HC Deb 31 July 1891 vol 356 cc1002-13

4. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £252,897 (including an additional sum of £5,040), be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in coarse of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, for the Expenses of Her Majesty's Embassies and Missions abroad, and of the Consular Establishments Abroad and other Expenditure chargeable on the Consular Vote.

(11.40.) SIR G. CAMPBELL

At this time of the night I do not propose to detain the Committee at any great length. I have put down a Motion to reduce the salary of the Agent General in Egypt, but I at once say I have not the least desire to reduce the salary of Sir Evelyn Baring; my Motion is purely formal. On a former occasion I asked certain questions in connection with the Foreign Office Vote—in connection with the Triple Alliance and the status quo in Egypt. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at that time confined himself to the larger question, and said he would not go into the Egyptian question. I then said I was much afraid that, in the eyes of Europe, we were establishing ourselves permanently in Egypt, and I think some things have since happened which have accentuated and emphasised the view I then took. I then said Sir Evelyn Baring's Report appeared to amount to this: "We have done little; we have a great deal more to do. If you will give us another term we will make a good thing of it." Since then there has been a pronouncement from a right hon. Gentleman who, to a considerable extent, pulls the strings of the Government—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). That right hon. Gentle- men, in a speech which has been made public, said that— We have managed to possess ourselves of every part of Africa which is of the slightest importance, and in Egypt we have the finest cotton-growing country in the world. I think that is a somewhat dangerous statement to make. It leads other countries to suppose that we are settling ourselves in Egypt. No less a person than the Sultan has taken alarm at that statement. I admit that the Sultan of Turkey is not so important a person as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham; still, I should be glad to know if there is any truth in the telegram published in the papers this morning stating that the Sultan proposes to depose the Khedive? It has been reported by Sir Evelyn Baring that reforms in the system of irrigation are to be carried out, and I think that one of the most useful reforms in Egypt would be the distributing of the rich fertilising flood waters of the Nile over the lands of Upper Egypt. The objection to the submerging of ancient inscriptions may be met by the removal of these inscriptions to the British Museum or elsewhere. The re-assessment of the Land Tax is undoubtedly a necessity; there has been no re-assessment since the days of Mehemet Ali. An attempt was made to carry out this reform by Nubar Pasha, but so much opposition was offered that the attempt was not persevered with. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us if these reforms are being undertaken.

(11.50.) MR. POWELL J. WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)

Upon this Vote I desire to call attention to a matter of considerable commercial importance.


I rise to order. I did not move a reduction of the Vote, but I thought I should get an answer.


The hon. Member is quite in order.


I will not stand in the way if the right hon. Gentleman desires to answer.


I will answer all at once.


