HC Deb 28 July 1873 vol 217 cc1098-110

(1.) £57,800, to complete the sum for New Courts of Justice and Offices.


wished to know from the First Commissioner of Works, what progress had been made with regard to the erection of these buildings, and whether it was true, as reported, that the Government were going to proceed to the erection of a stone groined ceiling for the Central Hall—an erection which would require to be supported by heavy buttresses?


asked what had been done with respect to the completion of the contract?


said, the Government had accepted a tender not for the whole of the works for which tenders were originally asked, but for those works with certain deductions. Specifications in detail had been examined, and were now being completed. The plans had been brought to that stage when they could be annexed to the contract, and the matter now was in the hands of the solicitor to the Office of Works, and the solicitor to the contractors and the architect. It was true that a stone groined ceiling was going to be erected in the Central Hall in accordance with the design of Mr. Street, and that it would have to be supported by buttresses which would take up considerable space. Professional opinions were very much divided on the subject, but it was intended to adhere to that design. Copies of the plans and drawings would be shown to any hon. Members or to the legal profession or others who had a right to see them, but it would not be possible at present to exhibit them to the public.


asked when the work would be proceeded with?


wished to know with reference to the New Courts, whether it had been finally determined to use wood rather than tiles for the flooring? In the case of the new National Gallery, the First Commissioner had unfortunately resolved to introduce wooden floorings throughout, in opposition to the views of the architect and the general feeling in favour of tiles.


asked whether the contract for the building of the New Courts would be within or something near the original estimate, and whether the extent of the buildings had been reduced in order to bring them within the original estimate of cost? He understood there had been a rise of 6 per cent on ordinary labour, and 10 per cent on skilled labour.


expressed a hope that the contract would be signed as early as possible, so that there should be no further postponement.


said, it would be satisfactory to the members of his profession to know that there was at last a chance of the work being begun.


said, that the building would, like other buildings in this country, be constructed with a wooden flooring; but due precautions would be taken against fire. Of course a contract could not be entered into without reference to changes in the price of labour in the market. With regard to the expenditure, it would he more than had been sanctioned by Parliament. The estimate was £750,000; he was not in a position to state the exact amount of the excess, but it would be a considerable sum. That, however, would be a question between the Treasury and the House. If the policy under which these Courts of Justice were being built should be adhered to, application would be made to Parliament next Session to sanction an increase of expenditure, and to charge it upon the fund specially appropriated for the erection of these buildings. The present contract would be signed as soon as all the preliminary steps had been taken.


believed the question was not answered—namely, whether any alteration had been made in the contract to meet the increased price of provisions and the cost of labour. He would also ask whether, as in the case of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, any changes would be made in the form of the building in consequence of the change in prices?


said, he had already stated that the Government had accepted the tender for the works as specified by the architect, subject to certain deductions he had proposed—which might be generally described as economies in the construction of the buildings, the general form of the building remaining the same.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) £207,445, to complete the sum for Consular Establishments Abroad, &c.


