been £1,220, but last year there reached the Treasury only £587; and at Cairo the fees had been £300, whilst the sum paid to the Treasury was but £38. The Consular accounts from many other places indicated a similar extravagance. The Committee, after hearing witness after witness in favour of the plan, recommended that a system of stamps should be adopted, and that the Foreign Office, in conjunction with the Treasury and the Board of Inland Revenue, should devise such a scheme. The scheme, however, never had been devised. It had been found that the present system, as far as the Foreign Office was concerned, was most delusive and unbusinesslike. He would now endeavour to show that the natural and proper position for the Consular Service to occupy was that it should be in close connection with the Board of Trade. If the arrangements of the Consular Service were looked at they would be found to be most unsatisfactory. One set of Consuls corresponded with the Superintendent of Trade, or nearest local authority; another set direct with the Foreign Office; others with the nearest Consul General, Chargé d'affaires, or resident Minister; a fourth set corresponded with the Board of Trade; and he believed that there was a fifth class who did not correspond at all. Ever since the passing of the Mercantile Marine Act of 1854 the Board of Trade had to communicate with the Consuls about shipping, but the Board had to send through the Foreign Office, instead of writing direct to the Consuls themselves. Now this circumlocution must cause great waste of time and money, and must necessitate the existence of two staffs of officials, one at Downing Street, and another at the Board of Trade. Before the Committee of 1858 Mr. Hammond stated that the correspondence with the Consuls was chiefly of a commercial character, and that such correspondence was always sent to the Board of Trade, and unless there was some important matter it was sent without his seeing it—what he called important matter related chiefly to shipwrecks. Mr. Ward, who followed him as a witness, said that the proportion of communications that even favoured of a political character was small. From this it seemed clear that the correspondence which went to the Foreign Office should go to the Board of Trade—and, indeed, since the Mercantile Marine Act, certain Consuls, as he had said, must write direct to the Board of Trade. If the exigencies of trade demanded new Consulates, the opinion of the Board of Trade was taken; or if any Consul exceeded his duty, or charged improper fees, recourse was had to the Board of Trade; and, indeed, this Board did everything in reference to Consuls after they were once appointed. It seemed to him that the Board of Trade did all the work, while the Foreign Office had all the patronage of the appointments. While this system remained it would be impossible to have efficient control or proper economy. No doubt the Consuls had political duties; but communications in reference to them could be sent to the Foreign Office, whilst commercial correspondence could go to the Board of Trade. A similar system was already in operation in France, the Netherlands, and the United States. Mr. Ward was of opinion that such a system could be easily carried out here. It would, no doubt, be of great advantage to commerce if Consuls were led to understand that their work should be as little as possible of a political nature. This was the view taken by the Committee of 1857–58, which reported that from the earliest period Consuls had been con- nected with trade, and though under particular circumstances some Governments might have found it convenient to invest them with diplomatic functions, the commercial interests of the country required that Consuls should be commercial officers occupied in commercial duties alone. It should be remembered that this country was not now in the same relative position to other countries that it was twenty or thirty years ago. Formerly we were far ahead in respect of trade and commerce, but now other nations were nearly abreast of us. To place Consuls in direct communication with the Board of Trade, and to confine their functions to commerce as much as possible, would be quite in accordance with the principles of unity of administration that the Government were carrying out at the Admiralty and the War Office. The cost of the Consular Service in particular countries bore but little relation to the amount of trade done with those countries. In 1868 the total import and export trade of Great Britain amounted to £402,500,000, and last year there was voted for the Consular Service £243,563. That was after deducting £17,888 for fees returned. Of this amount of trade £247,000,000 was done with seven countries, in which the cost of the Consular Service was £32,500, or two-thirds of the entire trade was done at one-seventh of the entire cost. While in 1854 our trade with China amounted to a little more than £10,000,000, at a cost for our Consular Service of £26,400; in 1807, for a trade of only a little over £19,000,000, we paid nearly £136,000 for Consular Service. Lot those figures be contrasted with our Consular expenditure