Though the subject I desire to raise may not be so seductive as the condition of Egypt, it has considerable practical importance. I desire to call attention to what I consider a considerable grievance, namely, the extraordinary disadvantages under which an Englishman taking out patents abroad labours as compared with the treatment of foreigners in this country who take out patents here. A German, for instance, taking out a patent in England, can make the articles in Germany and import them here without any injury whatever to his title and his patent; whereas an Englishman taking out a patent in Germany is subject to all kinds of restrictions, which render it almost impossible to carry on the trade under his patent unless the machines used for making the thing patented and the articles themselves are made in Germany. The fact is, I am afraid our Diplomatic Agents abroad have not received much culture in commerce; they are not selected for their commercial experience, and foreign Governments rather get the better of them in these matters. I understand the system to be this: that in relation to the Patent Laws, arrangements, which are called Conventions, between this country and foreign countries, are entered into, and on the face of these Conventions there is little to object to, but the Conventions always contain a clause that there shall be nothing therein contained contrary to the standing Patent Laws of the country which grants the Convention. Under these laws all sorts of conditions are exacted, greatly to the disadvantage of the patentee. When a man wishes to take out a patent in England, whether he is an Englishman or a foreigner, he is only required by our Patent Laws to lodge in the Patent Office sufficient specifications and drawings for showing the patent which he takes out; whereas in foreign countries he is required to provide large working drawings showing every detail in such a manner as enables the foreigner, if he chooses, to set to work and make the article itself. This is in itself a great disadvantage. There are other restrictions—as to time, as to the mode of working the patent, as to making the machinery, to which I have already alluded. These are all restrictions not exacted in this country, neither, indeed, are they in the United States; but they are exacted by almost every foreign country on the Continent. Let me state the conditions under which an Englishman takes out a patent in Belgium, and the right hon. Gentleman will see how greatly the Englishman is at a disadvantage as compared with the Belgian who may require to take out a patent in England, and which he gets on precisely the same conditions as the Englishman does. In Belgium all the real working of the patent must be done in Belgium; that is to say, if the patent article is made by machinery, then it must be made in Belgium, other wise in 12 months the patent lapses and becomes void. The same observation applies to France; the article must be made in France, and not imported. This is a state of things to which it is very desirable that those who represent this country abroad should have their attention called, and they should consider at the time Conventions are being arranged to what extent the Convention places Englishmen at a disadvantage as compared with foreigners. I wish to guard myself against the idea that I wish to say anything in favour of what I consider the pernicious economic nostrum called Fair Trade. I have no desire to support that theory, but I do say we have no business to allow the foreign workman to be protected to the disadvantage of the British workman, and when a Convention is entered into it should be represented to the Government of a foreign country that it is desirable and equitable that the conditions which apply to a patent taken out here by a foreigner should apply to a patent taken out by an Englishman in the foreign country. A practical method of doing some good in this matter would be that the Foreign Office should call the attention of our representatives abroad to the Patent Laws, and obtain through them an authoritative statement showing precisely the conditions, for they vary in different countries, under which patents are granted to foreigners in the countries where they act as our representatives. I am quite sure that such a statement would show that Englishmen are at an enormous disadvantage compared with the position of foreigners here. I have thought it my duty to call attention to this matter, and I have not, I think, done so at excessive length. It is a matter of great commercial interest, and it concerns many of the inhabitants of Birmingham.


I must protest against the subject of our rule in Egypt being mixed up with the Patent Laws, and, therefore, I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £500, part of the salary of the Agent and Consul General in Egypt.


The inconvenience of putting that Motion will be that it will be impossible to answer the second question, but the right hon. Gentleman may reply at once.


