HC Deb 06 April 1877 vol 233 cc734-8

called attention to the several cases of inconvenience arising to the trade of this country, owing to the want of Diplomatic or Consular relations between Great Britain and Mexico. Our trade with that country was somewhat considerable. He believed the imports valued last year some £700,000 or £800,000, and the exports to us some £800,000 or £900,000, and that trade could be largely increased if official relations were re-established between the two countries. There was, he knew, some little difficulty in the way of bringing about an understanding in consequence of some point of honour or punctilio between this country and Mexico; but surely from the position which England held she could readily afford to make the advances which would terminate the existing dispute. He hoped that the Foreign Office would give their serious attention to the subject, with the view of taking some steps to remedy the present state of things and bring about one which would promote the interests of both countries.


said, he was personally in favour of the establishment of a separate Department of Trade and Agriculture; but until that was possible he wished the House of Commons would give such assistance to the Foreign Office as would strengthen it and enable it to meet any emergency that might arise. He could say for himself and for those with whom he acted, who were connected with Chambers of Commerce, that they had always found the Foreign Office ready and willing to co-operate with them in all matters which they had occasion to bring under the notice of that Department. Their letters were promptly answered, and every possible information was cheerfully given. There could be no doubt, however, on the other hand, that the Staff of the Foreign Office required to be strengthened, and that the branch of it which was connected with Trade and Commerce was entitled to claim the services of a Secretary of its own. Lord Tenterden, of whom he could not speak too highly, had devoted some of the time which he could spare from other matters to commercial subjects, but the Foreign Office had to draw on the Indian Office in cases of emergency—for instance, in the late Conference at Constantinople and in the negotiations for the new French Commercial Treaty. In regard to the question of diplomatic relations with Mexico, he had been requested by a large number of merchants trading there, or who might wish to trade there, earnestly to press the question upon the attention of the Government. He, therefore, desired to support the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, having no doubt that the re-opening of Diplomatic or Consular relations between England and that country would be of great advantage to the trade of each. He was glad to see that France was meditating a restoration of diplomatic relations with Mexico, and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would be able to co-operate in the endeavour which the French Government seemed disposed to make.


said, he did not think that either the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) or the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) could have cause to complain of the fact that a division was not possible upon the questions they had brought under notice, because it was clear that upon both subjects there was not much difference of opinion in principle. In regard first of all to Mexico, of course every one must wish that our relations with foreign Powers should be as amicable as possible, and also that every facility should be given for increasing as much as possible our commerce with foreign countries. What was so much to be regretted was that when our relations with Mexico were broken off, they were broken off in a manner which rendered it almost impossible for the British Government to initiate any step to restore them. What happened was, that in 1867, when the revolution in Mexico came to an end, the Mexican Government refused in the most arbitrary manner to have any communication whatever with those Powers which had diplomatically recognized the Emperor Maximilian, and not only did they break off these relations, but they declared all Treaties made with those Powers to be null and void. He did not mention these facts for the purpose of widening the breach between ourselves and Mexico, but in order to show how it was that the Government was prevented from renewing the negotiations. And until some advance was made by Mexico it was considered by many persons impossible to restore the former relations. They had, however, told many persons, and he was free to state, that if the Mexican Government by itself or through the mediation of another Power, made proposals for the restoration of the relations which once existed between their own country and England, Her Majesty's Government would be disposed to meet those proposals in a friendly manner. With the exception of the few cases referred to by the hon. Member for Swansea he had not heard of any hardships inflicted upon British commerce with Mexico owing to the fact that we had no Consular representative there. Our Consular business had, since the rupture of the relations, been conducted by the United States Consul. It would, without doubt, be advantageous to have Consular representatives of England at the Mexican seaports; but the condition of affairs in Mexico was such that it would not be desirable to place Consular officers in the interior of a country the Central Government of which was not likely to give to such officers the protection which they had a right to require. In a despatch of Lord Derby's he said that Her Majesty's Government had no wish to be on any other but friendly terms with Mexico, both countries having interests in common, and that any communication from the Mexican Government would receive the most friendly consideration. With regard to the subject to which the hon. Member for Banbury had referred, he was glad to give him the warmest thanks for the manner in which he had spoken of the Commercial department of the Foreign Office. It would tend to encourage that department in the efficient performance of its duties. The hon. Member had, however, stated that the commercial community of the country was dissatisfied with the manner in which the business of the department was managed. He (Mr. Bourke) could not think, judging from the small number of hon. Members present, that this was a perfectly accurate representation of the facts. He agreed in the opinion which had been expressed, that the prosperity of the country turned on the mode in which its commercial relations were managed. With regard to the reorganization of the Office which had been made, he had never heard that the commercial Bodies of the country were dissatisfied with it. It was true that in former times when the business was divided between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office, the work was not done in a satisfactory manner, but since the re-organization of the department in 1872 a much better state of things had existed. As far as the question of tariffs which had been raised was concerned, he could only say that it involved considerations which could not be dealt with offhand, but that careful attention should be paid to the points which had been laid before the House. The hon. Member had made allusions to the examinations for the Diplomatic service, and had inquired whether any interchange of duties could take place. There was no difficulty on that subject. The organization of the Commercial department of the Foreign Office was exactly the same as that of any other of the departments, and there was not the least difficulty in transferring a clerk from one department to another, although such transfers did not often take place. So far as regarded the constitution of the Commercial department, it was organized exactly in the same way as any other department of the Office, and it would not be possible to put an Under Secretary at the head of one department without putting a similar officer at the head of the other departments. The commercial Bodies who came up to London had no complaint to make of the way in which the business was transacted, and under those circumstances he certainly did not think a sufficient case had been made out for a change. He, at the same time, was glad that the hon. Member for Banbury had had an opportunity of bringing the subject before the House, because he was quite sure his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office would pay every attention to the debate and would not, if he saw necessity for it, hesitate one moment to increase the staff. He could not, however, hold out the hope, seeing the way in which the work of the office was done, that any great charge would be made in the organization of the Commercial department.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.