HC Deb 12 July 1888 vol 328 cc1202-9

Resolution [31st May] reported.

First Resolution agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, the First Lord of the Treasury the other day, in alluding to the course of Business, complained that some Members opposed the Report of Supply when that stage was simply a matter of form. It was not, however, with any desire to waste time that he interposed upon this Vote, and in a few words he would define his object. What he had to say had reference to the extraordinary attitude the Government had taken up in regard to the French Exhibition to be held next year. Grave injustice was done to this country by the action of the Government. The matter had been slightly touched upon on a former occasion, and stress was laid on the fact that the action of Her Majesty's Government was a slur or insult to our friends in France. He did not desire to labour that part of the subject, for it appeared to him that the French had too much common sense to trouble themselves about the petty insults of any noble Lord, even though he happened to be the Head of Her Majesty's Government. They were very well able to take care of themselves. Still, we could ill afford to make enemies in these days, or place obstacles in the way of those friendly relations that should exist with our neighbours across the Channel; but the main reason why he interposed in reference to this subject was in the interest of the trade of this country. If they were to consider what that action on the part of Her Majesty's Government meant, no one would deny that in holding aloof from the great International Exhibition in Paris, the Government were depriving our merchants, and the trading community generally, of an opportunity of enjoying all the advantages which would otherwise accrue to them by being properly represented as a nation at the Exhibition. In these days, when everybody was complaining of the depression of trade, and when everybody was seeking for reasons for that depression, when the whole of the commercial community was feeling the effect of the contracted profits which had been the rule for some years past, when they had thousands and thousands of poor people starving in their midst, surely that was not a proper time for placing any further obstacle or hindrance in the way of the continued development of our commerce with other countries. It might be said that the action of the Government would not have any effect in that respect, but he denied that. It could not be gainsaid that the true explanation of the depression in trade from which we were suffering was the keen competition with foreign countries to which we were now subjected, and it was perfectly clear that by placing ourselves alongside our foreign competitors at one of these International Exhibitions, we could to a great extent improve our position by showing the manufactures in which we excelled, and thereby tend to the development of our commerce in the future. He did not say that that would be impossible, even under the circumstances in which they would be placed next year; but he did think that we ought not to be deprived of the benefits which we might otherwise derive from taking our proper share in the Exhibition, and he was well assured that those benefits would be materially reduced by our not being properly represented as a nation. He could not understand why, simply because of some fad of Lord Salisbury's, the manufacturing and trading interests of this country should be placed at a disadvantage, and he was sure that the attitude which our Government had taken up could not fail to bring a blush of shame to the cheek of every honest Englishman. He observed that even that little, youthful, and not very prosperous Republic, the Transvaal, had voted a sum of £3,000 for the purpose of being properly represented at that Exhibition; yet we, one of the greatest commercial countries in the world, were not to be represented officially there. If there were any reason for such action he could understand its being supported by speeches by hon. Members opposite, but, so far as he knew, not a single reason had been advanced. Lord Salisbury's objection was to the events connected with the year 1789, and, for some reason or other best known to himself, his Lordship supposed that the Exhibition was to be a reproduction or reminder or celebration of the Revolution in 1789. He could not help thinking that was about as unstatesman like suggestion as could proceed from the mind even of such a Tory Leader as Lord Salisbury. At any rate, on that side of the House they had no objection whatever to the recollections of 1789, because they regarded the events of that Revolution as events which tended more than any other in modern history to the advancement and benefit of mankind, and everything which could be done in the way of celebrating and reproducing such great reforms as were identified with that Revolution, he would be glad to see done, whether it be in this country or in France. The excuse for the extraordinary attitude taken up by Her Majesty's Government was, he submitted, entirely unworthy the Government of a great country, and ought to be repudiated by the people's Representatives in that House. It could not fail, in his opinion, to produce ill feeling as between France and England; it would militate most decidedly against the commercial in- terests of this country; and he appealed to the Government to reconsider the position they had taken up, and to say whether it would not be more consistent with the dignity of the country and of the House, not to give way to the petty, ridiculous fad of Lord Salisbury's, and to allow this nation to take its proper place among the nations of the earth.


said, he entirely and energetically disclaimed the colour which the hon. Member had endeavoured to give to the action of the English Government in declining to take part officially in the forthcoming Paris Exhibition, and he denied that it could in any way be construed as an insult to the French. He had been wondering in what capacity the hon. Member spoke on that matter. He certainly did not represent the French Government, for that Government never thought of taking the declinature in any such sense as had been represented, and in their reply they said they were quite prepared for the refusal. Could the hon. Member profess to speak for the people of England?


said, he represented his own constituency, which was the Camborne Division of Cornwall.


said, he hoped the hon. Member did. He had suggested that the refusal to take part in this Exhibition was injurious to the trade of this country, because it deprived our traders and manufacturers of the opportunity of exhibiting against goods of foreign competitors; but they would not lose much, after all, by not being officially represented, as compared with other countries, seeing that practically no country in Europe would be officially represented at the Exhibition. The resolution which Her Majesty's Government arrived at on the matter was only following up the reply to an inquiry made of the Ambassador at Paris by Her Majesty's late Government, through its Foreign Secretary (Lord Rosebery) considering it most judicious not to take part in that Exhibition. They were on the best terms with their neighbours, the French, and he hoped would always remain so, and he was sure that any attempt to give the colour of animosity to the resolution taken by Her Majesty's Government in that matter would be an entire failure, because it would meet with no response either in this country or on the other side of the Channel.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

said, they were always accustomed to meet with curt answers from the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and he rose upon that occasion to emphasize that fact.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is not speaking to the subject before the House.


said, he wished to ask if he was not in Order in speaking on the Foreign Office Vote?