I am sure the hon. Member knows that the last thing I should desire would be to treat him with discourtesy or give an inadequate answer on any matter he brings before the House. The hon. Member must know, after many years' experience of these Debates, that, as a rule, when no Amendment is moved, it is usual for the representative of the Department to wait to hear what other members of the Committee may say, and then to make a somewhat multifarious speech, without unduly prolonging debate. I will endeavour, without doing any injustice to the hon. Member, to deal with the two subjects that have been brought forward. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy has for a, long time devoted a great deal of attention to Egypt, and it is not unreasonable that he should, for the first time this year, call particular attention to the Reports submitted to the House upon the progress in the administration in Egypt. Though we interfere as little as possible in that administration, undoubtedly British influence has been much concerned in the reforms accomplished in that country during the last few years. I do not think I need discuss the question of whether the occupation of Egypt by our troops is to be short or not. I am sure that the years they Lave been there have not been wasted, and that giant strides have been made towards the restoration of the prosperity of that country, and the readjustment of its finances. The most satisfactory results submitted to the House in the Reports show really a revolution in the affairs of that country. Whereas only in 1885 there was a Conference of the six great Powers held in London, whereat a postponement was agreed upon of a portion of the interest on the Egyptian Debt, the finances of that country are now in such a solvent condition, with such a reserve, that no postponement of liabilities need for a moment be feared, and even the amount of interest temporarily suspended has been refunded to the bondholder. The mere fact that last year there was a surplus of £600,000, and that in the present year a surplus of half a million is anticipated, although the taxation has been decreased by £600,000, and the expenditure by £300,000, surely shows a satisfactory financial result. I really venture to deprecate the constant asking of questions on matters of undoubtedly immense moment upon mere newspaper reports. The hon. Member has asked me whether there is any truth in the report in the Times this morning, to the effect that the Sultan proposes to depose the Khedive. I can recollect in my time many such rumours. Like meteors across the sky, they come and go, and we do not pay much attention to them, and I would recommend the hon. Gentleman not to be disquieted by such sensational telegrams as those. We have no idea that the Sultan has expressed any such intention. As to the Constitutional government of Egypt, it is clearly shown in a recent Memorandum from Sir Evelyn Baring that it remains substantially what it was when we took it in charge. The number of European officials has been decreased, and every effort has been made to leave the Ministers of the Khedive free scope, while, at the same time, giving them every support. The only considerable change made in the government of the country is the recognition as a reality of the Legislative Council of the Khedive. It is most gratifying to observe how year by year the elected members take a more intelligent and practical view of matters submitted to them, and as education is extended it may be expected year by year the Council will more and more realise the functions of a representative institution. There is much to be desired in the improvement of the sanitary condition of Cairo; but the hon. Member knows the great difficulty in securing the consent of European Powers to the adequate taxation of their colonies in Egypt. As to the extension of irrigation in Egypt, undoubtedly the Government of Egypt is most desirous of dealing with the irrigation of Upper Egypt as they have dealt with that of Lower Egypt. There is an enormous improvement in the cultivated land in the Delta by reason of the admirable irrigation works that have been carried out, and undoubtedly considerable addition might be made to the cultivable area of Upper Egypt by a well-devised scheme of storage of water there. But many things have to be considered, and nothing is to be gained by precipitate action. Moreover, as yet the Government has not been in a position to spend the large sum necessary for works of that magnitude; but I have reason to believe that in a short time a scheme will be matured by which the same will be done for Upper Egypt as has been done for Lower Egypt. The hon. Member for South Birmingham has called attention to a very important question, but he does less than justice to Her Majesty's Representatives abroad. I do not think it can be justly imputed to thorn that they are unable to represent the interests of this country in commercial matters as well as diplomatic. It is not due to any failure of duty on their part that the commercial arrangements with other countries have not been more equitable to this country. In fact, in commercial arrangements we are to a great extent in the position of the Hebrews who had to make bricks without straw. We have thrown open our markets to the whole world, and having divested ourselves of the right to tax the produce of other countries, we have nothing to put against the heavy duties imposed on imports from this country. The Patent Laws in other countries are undoubtedly much less favourable to Englishmen than our laws are to foreigners, but that is only another illustration of the Free Trade policy which has opened our doors to every invention from all parts of the world. It is undoubtedly true that British inventors are under a great disadvantage in being compelled to manufacture in foreign countries the articles for which they have obtained patents. The matter was lately considered at the Industrial Conference at Madrid, and the Convention framed at that Conference is at this moment before the Governments represented. The terms of this Convention will go far to meet the grievance of which the hon. Member has complained.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

May I venture to mention another newspaper rumour, stating that the mission to Roumania is to be raised to a first-class mission, and that the salary of the Minister is to be raised from £2,500 to £5,000. I wish to know whether there is any truth in the rumour, and whether any Supplementary Estimate is to be presented. The right hon. Gentleman will, I think, have some difficulty in convincing the Committee of the necessity of this increased charge.


It is intended to raise the class of the mission to Roumania, which has largely gained in importance. It is very necessary that Great Britain should be represented in Roumania by a man of ability and considerable diplomatic standing. The Minister is Sir H. Drummond Wolff, and it is intended to raise his salary by £1,000. Considering his eminent services and ability, I think this is only commensurate with the rank and importance of the mission. Of course, this does not appear in the present Estimate; it will be necessary to submit a Supplementary Estimate.

*(12.15.) MR. MORTON

It appears to me that the appointment of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff is what is known as a political job. I cannot understand why an Envoy, or an Ambassador, or whatever you like to call our Representative in Roumania, should have £4,000 or £5,000 a year, when our Representative in Switzerland, a much larger and more important country, is only paid £1,250. I am very much afraid the people of this country will regard the appointment as a job. Now, as to the occupation of Egypt. I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, if I gather anything at all, that that occupation is practically understood, as far as the Government is concerned, as permanent, and that, therefore, the charge is to be a permanent one. That is very different from what we understood last year. If there had been time, I should have moved many reductions of the Vote, chiefly bearing upon salaries. I will not do so, though I am sorry we are required to neglect our duty because some hon. Members want a holiday. I cannot possibly understand on what system these salaries are founded. In the case of the United States, the largest and most important country we have to deal with, I see we pay our Representative £6,000 a year. Our Ambassador in Austria is paid £8,000. Our Representative in France is paid £9,000. I suppose that salary was fixed when there was an Imperial Government. £7,500 is paid in Germany. Why do we pay more in Austria than in Germany? Under other circumstances, I should move a reduction of each of these Votes, but I will content myself now with asking the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to tell us on what system these salaries are fixed. Then, I see that the total charge in respect to China is £45,201. Has the carrying on of the opium trade anything to do with the largeness of the Vote? Our Ambassador in Japan is paid £4,000, and other charges in respect of that country amount to £15,542. I am sure the country will be glad to have an explanation of these heavy charges.