in the Netherlands, where, for a trade amounting to £10,000,000 more than that with China, we only paid £1,500. The cost of the United States Consular Service in China, with a trade only second to our own, was only about £12,000 per annum. But if the case of China was bad, the case of Siam was far worse. Our trade with Siam had averaged for the last five years £10,500 exports and £12,000 imports—excepting one year, when the amount was greater by £115,000, the value of rice exported in consequence of the famine in India—and the expense of the Consular Service was from £4,000 to £5,000 per annum. But last year, with a trade of £3,072 with that place, we expended no less than £3,450, being more than the whole value of our trade with that country. The Service in Tripoli, again, cost us £1,766 last year, although for five years we had not traded with that place to the value of a penny, except in 1867, when we dealt with it to the extent of about £8,000; and it would be found that our Consulates in Morocco stood in a similar position. The Committee of 1859 had recommended that the Consulates in Morocco should be closely watched, and that before any vacancy was filled up inquiries should be made as to whether the expected advantage had been derived from these particular Consulates. But since 1859 all these Consulates had been vacant, and all the vacancies, with the exception of one very insignificant one, had been filled up, although our trade with that country had in no degree increased. The expenses were now nearly £500 more than they amounted to when the Committee made that very proper suggestion. He would next take the case of Greece. We expended upon our Diplomatic and Consular Services in that country about £10,000 per annum, being nearly the one-fourth part of the whole cost of the Civil Service of that kingdom, our Ambassador receiving ten times and one of our Consuls three times the salary of the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs. On the other hand, in America, with a trade, in 1868, of £66,000,000—nearly double that with any other nation—we only expended £6,500 upon our Consular Service, and this result was chiefly owing to the fact that the American nation conducted its Consular affairs in a practical, business-like, and economical manner. He had it upon authority that the Consular Service in America cost that country nothing at all—that was to say, it paid its own expenses entirely. The number of paid Consuls employed by that nation was 120, but they paid more fees into the Exchequer than sufficed to pay the whole of their salaries. If we were to follow the American example, and pay only 120, as was recommended by the Committee of 1859, we could save at least £100,000 per annum in our Consular Department, while its efficiency would be materially increased, the American Government having 600 representatives throughout the world, whereas we had only 430. Having investigated the subject carefully, and without any preconceived notions, he had arrived at the conclusion that the Service would be conducted far more economically and more efficiently if it was transferred from the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade. He had said nothing if the Diplomatic Service, and for this reason—if the control of the Consular Department was removed from the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade the breezes of public opinion would pass through the Foreign Office, and a reform in the Diplomatic Department would become inevitable. He was no advocate for a mean and parsimonious economy, on the contrary, he advocated the liberal payment of our public servants wherever there was work for them; but he was strongly opposed to the maintenance of a whole regiment of paid Consuls, some of whom were entirely useless; and he believed that in many places merchants of high standing would be willing to discharge the light duties attaching to Consulships in consideration merely of the honour of serving Her Majesty. He was afraid that some useless and expensive Consulates were maintained chiefly for the patronage afforded by their existence; no Ministry had yet been proof against the temptation which vacancies presented of offering appointments to their supporters. But surely the time was drawing to an end when an Administration required that sort of support, and the time coming when Governments would feel that they might rest their popularity upon a wider foundation. Not a reform of an abuse was effected without the fact reaching the ears of the people and calling forth their gratitude; and in this way strength and honour would be conferred upon the Minister who effected it. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