Order, order! I have told the hon. Member he is not in Order.


asked, if he was not in Order in speaking on the Vote for the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? Was he, or was he not, in Order?


made no answer.


, continuing, said there were a certain number of Questions which he had considered it his duty from time to time to bring forward in connection with Foreign Affairs, and he certainly must repeat that he had always received very curt answers. For his own part, he always looked upon any discourtesy which happened to be shown to any Member of that House as—


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is not speaking in reference to the subject before the House.


said, he hoped the right hon. Baronet the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would not take in bad part his declinature to accept his opinion as definite; but on behalf of the constituency he represented, he ventured to object to a certain item in that Vote, because he believed it covered a gross job; and he should, therefore, move a reduction of the Vote.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman cannot do that.


said, he should then ask the House not to agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.


The hon. Gentleman is perfectly in Order in doing that.


said, he should base his appeal to the House to dissent from the Resolution on the ground that he believed that it covered one of the grossest of jobs. Among the items was a charge of £300 for the management by the Permanent Under Secretary of State of the Secret Service Fund of the Foreign Office. The Secret Service Fund amounted to £40,000 a-year. It was not a large sum to administer, and of it the Foreign Office had only a comparatively small portion to deal with. A very large proportion of that fund was spent in Ireland on business which was a great deal worse than the administration of it in connection with the Foreign Office. The House knew something as to how Secret Service money was dispensed in Zululand and in Egypt; they also knew something of its administration in Ireland; but neither the Secretary of State for Ireland nor the Secretary of State for War required to be paid some hundreds annually for the work of administering it. A certain amount was spent in England under the direction of the Home Secretary; but the right hon. Gentleman did not receive £300 for spending it, neither did the Admiralty get any such allowance. Why, then, should the Foreign Office? It was but the remnant of a system of gigantic jobbery. After all, what was done for the money? The Under Secretary received, in the course of a year, two or three declarations by Ambassadors that the sums of Secret Service money they had to handle had been actually expended. The work could be efficiently despatched by a clerk in about two hours at the very outside, so that this official was paid at the rate of over £2 a-minute for the service. The whole thing was perfectly indefensible; and if the Goverment did not consent to the reduction he should take a Division against the Vote.

MR. W. M'ARTHUR (Cornwall, Mid, St. Austell)

said, he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a question or two as to Samoa. He had a strong suspicion that the cession of Samoa to Germany was agreed upon fully six months before the Washington Conference was called. He had also to complain that the English Representative was not kept sufficiently well informed. What he now wanted to know was under what Vote the expenses for the Conference appeared, and what those expenses amounted to? From his point of view the Washington Conference was a sham, and he, therefore, intended to move the disallowance of the expenses.


said, he thought the matter could be discussed under Class V. of the Civil Service Estimates on the Vote for Special Missions and Services, probably on the Diplomatic or Consular Vote. He would be very sorry for any hon. Member to think him discourteous in answering Questions, for it was always his desire to give all proper information. As to the question raised by the hon. Member for East Donegal, the allowance was one of very long standing; it had been paid since 1824; but in 1872, at the instance of the late Mr. Rylands, the mode of payment was regularised and the amount fixed at £500. The duties to be discharged in administering the Secret Service Fund were much more considerable than the hon. Member supposed. In 1871, when the allowance of £500 was challenged, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) stated that the duties to be performed involved considerable responsibility and labour, and that that special fund had to be kept in the hands of a highly responsible officer. The amount was, on a new appointment, reduced to £300, the sum at which it now remained. On those grounds he defended the Vote.

MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)

said, he absolutely accepted the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir James Fergusson) that he was always courteous to everybody who addressed him from the Opposition side of the House, and he (Mr. P. Stanhope) was not going to indulge in any personal attacks. At the same time, he must say he could not at all acquiesce in the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman had given in reply to the hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare) in reference to the non-participation of the British Government in the French Exhibition of next year. He admitted that the Government, as a Government, had officially answered the invitation of the Government of France; but, unless his memory was very much at fault, Lord Salisbury, as Prime Minister, had, in public speeches, given reasons for taking the course he had taken. Those reasons were, no doubt, sufficient for a certain section of public opinion in this country, but, on the other hand, they could not fail to be offensive to a certain section of public opinion in France. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that nearly all the Governments of Europe had answered the invitation of the French Government in the same spirit as Her Majesty's Government, and would not participate officially in the Exhibition. There was one Government, however, and that the greatest competitor we had in the world, which was participating officially in the Exhibition—namely, the Government of the United States, and, therefore, he thought it extremely unwise on the part of the English Government to officially tie the hands of the manufacturers of England in a competition of an International character. On grounds which, perhaps, the right hon Gentleman would not sympathize with, he could not agree with the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman for not taking part in the Exhibition, because he looked upon the anniversary of next year as one of very considerable moment, and one which he should like to see celebrated. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He would not bandy words with hon. Gentlemen opposite on the subject; but he regretted extremely, on this as well as on more practical grounds, that the Government had refrained from taking part in the Paris Exhibition.

Question put,

The House divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 45: Majority 84.—(Div. List, No. 211.)

Second Resolution agreed to.