*(12.20.) SIR J. FERGUSSON

I think I have already pointed out, that although there is an increase in the salary of the Minister to Roumania, there will not be any increased charge to the public, because the Diplomatic Vote this year shows a reduction of £1,422. The hon. Gentleman has asked for information which is familiar to gentlemen who have been longer in the House than himself. Of course it is possible to ask a thousand questions on the Vote. If gentlemen who have lately come into the House require categorical answers in regard to every item, it is obvious there would be no end to the explanations. It has been often explained why the salary of our Representative at Washington is less than the salary paid in some places and more than that paid in other places: it is because our Representative ranks as a Minister instead of an Ambassador; it is because the United States chooses to be represented by an officer ranking as a Minister that we have not an Ambassador at Washington. The salary paid to our Representatives are regulated by a variety of questions—among others by the cost of residence. For instance, residence in the capital of the larger country is not always the most expensive. But the salaries paid have been carefully scrutinised, and within the last six years they have been considerably reduced. As to the charge in respect of China, it must be remembered that our commercial interests in that country are very large. Those who are concerned in commerce with that country know that the establishment is none too large.

MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

As this is the only time one can obtain any information with regard to Egypt, I should be glad to hear the reason why the Domain Loan has not been converted on the same advantageous lines as the Egyptian Privilege Loan?

*(12.25.) MR. MORTON

I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman has given me the best answer he can. He tells me the reason why we pay less to our Representative at Washington than in some other countries is that the Government of that country have not agreed to call him an Ambassador. I, therefore, gather that the amount of salary does not depend upon the work to be done, or the ability of the Representative, but upon whether the Government of the country have agreed to call him by a particular name. The absurdity of the system is only equalled by its ridiculousness. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to give us more information with regard to what I have described as a political job, namely, the new appointment to Roumania. It is no explanation to say there would be a saving on the Vote. I trust that presently we shall be able to agree with all Governments to call our Representatives by the lowest possible name we can, and then we can reduce their salaries accordingly.


In reply to my hon. Friend (Mr. Isaacson) I have to say that the reason why the Domain Loan has not been converted as profitably as the Privilege Loan is that it has not been found practicable to do so. The Conversion operation last year had the effect of reducing the capital of the debt from £8,587,000 to £7,300,000, which was a great advantage. No doubt the Egyptian Government will be glad to convert this debt to a smaller rate, if possible. I am sorry I cannot satisfy the hon. Member for Peterborough; but, perhaps, I need not try. Everyone, except himself, is aware that the expenses of an Ambassador are necessarily, much heavier than those of a Minister.


May I ask if the whole of these financial arrangements are really in the hands of Messrs. Rothschild?



Question put, and agreed to.

5. £3,480, to complete the sum for Slave Trade Services.

6. £114,616, to complete the sum for Colonial Services, including South Africa.

7. £5,000, to complete the sum for Cyprus, Grant in Aid.

*(12.35.) MR. MORTON

We opposed this item when we had the Vote on Account before us, and we should like to oppose it again. What we objected to then, and what we object to now, is not the amount of this Vote, but that in this way we are compelling the Cypriotes to pay a large tribute to Turkey. I shall resist the Vote, unless we have a satisfactory explanation with regard to it.


I think we ought to congratulate ourselves that this charge has been diminished. But we cannot get rid of the charge altogether until we get rid of the island, which we ought to try to do. The taking possession of it was a very improvident bargain.

Vote agreed to.

8. £25,400, to complete the sum for Subsidies to Telegraph Companies.

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