rose to second the Motion. In doing so, however, he must be allowed to say that he restricted his support of the Resolutions to the second, and even as to that he must make a limitation. He would limit the transfer to Consulates at ports either on the seacoast or on great navigable rivers. Consulates in the interior of countries were comparatively very few in number, and the officers employed there had, most of them, more or less of political duties to attend to, and on that account, and for other reasons which he should mention presently, he thought they ought to be retained under the Foreign Office. He supported the transfer of the other Consulates—that was of the Consular Service properly so called—to the Board of Trade, first, on the grounds of general public convenience and utility, and secondly, because he believed this measure would be advantageous both to the Diplomatic and to the Consular Service, and would render the members of those Services more contented and efficient. It was, of course, supposable that the transfer of a Department from one great office of the State to another, though desirable on public grounds, might be prejudicial to the private interests of the officers of that Department. In making the change now advocated, he imagined there was nothing of that sort to be apprehended, but quite the reverse. He presumed it was for the advantage of the public that a Department should be placed where its work could be done as directly and with as little reference to other offices as possible, because references implied correspondence, and correspondence implied delay. That being so, there was primâ facie evidence, from the nature of their duties, that Consuls ought to be under the Board of Trade. Those duties had been classed in the Report of 1858, on Mr. Murray's plan for the revision of Consular fees, under three heads—the notarial, shipping, and State duties. Now, no one could contend that the Foreign Office had any direct connection with notaries and shipping; but the Board of Trade had. There remained the State duties, and what were they? A long list was given of them, but the words trade, commerce, or shipping, occur in almost every line. The only one of those duties which could possibly be twisted into direct connection with the Foreign Office was thus described— Jealously to guard against any infringement being made in our existing treaties by the authorities of the place to which the Consul is appointed to the prejudice of our trade and navigation. But Mr. Hammond stated that the Consul could not make any communication on these matters, or, indeed, on any other matter, to a foreign Government, and could address the local authorities only, and oven with them must avoid all political discussion; and if he could not settle the matter with them à l'amiable he must content himself with reporting what had occurred. His report, then, in such exceptional cases might be a duplicate one, and might be made to the British diplomatic officer at the capital of the foreign Government, and through the Board of Trade to the Foreign Office. But from Lord Clarendon's circular, of the 24th of February, 1857, it would seem to be the duty rather of the Secretary of Legation than of the Consul to report such matters as infringements of treaties. After referring to the Consular Reports as of a local character, the circular went on to say— Her Majesty's diplomatic servants residing at the capital have opportunities of ascertaining the grounds on which legislative interference with the course of trade is resorted to, and the effect which such interference is calculated to have, not only on local or general interests in the countries themselves, but also on the commercial relations of those countries with foreign nations. He maintained, then, that nothing in the duties of Consuls made it advisable to continue them under the Foreign Office, but that there was evidence from the nature of those duties that they should be under the Board of Trade. He believed the whole of their work, at least of Consuls at ports, had reference to commercial matters; but, admitting only three-fourths of it to be of such a character, it was quite clear many delays and references would be saved if they were under the Board.

But there were other and stronger grounds for the transfer. It appeared from the statements of Mr. Hammond himself, in his evidence before the Committee of 1858, that there was a distinct line of demarcation between the Consular and Diplomatic Services. Mr. Hammond said— The Consul cannot communicate directly with the Government of the country in which he resides, unless he is Chargé d'affaires and Consul General (that is, unless he is a diplomatic officer). If a foreign Consul were to address the Secretary of State we should not answer him, but we should answer his Minister. If it happened frequently we should give him a hint that it was not a Consul's business to communicate with us. Here, then, the line was distinctly drawn between the two Services, and the reason of this was most judiciously stated by Mr. Hammond, when he said— My opinion is this, that if the Consular Body were to look to diplomatic employment, the tendency would be to make them think political business of morn importance than Consular, and that they would be induced to seek to set a reputation for adroitly managing political questions—and we may guess what that would lead to—instead of confining themselves strictly to Consular duties. Unfortunately, since those words were uttered events had happened which rendered it no longer matter of conjecture, but of certainty, what