in accordance with Notice, called attention to the Report of the Committee on Consular Services which was laid on the Table last Session, and enquired whether it had been considered by the Foreign Office as a whole and in detail, and whether the opinion of the Secretary of State and of the proper officers of the Department had been placed on record respecting it? This might seem a superfluous inquiry, but the fact was that the Committee, having occasion to refer to the Reports of two previous Committees, one of which—that of 1858—was of an elaborate and detailed character, stated that they were unable to say that those recommendations were ever taken in hand and examined. The Committee made two recommendations, one of them of a very stringent and urgent character. One of them was that a classification and organization of the Consular offices should be made and introduced tentatively only, so as to avoid the necessity of pensioning off a large number of officers capable of rendering considerable service to the country. The second recommendation was very important, because it was in conflict with the recommendation of a previous Committee. That Committee said that the unpaid Consular service was a thing to be discouraged; but the last Committee thought that excellent service might be rendered by foreign merchants undertaking the duty of Consul and recouping themselves by means of fees, and they recommended that some clear distinction of title should be made between paid and unpaid Consuls. The service in China, Japan, and Siam was supplied by persons going out in their youth for the purpose of learning the language. Little change was recommended as to these establishments, but the Committee thought the expenses at Siam might be considerably reduced. Had the noble Lord become acquainted with a serious defalcation? £2,000 had been appropriated by the acting Consul at Hankow who had left the country and not been heard of since? Great difficulty was experienced by the Committee in reconciling the claims made by the Consuls to increased salaries, owing to the increase of prices, with the necessary requirements of the public service; and he did not know that they would have been able to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion if they had not received valuable evidence from a gentleman in the Foreign Office (Mr. Kennedy) who gave it as his opinion that all the necessary increase of salaries might be provided for by reductions which he saw were feasible in the service as now constituted. This able and intelligent officer made a journey to the Levant, visiting many of the Consulates there, as to which there had been most difference of opinion in this House; and from his statement the Committee gathered that a great deal too much tenacity had been shown by the Foreign Office in retaining the Consulships of the Levant. Some of these Consulships had recently been suppressed, and if the recommendations which had been made were carried into effect, they would cause the suppression or reduction of several more. The same remark applied to the Consulates in Morocco. The noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office had had the opportunity of reducing two or three, but still further reductions were necessary there. It was the opinion of the Committee that this gentleman, who had shown so much capacity, might be usefully employed by the Foreign Office in visiting other parts of the world, especially the coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal, with a view to some more comprehensive plan of reducing the Consular establishments. The North German and Americans, for example, had a more simple and cheaper organization than we had, by means of Consuls General who supervised a long stretch of coast, and officers subordinate to them carried on the detailed work at less expense. Then the evidence which had been given before the Committee showed that the Consular Service in America was not in a satisfactory condition, and it also appeared that the Consuls were inadequately paid in several parts of the world. No doubt it was for the interest of the community that there should be proper Consular establishments throughout the world—Consuls had functions to perform of a legal and notarial character, which, as all agreed, should be paid for by the levy of fees as for services rendered to private individuals, and it was desirable that the discharge of their duties connected with shipping and the like should, as far as practicable, be paid in like manner by the persons resorting to them for such purposes, while the residue of their remuneration should be provided by Parliament. It had been suggested that the last mentioned payments might be commuted for a small tax on British shipping—an arrangement by which, if the shipping interest consented to it, matters might be greatly simplified. Consuls were guided in the performance of their duties, in a great degree, by regulations issued by the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, and the Committee recommended that the regulations issued to them by the Board should be reconsidered. In conclusion, he asked whether the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was prepared to make any statement to the Committee on that subject?


as a Member of the Committee, thought the subject was one well deserving the attention of the House. There were many points in respect to which, if the views of the Select Committee had been carried out, considerable economies might have been effected. Some reduction in that matter had, indeed, been made by the Foreign Office, but last year the net decrease was only £37, because while there was a nominal reduction of £2,863, it was counterbalanced by other increased charges amounting to £2,826. The noble Lord the Under Secretary ought to state what the Government had done to give effect to the Report of the Committee on the Diplomatic and Consular Services. The Foreign Office very rarely carried out recommendations effecting economy, but appeared always happy to carry out those involving additional expenditure; and in this case, considerable impression might be made on their Consular expenditure, if the recommendations of the Committee were carried out in a right spirit. One of these recommendations was the general appointment in the small trading centres of Vice Consuls in the persons of merchants, who would be glad to undertake the duty simply for the honorarium or fees they would receive. In many subordinate places respectable merchants would be glad of the distinction that would attach to holding the office of Consul or Vice Consul, and to discharge the duties for fees. Economy might be further effected in many places by the consolidation of the Diplomatic and Consular Services. In China, Japan, and parts of America, we had Representatives holding Diplomatic as well as Consular offices; but in Stockholm, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, and Lisbon, we had both Ministers and Consuls. In these cases the Consular duties might very well be discharged by resident members of the Diplomatic Service. By consolidation something like £50,000 a-year might be saved. Unless something was done next year, he hoped the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for North Hampshire would give them an opportunity of voting for the reduction of the Vote.


was not surprised that the hon. Gentleman opposite had called attention to the subject, seeing that so little result had followed the recommendations of the Committee to the appointment of which Lord Clarendon assented, which examined Lords Clarendon, Derby, and Malmesbury, and which investigated the whole subject so thoroughly. The evidence given was sifted with very great care, and after due consideration the Committee made their Report; but hardly anything had been done in consequence of that Report:—the tendency of Departments was generally to do nothing, if they could avoid the trouble. Having served on that Committee, he was satisfied that considerable economy might be effected by a consolidation of offices, and by taking advantage of the facilities afforded by railway and telegraphic communication, instead of keeping a great number of officials in inferior positions. It was incumbent on the Government itself to take some action in this matter, or else, when a similar question was raised again, the House would perhaps refuse to be satisfied with a Committee, when they could have no security that its Report would be attended to. The Report of the Committee in this case was one of a very moderate character, and its recommendations were calculated to improve the efficiency of the service and to reduce the expenditure; and if the noble Lord was not prepared to announce that its recommendations would be carried out during the present year, he trusted he would assure the House that they should receive early consideration.


