HC Deb 09 April 1877 vol 233 cc791-6

Question again proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £46,907, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, for British Embassy Houses and Legation and Consular Buildings, including Rents and Furniture.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £38,907, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, for British Embassy Houses and Legation and Consular Buildings, including Rents and Furniture.


complained that the Embassy house at Berlin had not been purchased in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee which had sat in 1870. We were now called on to pay £3,000 a-year for a house which might have been purchased for £50,000. It was clear from that that it would be wiser to purchase the house than to continue to pay the present rent, and he hoped Government would withdraw the Vote. He would not, however, move any Amendment.


said, he agreed in the main with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) that, as a rule, it was better to purchase a house than to take one on a lease, but that was only when they paid a fair and proper price for it. The Government were offered three houses in Berlin. One was Count Arnim's for £67,000, another at £60,000, and Dr. Strousberg's at £70,000. A competent surveyor was sent to Berlin to examine and report upon these properties, and he advised that the prices asked were excessive, and recommended that a lease should be taken of Dr. Strousberg's house. That had accordingly been done.


did not think that the answer of the right hon. Gentleman was satisfactory. If the Government had purchased Dr. Strousberg's house at £70,000 the interest on the purchase money would, with other expenses, have been but £2,300 a-year, whereas they had chosen to give £3,000 a-year for 10 years, and at the end of that period the value of the property would doubtless be enhanced, and if they purchased it, they would have to give a larger sum than was now asked. It was the same with other Embassy houses; for instance, at Rome and Vienna. The house at Vienna was not a very good one. He contended that if a house had been purchased at Vienna for the Embassy some years ago, more suitable accommodation could have been obtained at much less cost. For his own part, he thought it a mistaken policy to allow our Ambassadors to be lodged in the present hand-to-mouth fashion. He was of opinion that the right principle on which to proceed was to purchase good houses for them in all the principal Capitals of the world, and not to hire them at extravagant rentals.


could state from his own experience that the Embassy house at Vienna, where he had received great hospitality, was a very comfortable one.


said, he had nothing to say against Sir Andrew Bu- chanan, from whom he also had met with great courtesy; but he still thought the house was not a first-class one. All he contended for was that the Government would have done better if 10 years ago they had bought an Embassy house in one of the principal parts of Vienna.


said, the charge for repairs of the Embassy houses at Pera and Therapia was excessive. The charge for Berlin was only £300, and for Paris £650; but the charge for the house at Pera was £916, and the house at Therapia £947. He also called attention to the addition charge of £12,000 for the Embassy house at Rome.


said, that when the sum of £21,000 was voted in February last for the Embassy house at Rome, he stated that £12,000 more would be required to complete the purchase. The charges for the houses—for there were two—at Constantinople were for special works in the maintenance of the buildings. They were much less than the sum voted last year.


said, there was a charge of £200 for repairs to the Embassy house at Madrid. Mr. Layard informed him yesterday that at least £1,000 would be required to be expended on it, and that it would then be a very bad residence. If the house were bought now, a great saving would be effected. It was a waste of public money to rent houses when they could be purchased at reasonable prices.


said, a lease for 10 years of the house at Madrid existed, and therefore they could not purchase at present.


objected to the purchase of Embassy houses. In 1831 the house purchased at Constantinople had to be pulled down, and temporary arrangements had to be made for the lodging of our Ambassador. The new building cost £200,000, and every precaution was taken against its destruction by fire. There was a reservoir constructed, pipes laid down, and every appliance adopted; but, after all, a fire occurred and the house was burnt down, because there was no water at the time in the reservoir, and the pipes leaked. There was no doubt a clerk of the works there at that time, as well as now, at a salary of £400 per annum, but all he appeared to do was to make out Reports to be sent to the Treasury justifying expenditure in the enlargement and alteration of the buildings. Wherever there was a building bought for an Embassy there was certain to be a great increase in the extraordinary expenditure, and even the salary of the Ambassador was likely to be eked out in order that he might be able to keep up a style befitting to his large establishment. He had no doubt that our Ambassadors were very hospitable persons; but he had not had the honour of testing it. If he asked the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for what was called in Foreign Office parlance a ticket for soup he, no doubt, would give him one to every Ambassador in Europe, who would, no doubt, entertain him with very great distinction. The question was whether it was to the public advantage. It certainly was not a sufficient reason for paying such large sums of money for Embassy houses. He complained that when the £21,000 was voted for the purchase of a house at Rome no intimation was given that a further sum of £12,000 would be required. The report of the Diplomatic Committee, of which he was a Member, recommended, by a majority of 1 only—namely, 9 to 8, that these houses should be purchased. The maintenance of these enormous buildings, so far from being an economy, was a perfect waste of public money. For himself, he recommended leases at moderate periods.


said, whatever the majority was, the hon. Member's Report condemning the purchase of Embassy houses was not adopted, and the recommendation to purchase these houses remained as the recommendation of that Committee. He protested against Constantinople being singled out as an example. It was a very peculiar place. It was impossible to obtain houses there, except at very high rates, and the Embassy house had to be sufficiently large to accommodate not only the Ambassador and those who partook of his hospitality, but the attachés and the other employés of the Embassy. It was not fair to charge the Government with the fires that took place at Constantinople, as fires were constantly occurring in that city. Ho quite agreed that £400 per annum, and £50 a-year standing expenses, was much too large a sum to be paid to the clerk of the works there for the work he did: £100 a-year to some employé would do quite as well. The annual expenditure at Paris was £1,200; but such a house would now cost many thousands a-year to rent. They were giving £3,000 a-year for the House at Berlin; but if the £70,000 had been paid, this would only have been £2,100 a-year—an arrangement which was as improvident as could be imagined. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was so enlightened in these questions. He did not blame the First Commissioner of Works, who had been misled by the surveyor's report. He did not like to move the rejection of the Vote, but it was necessary to put a check upon the yearly growing expenditure in connection with Embassy houses, and he therefore suggested that the Government should postpone the Vote, and see if they could not in the meantime make more satisfactory arrangements.


said, he distinctly stated last February, when he moved a Supplementary Estimate of £21,000 for the Embassy house at Rome, that a further sum of £12,000 would be required. He did not see how a clerk of the works could live at Constantinople, and discharge his duties efficiently, on less than the salary and expenses now paid him.


said, that having been appealed to by the hon. Member for Christchurch, he would say a few words. Whenever cases of the purchasing of Embassy houses had been before the Treasury since he had had the honour of holding office, he had always taken an interest in them, and had favoured the purchase, except that on several occasions the terms had appeared to be excessive. But he was very sensible of the advantages of purchase, so well described by the hon. Member, where they could get the building on fair terms. It would, however, be unwise to postpone the Vote.


said, he was not satisfied with the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, and could adopt no other course than to move that the Vote be reduced by £450, which represented the salary and travelling expenses of the clerk of the works at Constantinople and Therapia.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Item for British Embassy Houses and Legation and Consular Buildings, be reduced by £450."—(Mr. Hayter.)


hoped the hon. Gentleman would not divide the House; but now that the new works were about to be completed, allow the Government to withdraw the official in question, who was, he believed, a perfect nuisance at the Embassy. In fact, the Ambassador's wife could not move a chair from one room to another without his permission.


said, it was possible some arrangement might be made for the withdrawal of the clerk in question.


supported the reduction of the Vote.


said, that nothing was clearer than that, having engaged the services of the gentleman referred to, they were bound to pay him his salary; but still it was necessary to go to a division, as a protest against his retention in the appointment.


promised that all matters connected with the Vote which had been raised by hon. Members should be taken into serious consideration.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 77; Noes 124: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No. 61.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.