results accrued from a Consular officer, with the best possible intentions no doubt, going out of his province, and proceeding into the interior of the country to which he was accredited, for the purpose of discharging diplomatic functions. The Abyssinian difficulty had cost us a sum which would have defrayed the whole expenditure on the Diplomatic and Consular Services for many years, and was an example of the danger of not keeping the Services separate. This was a case in which the danger had clothed itself with such reality that no one could close his eyes to it. But how often had it happened that the political aspirations of Consuls had brought us to the very verge of war. To use the words of Sir Henry Rawlinson before the Committee of 1858, "the interference of Consuls has become a byword." He (Mr. Eastwick) contended, therefore, that the only way of effectually shutting out those dangers was to relegate the Consuls to those peaceful occupations which were their proper sphere, and make them subordinate to the Board of Trade, which was by its very nature opposed to war. This was the sole means of securing their undivided attention to their proper duties, for if they were placed under the same roof with diplomacy, and if their proceedings were shrouded from publicity by holding over them the impenetrable ægis of the Foreign Office, we should assuredly at no very distant period be suddenly called upon to deal with a fresh brood of troubles hatched in China or Japan, or some other unlooked-for quarter by the warmth of Consular zeal. But supposing the transfer to be made, how would it affect the Diplomatic and Consular Services? He believed the separation would be beneficial to both. Each would become a distinct and independent Service, and would, therefore, be less exposed to invasion by gentlemen brought from other professions. The Diplomatic Service would be especially the gainer by being kept distinct from the Consular, for it was very much owing to the intrusions of Consular officers into the higher ranks of the Diplomatic Service that this latter Service was in its present overcrowded state. It appeared that from 1858 to 1868 there had been only twenty vacancies in the rank of Minister or Chargé d'affaires, and seven of those vacancies had been filled up by Consuls. The result was that the senior diplomatic officer in each of the lower grades had been about ten years in his present rank. Consequently, any diplomatic officer entering the service now would, in the ordinary course of things, have to wait more than thirty years before he could be a Minister. Now, when it was considered how far more rapid promotion used to be—that Sir Henry Bulwer and Sir James Hudson were Ministers in twelve years, Sir Hamilton Seymour in seven, and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe in less than five—it was no wonder that there should be some dissatisfaction felt at the difference. Now, by means of this transfer, the plethora in the Diplomatic Service might, it appeared to him, be removed. The Consuls General in South America, who were really diplomatic officers and Ministers in all but name, might, without any additional expense to the public, except for their pensions on retirement, be raised at once to the rank of Minister. In case of their absence, instead of sending up a Consul from a distant port to act for them, it would be a very beneficial step to provide them with a chancelier or archiviste, who might be an attaché, and in some cases succeed, if his length of service entitled him, to the post upon a vacancy occurring. Consulates in the interior of countries might be held in future by junior officers of the Diplomatic Service, and their direct subordination to the Minister or Ambassador would be a salutary check upon over-zeal. At the same time, in such posts they would discharge duties which would fit them for promotion, and which would be a great deal more interesting than copying despatches at head-quarters. In point of fact, junior diplomatic officers did, as he knew from experience, now often act for Consuls, and he was not aware of any objection to the expransion of such a system. The transfer, therefore, might be made extremely beneficial to the Diplomatic Service, and he thought it would be also beneficial to the Consular Service, particularly if the appointments were thrown open to competition. The standard of examination might be raised very considerably, and at the same time a class of men would join the Service who would be content with the certainly very moderate salaries given to Consular officers. There would be a few prizes in the Service, such as the Consul Generalship at Odessa; and if it were found necessary to make the Service more attractive, that could be done, and done, he thought, very properly, by shortening the term of service for pension. It was with these views that he had risen to support the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Holms). He looked more to the efficiency of the Services than to economical advantages, and he thought the extreme importance of the duties which both Services had to perform justified this mode of regarding the matter.