said, it might be a good thing in some instances to accept the services of merchants as Vice Consuls; but it was bad policy to reduce the salaries of our Consuls at important stations in the East, because the impression produced was that a new Consul at a lower salary was an inferior man, whose decisions were entitled to pro- portionately less respect. Many of these Consuls required to have as much knowledge of law as a County Court Judge in England; they lived in climates fatal to the members of their families; they were in some instances so isolated as to be practically banished from civilized society. All this had to be borne in mind in fixing a salary, and in some cases injury had been done to British interests by unwisely lowering a salary, as the result was that less respect was paid to the official who accepted it, even though he was not inferior to his predecessor in ability. A difficulty in the way of consolidation of the offices of Minister and Consul was, that Ministers were changed oftener than Consuls, and sometimes had conflicting duties, as in the case of the siege of Paris, when the Minister properly left, in order to maintain his communications with the French Government and with his own, while the Consul remained in Paris, though he did not remain as long as he ought to have done. No doubt, in some instances, the offices would bear consolidation; but, as he had pointed out, disadvantage would arise if it were too extensively carried out.


said, that so far from being in favour of closing the ports in China, he would strongly urge the extension of our commercial relations in that country by the establishment of Consuls or Vice Consuls. There would be great difficulty in extending the trade there, if they once commenced closing the ports. It would be better to extend, rather than reduce them, and to free commerce by the removal of fees. In his opinion the salaries of Consuls ought to be paid entirely out of Imperial funds.


said, the Select Committee did not mean to recommend that ports should be closed in China, but that the Foreign Office should not be deterred by any question of loss of prestige from closing ports which otherwise it would be undesirable to keep open. The Committee were also of opinion that in order to meet the claim put forward by the larger Consulates for additional pay and allowances, it would be necessary to cut off such smaller branches of the service as might be dispensed with.


concurred with the hon. Member for Warrington that there ought to be a union of the Diplomatic and Consular Services. He wished to call attention to the case of the British Consul in Sicily, the trade of which island he considered was of immense importance to this country, and he thought that case ought to receive the attention of the Government. The Consul was a gentleman eminently qualified for the post. At Palermo he had 10 Vice Consuls under him, with whom he was in constant communication, and he was incessantly called upon to discharge functions of the utmost importance to trade, and frequently, also, to the native population. That officer, he regretted to say, was left by the Government in the position of a mere trading Consul, who would be altogether incompetent to perform the duties fulfilled by the gentleman in question. He trusted that state of things would receive the attention of the Government during the coming winter. He was informed that the irregularities which formerly occurred in the Consular Service in China had now entirely ceased.


hoped the Foreign Office would carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee. He could hardly agree with the hon. Member for Warrington that a union of the Consular and Diplomatic Services could be carried out to any great extent. In some of the Chinese stations it might answer very well; but except in a few cases, it would be found to be totally unsuited to Europe and the West.


said, he could assure hon. Members that Lord Granville had given the fullest and most impartial consideration to the Report of the Select Committee, and in the spring of this year had addressed a letter to the Treasury on the subject. He could not read the whole of that long communication, as it was a departmental correspondence; but he would remind hon. Members that the Committee spoke in highly favourable terms of the way in which the Consuls performed their work. Although the Committee sat for two Sessions, and although any complaint on the part of our merchants would have received the careful attention of the Committee, yet no evidence was forthcoming to show that the commercial or mercantile world was dissatisfied with the Consular body. It appeared to him (Viscount Enfield), that if the mercantile and commercial world had thought their interests were not sufficiently protected by the Consular Service, they would have availed themselves of the opportunity of proving it before the Committee. The Committee testified to the economical administration of the British Consular Service. There had been a net decrease of £3,000 in the five years ending 1873–4, after allowing for the salaries of the Consulates in the Levant first placed on the Estimates in 1870–1. One of the most important recommendations was referred to in Paragraphs 1 to 20, where the Committee mention the classification of the Consular Service which they think might be carried out with great advantage. Lord Granville concurred generally with that recommendation. It must, however, be a work of time, and the interests of the present Consular officers must be consulted. Lord Granville thought that a classification might be made, by which juniors might pass through various grades by transfers and promotions. There might be three grades in the Consular Service, so that a gentleman entering in the first grade might pass into the second, and so on, and thus make it more of a service than it was at present. Paragraph 23 left it open to the Secretary of State to appoint persons otherwise on his own responsibility. It was not desirable that the service should be made strictly a close one, and lists were being prepared, and a classification carried out which would show how that important recommendation could be applied. Paragraphs 24 to 27 recommended a revision of Consular ports in the Levant, and the adoption of the changes recommended by Mr. Kennedy. Many of these had been already acted upon, showing a saving of £500 a-year, and others, such as the Janina Consulate, would be shortly completed. Paragraph 28 recommended personal inspections of Consulates such as Mr. Kennedy carried out in the Levant. Had it not been for the labours of Mr. Kennedy in carrying out the Treaty of Commerce, this inquiry would before now have been completed. Mr. Kennedy had been in Paris as British Commissioner under the Treaty of November 5, 1872, but he would now visit the Consulates in France, Holland, and Belgium; Mr. Wylde had visited Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, and would visit Italy in the autumn; and Mr. Victor Buckley would visit and report upon the Consulates in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Baltic Provinces of Russia and North Germany. Inquiries were also being made into the accounts of the several Consular Church establishments to which grants of public money were made under the Act of 6 Geo. IV., c. 87. These grants still amounted to £9,000 a-year, but might very likely be reduced. Paragraph 32 hinted at a certain increase of expenditure in expensive ports, more liberal outfits, calculations in allowing pensions for work done in unhealthy localities, more liberal leave of absence, &c. To carry out these views there must be complete harmony and agreement between the Treasury and the Foreign Office. A Committee of both Departments had been appointed to look carefully into all these matters. The Committee of the Treasury consisted of Mr. S. Blackwood and the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. W. H. Gladstone). The Committee of the Foreign Office consisted of Lord Tenterden and Mr. W. H. Wylde, of the Consular Department, assisted by Mr. Buckley. That Committee had already met. The Select Committee of that House, as regarded fees, suggested either a revision of fees or the substitution of a tonnage duty. British fees were very low in comparison with those levied by other countries; but if a tonnage duty were imposed, and if the notarial duties of Consuls were extended, the Consular Acts would require to be amended. The Committee next recommended that greater power should be given to Consuls to deal with refractory seamen. That could only be done by Consular Conventions with other countries, and Parliamentary legislation would be needed to record the reciprocity demanded by foreign Governments. The Board of Trade would be consulted by the Foreign Office, and Mr. Reilly had drawn up a Memorandum on the subject. Another point recommended by the Select Committee was greater simplification in the returns and forms of the Board of Trade; and a revision of their Code of Rules and Instructions was recommended by many of our Consuls. That could not properly be done until the new Merchant Shipping Amendment Act had been passed. These were the chief points in the Report of the Committee, and he would repeat that they were dealt with by Lord Granville in a very long letter which he had addressed to the Treasury. The defalcation of one of the Consular agents in China had been brought under the notice of the Foreign Office. The Treasury insisted on his immediate suspension, and that steps should be taken for his arrest. There would be difficulty in obtaining a conviction, as the matter would have to be treated as a breach of trust, and not of fraud. The Treasury, however, were of opinion that a prosecution should be instituted, even if it failed, as an example to others. This officer, who had escaped from justice, had been apprehended and held to bail, but his trial had not yet taken place. With regard to the closing of certain ports in China, that had been done in two or three cases, but it had been found very inconvenient to trade, and the Consulates in those localities had to be re-established. The hon. Member for Warrington advocated the consolidation of the Diplomatic and Consular Services; but he could hold no hopes that Lord Granville, as long as he held the seals of the Foreign Office, would consent to such a consolidation, which would, in his opinion, be for the advantage neither of the Diplomatic nor of the Consular Service. The hon. Member for St. Ives had adverted to the case of the Consul at Palermo. His claim was now under consideration, with others of a similar nature, with a view of ascertaining whether Consuls, who were neither willing nor able to trade, might receive in lieu a fixed salary. Lord Granville had given immediate attention to the recommendations of the Committee, and if it should be his (Viscount Enfield's) duty to move the Votes for the Consular Service in another Session, he believed it would be found that economy had been promoted and the efficiency of the Service increased by the action of the Foreign Office in carrying out the main recommendations of the Select Committee.


expressed a hope that next year there would be a considerable reduction in the payment by India of the Consular and Diplomatic Services in Persia.


inquired whether the Reports of the gentlemen who had made a personal investigation in foreign Consulates would be laid upon the Table or be regarded as departmental only?


said, that those Reports, which would be regarded as strictly confidential, would probably be referred to the Departmental Committee now sitting.

Vote agreed to.