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, the expenditure upon the Diplomatic and Consular Services may be reduced, and it is expedient for the promotion of efficiency and economy to transfer the control of the Consular Department from the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade,"—(Mr. Holms,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was of opinion that the best course to pursue would be to refer the whole question to the consideration of a Select Committee, as Her Majesty's Government had proposed to do the other night. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms), however, asserted that the House already possessed sufficient information on the subject, and asked it to pass a Resolution— That it is expedient for the promotion of efficiency and economy to transfer the control of the Consular Department from the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade. Now, it appeared to him that there were two objections to the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman. If the House adopted the Motion they would be acting most unfairly to Her Majesty's Government, who had evinced, both in the last and the present Session, a disposition to aid the House in obtaining a thorough and complete investigation of the subject, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs having moved on Monday last for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the constitution of the Diplomatic and Consular Departments. A still more serious objection might be urged against the Motion, which he could not help thinking asked the House to do too much. It asked them to pass, after a very short debate, and when there was but a small attendance of Members, an abstract Resolution transferring the Consular Department from the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade. Now, if the only question respecting the Consular Department were the mere question of transfer he should unhesitatingly say that the House was as competent to deal with it as a Committee upstairs; but there were other matters affecting the Department which also required discussion and investigation. For instance, there was the question as to whether our Consuls should be paid by fees or salaries, or partly by fees and partly by salaries. Again, there was the question whether the present fees as regulated by Act of Parliament were adequate for the services rendered, and whether we ought to adopt to a greater extent the American system, which was self-supporting. There was also the question whether we should allow our Consuls to receive the fees in coin, or substitute the use of stamps. At present we had not the slightest check on the Consular establishments, and it was a remarkable fact that the whole of the Consulate foes returned into the Exchequer were less than £20,000. He was strongly of opinion that the wisest course would be to refer the whole subject to a Committee.


said, he must admit the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms) had with great care collected the materials for his speech, but he could not agree with all the statements it contained. He would remind the House of the course taken by the Government on that question. Towards the close of last Session on the discussion of the Civil Service Estimates, the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) made a very effective speech, and after a short debate, a division was taken on a Motion made by him for the reduction of the diplomatic expenditure to the amount of £10,000. The opinion of the House was so equally balanced that if it had not been for the judgment of the Chairman, those on whom the responsibility of the expenditure lay would have found themselves in a minority. In consequence of that proceeding the attention of the Foreign Department was directed, as indeed it ought to be, to the opinion manifested by the House of Commons; and on that occasion, as representing the Department, he informed the hon. Member for Warrington that the allegations he had made should receive a complete investigation by a Committee to be appointed, for that purpose. The Government, having decided upon that step, thought the best course to pursue was to propose a Committee on their own responsibility. Accordingly, on Monday evening last, a Committee, having power to inquire into all the circumstances just touched upon by hon. Members, was appointed by the House without anyone dissenting from the proposal. He must say, therefore, that if the present Motion required to be made at all, it ought to have been brought forward on that occasion, and not by way of an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. He trusted the hon. Member would not go to a division, but if he should do so those who thought the cost of the Diplomatic Service ought to be reduced, might, without sacrifice of principle, vote against the hon. Member's proposal. When they negatived the Motion of the hon. Member they would not be affirming the negativing of his proposition, but simply that the Speaker should leave the Chair. These were just the very questions that it would be the duty of the Committee to inquire into, and, as he believed that its Members were fully competent to deal with the matter, he would not on this occasion say whether he agreed or whether he disagreed with the hon. Member on the question of expenditure. Upon that branch of the subject he would, however, remark that, whatever opinion the hon. Member might have formed of the extravagant action or intentions of the Foreign Office, it was incontrovertible that the sum expended for Diplomatic salaries and pensions had not increased since the time it was originally fixed—as he believed some thirty or forty years ago. With regard to the Consular expenditure, there had, no doubt, been an increase; but the hon. Member had himself assigned sufficient cause for the increase when he alluded to the vast increase which there had been of late years in the trade of this country. In China and Japan, too, we formerly had no Consuls, and he could not help stating that his hon. Friend had upon this matter made use of an argument which was calculated to mislead the House, because his hon. Friend instituted a comparison between our Consular expenditure in China and that of the United States; the United States, as he said, ranking second only to ourselves in the amount of their trade with that country. It was perfectly true that the United States did come next to ourselves, but his hon. Friend ought to have shown the great distance which existed between the respective trades of the two countries with China, and unless he did so his statement was calculated to lead to misconception. An idea that there was a complete difference between Consular and Diplomatic functions appeared to underlie all the arguments used by both his hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Eastwick) who had followed him; but he would be a clever man who could tell where in the conduct of Consular functions a matter ceased to belong to the province of commerce and to enter that of diplomacy. There was hardly a single question a Consul had to treat that might not become a question of diplomacy. The functions of a Consul in any seaport town were not confined to trade, but extended to many other matters, such, for instance, as the intestacy of British subjects, and if we had our Consuls acting under the Board of Trade, but receiving their instructions from the British Minister, who acted under the Foreign Department alone, the result would inevitably be complications and conflicts of authority, leading frequently to other and considerable evils. And he must say when an hon. Member proposed by an abstract Resolution to make a change of this magnitude he ought to adduce some strong reasons in support of the change. If there had been any complaint of the hindrance to trade from the action of the Foreign Office, the hon. Gentleman might be able to assign some cause for the adoption of the course he suggested; but none had been cited, and, so far as he was aware, none existed. The delay to which his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Eastwick) had alluded had no existence, except in his hon. Friend's imagination. Communications between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade were constant, and were always personal where the subject required it. He believed that, under these circumstances, it would be very unwise and very unusual if the House were, by acceding to his hon. Friend's Motion, to interfere with, the province of a Committee who were appointed to investigate into this and other matters, and respecting whose competence to deal with the question there could be no doubt. He would suggest that the better course would be for his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion.


said, he was disposed to agree with the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms), that this was not a subject for a Committee. He had given a good deal of attention to the subject, and he believed that ample materials for legislation on this subject had been collected by former Committees. They had the evidence of that great authority, Mr. Hammond. He could not, however, help feeling that the House, or rather a portion of the House and the country were not always very fair towards the Diplomatic Service, for it was to that Service that the Liberals looked whenever they were in want of a grievance. Our Diplomatic Service was in this position—that it was asked to perform duties which did not require to be performed. He believed, for instance, that if the whole system of diplomacy, as far as Western Europe was concerned, were done away with, and we had no permanent representative at the Courts of Western Europe, our peaceable relations with Continental States would suffer no interruption, and our commercial interests would be as well looked after as they now were. It was not exactly fair to institute comparisons between the Service of this country and that of the United States, because the English Service was a profession while that of the United States was not. In America men were appointed on account of their eminence, generally with every change of Presidents, and not because they had been so long in the Service. If there was any complaint to be made with regard to Diplomacy it was not with reference to our Consular servants abroad, but it arose from a certain helplessness on the part of the Foreign Office to readjust the Diplomatic Service in the country to our changing wants. We kept, for instance, Consuls at many places were they were not required, and appointed none in others where their services would be useful. For instance, we had no Consul at Pesth. He believed, however, in opposition to what had been observed in the course of the debate, that the duties of our Consuls were in many instances more of a political than of a commercial character; and that was so especially in the case of Bucharest, Warsaw, and China. He could not agree with the hon. Member that sufficient reason had been given for putting the Consuls under the Board of Trade rather than the Foreign Office. Under all the circumstances of the case he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press the Motion to a division, as the discussion which he had raised would be more likely than the appointment of a Committee to lead to practical results.


said, he hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Holms) would not be discouraged by the reception which his Motion had met with. His speech was an able one, and no Member could regret that he had ventilated the question. He was not surprised, watching the course of public events, that his hon. Friend had no confidence in Committees, which were too often only made the means of shelving a question. An experience of some years in the House had led him to that conclusion. What really might be of use would be that the question should be thoroughly investigated by responsible officers of the Government. So that while recommending the withdrawal of the Motion, he would urge the Government to give full attention to the subject. His hon. Friend (Mr. Otway) had said that this question would come before a Committee. It had been before a Committee, and he quite admitted that it was not so easy of solution as to be settled by a short debate in that House. For instance, whether Consuls should be paid by fees or by salary had occupied the attention of a Committee for a long time, and he did not think that the Foreign Office had come to any definite conclusion as to which would be most conducive to the interests of the country. Certainly the China and Japan trade had made such advances that it ought to be able to pay the Consular Service out of fees. But, on the other hand, in such a country as Franco, no fees were paid at all. And, again, the payment of fees was a heavy tax, and evidence had been brought before the Committee showing the high fees which our merchant service paid, when no fees were paid by the subjects of other countries. He would urge his hon. Friend not to lose sight of this question, but to bring it periodically before the House till a change was made for the better.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.